Propellerhead Reason 3 review: Propellerhead Reason 3

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The Good Accurately simulates a whole studio full of instruments; new Combinator tool makes it a snap to create, save, and reuse audio instrument and effect combinations; improved browser for locating instruments and patches; bundled sound bank includes more instruments; remote technology gives you hardware control over settings; surprisingly efficient with CPU; relatively solid value for the variety of audio tools you get.

The Bad Sequencer still not improved; can't change tempo within a song; no way to record external audio; no phone support; for some, program can be difficult to use without a decent MIDI-based hardware setup.

The Bottom Line With its impressive new Combinator tool, Propellerhead's Reason 3 makes it even easier--and more fun--to create amazing songs and sounds.

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8.0 Overall
  • Setup 8
  • Features 9
  • Performance 8
  • Support 7

Propellerhead Reason takes it up a notch

Mimicking the look and feel of a roomful of high-end recording and mixing equipment, Propellerhead Software's Reason has always dazzled with its ability to turn a MIDI-enabled keyboard into any instrument or sound you can dream up. Version 3 adds an indispensable new component called the Combinator, which lets you bundle as many instruments and effects as you like into one sonic package, then save your creations as easy-access Combi patches. If it doesn't get your musical creativity going, you might not have any. It's not the perfect upgrade, though, and version 4 had better include a long-overdue sequencer overhaul and stronger audio input options to make it an all-in-one solution. Propellerhead Reason 3 comes on three CDs: one with the app itself and two with different sound banks chock-full of audio goodness. You'll need to register the program before you can use it, and after you've done so, you can download any upgrades. We immediately pulled down the 3.0.4 upgrade, which required us to trash the folder we'd just installed, install the upgraded app, then reinstall the two sound bank CDs. Hey Propellerhead, did it really need to be that cumbersome?

Reason's rack-style interface: Shown are a mixer and the sequencer, but you can add a limitless number of components (such as synthesizers, drum machines, effects boxes) to the mix.

The Propellerhead Reason 3 interface is unchanged in this version. It offers a virtual rack where you can add mixers, audio-processing modules, and instruments (analog synthesizers, sample playback modules, loop playback modules, and drum machines). To select a new module, click the Create pull-down menu and select your device. The sequencer, which can be undocked for a larger view, sits at the bottom. As before, you can tap the Tab key to show the rack's reverse at any time, where you can easily change input and output cables. The interface is true to life, although constantly scrolling up and down in your rack is a little tiresome. To get the most out of the diversity and grandness of Reason, you should be using a large display.

Reason's rear view, with in and out audio cables. Simply drag and drop cables to the input (or output) of your choice.
For existing Reason users, the new Combinator is reason enough to upgrade. Essentially a rack within the rack, the Combinator lets you group instruments and as many effects as you'd like to create intense layered, sonic creations. Reason has always been about turning a MIDI keyboard into as many instruments as you can dream up, and the Combinator makes it even easier to create unique sounds. Start by selecting the Combinator from the Create pull-down menu; below its controls, you'll see a bracketed area for new components. Click the Combinator to call up the red insertion line (if it's not already visible), then added modules will go within the Combinator. Add a mixer, a sampler, and as many effects as you'd like, and tweak the always precise controls to get as complex a sound as you want. When you're done, you can save your work as a Combi patch so that you can instantly call up that Combinator configuration in the future. The included sound bank libraries include hundreds of Combi patches to help get you started.

The Combinator, a rack within the rack: This particular Combinator patch includes a compressor, a minimixer, delay and phaser effects, and the NN-XT synth.

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