Hands-On Review:REASON 4.0
Still the Killer App
By David Dolan
Line 6 Product Marketing Manager
When Propellerhead Software first introduced REASON, it established a new benchmark for music software that blurred the distinction between real and virtual. REASON is a self-contained production environment with devices that look like real studio gear, making it not only easy to use but very easy to learn. The intuitive interface, rock-solid stability, and quality sound have led people to hail REASON as the champion of music production applications.
Each generation of REASON has offered more sophisticated and powerful features, and with version 4.0 come the most significant changes to date: the Thor Polysonic Synthesizer, the RPG-8 Arpeggiator, the ReGroove Mixer, and a redesigned sequencer with expanded editing capabilities. Completely reprogrammed from the ground up, REASON 4.0 runs more efficiently than previous versions. It’s still a great production tool running on a workstation and a portable laptop performance rig as well.
Tools of the trade
The heart of REASON is the virtual equipment rack, customizable with a variety of production tools including rhythm devices, synthesizers, samplers, mixers, effect processors, pro mastering tools, and even classic analog pattern sequencers. The rack can be flipped around to access patch cables and alter signal chains through different devices—it’s like cabling actual gear! Unlike hardware, there is a virtually endless supply of devices at your disposal. Should an extra reverb or synthesizer be required, just drag and drop a new one from the device palette.
There are three types of synthesizers in REASON 4.0: the Subtractor, the Malström, and Thor. The Subtractor is a classic analog polyphonic instrument, while the Malström relies on a unique graintable synthesis technology. Thor is a powerful, semi-modular synthesizer with a massive sound that rivals its hardware contemporaries. Dubbed as the “Polysonic Synthesizer,” Thor offers several timbre-generation systems including analog emulation, FM, phase distortion synthesis, wavetable, and a unique Multi-Oscillator synthesis engine, as well as a variety of filter types including formant shaping. This might seem complicated, but users can quickly explore the amazing sounds by selecting factory presets created by a team of world-class sound designers.
REASON features two rhythm devices, the Redrum Drum Computer and the Dr.REX Loop Player. Redrum is a classic drum machine that relies on pattern programming of drum and percussion sounds. Dr.REX is a sample loop player designed for audio files processed with ReCycle. Known as REX files, these loops lock to the song tempo without introducing pitch artifacts. Drum and loop presets are categorized in a range of styles, and in a matter of minutes anyone can use the Redrum and Dr.REX to create a killer dance beat or hip-hop groove.
The REASON Factory Soundbank contains a diverse selection of instruments for use with NN-XT Advanced Sampler and NN-19 Digital Sampler devices, including traditional sounds like guitars, pianos, organs, brass, woodwinds, and mallets. REASON also comes with a second Refill sample and patch archive with a complete set of sampled orchestral instruments. There are also dozens of third party Refill libraries available including the “hypersampled” Reason Pianos, Reason Drum Kits, and Abbey Road Keyboards. Both devices will read AIFF, SF2, and WAV audio formats, and Akai Sample Libraries can be converted for use with the NN-XT.
If having a virtually unlimited supply of sound modules at your disposal isn’t enough, the Combinator device allows users to build custom instruments and effects. For example, a Thor Drone patch, a Malström Choir patch, and an NN-XT sampled piano can be layered to create a single instrument stack. The sources can be mixed together and processed with reverb to add ambience, and the entire group of devices can be saved to a patch file with a customized skin. You can even incorporate a pattern sequencer, a Thor Sequencer patch, or the RPG-8 Arpeggiator into a Combinator stack to add dynamic performance aspects to a normally static sound.
REASON is equipped with DSP effects such as Reverbs, Chorus, Flanger, Phaser, and the amazing Scream 4 Sound Destruction Unit. Also included are the MClass devices: a high definition parametric equalizer, a compressor, a limiter, and stereo imager. The effect processors and MClass devices can be inserted anywhere and every signal path can have pro-quality DSP, EQ, and compression.
The REASON 4.0 sequencer
If the heart of REASON is the equipment rack, then the mind is most certainly the sequencer. It’s the nerve center of MIDI production where ideas are recorded, edited, and arranged along a timeline editor. Every sound module in the rack corresponds to a sequencer track, and within each track, multiple takes are layered to correspond with each part of the arrangement. The REASON 4.0 sequencer uses a clip arrangement system that streamlines the production workflow, especially when recording in real time using a MIDI keyboard controller.
When an instrument is installed into the rack, a Device Track appears in a column of the sequencer. Using a MIDI keyboard to play notes into the instrument to record a part, the note events appear on the timeline and automatically group into a clip. After recording the take, the clip can be trimmed, moved, or duplicated in the sequencer timeline. Different parts of the song, like verse and chorus, can be recorded separately, and then each clip can be labeled to keep the arrangement organized. The sequencer also features vector editing of MIDI automation, and the automation clips can be arranged just as easily as musical phrases.
ReGroove Mixer: realtime groove console
The ReGroove Mixer is an adaptive realtime quantization system that adds natural musical timing to a sequence. Arguably, this is the soul of REASON 4.0. Quantization is a process of adjusting note timing, so notes recorded slightly out of time can be aligned to play back with robotic precision. The ReGroove Mixer works unlike traditional quantization functions because it adds a humanized feel to both the timing and the dynamics. ReGroove allows you to adjust the intensity of the transformation as the sequence plays, so the right amount of groove can be set without committing permanent changes to the sequence.
ReGroove performs its magic by applying timing and dynamics templates called groove patches. These templates are derived from live performances, classic vinyl breakbeat loops, and even iconic drum machine grooves. Grooves can also be extracted from parts of the sequence and applied to other tracks, so every part is perfectly synchronized to a master template.
REASON 4 everyone
For those who are new to the world of music production, there could be no better time to dive into REASON. Paired with a keyboard controller, it’s an ideal platform for learning about synthesizers, beat-making, production, and sequencing. It’s not a coincidence that tens of thousands of people are using REASON, including professionals in the music, film, and TV industries. It is simply the most versatile application for music production, and operates flawlessly on any current Macintosh- or Windows-based personal computer.