Reason 5, has it delivered ?
At the 25th of August it was a big day for the Propellerheads company in Sweden. That day marked the release of their newest products: Reason 5 and Record 1.5 (the latter being a free upgrade from Record 1.0). At that day Reason & Record users had been well prepped and got excited with many catchy and funny YouTube video’s. Like this one:
But now on 7/9/2010, almost 2 weeks after the events, the question naturally start to rise; has it delivered?
Recap; Reason and Record
First let us do a quick recap, also for those of you who are unfamiliar with Reason and / or Record.
Reason is a program aimed at creating music. It simulates a 19″ rack in which you can place several devices. From synthesizers and other kinds of instruments to sound effects and other supporting devices such as mixer panels. And obviously Reason also comes with a sequencer which allows you to record midi data. Thus you can use Reason to create whole compositions.
The thing which makes Reason so unique is quickly discovered when you take a closer look at the rack. With a press of the tab key you can ‘turn the rack around’ which shows the back side of the devices. This gives you full control over every kind of signal which is being processed. Devices like instruments have audio out connectors. Obviously devices which generate a sound effect will have both audio in as well as audio out connectors. And finally; most devices also have so called ‘CV connectors‘, and this is one of the things which makes Reason particular interesting. ‘CV’ stands for ‘Control Voltage‘ and immediately refers to the modular hardware synthesizers where you’d use such connectors to control certain aspects of a device.
And the same thing applies to Reason. Using CV connectors you can basically control most devices in Reason, or have them controlled by other devices. For example; the moment you play a note on the Thor synthesizer it doesn’t only send out the audio data, but will also send out a CV signal which you can then use to trigger other devices at the same time.
While all of this may sound very familiar to people who have experience with DAW’s rest assured that according to its programmers; Reason is not a DAW. Basically this also isn’t possible considering that Reason doesn’t support audio inputs (not talking about the latest version).
Now, I don’t own Record myself so can’t go into specific details here. Record is, as the name suggest, a program which is fully targeted at audio processing. Although it can be used in a stand alone fashion this really isn’t a feasible setup; Record expects to be used in combination with Reason. As soon as this connection is made you’ll have all the Reason devices at your disposal as well as the sequencer. But this time everything is enhanced in that you can now also fully utilize and process audio data.
Reason 5 & Record 1.5
As soon as the Propellerheads announced that new versions of their flagship products would soon come out it seemed as if everyone went in a frenzy. And the Propellerheads played a big part in all this too. The whole release date was carefully ‘hyped’ by providing bits and pieces of information about the new versions every now and then.
All done through often very funny but interesting YouTube video’s… Most will recall the first week in which the Propellerheads started to announce their “big news”; every day a countdown would start after which a new movie was released which would describe yet another new feature in either Reason or Record (up to a total of 5 movies).
And some of them were simply funny:
Yet despite all the humor there is of course a big risk which is being taken here. At least in my opinion. That of creating a hype; exaggerating things a little bit so that they might look better than they are.
Take for example the video about the Rex loop player vs. the Dr. OctoRex. One of the comments is that using multiple loop players can create a big mess and so; here comes the OctoRex which supports up to 8 loops in one unit. Sounds too good to be true, and in a way it is. While you can indeed load 8 loops and have full control over these loops there is one thing which isn’t fully made clear. You can only play 1 loop at a time. Now, it certainly brings in new possibilities; when you bring in, say, a bass drum you can now have one device contain several sections of the bass track. So; it could take care of an intro, the main beat, perhaps a variation or two and perhaps an ending sequence.
So far, so good. But as soon as you’re going to use more loops; also for drums, lead and other sounds and you wish to mix those together then basically nothing changes. You will still end up with one device for drums, another for bass, another for leads, and so on. So instead of removing clutter in the rack the OctoRex basically only expands on the things we can do with Rex loops.
Another big addition in Reason 5 is the Kong drum designer. “16 pads… one sound per pad…“, its what is also being demonstrated in the youtube video I showed at first. Yet here I think it is fair to ask ourselves; what exactly is new here? Obviously the option to have 16 different pads at your disposal. Next are the Drum synths; these really make creating synthetic drums a breeze. You drag them in and in no time can you have it play a large range of different drum sounds. A pad can then be filtered in many ways; each can utilize its own 2 individual FX effects, and all can share two global bus effects.
And Kong wouldn’t be a real Reason device if it didn’t allow for some massive tweaking in its own; like inserting external effects into its own routing scheme; thus even allowing to use Thor as an external ring modulator (not that you really need that anyway; Kong comes with its own Ring Modulator effect).
So far one great looking new version, or what ?!
Yes… And no.
While there is no denying that there are many exciting new changes (I haven’t even mentioned ‘Blocks’) there are also changes which I think might very well annoy many Reason users.. Note; I said Reason users, not the combination of Reason/Record.
IMO it starts off with the transport panel. Since Reason 5 the transport panel looks exactly the same as that of Record. And I wonder if that is a good thing. First lets bring both of them together:
Now, when it comes to looks that is obviously a personal taste. But it would be fun to know what that navigator panel at the top of the Reason 5 transport bar is doing there… Even if you totally hide the sequencer it will have no effect on the navigator panel; this will always remain visible unless you decide to undock the sequencer. Then you will end up with a “clean” rack like you were used to in Reason 4. Of course; undocking cannot be done as easily as simply hiding the sequencer… The reasons for my concern come from the fact that this navigator bar makes a whole lot more sense in Record; where you almost have constant contact with the sequencer. But what if you’re a sound designer who’s only interested in patching? Then you’d need to give up quite a bit of your rack space indeed! Especially since you can’t ‘maximize’ a Reason rack as you can do with other programs. It has a fixed width and a rather fixed maximum length.
I get the feeling they’re trying to turn things more mainstream, and by doing so somewhat ignore the die hards; people who have been using this software for years.
L has always been used to unclutter the cables at the back end of the rack. With Reason 5 (and Record 1.5) this has suddenly changed to ‘K’ since L is now required to turn the Looper on or off (the common key for that is /). Now, this change would have made a lot more sense to me were it not for the fact that all major looper keyboard shortcuts still reside on the numerical keypad.
“SO you press K instead of L, big deal….“.
Sure. Still, I think that changes like that put certain things into a totally new context. Not so much for most of the ‘die-hard’ Reason users, I get the idea that many have long adopted Record already.
But what about people who didn’t? Better yet; who use Reason inside another DAW as an extension to their work ? Now things start to look a whole lot different…
Reason 5, for an Ableton Live user ?
Take for example someone like me who’s using Ableton Live as his main DAW.
Obviously I don’t need a sequencer visible since Live will be in charge of that; Live sends midi data to Reason over rewire, after which Reason will send back the generated audio. So why would I want to lose a rather big part of my rack to a panel I’d never use in the first place, only because it can’t be deleted ?
OctoRex vs. Rex. Obviously there are differences. But would I really notice them ? 8 samples is cool, but I can always do this quite easily in Live too. I’m more interested in the things I can’t do in Live; like adjusting the pitch and such for a single slice in the loop.
Kong.. Awesome drum synths, really, but in the end; isn’t this also well comparable to a drum rack in Ableton Live ?
Where Kong can give me 16 pads, 2 individual effects per pad and 2 global effects (and it can use external effects as well) I can use 128 pads in Live which can each have a nearly endless amount of effects assigned to them. Within the drum rack I can also use sends and returns; yet also not limited to 2 but 6 in total. And that is of course not mentioning the things one can do with routing, although Live isn’t as extensive as Reason it can sure pack a punch on some occasions.
Yes, there are exciting things happening with Reason & Record, I’m not denying this what so ever. What I am wondering about is what we’re dealing with here.. Is this really innovation? Or one massive attempt to ‘catch up’ so to speak ?
Right now I fear that the ongoing integration will make Reason less and less appealing for people who might want to use it as an extension to their gear. And I think its a rotten shame too since Reason has so much to offer on that part.
And well, Reason 5 just isn’t for me. When comparing the annoyances with the amount of new features I can’t help considering it more important to steer clear of the annoyances. So for me its still Reason 4, all the way.