Reason 2.0 review: Reason 2.0

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4 stars

CNET Editors' Rating

The Good Accurately simulates a whole studio full of instruments; easy to use; powerful audio and MIDI-routing capabilities; automated mixing; incredible sound quality; supports use of professional audio output devices.

The Bad Can't easily change tempo within a song; no ability to layer digital audio tracks in a timeline.

The Bottom Line Reason stands alone as a virtual studio. If you want a roomful of audio gear but don't have the money, get Reason. It's as close as you can get.

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8.0 Overall

A recording studio can be daunting; the mass of knobs, cables, and audio gear associated with music production makes even the most modest project studio intimidating and expensive. Happily, you can ditch all that junk and just use Reason. This program from Propellerhead Software is a virtual audio studio that simulates everything from mixers to synthesizers. Plus, it does so with such ease and aplomb that we recommend this app for nearly every music lover. Reason's quality stands up to the demands of all but the most professional composers, and if you don't have the space or the cash for a full studio, Reason is an impressive alternative. A recording studio can be daunting; the mass of knobs, cables, and audio gear associated with music production makes even the most modest project studio intimidating and expensive. Happily, you can ditch all that junk and just use Reason. This program from Propellerhead Software is a virtual audio studio that simulates everything from mixers to synthesizers. Plus, it does so with such ease and aplomb that we recommend this app for nearly every music lover. Reason's quality stands up to the demands of all but the most professional composers, and if you don't have the space or the cash for a full studio, Reason is an impressive alternative.

Makes its own music
Reason is not a standard digital audio and MIDI-sequencing program, as Cakewalk Sonar is; instead, you use MIDI technology to create notes, and Reason simulates the instruments you need to play back those sounds. You then process, mix, and output the sounds through your speakers or save them to your hard disk as a WAV or MP3 file. Since you create all your sound within Reason, the only external hardware you need is a moderately fast computer and a MIDI interface and keyboard or a sound card. This keeps your cost and clutter to a minimum, since you don't need an external audio mixer, for example.

CPU-powered studio
The software offers 16 modules stacked atop each other in the interface, all of which emulate traditional studio equipment. This setup isn't the ultimate in user interface design, but it faithfully mimics what you'd find in a recording studio. You'll find a virtual mixer (complete with sliders) and eight different audio-processing modules, which range from a digital reverb to a two-band parametric equalizer. Of course, every studio needs instruments. Reason offers four simulated modules, including an analog synthesizer, a sample playback module, a loop playback module, and a drum machine. You can always add more; just go to the Create menu and choose a new module. You can, for example, throw in a synthesizer for a bass line, a separate module for playing back a string part, or a delay unit to add echo to the bass line synthesizer. We found Reason's audio quality outstanding, even compared to a standalone synthesizer.

Reason's power depends almost solely on your CPU; the faster your computer, the more modules you can add. Happily, Reason is also extremely frugal with CPU resources. On a 400MHz G4 Macintosh, we created a composition that used 19 separate instrument modules, 9 effects modules, and two mixers--all at once--without a hitch.

Sounds within Reason
If you're used to creating a musical track using a MIDI sequencer, Reason holds no surprises; just select a track, hit Record, and perform the part on a MIDI keyboard. The essential difference between Reason and a standalone synthesizer is that once the MIDI part is captured, the resulting sound doesn't come from your keyboard. Reason itself generates the sound. However, playback is somewhat different than with an external MIDI synthesizer. Because the program has to create, then output the sound, you'll hear a slight pause, or latency, between when you press a key on the MIDI keyboard and when the program plays that note. The latency takes a bit of getting used to, but you can adjust your settings so that the pause is barely noticeable.

Once you've added all the parts to your piece, you can save a complete file that includes mix settings such as the volume, equalization, the left and right pan of each track, and the percentage of added effect on all modules. This is where Reason shines over a traditional studio: if you want to edit a specific element of the file, you don't have to rerecord a whole track. You can lower the sound of the drums, add some reverb, or equalize a guitar just by pressing Record and reworking the mix to your heart's content. Reason will remember all of the sounds, automation, and other critical data every time you open the file.

Minor drawbacks
Like any audio studio package, Reason isn't perfect for every user. You can't easily write complex music that requires multiple meters or tempo changes; Reason's MIDI-sequencing capabilities are just not as robust as those in other professional MIDI sequencers such as Cakewalk Sonar or Mark of the Unicorn Digital Performer. Also, if you already have outboard gear and want to add digital audio tracks, such as a vocal or acoustic guitar recording, Reason isn't your best option.

It's a hit
However, using only Reason, a MIDI keyboard, and your computer, you can create, arrange, and mix pop and dance music that sounds like it came out of a professional studio. For professional musicians, Reason offers sophisticated output routing and MIDI-syncing capabilities, so you can add Reason's instruments and audio-processing modules to your current setup. For beginners who know their way around musical instruments, Reason provides access to high-end audio gear at a fraction of the cost of real audio equipment. With its excellent sound quality, rock-solid features, and low price ($399, compared with thousands of dollars for a working studio), Reason offers anyone access to professional-quality music gear.

Reason looks like a collection of studio gear, right down to the screws that bolt the various modules to the virtual rack cabinet. You'll find the same sliders and knobs on all the equipment that you'd work with in a regular studio, but with Reason, you'll use only a mouse.

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