Technology

Field Test: Propellerhead Software Reason 2.5

For many, Propellerhead's Reason is the go-to application when your creation requires a whole lot of virtual synthesis and sampling horsepower. 9/01/2003 8:00 AM Eastern

For many, Propellerhead's Reason is the go-to application when your creation requires a whole lot of virtual synthesis and sampling horsepower. This app was the first of its kind and has become the de facto standard as a “virtual rack full of modules.” Reason provides both “MIDI” and “analog” sequencers; these terms are in quotes partly because the gear is virtual, but mostly because the outputs are unusable anywhere outside of Reason. Notes can be entered from an external controller, but MIDI cannot be transmitted outside of the computer in real time (although MIDI can be transmitted to other applications). Reason Version 1.0 offered the reMIX virtual mixer, Subtractor virtual analog synth and Redrum, which is essentially a traditional Roland TR-X0X drum machine on a steroid overdose. The NN19 was Reason 1.0's virtual sampler, and Dr.Rex yielded a ReCycle file player. There was also a very nice array of reverb, dynamic, EQ and other signal processing available. The ReBirth Input Device in Reason allowed users to easily stream audio from, and synchronize with, ReBirth. Reason 2.0 added Malström, a new “graintable” synthesizer (a hybridization of grain and wavetable synthesis), and the NN-XT, a very advanced version of the original NN19. Enter Reason 2.5.

THE 2.5 RUNDOWN

Reason 2.5 ($449/free upgrade from 2.0) keeps the favorites while presenting new toys, including the RV7000 Advanced Reverb, Scream 4 Distortion, BV512 Vocoder, UN-16 Unison processor, and the ability to mult both audio and CV signals via the Spider Merger/Splitter boxes.

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Starting at the top of the rack is the MIDI-In Device, a virtual MIDI interface. The next module down is the Audio Out, a virtual audio interface that allows the user to route Reason's signals out to any of 64 hardware outputs or via ReWire 2.0 to other applications. MIDI-In Device and Audio Out are permanently affixed in the topmost rackspaces.

From here on down, the configuration is up to you. You'll need to start with a mixer to get your signals together via the new and improved re-MIX. It gives you 14 stereo inputs summed to stereo at the master with an improved 2-band shelf EQ; four auxiliaries (now in stereo with number four assignable pre-fader); four stereo returns; and mute, solo and panning per channel. Very tidy. Are 14 inputs not enough? Add another mixer, or two or three. The only limitation with Reason is the CPU and RAM. While the channel EQs are nice, I find myself frequently dialing up one of Reason's 2-band parametrics for extended tweakability.

HOT NEW EFFECTS

The BV512 Vocoder is a new feature in Reason 2. This is a powerful device that includes both traditional vocoding (4, 8, 16 or 32-band) and a new FFT process. The FFT mode requires a higher CPU overhead but yields exceedingly intelligible results. As Reason's manual explains, however, part of the charm and art of vocoders comes from the grittiness of lower-resolution operation, yielding warm and crunchier sounds. I do want Ralf and Florian's sinister robot sometimes!

The traditional processors in Reason are precisely what their names imply, including high-quality delays, reverb, dynamics, EQ and so forth.

The new processors require some description, though. First is the RV7000 Advanced Reverb. This is a major step forward from Reason's original reverb unit. Among other things, it is a true stereo reverb that does not sum left and right inputs to mono before processing. Nine different fundamental algorithms are the starting point for the development of storable patches. There are also EQ and gate controls to further custom-tailor your presets. The quality of this reverb far surpasses the original Reason version.

Reason 2.5's second new effects unit is the Scream 4 Sound Destruction Unit. As its name implies, this is a distortion processor that does a bit more. It has three main sections: Damage, Cut and Body. Damage is the unit's distortion part, Cut is an EQ section, and Body creates a resonant environment around the signal (essentially, cabinet and speaker simulation). I used Scream 4 on drums and a Malström synth riff in a down-tempo, lo-fi loopy thing that I developed and found to be quite useful. Even just using the Cut and Body sections can provide unique character and extra fullness. Very nice!

The last new addition to Reason's effects rack is Unison. This has a similar effect to when an analog synth's voices are monophonically tasked to one note. There is a lush, chorus-y richness that is not exactly like chorusing. Unison actually creates four, eight or 16 clones of the signal and detunes and delays each slightly. It literally sounds like you have that many versions playing at once. This is a really hip effect.

SIGNAL ROUTING WITH STYLE

There are two other devices available in the Reason 2.5 rack that are, in my opinion, possibly the most important. Prior to this version, mults did not exist. If you wanted, for instance, to send the output of an analog sequencer to multiple synths, you had to literally provide a sequencer for each synth. This causes tremendous CPU taxation. Now, with the Spider CV and Spider Audio Merger/Splitter boxes, you can mult or merge CV or audio any which way (up to four splits per unit). Merging audio via Spider is primarily Reason's clever way of subgrouping, but yields other handy utilities, as well. Splitting audio is handy to create quasi-stereo effects, etc. Splitting CV is an interesting solution for the aforementioned problem, while merging CV can give you wild effects like combined LFOs at different frequencies. The Spider boxes open up huge new worlds of creativity.

I love Reason's new ability to detach the MIDI sequencer window and slide it over to my second monitor. The rack lives on the left and the sequencer on the right. Beautiful! Also, the LFOs are MIDI-synchable and there is much improved editing of MIDI and automation data. The original version was well-planned, and Propellerhead is now down to micro-tweaking a mature and well-developed application.

ALL THE REASON YOU NEED

Applications like Reason are making it increasingly difficult to justify to my wife the amount of space taken up by my hardware synths, samplers and drum machines. I find that I am turning on my hardware less frequently during recent months. Frankly, I can accomplish most of what I need to do with a scant handful of applications, with Reason being central to that handful. During the past two years, two different friends who wanted to get into electronic-music production without breaking their bank have approached me. In both cases, I recommended that they use Reason, expecting to spend a lot of time tutoring them (long distance, in one case!). However, they were both able to create truly amazing tracks in short order with very little assistance. That's one of the truly brilliant aspects of this product: It is equally useful to beginners and seasoned professionals.

Propellerhead, dist. in the U.S. by M-Audio, 800/969-6434, www.m-audio.com.


John McJunkin is the principal of Avalon Audio Services in Phoenix.

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