Sure, first impressions are important. But second impressions matter, too; they tell you whether your initial excitement will lead to a productive relationship. And so it is with the release of Propellerhead Software’s Reason 2.0 (distributed by M-Audio), which provides a good opportunity for musicians–from studio professionals to enthusiasts–to become better acquainted with a great music-sampling and -synthesis program. This update introduces new instruments and sounds, as well as OS X compatibility, and it may be just what you need if you’re ready to finally retire your hardware-based system.
A Pretty Face
Version 1.0 (Reviews, May 2001), released in January 2001, has been the sweetheart of reviewers and audio professionals for both its interface and its sound quality, though the interface–which displays a simulated hardware rack for mounting devices that generate, sample, control, and modify sounds–is always mentioned first among its charms.
Reason presents virtual real-world tools in a way that’s accessible to beginners and second nature to many experienced musicians. When you launch the application, it displays a rack full of equipment; you can remove any device simply by highlighting it and then deleting or cutting, and you can add devices via the Create menu.
Reason 2.0 offers sound-wave synthesizers, sampling and looping modules, time-basedeffects devices, and drum machines; you can use any of these either individually within the application or, with music-sequencing applications such as Steinberg’s Cubase and MOTU’s Digital Performer, as a group of sound modules.
The interface’s main drawback–and we use this term very loosely–is that it offers more device choices than can be fully displayed at once. You can toggle between a full-size and a basic view of the devices. The latter view allows you to see the full controls for two or three modules, but you then have to scroll and toggle to use other devices.
There are a couple of possible workarounds, but neither one solves the problem completely, as both require the right hardware. You can use a mouse with a scroll wheel to move up and down the rack with lightning speed, or (new in version 2.0) you can detach the Sequencer window–for selecting and modifying tracks–and move it to a second monitor, in essence forming a second rack. Perhaps Propellerhead will let users add devices to the second–or even a third–rack in the next major release, as maximum visual working space is a must-have in digital-audio production.
Reason 2.0’s rich sonic tool chest includes devices found in ver-sion 1.0: a patchbay; a mixer; reverb and delay units; and sound units–the Subtractor analog synthesizer, ReDrum rhythm maker, and Dr. Rex loop player–that come with a full complement of filters and modulators. Any device can have multiple instances and signal paths, and its functionality is limited only by your hardware and imagination. Changing signal paths is intuitive: just press the tab key to turn the rack around, and then select an output patch cord and drag its other end to an input channel on the desired device.
Version 2.0 adds two sound devices to the roster: the Malström Graintable Synthesizer and the NN-XT Advanced Sampler. Like the Subtractor, the Malström lets you generate and modify sound waveforms; however, it also gives you the ability to edit the waves in minuscule sections (called “grains”), with a host of tools that control signal time, strength, and dynamics, making it easy for you to craft your unique sounds.
The new NN-XT Advanced Sampler brings similar refinements to Reason’s sampling capabilities. It introduces the ability to layer two sounds simultaneously, which can boost a note’s volume and/or duration to make it stand out in a musical passage. And all the application’s sampling devices now work with high-resolution, 24-bit samples, adding fullness to Reason’s output. They also work with SoundFonts, which opens the door to a universe of third-party and user-created sounds.
If you use samples, you’ll also be pleased with the two CDs of sounds that are bundled with version 2.0. One of them is the new Orkester Sound Library, which contains more than 540MB of orchestral samples. You could spend a lot more money to get richer samples, but these stand up admirably in a mix.
Reason 2.0 plays nicely with OS 9.0.4 and later, and OS X 10.1 and later. The OS 9 version requires OMS (Open Music System) 2.X but can’t run with virtual memory turned on. We tested the program on a 450MHz Power Mac G4 running OS X 10.1.5, with the G4’s built-in sound hardware. Everything functioned without a hitch, but Propellerhead notes that in OS X, you’ll need a driver to use third-party audio hardware. (These products should have OS X 10.2 support by the time you read this; we conducted our tests just prior to Jaguar’s release.)
The company adds that Reason 2.0 supports basic MIDI operations for all interfaces and devices that OS X supports; however, advanced features may require device drivers. Currently, Reason 2.0 can export AIFF and WAV files, and it works with ASIO- (Audio Stream Input/Output) and Sound Manager compliant applications.
Macworld’s Buying Advice
With its wealth of tools and sound samples, Reason 2.0 is a great application for its price. Reason’s user-friendly interface lets beginners make music right away, and the program has plenty of capabilities to keep anyone’s creative juices flowing. It just might become your best musical friend.