PROPELLERHEAD REASON 9
Version 9 kicks Reason into the present with contemporary sounds and creative Players.
Review: Christopher & Robert Holder
The Reason 8 update was a little underwhelming — of that, I think we can all agree. In fact, as a Reason user, you may have even approached the release of V9 with a certain level of resignation. You may have not bothered to upgrade at all!
Be encouraged, the Propellerhead team has delivered something special. Reason 9 has plenty of juicy goodness to chew on. We’ve had it running for a couple of months now and have yet to explore it fully… but it’s been an enjoyable journey.
Reason 9’s motto could well be: ‘come for the new sounds, stay for the Players’.
Allow us to explain: The most obvious V9 drawcard are the 1000+ new sounds. They’re excellent, and… they couldn’t have arrived
The sounds in Reason had definitely grown tired. Few of us are adept enough as sound designers to spark up a blank Thor patch and generate a bunch of killer leads before breakfast. Presets get us in the ballpark. The range of Reason sounds has always been broad but they were sounding stale; the Reason drum sounds were getting particularly old hat.
The Reason 9 sound set is like a fresh breath of Nordic air. The new sounds are everything a contemporary producer needs — big, expansive, and modern.
Head into the Showcase Folder and you’ll be instantly impressed by the headlining drum patch: a gorgeously playable vintage acoustic kit perfect for break beats — instantly inspirational. Inspiration comes calling again and again, with many sounds leading you down some very interesting creative rabbit holes.
Many of the new patches were developed by well-known third-party sound designers as Combinator patches (Propellerhead-speak for when a synth is packaged with attendant Rack Extension effects and processing into a Combinator wrapper), which means all the patch’s effects, EQ and reverb are included; ready to throw into that slot in your mix more quickly than before. The sounds have a contemporary EDM bent. For example, there is a whole folder replete with plucks and mallet percussion for dance music producers — just one demonstration of Propellerhead doing its darnedest to attract the current crop of producers (a cohort largely loyal to Ableton and FL Studio).
PLAYERS GONNA PLAY
As mentioned, ‘come for the sounds, but stay for the Players’. Player is a new moniker for Reason’s suite of MIDI-based creative note generators. Reason is famous for providing creative inspiration for musicians/producers and these new Players really expand Reason’s palette considerably in this regard. On offer are the Dual Arpeggio, the Note Echo, and the Scales and Chords modules. What do they do? The clue is in the names but they do deserve some further explanation.
The Dual Arpeggio plays two standard arpeggios at once, but it can also act as a small, four-bar looping note sequencer that cleverly maps the notes held on the keyboard to each individual note lane in the arpeggiator. The presets demonstrate the possibilities: complex rhythms that would be hard to arrive at conventionally, making this module a welcome addition, especially for those writing EDM of a heavily rhythmic style (complextro, dubstep etc.).
The Note Echo harks back to the old-school, processor-poor days of creating delays in your sequencer — ie. via MIDI rather than using the scarce resources of a hardware delay or valuable DSP/processor resources. As you’d expect Note Echo provides considerably more sophistication. The MIDI echo can either share the same pitch or procedurally move up and down in a certain number of semitones until the end of the echo. Alternatively, set the delay time to zero, use the transposer and select a couple of repeat steps to create ’90s-flavoured parallel chords.
Scales and Chords helps you serve up instant, massive keyboard-spanning leads or allows you to cheat with key signature-specific note correction. Go from Chopsticks to Rick Wakeman without trying.
Oh, and this being Reason where anything patches anywhere, you can combine Players — feed Note Echo through Scales & Chords to create an arpeggio of chords in exotic scales.
BOUNCE IN STEP
Apart from the Players there are a smattering of other good-value additions. Bounce in Place would be at the top of our list. Ableton Live users will wonder what the fuss is about but being able to render MIDI performances as audio opens up a whole world of new possibilities. The ability to glitch-up a bass line without resorting to a clunky beat repeater or needing to export then reimport the audio… it all adds to the streamlining of the creative workflow, particularly for a bunch of contemporary genres. It also signals Propellerhead’s willingness to look beyond the rack — and given the rack is core to Reason’s DNA, it’s a courageous move, but necessary to stay relevant.
There’s a Melodyne-style Pitch Edit mode for single line audio clips (seems a bit allergic to distorted basslines; stick to vocals and the like!). Reason won’t be dethroning Pro Tools as the first-choice DAW for critical vocal comping and recording any time soon but Pitch Edit certainly means Reason users have another classy vocal recording and manipulation tool.
You’ll also find new features such as Audio to MIDI, and Themes to reskin your GUI. Worth noting, Pulsar Dual LFO is now packaged with Reason, and worth diving into, even as another mono synth option.
RACK-TASTIC & MORE
Reason began life as a closed system without audio recording. It meant any project could be emailed over a dialup modem to any other Reason user and it would play exactly as it was produced. A thing of beauty. With the likes of the powerhouse synth, Thor, on board and the SSL-inspired mixer section, Reason’s sonic credentials were never in question. All this was prior to Ableton’s rise to ascendence.
Some old-school true believers would probably happily go back to the days of the closed system, but for the rest of us, like Amish kids watching TV for the first time, the delights of the world beyond — with its constellation of VSTs and physically-modelled lushness — is very hard to resist.
Many have their cake and eat it: using Reason for its creativity and sound but use another DAW for the recording and sequencing. Fair enough. But if you’re anything like us, you love Reason and want it to be your one-stop song creation world. So it pains you to hear sounds from other productions and production methods that are not available to you or difficult to reproduce in Reason, your DAW of choice.
Yes, let’s keep Reason self-contained and self-sufficient — a do-everything tool of high-end music production. Still, I like Propellerhead’s willingness with V9 to recognise that it needs to work hard to stay relevant and sound contemporary.
Reason will always be the quirky, hyper-patchable, endlessly loveable, rack-tastic Swedish powerhouse, and thank goodness for that, but with V9 we’ve now got the sounds, the editing tools and the creative inspiration to keep up with the Live and FL drones. Let’s hope V10 comes out with a Live Mode with a raft of live performance features. Then we might be able to wipe the self-satisfied smirk from the Ableton users!
Reason users: stay true to the faith. And upgrade… now!