At a Glance
Just as Reason ( ) before it brought a rack of virtual gear for music making, so too the initial appeal of audio production tool Record 1.0 ( ) was its toybox of simulated sonic gadgetry. Record’s debut featured terrific-sounding processors and a massive mixer modeled on a beloved console, making it a natural mixing and recording complement to Reason’s synths, drum machines, and effects.
But missing from the equation were some of the features users came to expect from general-purpose workstations. Record 1.5 still doesn’t allow the use of plug-in effects, and it’s still in the mold of the first release. But it does evolve some of the missing features that could be annoying in its 1.0 iteration, and adds new vocal and pitch tricks along the way. If you didn’t like Record before, you probably won’t like it now. But if you’re a current Reason or Record user, or you’re considering trying them, each of the paired programs now provides an expanded value proposition.
Beyond AutoTune: Neptune’s creative pitch and vocal effects
Antares’ AutoTune has become notorious even in popular culture, thanks to intentional overuse of its pitch correction for special effects. It’s enough of a joke that it’s inspired a tongue-in-cheek iPhone app, I am T-Pain ( ). But subtle pitch correction can improve recorded vocals and add harmonies.
Neptune, described as a “pitch adjuster and vocal synth,” isn’t as complex to operate as a specialized pitch plug-in like AutoTune—and that can be a good thing. Its settings are simplified to a few well-chosen parameters, for adjusting the results between barely noticeable and “killer robot.” At the subtle end, Neptune can be impressively transparent, putting a little gloss on a vocal without sounding obviously like pitch correction. But its stand-out feature is its Vocal Synth mode. Adjusting for natural formants in the voice, harmonies, and outright pitch changes can sound surprisingly lovely. They won’t replace a backup singer, but they have a human-sounding timbre all their own. That’s pretty impressive for a bundled effect. The only room for improvement is that the signal routing for setting up Neptune and MIDI tracks requires a few steps; a simple preset would help.
Grown-up arrangement features
Record, like Reason, is tough to beat as a bundle of terrific-sounding effects and simulated mixing hardware, combined with deep, open-ended modular signal routing capabilities. But its minimal approach to sequencing tools in Record 1.0 could easily make you miss more general-purpose workstations like Pro Tools or Logic.
Record 1.5 smooths over some of those rough edges. Building on excellent pitch- and tempo-independent audio transformations, 1.5 now lets you stretch clips by resizing. Much-needed audio features like normalize and reverse, commonplace in competing tools, are now included. In previous versions of Reason and Record, locking a MIDI device as a control surface prevented you from recording notes played on that device; in the revisions to each of them, you can do both at once. Improved tap tempo and looping make recording easier, and key commands now work better on laptops.
Also, as in Reason 5, a new feature called Blocks makes it easy to quickly sketch arrangements from large chunks of material. Blocks is elegantly implemented: take recorded audio and MIDI, label it, then draw it in where you want it. The arrangement pane is neatly tucked into the existing user interface, coupled with a new graphical overview of your arrangement.
Despite these improvements, though, Record remains something of an oddity. If you want to use plug-in effects, you’ll have to use another tool. Record has exceptional mixing and mastering capabilities, but Propellerhead haven’t implemented a technology they invented, ReWire, in host mode. That means you can’t use Record to finish off materials in tools like Ableton Live ( ) or Logic Pro ( ) without exporting audio first. You can’t sequence external MIDI gear, because Record doesn’t output MIDI. Record without Reason also feels a bit limited. For those wanting a broader feature set, 1.5 feels like a step forward, but just a step.
Macworld’s buying advice
Record 1.5 shows Propellerhead is committed to its new mixing and arrangement workstation. It’s also pretty easy to recommend in a bundle with Record 5, which includes fantastic new sampling features and a drum designer. On its own, it’s a tougher sell: with no plug-in support, it feels a bit barren without Reason. It remains a good buy for its great-sounding racks virtual hardware and powerful modular routing. If you’re waiting for an upgrade to broaden its appeal relative to some rivals, though, this upgrade isn’t it —yet.
[Peter Kirn is a composer, producer, and educator, and runs the site Create Digital Music .]