AF’s Weblog

December 20, 2010

Propellerhead Reason 5 Review

What features does the fifth version of the historical Propellerhead software have to offer? Overview.

We won’t retell the full Reason story, but we must acknowledge that Propellerhead shows an impressive consistency in the sense that they never derailed from their original philosophy: provide a standalone application that doesn’t allow the integration of third-party software (however open to the outside world via ReWire) and provides almost anything you need to produce electronic music.

The launch of Record (review to come) reinforces Reason’s position: instead of importing audio recordings into Reason, they can be embedded into Record, which is meant to remedy Reason’s “deficiencies.”

The fifth version of the virtual studio includes virtual synths, samplers, effects, etc., as well as some improvements and new features. Let’s have a look.

Introducing Reason 5

Propellerhead Reason 5

Reason 5 comes in a box including a DVD, a quick start guide (no printed user’s manual but an HTML help instead…) and a sheet of paper with the license and registration numbers required to activate the software and have access to updates. Note: it’s a good thing that the manufacturer tries to save paper not providing too many printed documents. But if that’s case, why do they deliver the product in such a big cardboard box? Considering the number of products sold, isn’t it a big waste of paper? I don’t really get it…

There’s no need to comment on the installation: everything is clear enough so anyone can open their first project after just fifteen clicks or so.

Powerful Sampler

Propellerhead Reason 5

Each new version brings with itself some graphic and useful improvements. On the top of the rack, you’ll find four buttons to open/close advanced audio and Midi parameters, as well as a Big Meter that can be set as a VU, PPM, Peak, VU+Peak, or PPM+Peak meter with in/out channel selection. Yes, indeed: Reason 5 finally supports audio, not for track recording like a sequencer but for making its samplers “real” samplers. Actually, many manufacturers misuse language when they state that their sample players/editors are real samplers — regardless of the incredible possibilities they provide.

It’s different at Propellerhead: with this new version, the NN-XT, NN19, Redrum and Kong (new module, see below) can record audio from any input or directly from one of the rack modules, with independent monitoring of the incoming signal. You can even route audio data directly within the computer, using Soundflower, for example (you can also create a loop with the audio card but it’s not that practical). The ability to sample the modules could inspire many manufacturers to use Reason’s possibilities to create sample banks from its very versatile instruments. Not that this wasn’t possible before, but you needed ReWire, external editors, etc.

Propellerhead Reason 5

Now it all happens inside. Select the input or the module by routing it to the sampling input on the rear side of the rack, click the waveform button (or use the tools window) and it will start recording immediately. By the way, a control to start recording manually would be much appreciated. We can imagine some extreme setups, considering that Sampling supports any stereo signal: you can rig modules and get the signal out of the main out (or the sends) of a mixer connected to several mixers, etc. So the internal possibilities are actually… endless. Once the signal has been recorded, click the Edit button to open the integrated sample editor.

Propellerhead Reason 5

Waveform display, selection, loop options, crop, normalize, invert, fade in/out and three play modes (normal, loop, forward/backward loop): only basic features (you feel like using a good old hardware sampler) but it’s enough to prepare a sample. Afterwards, you can make all resynthesis editing in any module, in which case the samples become available for all compatible instruments — including the outside world (AU, VST, etc.). Although the samples are saved by default with the actual song, you can export them to any WAV compatible tool.

Now let’s take a closer look…

Conclusion

The main advantage this version has to offer is the introduction of real sampling within the program and in all modules that deal with audio data. Hats off Propellerhead! This will hopefully have some impact among competitors. However, we also hope for an update (or a future version?) with a more sophisticated sample editor providing more features.

When it comes to new modules, Dr Octorex is very disappointing, considering that it cannot play several loops simultaneously; but, on the other hand, Kong does a very good job if you keep in mind that Reason is a software tool dedicated primarily to electronic music production. We still miss the possibility to have real pads of four layers each.

Regarding all other new features, the development team has been proving its mastery for years, and Reason 5 takes full advantage of this fact — just like all its predecessors. In short, if you want to record samples directly into a module to use them immediately, or if you want a powerful instrument dedicated to drum sound design, Reason 5 is the tool for you. If you are still hesitant, the manufacturer offers a free demo version so you can try it out.

Advantages:

  • Sampling embedded directly into the modules
  • Integrated sample editing
  • Kong module
  • Many drum samples
  • Three different sound synthesis engines in Kong
  • Dr OctoRex module
  • Improved editing
  • Possibility to export the samples recorded
  • Multicore support
  • Blocks
  • Multitrack Midi recording
  • HTML help

Drawbacks:

  • No simultaneous Rex loop playback in Dr OctoRex
  • No real four-layer pads
  • Snare drum PM and bass drum PM modules not very convincing
  • Sample recording cannot be triggered manually
  • No printed manual
  • Still no 64-bit Rewire

To read the full detailed article with sound samples see:  Reason 5 Review

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