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 keyboardmag.com/reason-rack-extensions. –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
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.
| Fig. 1. Reason’s new External MIDI device can transmit MIDI to any
output port defined in your system. Configuration settings are on the
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
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
Next: Audio Editing
ReCycle—one of Propellerhead’s very first products—slices
apart audio loops so they can be loaded into a sampler as single notes
and then “re-grooved” via MIDI track editing or by simply playing notes.
In the olden days, you’d load ReCycle REX files (since replaced by
stereo RX2 files) into a hardware sampler. These days, software REX
players such as Reason’s Dr. OctoRex use them—but up to now, you still
needed a copy of ReCycle if you wanted to create your own REX/RX2 files.
Now you can do it directly in Reason.
Audio tracks are automatically given slice markers as
they’re recorded or loaded. There’s no sensitivity control for slice
detection (a feature found in ReCycle), but after putting an audio loop
in a track, you can add or delete markers by hand if needed, or drag
them left or right to change the rhythm without changing the pitch of
individual notes, or even quantize the slices. Changing the positions of
the slice markers can be done with key commands or by holding Alt
(Option on Macs) and using the mouse, and it works perfectly.
The sliced-up audio can be exported in RX2 format. This is
ideal for drum patterns that you want to edit to add fills, or for
snare substitution. Transferring an audio clip into Dr. OctoRex takes
about three clicks—it’s totally easy. In addition to bouncing out as
RX2, you can bounce the slices as samples for use in Reason’s NN-XT,
Kong, and ReDrum instruments.
There’s an upper limit on the number of slices in a REX
file. If your audio has more than 92 slices, only the first 92 will be
transferred to Dr. OctoRex. Since MIDI defines 128 note messages, 92 is
an odd limitation, but most loops won’t need more than 64 slices. If the
92-slice limit is a problem, you can easily split a long audio clip
into two or more pieces and export the pieces to separate instances of
Because the audio is pre-sliced, if you later need to
change the tempo of the song the audio will automatically be adjusted,
and without too much degradation. I tried loading a drum loop in an
obviously wrong tempo for my song and then stretched it by selecting all
of the slice markers and dragging the one on the right end, slowing
down the loop so that it lined up with the rest of the instruments. The
workflow was easy, and the results sounded very acceptable. (Large
stretches do tend to produce phasing artifacts.)
Parallel and Bus Channels
While not groundbreaking, the new mixer features are
welcome. In previous versions of Reason it was possible to set up
parallel mix channels, routing one source signal to two or more mixer
strips, but you had to do it by hand using a Spider Audio Splitter or
something similar. In Reason 7 the process is painless and easier to
manage. Just right-click on a mixer strip and choose “Create Parallel
Channel” from the pop-up menu.
Fig. 2. The new in-rack channel strip (top) has a fader
and pan pot for quick access. The Audiomatic preset effect (center) is a
free download for Reason 7 owners. The Synapse Audio Antidote synth
(bottom) is available in the Rack Extension store; the lower edge of its
panel is not shown.
You can create multiple parallel channels for a single
audio source if you like. Using these, you can do tricks like
compressing a drum track while mixing in uncompressed signal to add
punch, or run a vocal through a filter but also bleed in the unfiltered
vocal for clarity.
Also new are bus channels. Select two or more mixer strips
and choose “Route to > New Output Bus” in the menu. Bus channels are
ideal for multitrack drum recordings, horn sections, and so on: You can
group the source audio and then mute and unmute, adjust the level, or
add effects from a single channel strip.
The third new mixing feature is not in the mixer per se.
The mixer input channel modules in the rack itself have been beefed up
with their own faders, pan pots, and meters, which duplicate the
functions in the mixer panel itself (see Figure 2). This improves
the workflow, because you no longer have to switch back and forth from
the rack to the mixer in order to make basic adjustments.
Next: Other New Features; Conclusions
Other New Features
Up to now, you could run Reason in one of three modes with
regard to licensing: demo (fully functional except that your saved
songs can’t be reloaded), with an Internet connection to verify that
your account has a license, or using a USB dongle. There’s now a fourth
mode: You can authorize your computer itself so that neither the dongle
nor an Internet connection is needed. This is convenient if, for
example, want to use Reason on a laptop while riding the subway.
Fig. 3. The Spectrum EQ gives you graphic editing of the EQ curve, on top of an animated display of the frequency spectrum.
At the top of each mixer strip is a button that opens a new interface for the channel EQ (see Figure 3).
Called Spectrum EQ, this pop-up window has a real-time animated
frequency display, on which you can drag colored dots to change the
channel EQ. These dots duplicate the functions of the channel strips’
existing EQ controls.
A new plug-in effect, Audiomatic Retro Transformer (see Figure 2
again), is a free download (if you have Reason 7) from the Rack
Extensions page in your Propellerhead account. Its features are minimal:
16 buttons for choosing a preset effect, a wet/dry knob, and a
general-purpose Transform knob, which adjusts some parameter on whatever
effect you’ve chosen. A couple of the effects, such as Tape, might be
useful for processing an entire mix. Others, such as Cracked
(distortion) and Psyche (a stereo flanger) would be better for
processing single tracks.
Producing music in Reason has always been fun, but version
7.0 comes closer than ever to being a serious do-everything production
studio, without sacrificing the interactive and intuitive workflow. If
you own hardware synths, the External MIDI Instrument device is a
must-have, and the audio slicing and time-stretching will be a huge plus
for anyone who has an audio loop library or needs to stretch an a cappella
vocal for a remix. While Reason 7 is not revolutionary in terms of
having features nothing else has, what it does have is a huge step
forward, and the way it integrates and presents these features is unique
among music creation platforms.
PROS: MIDI out for external instruments. Improved mixer routing.
Audio tracks automatically sliced for time-stretch and RX2 file use.
Computer authorization now supported.
CONS: MIDI out not transmitted to host DAW via ReWire.
Bottom Line: A production powerhouse just got even better.
$449 list | $399 street | $129 upgrade
Jim Aikin has been writing for Keyboard for more than 30 years, and is an accomplished pianist, orchestral cellist, and electronic composer. His books include Power Tools for Synthesizer Programming (Hal Leonard) and Csound Power! (Cengage Learning).