Propellerhead’s baby feels like it’s been around forever – that said, I remember opening up the beta of Reason 1.0 for the first time like it was yesterday. In the more than 12 year lifespan of Reason, it’s undergone a few major upgrades, but a quick ‘what’s new’ just isn’t good enough for us…
The Journey So Far
Reason’s pretty much a singular beast in the music production software market. Propellerhead Software have really stuck to their guns with the ‘studio in a box’ concept, and over the years that stubbornness has taken them through good times and bad.
For a while, the overall quality of software based music production products was such that Reason’s included instruments stood toe to toe, but times changed and at one point Reason was looking a little tired compared to the competition. A few updates later, synths, effects, and audio engine had been overhauled and Reason was back in contention but for one thing: Audio recording.
Propellerhead remedied this in two parts. Firstly, Reason 5 finally gained the ability to record directly into its sample based instruments. Secondly, they released Record, an entirely new standalone product that provided direct audio recording, class leading time stretching and pitch correction, and new modules that catered to a crowd used to strumming strings, serenading microphones, and stomping on pedals rather than twiddling knobs and adjusting faders.
Perhaps most exciting was the addition of a virtual mixing desk somewhat convincingly modelled on an SSL 9000k. A user that purchased both Reason 5 and Record unlocked Reason’s devices in Record, and thus created the beast that many wished Reason 5 could have been.
Fast forward to today, and Propellerhead seem to have backpedalled on their dual product idea: Record is no longer with us, and Reason 6 incorporates all its deceased brethren’s features. For those that thought Record’s stripped back, live recording focused feature set was all they needed and appreciated the price, Propellerhead have brought their ‘little brother’ product into contention and now Reason Essentials is seemingly spot on for that user.
Where to start?!
So with a product that does so much, has been around for so long, and has cannibalised an old product’s features – they aren’t new, they’re just new to the Reason label – how do we review it? What we’ve decided to do is look at each of the elements of the software to see how they feel, how they measure up to competition in the world of plugins and plugin friendly DAWs, and tie things up with a few words on the ‘Reason experience’. If you want to know exactly what Reason can do for you, grab a cup of your favourite hot beverage and a biscuit or two, get comfortable, and let us tell you. Here goes…
- Direct Recording
- Simple velocity and layering management
- Lack of inline waveform editor
- No timestretch
- No slicing
Reason has two sampling devices: NN-19 (shout out to Paul Hardcastle) and the ‘pro’ sampler, featuring multi layered sampling capability, multi outs, and increased compatibility with external libraries, NN-XT. Since Reason 5 there’s been the option to sample directly into the samplers, which is a feature that despite multi gigabyte libraries and pages of modulation controls – and indeed the name ‘sampler’ – much of the standalone competition can’t match. That said, the Reason samplers are starting to show their age with a lack of an inline waveform editor, any kind of slicing capability, and time-stretching increasingly conspicuous by its absence.
Propellerhead’s companion product, ReCycle, may be more or less an industry standard for slicing up samples – it certainly still has a place in the market considering its versatility when exporting to various hardware sampler formats – but it’s a pain to have to use an audio recorder to record audio, ReCycle to chop it up (after purchasing it separately), and then Reason to load it considering Reason’s ‘studio in a box’ style. We really want to see direct sampling and chopping in NN-XT.
- The perfect companion to ReCycle
- Easy and quick slice based editing
- No instant switching of groove banks
- No slice start/end editing
Dr Rex is Reason’s sliced sample and loop player, which loads up the ReCycle Rex format. Designed for easy sequencing of loops, Dr Rex has seen a Reason 6 upgrade to Dr Octo Rex; essentially, Dr Octo Rex is a bank of eight Dr Rex players that can be sequenced akin to the pattern banks in ReDrum (detailed in the drums section). Whilst switching loops can be quantised to bars, beats, or 16ths, loops have to start from the beginning, which seems to be a bit of a mis-step.
As samples are saved with tempo and slice information by Recycle, rex files are tempo independent and loops will retain rhythm regardless of the host tempo. Most other samplers have caught up with this way of using loop samples and offer some kind of slicing and transient detection on the fly without the need to save in a proprietary format, and indeed many also work in time stretch to the mix so that loops are even more flexible.
Of all of the facets of Reason, sampling is the area that we’re least impressed with. We predict that the next major update will rationalise the DAW style audio recording – which does have excellent time-stretching – with the sampler, and the slicing will become internal to keep things totally in the box. Our predictions are little consolation to you right now, of course.
Next Page: Drums