Reason 8 by Propellerhead
Reason 8 has finally become a mature sequencer. A drag-and-drop queen with all-around improved work-flow. Is there anything else that we want?
by Alex Arsov, Jan. 2015
Compared to Other DAWs
I bet you have already read a few articles about the new Reason 8, so I really don’t know if we need just another one explaining new features in it, perhaps just describing a few new functions and explaining how they change the work-flow comparing to previous version. In other words, I presume that you already get the picture of what’s up with a new version of Reason, so maybe we should concentrate how Reason 8 compares to other DAWs on the market and what are the benefits are, or even what we are still missing in this new version compared to the competition.
So, this will not be a standard article that attempts to convince those that are already convinced, simply skipping all those readers who don’t use Reason in the first place. Time to go to the wild side.
What It Has
Reason 8 somehow has become a mature DAW. It used to be a good choice for electro musicians, but after all those years it proves to be more of a Rock-and-Pop oriented DAW. The is mainly because electro music has changed drastically over those years, while the Propellerhead team decided to open their DAW to a wider audience, emphasizing the idea of an “easy to start” approach and offering an “all inclusive” program that is also well known for its great stability, being a very CPU-light at the same time.
Talking about the electro modern genre – it is still possible to make ultra-modern EDM songs with it. At first I didn’t get that impression, glancing through all sounds, noticing that there are no separate Pluck and Arpeggio directories. But digging deeper I realized that Arpeggio presets could be found under Sequenced or Rhythmical ones, while plucked are hidden between general synth patches.
Reason is the number one DAW for my senior son, so after I got the new version, he asked me if I could help him making a classical Big Room EDM song. As I mentioned before, I was a bit skeptical at first, but after two days he finished his first Big Room song.
Rise and Shine
Various risers and breaks were a piece of cake, changing pitch bend range to 24 semitones on Subtractor, right clicking on band range, adding an automation, then right clicking on the volume knob and adding automation. For adding reverb, right click on wet /dry knob and add that automation. All that we did after that was to add a line raising all that automation from 0 to 127 during a selected number of bars, raising pitch, adding volume and opening reverb. All in all, it was a half-minute job. There are innumerable small things that I could complain about regarding Reason 8, but it is still one of the fastest DAWs available. They used to say that Reason is an ideal DAW for making sketches, as you can immediately start recording your idea. But then you’d want to finish it latter in some other DAW. With the new version of Reason and the new mixer that was introduced a few versions ago, along with some other additional effects that come from version to version, Reason 8 has become a complete DAW in which songs can not only be finished but also mastered on a very high quality level. There is just one issue – OK, it is just my personal opinion, but the whole songwriting environment is built with a common performing musician in mind. This is a tool that can be used even if you are just a musician without some expertise about computers or additional producing skills. But on the other hand, the mixer is a copy of a well-known studio mixer with which old masters did the entire job just using their ears. I’m a music professional, but still have not reached that level. First, I don’t like to work in an absolutely isolated space, and secondly, I simply like to combine my eyes together with my ears, as my speakers don’t cover the whole range of frequencies. Yes, new equalizer has an FFT display, showing me frequencies in a real time, but most of the other tools in Reason are still missing some additional viewable information that indicates the exact amount of the change you are applying.
Maybe most performing musicians are using just their ears in their everyday production, but this is not the case with me. I’m also afraid that this is even less the case with various home enthusiasts who are searching for an ideal “easy to start” DAW.
Otherwise, the Reason mixer is very professional and fine-sounding tool with some really great options like showing the chosen color of your track, allowing you to easily orientate yourself, knowing exactly which channel you are tweaking at the moment. It is also pretty straightforward to add send effects, to add a side-chain compression, or even to cut the low end on every channel using just a few clicks directly in the main mixer window.
As you can see, this big fancy Reason mixer brings me some mixed emotions. At one level, it is great, while on another, I have some issues taming details, as opposed to when using similar mixing consoles in a past. Small mixers, yes, but in a big studio, I was just an instrumentalist watching skilled boys to see how they did their magic with those knobs. I’m a visual kind of a person, I need pictures.
