by Arthur Stone
Reason Studios (formerly Propellerheads) Reason 11 Suite is a fully-featured digital audio workstation (DAW) including software instruments, effects, utilities, and everything needed to make music - either standalone or as part of another hardware or software system, on almost any device. Reason is CPU-efficient, mature, stable, and up-to-date. Reason's forté is as a creative music-production tool.
Twenty years ago, the paper-based audio magazines began to carry adverts for novel digital software technology: I wondered if I should buy 'Reason' or 'Logic'?
Twenty years ago today: It's 5am, I power up the audio computers and begin the day: much the same as the last 20 years. I've had many computers, monitors, instruments, interfaces, preamps, and microphones, many project styles and genres of music, but one thing has been consistent for two decades - Propellerheads Reason.
I still get the same sense of anticipation and excitement as the first time Reason opened; it has served well both as a working tool and the home for my music.
In some ways nothing has changed since the early version. The same familiar layout - the mixer, the rack, and the sequencer - but every update and each version has added something novel and useful, and honed and crafted the musician/producers dream software.
Until a few weeks ago I was still using v7 on an old laptop - even though v10 was available to install as on my other computers. My best machine, iZ RADAR Studio, runs Reason. It's perfect. Something I appreciate every time I turn it on. Today, at 5am is no exception.
I'm looking forward to smooth, glitchless, multicore operation; the ability to open decade-old projects. I can run Reason on 3 computers (of varying age/capability) and besides the DAW aspect, Reason's browser can manage all my files, tools and projects, accessible in seconds plus there is management of external devices.
Although some DAW's and plug-ins now use similar connectivity graphics, Reason was possibly first. It certainly helped me understand and get into the DAW world in a way that numerical/text menu-driven patch systems could not. It's a no-brainer. Very instinctual workflow and ergonomics.
If your entry to music production came after DAW's and computers, post-analogue, there is still a lot that can be learnt from this system. How audio and CV signals move through a system, whether digital or analogue. At it's heart, in my experience, Reason is a solid educational tool in addition to it's music production capabilities. I now approach analogue gear (e.g. modular synths) with knowledge gained from Reason and this may be especially useful for a user who has only known digital computer-based music-making.
Reason's sequencer section is like a tape-machine laid out - the tape stretched linearly across the scrolling page rather than looped up in reels. The mixer and rack layout are instantly familiar as their historic analogue counterparts.
The most recent synths - Europa, Parsec, Grain Sample Manipulator, Scenic, Complex-1, Layers - cover a range of synthesis methods. The effects are updated and extra semi-autonomous players added.
Despite the myriad of new Propellerheads/Reason Studios (and 3rd-party) synths, the underlying sound is still 'Reason' with a smooth polished sonic output; the major improvements have been in the colour and timbre of instruments and I hear this as an improvment in e.g. brass instruments and strings. The new voice instruments are an improvement on previous versions.
Reason Wikipedia page: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Reason_(software)
Reason Suite vs the Standard Edition: The product reviewed here is the Reason 11 Suite: until now I'd aways opted for the basic non-suite versions as I didn't need the extras - mainly as I have other options e.g. 3rd-party software and live instruments, but also for the cost-saving and unwanted features.
I'm genuinely surprised at the range and value of the version 11 suite: no fillers or dodgy samples that'll never be used; no obscure and out-dated utilities.
The quality of the instruments, players, effects, samples, and utilities, is outstanding and they all feel part of the original standalone basic DAW interface without feeling like bolted-on additions.
Reason Instruments: The earliest Reason instruments and effects are still included (AFAIK nothing has ever been removed) and still eminently usable and valid. The later additions e.g. the Thor synth, The Echo delay, the SSL-style mixer and bus comp, all added value and capability.
The Reason Suite offers a full compliment of 28 top-quality instruments- from realistic emulations of real hardware instruments to cutting-edge virtual synthesis: in addition, the means to articulate the instruments in a fairly convincing way (talent aside!)- if one understands how an orchestra is situated and how it operates then Reason will allow the user to articulate that, even build-custom instruments...otherwise there is a patch for that.
The recently-released Friktion (which models string instruments) indicates that Propellerheads recognise areas for improvement and provide solutions for users - in this case the ability to manipulate the 'string' with the nuance and articulation of performance and create a more authentic, plausible sound.
The utility aspect of Reason has always been strong and rock-solid; delay-compensated stability. Crazy, complex routing of both audio and control-voltage, CV devices, a comprehensive mixer system with multiple channels, sends, inserts and auxes - plus mults. The ability to export in multiple formats or bounce specific channels or stems and time/pitch shift in high-fidelity.
The sequencer and audio/MIDI track editing is also fully-featured with assists such as quantise and groove patterns. In addition, 7 players, arpeggiators, note-generators, plus sample and .rex players offer pre-patched bread-and-butter rhythms, grooves and song starters; the players are an inspiration for sound design or creating novel and off-beat sounds.
The SSL-style mixer acts as a control centrepiece for the tracks and fx; combined with automation it acts like an instrument itself and it imprints a sonic character on the mix but in terms of dynamic speed and snapiness rather than colour.
Price: Reason Suite 11 is £499: direct download; 74 devices (16 extra over standard version); free trial; 30-day return policy. Includes standalone DAW/devices and VT3/AU/AAX plug-in to run Reason in other DAW's/applications.
Upgrade from previous versions: £229
The standard version, Reason 11 is £309 (upgrade £119).
The entry level version is: £69
Reason pricing page: https://www.reasonstudios.com/shop/b...ware&sort=name
Propellerheads have always been reasonable(heh) and consistent with upgrade packages for existing users. Even on a budget it's possible to keep Reason relevant with access to the latest features/utilities and maintenance updates. Every version is usable and capable. Even demo mode.
