Propellerhead Reason 7
By Jim Aikin
Tue, 30 Jul 2013

A few years ago, Propellerhead was earnestly asserting that Reason was not just another digital audio workstation and that it belonged in a separate category. Since then, they’ve kept adding highly desirable features that make it look more and more like a DAW, notably multitrack audio recording in version 6 (reviewed Apr. ’12). That’s a good thing, since they’re still doing things their own way. Version 7 ratchets up the functionality several more notches.

 Main arrange window - click to enlarge.
 Mixer with EQ - click to enlarge.


The 7.0 release of Reason has three big enhancements: a MIDI out device for sequencing your hardware synths, better mixer bussing, and some very slick audio track editing. These new capabilities come on top of the marvelous Rack Extensions concept—essentially third-party plug-ins done Reason style—unveiled in Reason 6.5. [Read Jim’s roundup of rack extensions at –Ed.]

For Mac users, Reason 7 requires OS 10.7 or later, so I had to buy the new OS. It also requires 4GB of RAM, so I had to upgrade my elderly MacBook Pro. My Windows 7 desktop machine, which is my main production environment, required no tweaking. If you need to install the 32-bit version of Reason in 64-bit Windows, which is necessary if you want to use it as a ReWire client in a 32-bit host, you’ll find easy instructions on Propellerhead’s website.

Reason is a complex program, with several dozen highly patchable modules for synthesis and sound processing, presented as a virtual studio rack that looks like hardware, right down to animated cables bouncing when you toggle the rear panel view. We hardly have the space here to recap Reason’s many amazing features—a good place to start may be the numerous videos on the Propellerhead website. For Keyboard readers, the biggest deal is likely the new MIDI output, so let’s start there.

External MIDI Instrument

 Fig. 1. Reason’s new External MIDI device can transmit MIDI to any output port defined in your system. Configuration settings are on the right side.
It’s always inspiring when a new device just works. That was my experience with Reason 7’s new External MIDI Instrument (EMI) module (see Figure 1). I never had to consult the manual.

I don’t own nearly the amount of MIDI hardware that I did 20 years ago, but I still have my trusty Yamaha Motif XS. I hauled it out and hooked up the audio and MIDI cables. Then I launched Reason, created an EMI, and started playing my M-Audio Axiom master keyboard. The Motif responded. Sequencing a Motif track was just as easy.

The EMI isn’t fancy but it gets the job done. The front panel sports a drop-down menu that lists all of the MIDI outputs in your computer. To the left are stubby mouse-controllable pitch and mod wheels, whose activity can be recorded. To the right are three settings: MIDI output channel, a program change number, and an assignable Control Change number, which is associated with a knob for recording controller moves.

The program change number can be automated, but the CC number and channel setting can’t be. However, the latter parameters can be addressed from an external hardware controller configured as a Reason Remote device. What’s cool is that the CC knob can be used to record MIDI control data for up to 120 different CC messages. All of these messages will be retained in the track. It isn’t actually a single knob, in other words—it’s 120 different knobs.

On the EMI rear panel are inputs for the Matrix Pattern Sequencer and “CV” inputs for mod wheel, pitch-bend, and the assignable knob. If desired, several EMI modules can be set to the same output channel, so you can use several Matrix sequencers to create polyphonic patterns on your hardware synth (a cool possibility that Reason’s internal instruments can’t manage).

There’s no dedicated panel control for Bank Select messages, but these can be recorded into the track as CC 0 and CC 32 data. The manual for your MIDI hardware should contain cryptic information on which combinations of these messages you’ll need.

After sequencing your external instruments, you’ll probably want to record their output into Reason as audio tracks. The manual gives clear instructions on how to do this, including some suggestions about managing latency compensation.

What’s missing from the EMI? It won’t record or transmit system-exclusive data, but that’s far less important than it was in the good old days. It also doesn’t handle polyphonic aftertouch. The big omission is that when Reason is running as a ReWire client, the EMI won’t transmit MIDI to the host software. If this were possible, you could use Reason’s sequencer and employ the host for running virtual instruments that are neither native to Reason nor available as Rack Extensions. Let’s hope Propellerhead adds this feature in the next release.

Next: Audio Editing
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