In a world overflowing with great music software, some key factors set Reason apart. First, Propellerhead has always paid close attention to user interface design. As complex as Reason is by now, it’s remarkably easy to use. Second, the Propellerhead gurus have always had a clear vision of what Reason is and what it’s not.
<-Two new modules beef up Reason 5. Kong is a percussion designer with a choice of synthesis types. Dr. Octo Rex loads eight REX file beats at once and lets you switch between them on the fly.
Though the combination of Reason and Record is a complete audio and sequencing-based multitrack production studio with its own great instruments and effects, it’s not a do-everything digital audio workstation in the mold of Logic, Cubase, Sonar, and Digital Performer. This leads to certain limitations. Notably, Reason doesn’t host third-party plug-ins. Nor is there a video window, so it’s not suitable for soundtrack work. One advantage of this sort of closed system is that it’s extremely stable. While working on this review, I encountered not a single glitch of any kind. Also, the user interface is consistent no matter what module you’re using.
Discussing even the basic features of Reason would take many pages. It has terrific synths (Thor, Malström, and Subtractor), a full-featured multisampler, a ten-channel drum sampler, a monophonic step sequencer, detailed control over the feel of rhythm tracks, a variety of great-sounding effects, and a rear-panel patching system where dragging virtual cables between virtual jacks turns the whole thing into one vast modular instrument.
Prior to Record 1.0 (reviewed Dec. ’09), you had to use ReWire to pipe Reason’s audio output into a DAW if you wanted to record audio tracks. Record changed all that. Record is available separately, but if you own Reason, the two become a unified program. All of Reason’s instruments are available for adding MIDI tracks to Record, all your tracks appear in one sequencer display, and Record’s powerhouse mixer is available as an output for Reason instruments.
In this review, we’ll focus on two things. First, the new features in Reason 5: the Kong percussion designer, Dr. Octo Rex drum loop player, a new sequencer mode, and integrated sampling. Then we’ll take a look at Record 1.5, which adds the much-needed Neptune pitch corrector/voice synth to the lineup.
More after these Web Extras:
- Author's audio demo of Neptune pitch correction.
- Our original review of Record version 1.0.
- Tutorials by former Keyboard editor-in-chief Ernie Rideout.
Reason’s ReDrum module is very capable, but by now it’s looking a little old-school. ReDrum is still part of Reason, but Kong kicks Reason’s percussion into a whole new dimension. Kong lacks ReDrum’s pattern sequencing, but this is not a problem. First, many people record ReDrum parts directly into Reason’s sequencer, and seldom use the pattern editing features. Second, if you prefer patterns you can easily set up a pair of ReDrums and use their patterns to play Kong, by connecting ReDrum’s rear-panel gate outputs to Kong’s gate inputs.
Kong has 16 pads and a vaguely MPC-like look. You can record from the pads into the sequencer by clicking them, which is a nice extra, or play them from a MIDI controller in the normal way. They even respond to mouse position by varying the velocity, which many mouse-click pads don’t do.
Kong is a bit like Thor in that you can choose different modules for its sections. Each pad can produce sounds using sample playback, a triggered REX file loop, physical modeling, or modeled analog synthesis. The latter two are brand new to Reason, and they add a huge palette of sounds to Kong.
Speaking of sounds, Kong comes with dozens of high-quality kits, some of them designed by such luminaries as Printz Board and Bomb Squad. And naturally, you can mix and match hits from different kits. Each pad has two insert effects, and some of them are unusual: a noise source, a tone source, a snare rattle generator, and a transient shaper. Rounding out the list are compressor, filter, parametric EQ, reverb, tape echo, ring modulator, and an overdrive/resonator. After the insert effects, the drum sounds can then be routed to a dry output, or to either of two more “global to Kong” effect modules. On the rear panel there are inserts (stereo) between the two global effect modules, so you can patch any of Reason’s devices into the signal path.
I would’ve liked to see rear-panel “CV” inputs to the individual drum modules, but that would’ve made the rear panel a mess. Also, some of Kong’s knobs can be automated and some can’t. On the physically modeled bass drum, for instance, Pitch, Damp, Decay, and Level can be automated, but Beater Level, Tone, Density, Tune 1, Tune 2, and Bend Amount can’t. In the NN-Nano sampler, Pitch, Sample Start, Level, and Decay can be automated, but not Amplitude Attack Time, Pitch Envelope Amount or Time, or any of the five Velocity Response knobs. Depending on what you want to automate, this may or may not become a source of frustration.
