Review: Propellerhead Reason 8.3, Figure 2.0 and Take 2.1

All-in-one production environment becomes an ecosystem
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Our February review of Reason 8 closed with a prediction that the next step for Reason would be to integrate it with Propellerhead’s iOS apps, Figure and Take. Of course, it wasn’t surprising to see that, with the Reason 8.2 update, the developer launched the Propellerhead cloud-collaboration network, where users of the touchscreen beat-box Figure and the vocal-workstation Take can post their musical musings for collaboration with others.

Not stopping there, Propellerhead most recently dropped the Reason 8.3 update, which continued its recent direction of making workflow and interface improvements. Here, the big news is that a classic gets a refresh—the RV7000 MkII Reverb now has a convolution mode that’s a little cooler than simply providing more detailed and more CPU-intensive reverb settings.

EVER MORE REASONABLE

A few notable interface improvements make Reason 8.3 well worth the download. In fact, with Reason 8.2, Propellerhead added an auto update feature, so it will check for free available updates when you open it.

There’s good news for people who spend a lot of their Reason time working in the Rack. When you select a device, a blue tab to the upper left appears; by clicking it, you put the MIDI focus on that device, so you can play it from your keyboard without having to go into the Sequencer. Also, if you work in the Rack from a separate detached window, you can now toggle-open the Browser from that Rack window using the F3 shortcut key or by double-clicking its title bar (see Figure 1).

Another keyboard shortcut lets you quickly zoom in and out on material in the Sequencer for editing. Say you just recorded a MIDI part and need to clean it up a bit. Select what you want, hit Z to zoom in, make your edits, and hit Z to zoom back out. Simple and sweet.

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CONVOLVE WITH ME

For the unfamiliar, convolution reverb is kind of like the physical modeling synth of the reverb world. It uses recorded samples of a space and object, analyzes how that space reflects the soundwaves of the object, and then applies those reflections and behaviors to your track. It does require more processing oomph than a straight digital reverb setting, but the results are well worth that small investment.

Fig. 2. You can record and edit your space’s impulse-response WAV file in seconds from the RV7000MkII.Fig. 3. The RV7000MkII Reverb has a ReFill with hundreds of great presets. You can also drag in your own WAV files when you’re looking for unusual results. For Reason 8.3’s RV7000 MkII Reverb, you have the option of downloading a free 437MB ReFill of patches, Combinator patches, and impulse response WAVs—over 300 files in all. But even if you don’t download the ReFill, you can use RV7000 MkII’s convolution mode with any WAV file to get very interesting results. And you can also quickly record an impulse response WAV of your own spaces straight from a “start sampling” button on the reverb device, and then edit and save the WAV (see Figure 2).

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When you consider the ability to load any WAV file into the RV7000 MkII convolution mode and then edit the waveform’s size, length, gain, etc. (see Figure 3), the device becomes at least twice as interesting as a sound design tool. Even if you stick to the ReFill presets, you’ll notice the difference in depth and realism in the RV7000 MkII’s convolution patches.

CLOUD-CONNECTED APPS

Ostensibly to encourage people to use its Discover service, Propellerhead made its Figure app free, and its Take iOS app has been free since its launch. So there’s no question that they’re worth checking out, but what can you really do with them?

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Figure is essentially a scratch pad for musical ideas with a unique interface that leverages the touchscreen quite well. It has three tracks—drum, bass, and lead—with a dozen or more high-quality and genre-current sounds for each one. The drum kits have four parts and up to 12 sounds per kit.

Fig. 4a. Figure’s touch bars and rotating rhythm wheels let you get creative with your playing without going out of rhythm or key.Fig. 4b. Your X/Y position alters pitch, modulation, or other parameters. To begin playback, merely touch the screen. Then, you can alter the rhythm using the rotating disc for each sound (see Figure 4). Your x/y position on the screen may alter the sound source, pitch, modulation, or other parameters. For each song you choose the tempo, shuffle, and pump settings, as well as the key and tonality.

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For the bass and lead parts, you can only play notes in key, and you choose the scale steps and range between each note bar on the screen, so that you can have as few as four notes and as many as 21 notes representing a three-octave range. For any of the parts, you can press the screen and let the chosen rhythm take over, or you can play the note bars with your fingers, and the app always keeps you in rhythm.

You can record loops of up to eight bars, with overdubbing and an erase mode available. On the Tweaks page, you can record an automation move on the x/y pad for 2 or 3 characteristics per sound. With this system, you can record a fast loop with very little thought just by touching the bars and letting the preset rhythms take over. You also have the freedom to be rather meticulous about what you create by playing your own rhythms and writing melodies.

