Review: Propellerhead Reason 8

A perennial favorite workstation gets its house in order
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A perennial favorite workstation gets its house in order

The past couple of Reason updates have been all about making this singular workstation a formidable competitor to other DAWs while maintaining its all-inone rack status. With version 8, however, Propellerhead’s main focus is on simplifying the workflow. The result makes the program’s extensive feature-set much clearer and easier to use, returning the program to its original purpose of taking the intimidation out of music technology so you can get into the creative zone quickly.


Fig. 1. Reason 8’s revamped workflow and interface keep the original strategy intact, but let you access its powerful tools more quickly and easily. Reason 8’s modernized Browser, which lives in a column on the left side of the window, is the cornerstone of the update’s workflow overhaul (see Figure 1). Just like the Mixer, Rack, and Sequencer, you can show and hide the Browser with a keyboard shortcut (F3) or by double-clicking its title bar.

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The Browser holds all the Instruments (nine), Effects (25) and Utilities devices (10), as well as all the available Rack Extensions and factory and user sounds, samples and patches. You can create your own lists of favorite patches and sounds, and to find what you want, you can drill down by clicking in the Browser directory-style, or by using the search field.

Most importantly, everything within the Browser is drag-and-droppable into either the Rack or Sequencer. Just drag any Instrument into either an empty Rack space or an empty Sequencer space, and Reason 8 will add it to the Rack, create a Sequencer track with that instrument, and open a new Mixer channel. You can also drag any patch into the Rack or Sequencer, and Reason 8 will create a device instance with that patch loaded.

Fig. 2. The new orange-tinted patch-browsing mode automatically jumps to available Instrument patches so you can instantly swap between them. As soon as you create an Instrument, the Browser and Instrument together enter patch-browse mode, where the Browser automatically opens the patch list for that Instrument; double-clicking a patch will swap it out. The Instrument’s current patch becomes the Sequencer track name, which dynamically updates if you change the patch (unless you manually name the track). In Patch-browse mode, the Instrument’s rack ears, its preset controls and the Browser’s top border are orange for easy identification (see Figure 2).

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Another important aspect to the Browser is, you can drag a patch for any Instrument onto an existing Sequencer Instrument track; Reason 8 instantly swaps in the new Instrument without destroying anything you’ve recorded. For example, if a bass line or solo was recorded with a basic ID8 instrument sound, but you’d rather change that part to something in, say, Thor or Malström, drag the new patch onto the ID8 Sequencer track (or onto the device in the rack) to quickly hear your recording played by the new Instrument.

The overall impact of Reason 8’s drag-and-drop Browser is that it’s noticeably faster and more convenient to get started on a track, while making it easier to find the specific sounds you want and simpler to interchange Reason’s many available devices and sounds. Unless you stick rigidly to your templates, you’ll use these new features every time you open Reason.



Besides the Browser, Propellerhead has redesigned the look and feel of Reason’s transport controls, the Sequencer function bar, and the Sequencer track headers. They look like they may have been inspired by the clean, two-dimensional angles of Apple’s iOS 8 and OS X Yosemite graphics. These cosmetic changes don’t really alter any functionality, but they do seem to make the controls a little more distinct and noticeable.

Not all the changes to the Sequencer are strictly aesthetic. New editing features let you double-click to add automation, clips and notes, and also double-click to delete those notes. There’s a new Duplicate keyboard shortcut for notes and clips: Command-D (Mac) or Control-D (Win). And, you can now resize notes from either edge.

Fig. 3. When you record device parameter changes into a track, Reason 8 highlights the automated parameters in green. A couple of additional color-coding elements—Sequencer track header, Mixer Channel and Rack Mix Channel device—enhance Reason 8 visually. Also, when you record device parameter changes into a track, those parameters are highlighted with a green ring (see Figure 3).

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Reason 8’s two new devices come from respected Swedish amp modeler Softube. Amp and Bass Amp operate with the same simplicity as their names, yet crank out a large variety of smooth, creamy and crunchy tones. They both have their own presets, but it’s easy enough to create your own sounds by choosing an Amp type and Cab type, and then using the dials to pick your poison between soft and warm or sharp and nasty.

These two amps go a long way in making synthesized or sampled guitars and basses sound much more like the real thing, but you can also find a use for them on virtually any track: Color some vocals, warm up a synth, or add grit to a drum kit (see “Quick Tip: Amp Everything” sidebar).



With this spit-and-polish update, Reason 8’s refreshed workflow rejuvenates the program, allowing you to rediscover the satisfaction of realizing your musical ideas with minimal hassle. For longtime Reason users, it’s hard to say whether this is a must-upgrade situation, and that probably comes down to individual preference. For them, the new Browser will be a huge improvement and the main attraction here.

Newcomers to Reason will find a professional workstation with nearly all the requisite bells and whistles (except plug-in hosting), as well as truly infinite creative possibilities wrapped up in an all-in-one environment that can be as basic or complex as you wish. With version 8, there has never been a better time to be a Reason user.

Quick Tip: Amp Everything

Fig. A. Softube’s Amp and Bass Amp effects sound great on just about everything and are easy to use. While the Softube Amp and Bass Amp effects excel in amp modeling for guitars and basses, for some truly insane distortion or subwoofer-busting low end, try putting an Amp or Bass Amp both before and after an Instrument in the rack (see Figure A). Then, use patch-browse mode to quickly find the right combination of two presets.

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These amps have a convincing warmth and sheen that shouldn’t be overlooked, and they’ll work on virtually any track you want to highlight. Just as you would use re-amping to color tracks with physical amps, you can also use the mixer’s Output Busses for a bit of virtual re-amping with as many tracks in your session as you wish.

In the Mixer, shift-select as many tracks as you want, right-click to bring up the contextual menu, and then select Route To > New Output Bus. That will create an Output Bus channel on the Mixer that you can rename. At any point you can route more channels to it from the contextual menu. The Output Bus will have a Mix Channel device in the Rack. Go to it and click the Rec Source button so that you can record an audio track from the Output Bus. Then create a new audio track in the Sequencer and choose your Output Bus as its input source. Now add the Amp or Bass Amp to the Output Bus’s Mix Channel as an effect and find a tasteful setting. Any track that routes to the Output Bus will now also run through the Amp, and you can bounce any or all of them at once to an audio track as a way of virtual re-amping.

Revamped interface and workflow include much-needed drag-and-drop browser. Helpful new color-coding. New amps.

No VST/AU/AAX plugin hosting.

Reason 8:
$449 MSRP,
$349 street ($129 upgrade)