Reason 2.5 ($399) is an innovative software studio device from the Swedish developer Propellerhead Software (distributed in the U.S. by M Audio). Onboard this graphics-intensive program are a wealth of studio tools, virtual instruments and sequencers that form a powerful environment for sound design, composing and remixing.
Product PointsKey Features: Windows 98/ME/XP/2000, Mac OS X, OS 9x; powerful sequencer; MIDI automation; standalone functionality or in tandem with programs that support ReWire; studio effects, large sample library; virtual synths and samplers with filter/LFO tempo sync
Contact: Propellerhead Software/M-Audio at 800-969-6434, Web Site, www.m-audio.com.
In the burgeoning world of soft studio gear, the appearance of Reason 1.0 in 2000 was conspicuous to say the least. Its comfortably retro-styled virtual rack featured a customizable recording studio with mixing consoles, a polyphonic synthesizer, a pattern/step style drum machine, a sampler, a loop player and a large library of dance music inspired samples. Its ReWire function could send up to 64 audio channels directly from Reason’s modules into a compatible DAW application with sample-accurate synchronization. Now with its first upgrade Reason 2.5 takes the program’s stability, interface ingenuity and fun factor even a few steps further.
Propellerhead offers Reason 2.5 at the same original price as its predecessor ($399, $89 upgrade with registration number), while introducing two new sound modules, support for 24-bit samples, sequencer improvements, a larger library of sounds, MIDI ReWire capability, and Windows XP and Mac OS X compatibility.
Reason installs easily from a three CD-ROM set. The first disc contains the Reason program and a well-written electronic manual in Adobe Acrobat PDF format. The second disc contains the Reason Factory Sound Bank, which delivers the sample, patch and REX format loop files for use in the various Reason devices. The third is the “Orkester” CD that includes a set of orchestral instrument samples and patches. There is a printed manual included to get you started, though its summary often refers to the electronic documentation for more in- depth information.
Upon opening, Reason presents an empty virtual studio rack with a 64-channel audio interface and a MIDI management device pre-installed. You “assemble” your studio by choosing modules from the device menu list. All modules are MIDI controllable and can be fully automated (including all front panel parameter knobs) via the sequencer section. Audio and emulated CV/Gate connections can be routed automatically by the program or user patched “by hand” by flipping the rack around to the modules’ back panel connections. It is also possible to open multiple versions of each device, making towering racks of components a reality limited only by your computer’s CPU.
Reason 2.5 retains all the modules from earlier versions (including a 14 x 2 mixer, the Subtractor Analog Synth, Maelstrom Synthesizer, NN-19 and NN-XT digital samplers, the DR Rex Loop Player, the Redrum Drum Computer and numerous studio effects such as reverb, digital delay, foldback distortion, phaser, chorus/flanger, compressor, envelope-controlled filter and two-band parametric EQ). And it adds the RV7000 Advanced Reverb, Scream 4 Sound Destruction Unit and BV512 512-band vocoder.
The NN-XT sampler is a powerful companion to the original NN-19 sampler. The sampler supports WAV, AIFF, REX/REX2 and SoundFont 2 files. It provides eight stereo channel outs for better mixing and processing value through the 14 x 2 mixer, or for routing audio outside of the program via ReWire. It also allows for sound layering, velocity switching, crossfading and random zone switching (which automatically avoids repetitious playback of the same samples).
The NN-XT has two control panels. The first is for global controls and sample patch loading. A second, folded in panel gives access to the individual sample loader, sample parameter controls and a graphic Key Mapping Display. Synth-type control sections for modulation, velocity, portamento, LFO, modulation and amplitude envelopes, filter and pitch control extend the sound bending potential and greatly enhance this unit.
The Malstrom Synthesizer sound is based on a combination of wavetable and granular synthesis, dubbed “graintable.” The control surface is straightforward, showing dual oscillators with ADSR envelopes, two modulators (LFOs) with 32 preset waveforms and “one shot” and tempo sync modes, and two filter sections with five filter modes and a common ADSR envelope. Tone wheel and velocity control sections, as well as 16-note polyphony and portamento settings round out the list of familiar features.
