A more reasonable Reason

Reader Yul finds the performance of Propellerhead’s virtual music production instrument, Reason, a little unreasonable. He writes:

I am using a G4 733 processor with 896MB RAM with Tiger. I am having problems using a music package called Reason. Although it operates fine I can’t seem to play most of the demo songs. Some of the demo songs are only 100KB in size. I get a message saying my computer is too slow and I should optimize my songs. Is there anything I can do before I buy more RAM?

I understand that in choosing to answer this question I risk alienating the 97 percent of my readers who believe MIDI has something to do with mid-1970s women’s apparel. To draw those readers back in, let me explain that some of what I’m about to offer applies to GarageBand as well (ah, I see another two percent have joined in!).

First, make sure that you’re using the very latest version of Reason. The first revision of Reason 3 has performance issues. Download the latest version (currently 3.0.4 Build 547) and your problem may disappear. Although you’re using Tiger, those using a version of Mac OS X prior to 10.3 should upgrade to Panther or Tiger as the current build of Reason works better with more recent versions of the Mac OS.

Next, understand that the size of the song file has almost nothing to do with how well the song plays back. As with GarageBand (see, I told you I’d tie it in!), the pull on the processor (and RAM) comes from the program’s software synthesizers, samples, and effects. The song files simply tell the program what to play.

Finally, with the latest version installed, take a gander at the CPU meter in Reason’s transport area. If, while songs are playing, you see this meter move into the red, you’ve learned that Reason is demanding more of your Mac’s processor than it can comfortably deliver. GarageBand (mention 2), has the same issue.

Sure, these programs like RAM, but they love fast processors. Propellerhead’s System Requirements for Reason are a little broad. Yes, it will run on a G3, G4, or G5 processor, but no one claims it will run well on some of these processors—particularly those whose strength is measured in MHz rather than GHz. Provide Reason (and GarageBand—that makes 3!) with a zippy processor or two and you’ll find it can play lots of tracks slathered with loads of effects.

And if a faster processor isn’t in your immediate future? Do just as you’d do with GarageBand (now go, cat, go) and quit other applications, delete unused tracks, and cut back on the effects (and choose effects that require less poop from your processor—Reason’s RV-7 reverb rather than the RV7000, for example).

In Reason you can also lower the sample rate setting. Sound quality suffers, but at least the sounds play without audio glitches or error messages. In addition, use mono tracks rather than stereo (and mono samples rather than stereo). And be sure that only one song document is open at a time. Finally, some modules demand more of your computer than others. See the Optimizing Performance section of Reason’s Operation Manual to learn more about this and other performance issues.

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