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Gear Review: Propellerhead Reason 7 Music Production Software

By Doug Michael | August 6, 2013

Fig. 1. Reason 7’s new features includes updates to the mixer, the Audiomatic Retro Transformer and Spectrum EQ effects, the External MIDI Instrument, and the ability to create REX files within the program itself.
Since its introduction in 2000, Reason has stretched our expectations of digital audio workstation capabilities. Although Version 7 is not as groundbreaking as some previous updates, it introduces studio workflow features that you find in traditional DAWs, such as output busing and track duplication, while the supercharged quantizing capabilities and the ability to create REX files internally will certainly make seasoned Reason users happy.

The first thing you will notice when you launch Version 7 is that the mix channel in the rack has volume and pan parameters, which makes it possible to perform basic mixing right from the rack. In addition, the mix channel has a new Spectrum EQ window: Click the Show in Spectrum EQ Window icon and you can now watch frequencies bounce up and down as the track plays. The beauty of this function is that the EQ and filter selections in the Spectrum EQ are directly tied into the mixer channel strip. For example, you can click on the Low Pass Filter box to determine exactly how your EQ adjustments in the mixer affect the track—a welcome addition.

The new Audio Quantize feature works well; of all the DAW quantizers I’ve used, it is the least painless and the most seamless. Once you know the keyboard shortcut (Command/Control + K), you can quantize audio to the grid in seconds. For example, import or record audio and double-click on the waveform. The audio file will open in the Arrange View, similar to the way automation clips open. Here, you will see the Slice Marker lines throughout the waveform; these are automatically added, based on the waveform’s amplitude peaks. From here you can adjust, add, or delete slices. Once you have the slice markers set to your liking, go to Edit > Quantize and your audio will conform to the grid based on the quantize value set in the Tool window. This setup makes what could be a tricky process very simple. You can also manually drag each slice marker to get wild and interesting results. The algorithm Reason employs for stretching audio sounds really good, so stretch away.

DIY REX Files A new Bounce Clip to REX Loop feature allows you to save your quantized audio as a REX file within Reason; it can then be opened in the Dr. Octo REX Loop Player. The process is simple: Take an audio file and go into the inline Arrange view by double-clicking on the waveform. From here, choose Edit > Bounce > Bounce Clip to REX Loop.
Once the audio is bounced, the Tool window will open, and you can see your REX file in the All Self-contained Samples area. Select To Rack at the bottom of the Tool window; a Dr. Octo Rex Loop Player will be created with your REX file inside. Hit Copy Loop To Track and you now have MIDI notes triggering the audio. This process works intuitively and with minimal steps.

Here’s where it gets interesting. The first thing I did when I created my own file, a chordal guitar riff, was to alter the notes in the Tool window. I then copied the notes to the new lane and scaled the tempo to play the riff twice as fast as the original. A few more “alter note” clicks and I had a very usable variation on my original riff. This technique would have been close to impossible to recreate without the Bounce to REX Loop feature, but it will soon be part of the creative process of many Reason users
Fig. 2. To build a submix in Reason 7, pick the channels you want to include and select New Output Bus in the Edit menu. The selected channels will be routed automatically to the new destination.

You can also export your audio file as a REX (.rx2) file, bypassing the need for ReCycle. Of course ReCycle has other features that are not in Reason, but if you are simply making REX files, this can now be done entirely in Version 7.

Mixer Features It is now easy to create a submix because Reason 7 offers an additional mixer channel-strip destination called an output bus. To create a submix, shift-select all your mixer channels and go to Edit > Route to > Bus. (You can also right-click on your mixer channel strip.) A new, colored channel strip will be created called Bus 1, and all of your selected mixer channels are routed to it (see Figure 2). Each of those individual mixer channels will have the name Bus 1 under Output. Lower the Bus 1 volume fader and all the mixer channels routed to that channel will decrease in volume.

Propellerhead has also introduced a quick way to make a duplicate track for parallel processing, which allows you to process the second track in a different way than the original. The recording engineers at Motown used this technique on vocals back in the 1960s, squashing the duplicated signal with a heavy dose of compression and then applying a high-shelf EQ to brighten up the results. When you combine the processed track with the original, it results in a much more present vocal that sits in the mix with a focus that was not there before.

To duplicate a track for parallel processing, select its channel strip in the mixer and go to Edit > Create Parallel Channel. A new channel strip with P1 added to the name will appear next to the original. This is the cloned signal that is now ready for processing.
The External MIDI Instrument A surprising new feature in Reason 7 is the External MIDI Instrument, which allows the program to communicate with external hardware synthesizers or VSTi soft synths. The setup can be tricky, but I hooked up my old Roland JV-1010 and within minutes was triggering the JV patches, recording them as MIDI, and soon thereafter as audio back into Reason. Make sure the External MIDI Instrument is set to your MIDI interface and that you have MIDI In connected to your hardware synth. In addition, connect your synth’s audio outputs to your soundcard so Reason can capture your MIDI performance as audio. Once you have these set up, the External MIDI Instrument feature works very well.

A CC Assign parameter lets you control any MIDI Continuous Controller that your synth patch responds to. I had no problem automating CC 74 for filter cutoff and CC 71 for added resonance. Rewind and record that as audio for the completed result, which can now be included in your final bounce.

The Hits Keep Comin’ Other new features in Reason 7 include the ability to import MP3, AAC, and WMA files, and the addition of the rack-extension Audiomatic Retro Transformer effect. Propellerhead calls it “a psychoacoustic future retro effect,” and it can definitely put vintage character into your track. The Audiomatic Retro Transformer is a separate download from your Propellerhead account under rack extensions. Once it is downloaded and installed, restart Reason and you’ll find it under Create > Creative FX.

Reason 7 has expanded its factory patches, with a focus on drum samples and loops. Check out the new drum kits in the Kong and the loops in Dr. Octo REX. (These are found in the Metal, Dubstep, and Tech House folders.) All in all, Reason 7 is a commendable and worthy upgrade.

Doug Michael is a commercial-music composer and teaches music technology at Diablo Valley College.
Strengths: Audio Quantize is easy to use. Create REX files with Bounce to REX file. Grouping/submix mixer channels. Parallel processing. External MIDI Instrument. Spectrum EQ.

Limitations: No new instruments. No Detect Silence or Duplicate Events features.

$449 MSRP;
$129 upgrade

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