Hands-On Review:Propellerhead Reason 3.0
Propellerhead Reason 3.0
Software that really lets you play
By Bernard O’Neill
You want to make music. You want to have a lot of tools available, as well as world-class effects and sounds. You want it all to sound good—no—superb. And most of all, you want it to be easy. You want Reason 3.0. With it you’ve got some really cool synthesizers, samplers, a drum machine, a loop player, a sequencer, mixers, and every effect you could want all ready to give voice to your ideas. And now there’s even a complete mastering suite. Best of all, there are no limits. Everything is tweakable, everything can be customized in ways you haven’t even thought of yet. In Reason there are lots of things you can do, but not many things you can’t do.
So what’s new with Reason 3.0? Lots—and all of it primo stuff. There’s an updated Soundbank with an improved browser and tighter hardware integration. The Soundbank is now bigger and better than ever, with more instruments and better sound quality. The improved browser makes it easier for you to find sound files with a text search, and a preview feature lets you demo sounds as you browse the Soundbank. And when you want to load a sound Reason auto-chooses the correct playback device.
The improved hardware integration, dubbed Remote, gives you more control over Reason with a wider array of controllers and gives Reason control over motorized faders and displays on your control surfaces. There’s even support for multiple simultaneous controllers so you can have your control surface, MIDI keyboard, and percussion controller all going at once. For my money though, the two biggest additions are the MClass Mastering Suite and the Combinator.
Master and servant
The MClass Mastering Suite is made up of four different modules: the Equalizer, Stereo Imager, Compressor, and Maximizer, each dedicated to getting the maximum sonic impact out of your tracks. But true to the Reason legacy, Propellerhead made the Mastering Suite better and easier to use than any of the competition with their use-it-however-and-whenever-you-want attitude. You can either use them all together as mastering software normally does, or you can intersperse the individual components throughout your rack using them however you want.
I think it’s cool Propellerhead kept the Mastering Suite in the famous Reason rack. It’s much more intuitive and natural to have it in the rack than in a separate window or screen. And the MClass modules sound great. Wherever you choose to use them in your rack they deliver exactly what you need: pro-level performance. The Stereo Imager and Maximizer are fantastic for making your tracks big, loud, and wide. Combine with the Compressor and Equalizer and you get dense and cohesive audio with the clarity and presence you’ve been missing.
The incredible Combinator
The Combinator may sound like simply another Reason module with a Cybertronic name, but it’s oh-so-much more. It allows you to bring together and control as many modules as you want, then save it all as a patch that can be reloaded later with the settings exactly as you saved them! With the Combinator you have individual control of modules just like the standard Reason rack, but it also gives you global control over mapping, routing, and output of the modules you load. With the Combinator you’re essentially creating your own Reason module. If you’re always running the same modules together, now you can simply Combinate them and save it as a Combi patch. When the time comes, all you have to do is throw a Combi patch in your rack for instant access to your favorite sounds. Combi patches also make playing your Reason system live easier than ever before.
Eight of the Combinator’s 14 controls are freely assignable to whatever parameter or module you want them to control. Let’s say you want to have manual control over the envelope of one of the modulation filters you have saved in your Combinator. Assign control to any of the four assignable rotary knobs and tweak away without having to open the Combi patch and scroll down to the module to make the change. Want to manually switch between the NN-XT and NN-19? All you have to do is assign control of each module to its own button on the Combinator panel and toggle between them. The Combinator will let you do things you never could have done before and save you time doing it.
Some new features are less obvious than others, but no less effective. For example, there’s a new mixer in Reason. No, they didn’t do away with the standard mixer, this is a 6-channel line mixer meant to be used in addition to the main mixer. It’s particularly effective in the Combinator and for little sub mixes that run into the main mixer. Of course, you can also use it to simply add a few extra inputs to the regular mixer, too.
And it’s faster—the whole thing. I loaded Reason 3.0 on a 2.8GHz P4 with a gig of RAM and the CPU meter barely nudged past 1/3 usage, no matter how big my rack got or how many modules I had running at once. It must have taken some serious programming wizardry, but Propellerhead got the samples and the sample playback modules to load faster while simultaneously improving playback timing and quality.
Reason 3.0 will impress previous Reason abusers and first-timers will be blown away by how responsive the system is and how detailed and powerful the sounds are. For Reason, the third time is definitely the charm.