The update management and sync with online account and licenses is first-rate. Stress-free.
Tech Specs: 74 devices: virtual instruments, effects and utilities...plus whatever you add!
Over 29,000 device patches, loops, and samples.
Runs on Windows/Mac.
Full extensive details can be found here: https://www.reasonstudios.com/shop/p...ason-11-suite/
Comparison with other DAW's: Aside from Reason's forté as a creative tool for musicians and producers, version 11 covers the basics (as every other DAW), the main workflow difference being the interface, and the methodologies to achieve a given result. Most DAW's speak a common language in this sense but Reason's WYSIWYG interface is more visually intuitive than DAW's with more-businesslike drop-down menus and utility-led infrastructure.
I've used other DAW's, as a comparison: Cubase, Mackie Tracktion, Harrison Mixbus, Ableton, but Reason has always been preferrable in terms of creativity.
Reason is not the 'industry-standard' DAW - which is generally Pro Tools; Reason is used professionally and the latest features (like the new VST3 format) make it easier for Reason to segue into other DAW/NLE ecosystems.
Rack Extensions - originally developed to wrap VST/code into the (then) closed Reason ecosystem - offer a range of instruments, samples, effects, and utilities from a range of sources: pro instruments from name manufacturers and high-end boutique effects alongside a vast range of 'roots programmers/compilers' and talented enthusiasts...some free, some well-priced, some expensive.
I've purchased many: Korg MonoPoly; Softube outboard emulations; cheap modular components; alongside many free ones e.g. CV meter.
The Rack Extensions (RE's) often have the same code and functionality as the VST originals - but inside the RE wrapper. In many years of use I've never noticed that the RE wrapper negatively affects performance and given the solid base of Reason's closed-ecosystem, the Rack Extensions run more smoothly and efficiently than their VST counterparts.
Of course, Reason will run VST's now but the old Rack Extension architecture and marketplace still have a valid purpose and usability.
Like Rack Extensions, the Propellerheads ReFill, is another container for samples and patches that utilise Reasons existing devices or instruments, and again there is an extensive marketplace of free and commercial ReFills covering everything from orchestras to world music or specific instruments.
In the newer instruments I hear presets or sounds that have been re-packaged or assigned to a different player - despite the addition of new instruments, the sonic range has not expanded equally IMO. A positive angle is that there is more than one way to achieve a sound, particularly with different control inputs (CV, keyboard, drumpad, audio-to-MIDI) and this accomodates a range of musicians needs.
Another perceived negative is the lack of video facilities e.g. a simple video player track that sync's to the DAW controls. There are fiddly, cost-extra workarounds with third-party software. Life would have been easier with an onboard video track.
These points aside there are no other notable negatives; Propellerheads have carefully curated Reason, listened to their users, and kept stability and reliability at the core of the experience.
The home-studio is ever gaining popularity as a project space for online collaboration and professional work. I straddle the line between home-studio, project studio, and semi-professional output. I like my output to be intelligible to professional listeners and Reason allows me to achieve this: an example is brass instruments - they won't fool a pro (a leisure listener might not even know the difference or care) but can act as a placeholder.
Brass is a tough example for Reason; as are strings. Other applications e.g. Spitfire, have some appeal, as I hear those instruments as more plausible and realistic, especially over a wider range of performance control and nuance; but if these limitations are accepted then Reason's 'jack-of-all-trades' capability is perfectly acceptable. Propellerheads are seemingly aware of weak areas and, for example, the latest instrument - Friktion string modeler - bridges the gap to bespoke third-party software.
One of Reason's fortés is track creation: quickly assembling a beat and rhythm and from that to laying down chords, hooks, melodies - the early basic elements of a more complex production. More than just a basic sketchpad but the bare bones of the song. From this the range of instruments and effects available enable the filling out of the basic sketch.
Summing Up: Different DAW's cover similar functionality and facilities - they sound very similar: the difference is in the user interface, specific features, graphics, and workflow. So quite a personal decision.
The best advice, if you haven't already decided, is to try demo versions; explore the workflow and suitability for the task in hand. Does the DAW inspire you?
The Propellerheads Reason Suite offers 74 instruments/fx - in short, everything needed to make professonal-sounding music - even if the user has no talent or zero experience. For mid-, or advanced users, there is a lot of capability and challenges on offer: the latest updates offer deep-learning of synthesis and control technology...new ways of thinking about music and sound design. Novel, organic creative technology.
The written manual and extensive knowledge base, along with the instruments, offer years of exploration, discovery, and education. Reason's interface mimics real hardware and control voltage and audio signal paths; as such, it's a great gateway to hardware and I've applied techniques learnt in Reason to my hardware studio and methods.
Nearly two decades in, Propellerheads Reason is showing no signs of growing old; constant development and innovation; improving the user experience.
Sound quality: 5/5 Even with a basic computer soundcard or device, Reason is capable of epic sounds: very rich and detailed; good timbre, solidity, and thickness. On a high-end interface the experience is enjoyable: there is a visceral presence and captivating charm.
Features: 5/5 Nothing is missing (apart from a video channel). There are too many features to cover in full (and more are added each update) but more importantly, the features do not interfere with music creation: they assist.
Ease of use: 5/5 As good as it get's for a DAW. For the beginner there's an initial learning curve (made easier by Reason's straight-forward user interface and handy Tutorials window)) but even after 20 years I'm still learning new things each session; there is a lot of in-depth tweaking and hidden-capability for experienced users. A lot of potential.
Bang-for-buck: 5/5 Super-impressive suite for the money. Great value. Whatever the trimmings, at the heart is a solid, reliable DAW.
By Douglas O'Brien from Canada - IMGP2543, CC BY-SA 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/inde...curid=41150509