Reason has been around since the dawn of the new millennium and was impressive enough to please the Avid (Digidesign) guys so much that they packaged an “adapted” version. It came bundled in the popular Pro Tools LE program. This began my journey with Reason.
Over the years, I used the Reason Adapted version as a Rewire inside of Pro Tools, and at one point decided to upgrade to the full version when Reason 4 came out. For the most part, my experience with Reason involved using it for drum loops, synths, and playing the instrument tracks through Pro Tools instead of using Reason’s onboard sequencing. So, coming into this review, my experience with Reason’s sequencer and transport was very limited. That being said, this review is coming to you from the standpoint of a novice, somewhat devoid of Reason. Not really, but the joke had to be made. It’s reviewer’s code.
One of Reason 6′s greatest innovations is the integration of their DAW software “Record” into the sequencer. It gives you the ability to record audio tracks in addition to the already stellar instruments included in the program (more on that later). Very rarely does a software company take their two separate breadwinners, package them together, and do this all without digging deeper into your pockets. It is a testament to Propellerhead’s sensibility and true passion for content over cash flow.
Let’s take a look under the hood.
This is not just an upgrade; this is a full-gutted overhaul. I know most of us aren’t programmers, but for the few that are, you know the heartache that goes into taking a program from 32 bit to a 64 bit powerhouse. This allows those fancy new laptops, or their less mobile counterparts, to show off what the good Lord/Intel gave it, ergo: faster load times (are you listening Pro Tools?). I’m sure suicide hotlines must have been busy when the brave pioneers of computer audio started heavily using Combinator presets in previous versions, but Reason 6 barrels right through them without a flinch. Believe me, I tried to bog it on my Mac Book without a hint of strain.
I never really had any complaints about Reason’s installation or authorization process, but that didn’t stop them from making my life even easier. They’ve basically done everything with the exception of giving the program away. First off, you will notice that Reason now comes with a USB “Ignition Key.” Personally, I already have several USB keys and only two ports on my Mac Book. Note to Self: pick up USB hub. Wouldn’t it be boss if they’d implement a single universal system of product authorization? If you’re dongle-?y challenged (hehe), never fear, because you can ALWAYS create projects and even save them… yes, even in demo mode. The only setback is you can’t re-open your work once you’ve closed it. There is always the option of an “Online Authorization” if you forget your ignition key and really need to open a project. It’s very simple, you open Reason and it asks you what you would like to do about authorization and you choose “online.” Reason does the rest! Like I said, practically giving it away.
The graphical interface is even improved. The instruments look sharper and inviting, immediately accessible, and the aesthetics alone almost inspire you to want to make music… like right now. On top of that, we now have new devices to shape and/or disfigure audio until it is by all ends and purposes, unrecognizable. On top of all this, Reason has drafted Line 6 to add guitar and bass amp models in addition to several in house musical weapons. You now have:
Neptune: for pitch correction, extreme vocal effects, and transposition.
ID8: which gives you fast, easy to access presets in a stripped down fashion. For those moments when inspiration strikes and you don’t have time to edit patches (or are just too lazy).
Pulveriser: the name says it all! You can smash, distort, and modulate any piece of audio to ungodly extremes or simply use it to apply mild effects. Your choice, we won’t judge you.
The Echo: from vintage to modern spaced out delays, there’s pretty much every time factored effect built into this beast.
Alligator: a rhythm based filter gated effect that adds a drum like feel, complete with effects, to just about any piece of audio you can throw in its massive jaws (get it? Alligator… nevermind).
The secret weapon here is the combo of Pulveriser and Echo to mangle drum and synth pad tracks to so far extremes, you’ll have Cops hauling you in for assault. Each of the controls on the effects are easy enough to figure out, saving you precious time thumbing through manuals as well as giving you a choice of pre-made effects.
