Propellerhead Reason 9.5 – Thinking Inside The Box
Propellerhead Software released version 9.5 of their venerable Reason software this year, and since we loved version 8 so much, we thought it only fair to check out the latest version to see what’s on offer this time around…and as it turns out, quite a lot, actually.
Thanks for tuning in again to StudioWise, we’re talking about one of the big guns in the digital audio workstation scene, the one and only Reason. The last time we were here was 3 years ago with version 8, which at the time was a mammoth leap forward for the company, introducing many ground-breaking features and improvements. Reason has always been considered the black sheep due to its total snobbery of the VST standard all other developers have adopted but with the 9.5 shock announcement of full VST support – the internet we crazy.
What is the Reason?
If you’re unfamiliar with Reason, let’s look at the major differences between this and the competition. Reason’s whole schtick is it emulates a real-world studio environment, so things like rack units actually look and behave like their real-world counterparts – you can even spin them around to tinker with the patching like you would in your studio, less all the swearing and bloody knuckles. The mixing desk is a true SSL emulation and again follows a real-world signal flow from input gain through dynamics, EQ, and inserts to the main faders – again, just like in your studio. technically any DAW can do this, with Reason you have a more tactile feeling due to the visual elements making more sense with our monkey brains. In essence, you can patch anything to anything, and insert any effect on any track or instrument. It’s a digital sandbox playground for people who love the engineering side as much as the audio side of making music.
Reason has a couple of pretty nifty party tricks up its sleeve as well. Thanks to this rack interface you are able to make ‘super racks’ inside your racks (?!) using the amazing combinator. Think of a combinator as a single rack module containing as many other rack modules as you like. Technically a subgroup, however, the ability to split MIDI to individual instruments, customise your patching and create individual mixes all within a single combinator opens up a world of possibilities that would simply be stupidly difficult to do in any other DAW.
Also, Reason has an amazing audio engine that flawlessly resamples audio on the fly, meaning sampling, looping, and pitching samples is a breeze. Assigning any samples to, for instance, a drum pad or keyboard stroke is easy. Chopping up samples and rearranging the output becomes extremely useful for more than trap and dubstep producers now. For sequencing and MIDI arrangements Reason has some really creative tools like a built-in groove arranger, quantize tools and a block mode where you can create chunks of songs and drop them in as you need, aka Ableton Live style.
Reason has a built-in shop where you can purchase extra rack units (extensions as they’re called), sample packs or even some VST instruments. Mostly everything is excellent value, around $25-$50, though a few titles push into the higher $100’s. You can easily shop for a bunch of top-quality 3rd party plugins for a fraction of what you’d spend on VSTs elsewhere.
So there’s a lot to see and do within the DAW, and while it’s by far the easiest of the lot to operate once you’re familiar, it will take a little time to accustom yourself if you’re crossing over from another DAW.
Reason also suffers a fairly dramatic performance dip due to all the routing and DSP eye candy in use, so don’t expect stellar performance. Mostly we found around 5-10% drop over similar projects in Reaper, which is not a huge problem – however large orchestral templates with 100+ tracks literally ground to a complete halt. A few emails from tech support on the subject eventually led them to go silent and not reply – we’ll take that as a “‘”yes, we know about the performance issues”
This, however, is not a deal breaker – you just need to be aware all this studio porn comes at a cost. We know Propellerheads will be working frantically to increase performance in future releases, so it’s just a case of enjoying the view and being patient.
Price wise Reason is actually quite reasonable too (bad pun intended). Out of the box, Reason contains a massive collection of instruments and effects – quite literally everything you need, but if you need more than you need even buying a bunch of high-end plugins from the shop would be less than you’d spend, for instance, buying Cubase or Cakewalk with a similar setup. Fortunately now with the VST support, you can use all your effects and instruments directly with Reason, so chances are you don’t even need to extend your credit card limit.
At the end of the day it comes down to what makes you make better music, and for me – even with the DSP hit, Reason just feels like home. I’m instantly in the zone when I start dropping in rack units, plugging in synths and tweaking the mixing console – I just love that, it’s my happy place, and it shows in the music I make with Reason. In other DAWs, routing up a bunch of effects sends and subgroups is a pain – in Reason, it’s what you can’t wait to do.
You can download Reason 9.5 for a 14-day trial which I highly recommend you do. Just set aside a few days to really get to know the interface, watch a few tutorial videos (the official ones are excellent) and just have some fun with it. I will guarantee you won’t want to give it back.