Review: Reason 12
A creative sampler, Combinator upgrades, gigabytes of new sounds and 4K display compatibility headline the v12 release.
Reason is my first-choice DAW and production tool so I have to admit to my world being shaken by the news that Reason will now be increasingly marketed as a plug-in for other DAWs.
It feels like a demotion to me. I get it. But it’s like an admission of defeat in my book.
It’s a little like (another Swedish innovator) IKEA spending 25 years trying to convince people to move to Sweden, speak Swedish, eat reindeer jerky and buy its flat-packed furniture because it’s all just so amazing. Then realising that maybe not enough people are going to move to Sweden, so they’d better open IKEA up in big cities and allow others to enjoy the flat pack furniture without relocating to Scandinavia… hold on… that’s actually a really good idea!
Anyway, if being an Ableton Live plug-in helps to ensure Reason’s longevity then, reluctantly, I’m in favour. I’m not saying Reason will shut down support or evolution of its DAW but you have to assume that most of its R&D energy will be spent elsewhere.
What’s more, I guess it’s simply another step in Reason’s evolution. Firstly, there was the Rack Extension revelation (Reason was no longer a close ecosystem, other developers could contribute effects and instruments), then along came VST compatibility (opening up Reason further to something akin to other DAWs), and now Ableton, Cubase etc users can add Reason to their armoury.
That’s not the big Reason 12 announcement, but it’s a bit of background.
THE REASON PITCH
So why would Reason interest you? Personally, I’ve always loved the workflow. It’s a musician’s and music producer’s playground. It’s not a recording engineer’s wheelhouse, necessarily, or a music editor’s workroom, but I instantly fell in love with the creativity of Reason — there’s nothing else quite like it. The rack and the flexible routing is superb.
If you work in Ableton, for example, does Reason represent good value? Yes, outstanding value. The Reason synths are, on the whole, exceptional, and some of the creative manipulation tools are amazing.
NEED TO KNOW
MIMIC NO GIMMICK
For me, the highlight of Reason 12 is the new creative sampler, Mimic.
It’s not like Reason didn’t previously do sampling, but if you look at the NN-XT, NN19 traditional samplers and the (gloriously shagadiciously named) Dr Octo Rex loop player — none of them could be classified as ‘fun’. This always struck me as paradoxical, as Reason Studios (or Propellerhead as the company was known) made a name for itself with ReCycle, a creative sample-chopping piece of software that changed the way drum loops (especially) were sampled and therefore changed the way music was produced.
Anyway, Reason knows a thing or two about sampling, clearly. And I’m delighted to see the release of the creative sampler, Mimic — it’s a super-solid addition to the Reason arsenal, a genuine keeper.
Mimic provides just enough tools for it to be creative but not intimidating.
There are modes for mapping a sample across your keyboard, another for chopping up a loop, and another for assigning (up to eight) samples across different notes. The looping modes, filter, effects, and modulation sections are all there with a creative bent. If you’re looking to meticulously multisample a Bösendorfer, then there are other tools, Mimic is designed to throw ideas at the wall and see what sticks.
Reason has heard its user base and Mimic will, no doubt, add some new features in coming updates. REX file support is a common request, for example.
Prior to Reason 12 I was messing with samples in a Korg Gadget plug-in, but Mimic will definitely be my go-to weapon of choice from here.
Reason 12 has super-charged its Combinator. What you can do with a Combinator is really quite astonishing. Not only can you package up sound sources, effects, modulators, mixers, arpeggiators and more, you can now customise the controls and skins of your Combinator, providing you direct and easy access to any of the key elements within the package. The Combinator really is a Reason drawcard and enormously powerful. If you want a taster, Reason 12 packs loads of new Combinator patches. It’s worth checking out what’s on offer, it provides a glimpse into where your own sonic peregrinations can take you.
Reason looks better than ever. Some of the older synths and effects have taken on a new lease on life in glorious super-hi-definition. It’s sometimes easy to leave older inventory languishing on the shelf because a newer, shinier synth or compressor has arrived but very little of Reason’s mainstays are in any way redundant and the makeover reminded me of that. Thor is still a monster, for example.
It’s the era of ‘road maps’, and Reason has released its own. The head honchos at Reason Studios are being refreshingly candid in what to expect over the mid term. The biggest blip on the radar for me is Apple M1 chip compatibility. Reason’s DAW performance on my 2020 MacBook Pro feels worse than on my old 2016 MacBook Pro — which has been dispiriting. I really cannot wait to see some M1 performance improvements unleashed before the end of the year.
As a Reason true believer I’m cheering on Reason 12. As much because I genuinely believe that the enhancements are worthy of a ‘full integer’ upgrade, as I’m personally invested in Reason’s longevity. Long live Reason.