There are a few setbacks. *cue scary music* Although Neptune seems to be working fairly OK correcting pitch, the controls have quite a bit of give in them; making you feel like you don’t have much control as to where the pitch will land. Also, it’s very difficult to get that T-Pain sound (once again Everything Recording will not judge you). The transposing feature is nice, but I prefer using the transpose that is built into the sequencer. Alligator has a few of the same small foibles. When you load it up, Alligator defaults to the shuffle pattern, which gives you a very choppy version of a gate. This can easily be turned off with a quick click of the bright button labeled “Shuffle”, but it’s just my personal preference not to have it on. Also, I wish it had a more defined “Wet / Dry knob.” Other than that, all of the effects are top notch.
Integrating Record into Reason was a brilliant idea. Not only do you get more power to create by adding your own instruments and vocals, you also get a mixer. The mixer is based off of an SSL console and although it looks very daunting at first glance, you’ll be surprised how easy the workflow is inside of it. The sequencer has even been supercharged with new features like time stretch, transposition, and comping; giving he whose want is to mix, a veritable plethora of options as well as a set-and-forget attitude, for those who would rather make more music. The time stretch and transposing features work smooth and could take the track to extremes without too many artifacts. The comping feature gives you everything you need to combine takes and get that perfect track, all while working seamlessly with the mixer and effects windows.
Oh, and as always, you can flip the rack around using “Tab.” For the advance users who want to move those patch cables around, there is a new feature that highlights the cable you are moving while making the others transparent. For those that aren’t great with the back of the rack can use the feature to wow friends, thus making you look smarter. Thanks Propellerhead!
Another great addition is the big track meter you get when you press “F3″ on an audio track. It shows peak levels, as well as a guitar tuner that also manages not to overtake your entire screen. The window is transparent so more visibility, yeah! Lastly, my M-Audio Axiom played very nicely with Reason. I auto-searched devices and let Reason do its thing. Life is good.
Well, personally, it’s close but not quite there. Here are my issues: First off, I can’t use my thousands of dollars of plug-ins inside of Reason. Allowing this would aid greatly, as one company’s take on a particular EQ or Compressor may be good; but isn’t the end all be all. Second, I’ve spent years upon years upon years in Pro Tools and I found the sequencer section of Reason very confusing. Whereas in Pro Tools I could simply select a portion of audio and midi and throw it around wherever I want, Reason has barriers and screens to click through just to do very simple tasks. I found the workflow of cutting and pasting midi notes annoying. Sometimes you just want to highlight a section of midi and sling it around without having to crop pieces. While I think the features that sort of “get in the way” of the simpler ones are extremely powerful, I just can’t get used to their editing structure. This has been an issue since I first tried to use the program to host my entire midi. Now, this is partially due to my own stubbornness as I am used to using a certain DAW i.e.: Old dog / new tricks.
Recording the actual audio and midi with Reason is an easy press record and go, but the editing and shuttle transports are a different monster. Now I wouldn’t want this to dissuade you, but if you find yourself having trouble with this, just try running it as a rewire through your favorite DAW. WARNING: If you are using a 32 bit DAW, such as the one Avid just won’t upgrade yet for some reason, you have to tell Reason to run in 32 bit as well or it will NOT play nice. This isn’t Reason’s fault because you can’t blame the V8 for not fitting in the Honda Civic.
Do I, all things considered, think Reason has accomplished their goal in making a product that makes the act of making music more appealing and easy for the common man?
I’ll tell you this: writing Reason’s review took a lot more time than it should have. Reason being, every time I would load up a project, within minutes I was making music. I seriously have about 10 different projects saved from previous attempts to review that will probably end up as songs someday, or however long it takes me to figure out the sequencer.
It is easily the most appealing visual interface I’ve ever seen in a piece of music creation software and once you get to know it, Reason is a very intuitive as well as user friendly. Seeing that I have no real Everything Recording rating system, just take my word for it: Buying this is definitely on the higher end of best decisions you’ll make as a musician. (Insert your own closing line with word play on Reason because I just can’t do that to this great company.)