Describing every feature of Kong would take pages. Briefly, the sample playback module lets you stack and assign velocity zones to multiple samples. There are three physical models (kick, snare, and tom) and four analog models (the same three plus hi-hat). If you’re into designing drum sounds, you’re gonna love Kong.
Dr. Octo Rex
The Dr. Rex loop player has been around since Reason 1.0. In Reason 5, Dr. Octo Rex replaces it. According to Propellerhead, existing songs that use Dr. Rex should work fine, as Dr. Octo Rex will load the old Dr. Rex data into its first slot and play it back.
Dr. Octo Rex loads eight REX files at once. All eight share the same basic set of voicing controls (filter, two ADSR envelopes, and so on), but four new parameters have been added for each slice of each loop: filter frequency, reverse, output, and alt group. There are four stereo output pairs in addition to the main output. This means that you could route a snare, for example, out to a reverb.
You can trigger separate loops in Dr. Octo Rex using MIDI keys in the octave below a 61-note keyboard’s five-octave range—shift your keyboard down an octave to get there. In this performance mode, only one loop will play at a time. The new loop that you’ve triggered can start on the next bar, the next beat, or the next sixteenth-note—but the operative word is “start.” Dr. Octo doesn’t keep track of where you are in relation to bar lines, so it can’t switch to a different loop in the middle of the current loop. If you trigger a loop on beat 3 of a bar, for example, it will be offset by half a bar.
When you use the Copy Loop to Track button, each loop will have its own lane within the sequencer track, and the selection of which Dr. Octo slot the notes will be sent to is controlled by automation. This is quite useful, as you can easily copy one loop to the track, then have its note data play different REX file slices.
When two or more slices of a loop are all assigned to the same alt group, Dr. Octo will choose among them randomly if it’s playing back a loop using its internal sequencer. When you click the Copy Loop to Track button, each iteration of the beat loop within the longer loop region in the sequencer track will have its own randomized pattern of note events for each alt group, but from then on the pattern will be repeatable, and you can edit it as needed. One way you’d use this feature is for randomly choosing which of four snare hits will fire on beats 2 and 4.
Although Reason has a couple of pattern-based devices (ReDrum and Matrix), its main sequencer has always been linear, playing your song from start to finish. Blocks change all that. The song still plays as it did before, but you can now record up to 32 multitrack Blocks and insert them wherever you like in the song. A Block could be a multi-instrument drum groove, for instance, or an entire verse. Laying out verse/chorus forms with Blocks is easy.
Thirty-two Blocks may not seem like a lot, but the clever thing is that you can override the data in any Block at any spot. If you want a different drum fill at the end of the second verse, for instance, just go into record mode and overdub it. Your new recording will replace the data in the Block—but only at that one spot. In addition, any track or lane can be muted during the playback of any Block, so you can build an intro one layer at a time using only a single block, by unmuting a new track every two or four bars.
New in Reason (Record is not required for this) is the ability to capture new samples. These can be automatically assigned to sample playback devices, such as a ReDrum or Kong channel. You can sample external audio, or capture the sound coming from one or more Reason devices. You can then export samples if desired—say, if you’ve designed a killer drum sound in Kong and want to use it in another program.
<- After capturing a sample in Reason, you can edit it in the Edit Sample window. The tools here are basic: normalize, fade-in/out, reverse, crop, and loop point editing.
A maximum of 30 seconds of stereo sampling time (per sample) is available. This will be plenty for sound design or for capturing loops, but not enough to record a whole song.
In the basic Sample Edit window, you can normalize the gain of an entire sample or any part of it, but user-definable gain change is not implemented, so there’s no way to squash unwanted clicks or pops. Likewise, you can program a fade-in or fade-out for the sample, but userdefinable fade curves aren’t possible.
By itself, Reason is strictly for making music with its own suite of instruments. You can import samples recorded elsewhere and play them using a Reason sampler module, but that’s hardly a convenient way to record audio for, say, adding a vocal track.
<- The modules in Record include the ID8 synth and the audio track device, which can host inserts. Here, the Neptune Pitch Adjuster is inserted in an audio track.
Record is for audio multitracking. Even without Reason, Record has most of the Reason effects, but only one basic MIDI instrument, called ID8. Record has a massive, feature-rich mixer, and also a guitar amp modeler. You can record multiple takes in loop mode and comp together a keeper track without trouble. ID8 gives you a simple but useful selection of keyboard, bass, and drum sounds in case you don’t have Reason and want to support your guitar or vocal tracks.
