Propellerhead Reason 3 review: Propellerhead Reason 3

While the Combinator is the big story, it's not the only reason to love Propellerhead Reason 3. We flipped for the improved browser, which makes it easier to find just the patch or effect we want. You can now preview instruments and effects within the browser, making the selection much faster. You can also do a text search, to find, for example, everything related to the trumpet, no matter what sound bank folder it's in. Make your selection and Reason will automatically load the correct modules into your rack, whether a Combinator, a sampler, or a synth.

The new browser allows text searching and audio previewing. The number of sounds that Reason ships with is more than enough raw material to create a precise sound. There are many more sounds that you can download from Propellerhead Software, in addition to third-party loops and samples.

Reason's new Remote technology lets you easily use the faders on knobs on your keyboard or control device to make adjustments, instead of reaching for the mouse. It autodetects for setup but only with newer models. The included sound banks have been beefed up for this release (hence the extra CD) and are nicely heavy on sampled instruments rather than loops, for musicians who want to sit down and start playing.

Not that everything is four stars with this release. We're surprised that Reason's sequencer hasn't gotten the overhaul it badly needs. It doesn't offer the control of a fully featured sequencer (such as Apple's Logic Pro) and doesn't let users change the tempo within a song, so many will choose to pair it with another app. It also still doesn't let users record external audio. If Reason could get those problems fixed for version 4, it would go a long way toward being a complete all-in-one solution.

As in previous releases, Reason is surprisingly efficient even on low-power machines. It runs on 300MHz Pentium III Windows systems and G3 Macs that have OS X 10.2, so you don't need a powerhouse to use it. We used Reason on a 933MHz G4 PPC Mac desktop (along with an M-Audio Evolution MK-461C keyboard) and found it extremely efficient with the CPU, running complex arrangements without a hiccup. We didn't notice any latency during our testing, as the program was always quick and responsive. If your system has latency issues, use the Audio Preferences to adjust either your buffer size or the latency compensation. The richness of the sound quality blew us away--even with our little Harman Kardon speakers--no matter what ghostly or electronic effects we were using.

Software requirements and specs:
Platform(s): Windows 2000/XP; Mac OS X 10.2.8 or later (10.3 or later recommended)
Processor: Intel Pentium III 600MHz or better; G4 or G5 (Mac)
RAM: 256MB
Disk space: 2GB
Sound requirements: 16-bit Windows-compatible audio card, preferably with DirectX or ASIO drivers
CD-ROM required: Yes
Downloadable full version: No
Recommended extra: MIDI keyboard with built-in MIDI interface, or MIDI keyboard and MIDI interface
Propellerhead Reason 3's support options are decent but a little light for a $499 product. The support section of the company Web site includes helpful FAQs and worthy tutorials (even video tutorials) for those who want to get more out of the program but only e-mail support if you're having a major problem. We'd like to see phone support added. The site has user forums, but they're not in the support section, so look around if you need them. The product box comes with a clearly written 112-page manual that does a great job of explaining the program's major parts but leaves plenty of room for the online tutorials to take over.