Field Test: Propellerhead Software Reason 2.5For many, Propellerhead's Reason is the go-to application when your creation requires a whole lot of virtual synthesis and sampling horsepower.
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.
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
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
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
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
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.
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.
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