Since version 1.0, Record could time-stretch audio tracks—very convenient for changing the tempo of a vocal for a dance remix. In 1.5, you can also adjust the pitch of audio, thanks to Neptune.
Unlike most DAWs, Record saves all of its audio data in the song file itself. This has advantages and drawbacks. A plus is that it aids collaboration: Send someone your project, and they won’t be asked to “please locate” audio files. On the other hand, if you save incremental versions of a song as you’re developing it, Record will chew up hard drive space pretty quickly. Also, if you want to open an audio track in another program, you’ll go through an extra exporting step first.
Like other retuning systems, Neptune is designed mainly for monophonic tracks such as vocals. Neptune has a number of features beyond simple pitch correction. I found that it worked well for both subtle pitch correction and T-Pain-style vocal mangling.
Neptune processes audio while the music plays—it’s not an editor. Its most important controls are the Correction Speed and Preserve Expression knobs. As you turn up the Correction Speed, the vocal will “snap” to the correct pitches more quickly. The Preserve Expression knob lets vibrato and pitch slides sneak through without being squashed.
In the center of the panel are controls for setting a scale whose pitches will be used in the correction process, and a Catch Zone Size slider: When an incoming pitch is in the “catch zone,” Neptune will correct it.
There are four programmable presets for the scale controls, and the preset select buttons can be automated. This is nice if your song changes key in the middle, for instance. Correction Speed and Preserve Expression settings aren’t stored with the presets, but these knobs can be automated separately, which is even better.
If you send Neptune MIDI notes, it “corrects” the pitch of the vocal to whatever note you play. This lets you superimpose an entirely new melody on a vocal. Instead of (or in addition to) correcting the pitch, you can use Neptune as a transposer; its range is plus or minus 12 semitones, and there’s a Cents parameter for fine-tuning. With the Formant Correction knob, you can move the vocal formants up or down independent of the pitch, to help the transposition sound more realistic, or intentionally less so for chipmunk or Darth Vader vocal effects.
Neptune also includes what appears at first glance to be a bare-bones vocoder. Reason has a real vocoder, of course, but the Voice Synth in Neptune, while not actually a synthesizer, is easy to use, and it’s in Record if you don’t have Reason. When you route MIDI notes to it, the Voice Synth pitch-shifts the input up and/or down simultaneously to all of the MIDI notes it receives, producing what sound like vocoded chords. The Voice Synth can be routed to a separate rearpanel audio output, which I recommend. I added an ethereal choir behind my lead vocal by processing the Voice Synth output through a filter, a chorus/flanger, and a reverb, then mixing it in at a fairly low level.
Reason 5 and Record 1.5 are welcome upgrades—and Record 1.5 is free if you use Record 1.0 standalone. The new features are very welcome, especially the Kong percussion designer and the Blocks mode in the sequencer. Neptune is not groundbreaking, but it fills a hole in the feature set, making Record much more competitive. I doubt I’ll use the live sampling much, but for some musicians it will be a great plus. For creating almost any kind of pop music on your computer, the Reason/Record Duo is a terrific choice as a creative platform, especially considering that it sells for less than the price of most DAWs and many single plug-ins.
PROS: Powerhouse percussion synthesis. Integrated sampling. Convenient song arrangement tools. Great user interface. Extensive rear-panel patching. 2GB sound library. ReWire support.
CONS: Sample editing could be beefed up. Still doesn’t host thirdparty plug-ins. No video window.
CONCEPT Reason: A do-everything rack of synths and effects with a very capable sequencer. Record: Audio multitracking and modeled-analog mixing console. Duo: Record and Reason devices integrated as a do-it-all virtual studio.
REASON INSTRUMENTS Subtractor modeled analog synth, Malström granular synth, Thor modular synth, NN-19 and NN-XT samplers, ReDrum and Kong percussion, Dr. Octo Rex loop player.
REASON EFFECTS Reverb, delay, chorus/flanger, phaser, Scream distortion, vocoder, envelope filter, mastering (equalizer, stereo imager, compressor, maximizer).
RECORD INSTRUMENTS AND EFFECTS ID8 sample player, Neptune pitch correction, vintage-emulation EQ and dynamics on every mixer channel, master bus compressor, plus most of the Reason effects.
PRICE:Record/Reason duo List: $449.99 Approx. street: $400
Reason 5 List: $349.99 Approx. street: $300
Record 1.5 List: $299.99 Approx. street: $250; $149 for Reason owners