Reason 8 brings a more up-to-date browser, concentrating more on work flow. This new big browser has become more or less standard for all mayor DAWs nowadays, even the latest Cubase offers it in the new version 8. A new browser brings some significant improvements: now instruments, effects or even patches could be easily dragged to the arrangement window. Selecting the instrument, you get instant access to all sounds available to within instrument. The only drawback is that the company well known for their stretch algorithms, being one of the first in the market offering real time stretching, didn’t have any tool or option in the browser for previewing third-party loops in real time synced to the host. Of course, it is not so hard to adapt loops in Reason, syncing it with host BPM, but I really miss that real time preview.
Compared to other DAWs on the market, it should be said that Reason 8 still has a unique set of effects and instruments that are sound fresh while being very useful at the same time, covering most typical musical needs. Included synthesizers were always the strong point of Reason, even from the early beginnings. The same can be said for some other tools, an impressive arsenal of drum tools, very interesting and decent sounding effects. The new version even brings some new guitar amps made in cooperation with Softube. That’s the point at which Reason still shines, and it includes really everything that you need for modern production. I expected some new synthesizers that can cover some more specialized applications, or maybe we should say sounds, as this arsenal of synthesizers is unchanged through several versions. Also I never understood why Propellerhead never decided to implement some instruments from their old Rebirth adventure. Some Roland 303 emulation could not do any harm and it could bring some electro charm back into the picture. Also in most other DAWs, it is possible to put some “locators” inside an arrangement window, letting you know where exactly you are at the moment, especially if we take into consideration that almost all of modern music is based on 4, 8 or16 bars combinations.
From MIDI through Blocks to the Full Arrangement
MIDI editing is also improved in this new version, but is still not as advanced as in some other DAWs. Nevertheless, now we can resize MIDI notes from both sides, double clicking will add a note and double clicking on a note will erase it. It is also possible to duplicate notes with a quick command. In previous versions, I spent too much time editing recording sessions. This is much better now. If you ever spent some time with Reason, then I presume you already know how easy it is to add MIDI elements, to build blocks, and to rearrange them around. Also, adding more lanes to every track makes the arranging process much easier than in many other DAWs: one lane for kick, another for clap, additional for hi-hats and so on. One more lane for crashes and you get all of the elements building tension during the track by simply copying or deleting some blocks on various lanes. Even my son got the concept in just a few minutes, making some additional noise for choruses and building a tension at the end of the verses.
Reason 8 is absolutely still the fastest link between musical idea and final results. It is still a DAW with one of the most professional collections of great sounding synthesizers. Then there’s the fabulous drum tool along with one great loop player, and lately, also sporting a really useful rank of guitar amplifiers. Still missing is an auto stretching algorithm for third party loops, previewing them in real time synced with host BPM. Still missing is an advanced pitch tool correction option in an audio editor. Neptune is cool, but not enough. You can edit, or we should say stretch, an audio file in a very clever way, dragging attacks left and right, quantizing audio with a mouse in an arrangement window. But on the other hand, you don’t have additional audio editing functionality. Kong drum designer and Redrum are great and really inspirational tools that make Reason very special. The only real competitor on that field is a Groove Agent 4 SE which comes with Cubase. Working with MIDI blocks is a pure joy, but I would like to see more advanced MIDI tools in a future upgrade. It would be a sin not to mention some of the great effects, being so specific or sporting some additional options that are pretty rare to see bundled with a DAW. For example, there’s Pulveriser, as they call one pretty dirty compressor, and Alligator Filter Gate that can really change the character of almost any signal that you feed into it. One more, one of my favorites, is Scream 4 Distortion. It can scream in all possible colors, from hysterical to an emulation of an old lady smoker. I really like this one.
If that is not enough for you, there are plenty of new Reason Racks extensions in the Propellerhead’s shop offering a great many additional instruments, effects and sounds, loops or presets for instruments. Just today came an EDM booster pack offering a large number of sounds, loops and presets that could help you to become a pro EDM producer with Reason. So, Reason is not so much a closed environment as it used to be, but it is still unique in the market. There is no reason to not own Reason, even if you already own some other DAW. It is different, it is fun to use and it offers all the tools from start to finish for your production. It even comes with a pretty solid orchestral sound bank.
A different approach offers different solutions, so maybe it can bring you some additional inspiration. If you still have reservations about your final production product, there is still the option to export your tracks through Rewire, finishing your job in your favorite DAW.
Reason 8 comes at reasonable price € 369 EUR and Reason 8 Essentials for € 99 EUR.
For more informations visit Propellerhead’s site: