Almost 2 years ago I wrote my first ‘real’ blog post and started off being pretty critical about Reason 5; I couldn’t help notice that the stand alone version of Reason picked up many traits from Record, yet sometimes it simply didn’t add up for me. In a way I felt that Record was influencing Reason in a negative manner.
This is also why I chose not to use Reason 5 even though my license allowed me to (I bought Reason 4 in the ‘free upgrade’ period which started right after version 5 was announced).
Well, Reason version 6 has been released which incorporates the Record program. And believe it or not; in my opinion Reason 6 has brought back all the specific traits which Reason 5 seemed to lack. It’s been 2 weeks since I upgraded from version 4 to version 6 myself, and (almost) 2 years since I wrote that very critical comment on Reason 5. So time for a re-run; what is it that makes Reason 6 shine for Reason 4 users, especially in comparison with Reason 5?
Reason 4 vs. Reason 5
Its been a while since I wrote that critical blog post about the Reason version which I really did not like. Note that this dislike didn’t even involve the sound engine; it was all about the interface. I never made it a secret that I considered the enhancements to be very impressive (blocks and Kong to name two) but the interface just didn’t work for me.
For all the details you’ll just have to follow the link up there, but the main grievance was centred around the extra space being consumed by the interface (the sequencer navigator to be precise) with no way to turn it off. While maybe not a big issue for Reason users who also actively used the sequencer; for someone who’s using Reason in a rewired situation this only took away precious rack space.
Another one of my annoyances was the “blending in” of the devices; it felt as if it took longer for a device to appear in the rack. And to me this feature didn’t make much sense, only later did I learn why this behaviour was implemented, though it somewhat strengthened my impression about Record influencing Reason.
So what advantages does Reason 6 have which 5 didn’t? Keep in mind though that I’m comparing things with Reason 4 in mind, not 5.
The first thing I started looking for when I gave Reason 6 a try was a way to turn off the navigation panes. After all; now that Record has become one with Reason the number of panes had even increased; on the right and upper sides of the screen reside the rack navigators which help you scroll through the rack, while the sequencer navigator is also still there at the bottom.
Fortunately for me that option was but a mouse click away as you can see on the left. The only feature request I may have is a keyboard shortcut to make this selection quicker, but apart from that this really fixed the interface annoyance for me.
If you turn off the navigators you’ll loose the (IMO:) annoying sequencer navigation as well as both rack navigators.
The best part is that this doesn’t have to be a problem at all; Reason has us covered anyway when it comes to rack navigation. If you use your mouse wheel you can scroll through the rack. But if you keep shift pressed then you can scroll between all the extra racks you may have added. That’s a well thought out feature in my opinion!
The song determines the looks
Another feature I quickly discovered and came to enjoy is that a lot of these features (navigator on / off, blocks mode on / off, and so on) can be determined on a per-song basis. Put differently: if you save your song you’ll also save the state of your interface. Absolutely brilliant! I normally use Reason rewired to Live, so all the extra’s are pretty much useless to me there.
But as of version 6 I also began experimenting with Reason stand alone every now and then. In those situations it makes a lot of sense to keep a sequencer navigator around. So instead of having to turn this on and off all the time I merely start Reason, load in my “stand alone song” and Reason does the rest for me.
And there’s more…
For those of us who want even more rack space there’s an extra option; I marked it blue in the screenshot above. If you click the arrow to the right of the transport panel then the whole panel will be hidden! And just like with the options I mentioned above; the panel state is saved with the song file.
This was a very welcome surprise for me since I usually have no use for the transport at all. Normally I’m busy patching stuff which is going to be used within Ableton Live.
At one time I actually thought that Reason would always assign a rack to each new track you added but fortunately that is not the case. The extra rack space is only there to help you keep a better overview. By adding new racks you can group devices together which still remain part of your song, but are simply put in a different location. Often this also makes your rack more accessible; for example you could keep the devices you most often tamper with located at the top so that you only need to scroll sideways (shift-mousewheel) to reach them.
But speaking of tracks…
Reason 6 also introduces a new mixer section, one which is sure to overwhelm when you take your first look at it; on the right you get an impression of what it looks like when you have 1 track together with the always present master section in your song.
As you can see it has everything; compressors, filters, equalisers, send and insert effects, faders… All controls right at your fingertips right where it counts. This thing is both huge and extensive.
But this also creates a bit of a problem. A track in your sequencer will manifest itself as an extra strip in the mixer section. Makes perfect sense. But what about the rack?
Instead of creating extra racks per track Reason now has 2 new rack devices which represent the tracks in the rack, you can see their pictures above this section.
A mix channel device represents a MIDI track in the sequencer whereas the Audio Track… Well, obviously enough this represents an audio track.
As you can see they look quite similar to a combinator device; both have an insert fx section as well as a programmer section. The main difference is that the rotaries and buttons are only visible when you show the programmer section.
That is done because the idea is to configure your send effects using the mixer section and not so much from inside the rack.
Oh, and about that blending effect if you add a new device? If you have a lot of tracks and need to edit some of the insert effects then you can do so right from the mixer panel; just click the edit button.
But then its really helpful that you’re not only taken back to the rack; Reason also highlights the device which you need to use. That is very useful if your rack is filled with a lot of devices.
But what if you’re really overwhelmed here and quite frankly long for the trusty old 14:2 mixer which you’ve been using all this time?
That is no problem for Reason 6.
Simply flip the rack and remove the audio connection from the master section to the hardware device. Since you cannot remove the master section you’ll have to fold it so that it doesn’t take up too much space.
Now pull in a 14:2 mixer and it will automatically connect itself to the hardware device. And then you’re all set; every device you add into the rack below the mixer connects itself to the 14:2 allowing you to use Reason as you always have.
So; before you add a device by double clicking in the tool window or using “Create instrument” you need to make sure to click the section below the mixer so that the new device will be put there.
Or simply keep shift pressed and make the connections yourself of course…
Still, I think that if you give it some time and effort you’ll soon become quite familiar with the new workflow.
Better hardware management
Although I normally use Reason rewired into Ableton Live I have experimented with it while using it stand alone. Unfortunately that was never lasting fun because the moment I started Reason (4) rewired again then I’d get all sorts of error messages about MIDI connection problems.
Fortunately that has also been fixed in Reason 6. I have all my hardware setup; from my Casio keyboard, my MPD24 right to my APC40 (even though its usage it somewhat limited in Reason). I can do anything I want while using Reason stand alone and the very moment I use it in rewired mode I don’t get any errors about missing hardware. That is user friendly… But also invites you to play with a stand-alone Reason some more.
And even in the event where you don’t have a keyboard present you can still do a fair share of patching and testing thanks to the new on-screen keyboard. This allows you to use your computer keyboard or mouse to generate MIDI data.
I think that Reason 6 has come a very long way and I hope that this post gives you a bit of an idea as to all the advantages it gives you in comparison to Reason 4 (or 5 without Record). Or maybe you’re a newcomer and are simply curious about Reason, in that case I hope this gave you a good impression of the extensiveness which is Reason.
Personally I still believe that a lot of changes were setup because Propellerhead software had quite a bit of catching up to do, for example the issue of audio support. But leave it to the Propellerheads to not only catch up to modern standards or demands, but also raise the bar even higher.
For an example of that try searching for “SSL 9000k mixer” using either Google or Bing and look at the picture section. See anything familiar showing up? 😉