Reason

Is MIDI hardware going out of style? You’d think so from the way Propellerheads have put a whole rack of simulated MIDI and audio gear together and called them Reason – it has a fantastic selection of modules that you can hook up to make music. It includes a sampler called NN19, an analogue synthesizer called the Subtractor, two filters, a host of modulation functions, and a Loop Player called Dr:rex – which plays REX files created in ReCycle. In case you haven’t come across this yet, Propellerhead’s ReCycle works with sampled loops. By “slicing” a loop and making separate samples of each beat, ReCycle makes it possible to change the tempo of loops, without affecting the pitch. It can also edit the loop as if it were built up of individual sounds – just what you need to get your beats together. Propellerheads’ first product was the amazing ReBirth RB-338, which is a simulation of the vintage Roland TR808 and TR909 drum machines – as well as the TB303 bassline synthesiser. If you have this, you can plug it into Reason using ReWire technology, which makes for an even more powerful system. Reason also has its own drum-machine module called Redrum. This is a sample-based drum machine with ten drum-sound channels into which you can load the excellent set of factory samples – or your own sounds in AIFF or WAVE format. As with Rebirth, there is a built-in Roland-style pattern sequencer, allowing you to create classic drum-machine patterns. You can also use Redrum as a sound module – playing it live from an external MIDI controller or from the main Reason sequencer. Talking about sequencers, there’s also a stand-alone monophonic-pattern sequencer – the Matrix – which is similar to a vintage analogue sequencer. Just connect this to any of the MIDI devices in Reason, and it sends simulated CV (pitch) and Gate CV (note on/off plus velocity) or Curve CV (for general CV parameter control) signals to the device parameter. Before MIDI was invented, monophonic analogue-synthesisers could be hooked up to a hardware sequencer using patchcords, and Reason simulates this – even down to the patchcords. On the rack
To handle the audio outputs there’s a Mixer in the rack, based on the popular Mackie 3204 rackmount model. This has fourteen stereo channels, a basic two-band EQ section, and four effect sends. You get a bunch of effects units as well, including the RV-7 Digital Reverb, the DDL Digital Delay Line, the D-11 Foldback Distortion, the CF-101 Chorus/Flanger, the PH-90 Stereo Phaser, the COMP-01 Compressor/limiter, the PEQ2 Two Band Parametric EQ, and the ECF-42 Envelope Controlled Filter. The latter is a synth-style resonant filter with three filter modes, and you can use a drum machine or the Matrix sequencer to trigger its envelope to get some “nasty” sounds. You can always start out with an empty rack and add devices as needed, and the default song opens with a useful selection of devices already there for you to work with. But what if you want to change the routings? Just press the Tab control on your computer keyboard, and the rack “turns around” to reveal the back panels of the equipment. Here, you can see the connections between devices indicated by virtual patch cables. Connections between instrument devices and mixers use red cables, connections to or from effect devices use green cables, and CV connections use yellow cables. Simply make your connections by clicking and dragging from one socket to another on the back panels. It’s easy to get plenty happening right away with the sequencer. Just hook up a MIDI keyboard and record into any of the sequencer tracks. You can use up to seven MIDI inputs if you have a multi-port MIDI interface. This makes it possible to use several MIDI controllers, and play and tweak each device independently. The left part of the sequencer area is the track list, showing the names of the sequencer tracks. The columns in this list allow you to connect tracks to devices, route MIDI and mute or solo tracks. The right part of the sequencer area has two main modes: the Arrange view and the Edit view. With Arrange view selected, you see the tracks lined up vertically with recorded events indicated as coloured bars (red for notes, yellow for pattern changes, and blue for controllers). Here you can cut-&-paste patterns to arrange your Song. The Edit view offers more detailed control for editing notes, pattern changes, controller data, and so forth. And you can have several Reason Songs open at the same time. Each will appear in a separate Reason window, complete with rack, sequencer and transport bar areas. When you’ve created a complete song, you can record your mix to a tape, CD or DAT recorder – or mix down to an audio file using Export .

OUR VERDICT

Reason has to be the best value for money around when it comes to software for synthesizing popular MIDI and audio devices. The sounds are great, and you can incorporate your own samples. You can also control external devices or sync up with a conventional MIDI+ audio sequencer. OK, so it isn’t really going to replace hardware racks overnight, but it does mean that just about anyone can now afford to get a game started with their own hi-tech MIDI rack.

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