When you’re finished, you can set cover art from your image gallery, drop the beat to the Propellerhead cloud, and export the loop to Sound- Cloud, iTunes for transferring it to your computer, and the Audiocopy app for using the loop in other iOS apps. Finally, once you drop it to the cloud, you can choose to open the beat in Take or Reason and use it as your music bed for your vocals.

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Fig. 5a. Take gives you three tracks of vocal or instrument recording, as well as a beat track for Figure or preset beats.Fig. 5b. In Take's mixer, you have the ability to add vocal correction and effects. Take is a three-track vocal workstation that’s meant to be several steps above a standard voice recorder for capturing your lyrical and melodic inspiration whenever it strikes (see Figure 5). It has a few dozen canned beats included to keep time for you, with a selectable tempo. (There are more beats, song starters, and community-made music available in Discover.)

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Take even has a Voice Tune feature to correct your vocal tuning once you’ve chosen a key. For each vocal track, you can mix the levels, adjust the amount of Voice Tune and choose from 17 mix settings based on different musical genres for adding EQ, reverb, delay or other effects. Each mix setting has an amount slider and a slider for morphing between two preset settings.

You drop your Take creations to Propellerhead in the same way as Figure, and in Reason, there is also a Drop to Propellerhead item in the File menu for sharing loops or songs. When dropping to Propellerhead, you always have the option to make your music Listed (open to the public) or Unlisted (only available in your account, and sharable via direct links). In the Discover section of the Propellerhead website, you can find thousands of other people’s Reason, Figure and Take creations that are being shared. From there you can send the clips directly to Reason or Take as audio files. If a piece was made in Figure, you can download and open it directly in Figure as the original session, where you can remix it to your liking and then open it in Take.

To me, the big area for improvement in Discover right now is to make projects created in Reason sharable as Reason files, so that they open as the full Reason session rather than as just a single audio file in a new track. Of course, that could be a problem if one user doesn’t have the same Rack Extensions as the creator, but that seems painless enough to workaround with replacement tracks. Also, if you could send Figure beats to Reason that opened as separate tracks for the bass, lead and drum track as a Kong instrument with separate MIDI parts for each drum sound, that would be a huge step up for usability. Right now, if you find a great beat or melody on Discover that is mixed a little wonky, there is not much you can do to fix it shy of contacting the creator and asking for individual tracks.

THE WAY FORWARD

The version 8.3 upgrade is a no brainer for current Reason users. And with its apps, Propellerhead is clearly looking for ways to capitalize on the explosion of mobile devices and cloud computing as it continues to move Reason forward. It’s an exciting way to go because there are so many possibilities still unfulfilled.

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But if Propellerhead wants to really make Discover more appealing than something like Blend.io, where users can share full Reason project files for cloud-based collaboration, it should have the ability to share Reason sessions and Figure exports that open as multitrack Reason sessions. For now, however, Discover—in tandem with Figure and Take—is a fun and free service with a potentially long and interesting future ahead of it.

STRENGTHS
Beautiful Convolution mode. Helpful interface. Figure and Take are free tools for creativity on the go. Propellerhead network works as cloud backup for audio, a sharing site for colleagues, and a collaboration site for everyone.

LIMITATIONS
RV7000 MkII ReFill patches don’t install into the shortcut “browse patch” location. Figure, Take and Reason exports to Propellerhead open in Reason as a single audio file rather than instrument parts in separate tracks.

Reason 8.3: $399 street ($129 upgrade)
Figure and Take: free
propellerheads.se

Tip: Save Figure Beats as Individual Tracks

If you really love what you’ve done in Figure and want to share it or continue to work on it in Reason, with a little extra effort you can send it out as individual tracks.

Once you’re finished with the Figure beat, go to the System tab and tap the pencil edit button. Next, type a new name to save a copy of it as a new file. (For example, rename “Beat” as “Beat_drum.”) Then, go back to the Pattern tab and erase the bass and lead tracks, leaving the drum beat on its own. Drop “Beat_drum” to Propellerhead or save it to your iTunes and now repeat the process.

Go back to “Beat,” save copies as both “Beat_bass” and “Beat_lead” and erase the requisite tracks from both of those before exporting them as audio. Now you’ll have three audio files you can import into a DAW for further work. This workaround isn’t as ideal as making a Figure beat fully openable in Reason, but it will help you take better advantage of the impressive creative potential of Figure.

Markkus Rovito drums, DJs, and contributes frequently to DJ Tech Tools.