Reason 5 full review

Reason has faced one common complaint from users over the years: it can’t record external audio. Even Record, Propellerhead’s tool for audio recording, editing, mixing and mastering, couldn’t provide satisfaction. For many, creative music making requires audio input and Reason users wanted sampling without the need for another tool. After a long wait, recording in Reason is here.

Propellerhead has gone even further with a deceptively simple drum machine; Kong, a virtual drum designer, is the show-stealer in this upgrade. Kong can load a set of samples covering a range of genres, just like the ReDrum drum machine that’s been in Reason since the beginning. But it’s when you begin customising and programming your own sounds that it really starts to shine.

Drum roll, please

Kong’s centrepiece is a four-by-four grid of virtual percussion pads. Each pad can contain your choice of modules for sound generation and processing. To synthesise sounds, you can choose from a sampler, REX-format loop player, physically modelled sounds designed to emulate real percussion, or synthesised sound sources. You can add rich-sounding effects like a specialised compressor and reverb, a retro-tinged tape echo, and a wild, snare-simulating effect called Rattler.

Kong’s collection of modules can generate percussion sounds, play samples, and add effects, and powerful grouping and editing features, like a Quick Edit Mode, let you adjust various parameters all at once

Each of the nine drum modules is really an instrument in itself, even before adding the effects. The synth snare, hat, tom, and bass drum sound thick and warm, each with custom tone controls for manipulating sounds. The physical models are capable of reproducing realistic drum sounds without samples, but can also be stretched to mind-bending creative results. Thanks to those new input features in the NN-Nano sampler module, you’re just one click away from live sampling from a mic or other source.

Other tools, like Apple’s Logic, have attempted to bring these features together. But Kong is unique in the way it fits extensive sonic powers in a compact, easy-to-understand interface. There are significant pad grouping options for power users, and convenient controls for mapping pads so they’re easy to play on a keyboard or drum pad controller. Whether editing individual pads, or using Quick Edit to edit parameters across the 16 slots, advanced sound creation never feels like work.

Block rockin’ beats

For songwriting, a new Blocks view provides an easier way to work with chunks of songs like a verse, intro, or chorus. It’s a welcome feature familiar from digital audio workstations like Cubase, and one that makes writing and arranging in Reason easier. The Sequencer is much improved too, borrowing some editing and navigation features from Record, and improving MIDI note recording and looping. Features taken for granted in other sequencers, like tap tempo and custom precount bars have finally made their way into Reason. Sequencing in Reason had traditionally been a chore, especially for those used to other tools, so it’s nice to see this feature mature.

Reason 5 improves upon some of its unique strengths, as well. Routing patch cords between virtual devices is a powerful design feature that has long made Reason’s sound-production facilities modular and customisable. It’s now much easier to use, thanks to improved navigation and routing facilities, and device grouping.

The big feature remains audio input. In addition to sampling into Kong, you can route audio anywhere: you can finally use a mic or instrument with the vocoder, insert audio in the mixer, and process sound with your custom Reason device racks. There’s even an included editor with which you can adjust your recordings and create loops.

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