The oscillators play back graintable sounds, which are looped samples that have been chopped up into short contiguous segments. These “grains” can be dramatically animated by use of the Index, Motion and Shift controls. Index determines at which point in the sample the oscillator will start cycling the sound.
Further manipulation and crunching is possible via the “Shaper” wave-shaping device. It has five modes: sine, saturate, clip, quant and noise that can introduce saturation characteristics to the sound through wave modulation, bit reduction and distortion. Additionally, insert points on the rear panel allow you to route audio from any Reason device (including the hardware interface).
I decided to road test Reason 2.5 as the main audio source for a marketing video based on an upcoming massively multiplayer video game. Creating this two-minute, movie trailer-styled video, I knew I needed to compose and synchronize music, multiple sound effects and several voiceover narration segments into the audio track. The video arrived in AVI format, which I inserted into the video track of my main DAW, Steinberg Nuendo. After launching Nuendo I opened up Reason and created a 14 x 2 mixer. The two programs interfaced easily via Propellerhead’s ReWire function, which placed Reason’s audio outputs directly into Nuendo’s mix channels. With this configuration I took advantage of sample- accurate placement of Reason’s audio to Nuendo’s picture, including the tracking of tempo variations generated from Nuendo.
For the narration track I created an NN-XT sampler module into the Reason rack. I imported 10 voiceover WAV files into the Remote Editor Panel through the Sample Browser, laying them across several graphical zones in the Key Map. Via a MIDI controller I played the samples near the video’s cue points by triggering into the module’s sequencer track. Final placement was fine-tuned in the sequencer’s Key Lane/piano roll view. I also took advantage of the synth-type controls by adding various filter and LFO-based effects to the individual samples to enhance the sci-fi mood of the video.
With the voiceover work finished I moved on to the musical tasks. The opening sequence called for an aggressive electronic score. I opened up three DR Rex Loop Players and loaded in some kick/snare, syncopated high hats and off-kilter back beat loops into the players. By transferring the Rex Slice information for each loop into their own sequencer tracks I was then able to resequence the slices to create original new beats.
Next I opened up a Maelstrom synth to create the bass line. I selected some graintable samples and connected the oscillators’ Index and Motion controls directly to the Modulator’s output section to apply tempo-locked manipulations to those sounds. In addition I routed one of the oscillators through the Shaper section, dialing in some edgy distortion. The result was a pulsing bass line that rolled rhythmically along with the drums. By the final mix I had set up 14 Malstrom synths in various sections, each adding different melodic and ambient elements into the track.
Throughout the project I made good use of the samples contained in the Reason Factory and Orkester collections. There is an enormous selection of instrument and drum set banks included with this program, and while I was underwhelmed by some of them, the pianos, vibraphone, vintage keys and drum kits were quite useful. I even discovered a few decent Mellotron patches hidden among the library menus. At this program’s price tag, I was happy to see such a large assortment of sounds to grab.
Percussion samples, for example, were a fine basis for some sound effects work. Combining some repitched and reprocessed drum samples, I was able to produce explosions and sweeps that worked well within the video’s battle sequences.
By the end of the job I stacked up a mix of 82 various Reason Modules, all working smoothly to picture in Nuendo with no complaints from my CPU. I experienced no performance glitches throughout the entire project, confirming the program’s efficiency and stability. The range of library samples had provided more or less what I needed for raw sample material, making trips outside of the program rarely a necessity. Though I took full advantage of my favorite VST and DirectX plug-ins by routing audio out to my DAW mixer via ReWire. This ability to seamlessly integrate Reason into my existing system (with no hiccups) was a significant plus. Also I found very low latency performance operating with ASIO drivers. Although there is a growing selection of software-based synthesizers, samplers and sequencers on the market, this program delivers a unified package at a very attractive price. Above all, Reason 2.5 is flexible and enjoyable to work with. For a sound designer on a deadline, or a musician trying to extend the power of the PC, that is really the main selling point.