Review: Propellerhead Reason 9.5

Rack up those VSTs
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When Propellerhead announced that Reason 9.5 would finally support VST 2.4 plug-ins, longtime users reacted like an Oprah audience hearing they’re all getting new cars. Not only did Propellerhead satisfy its users’ number-one request, but also it knocked off a major deal-breaker for non-Reason users to try this great music workstation.

For the most part, this integration has been smooth. You get fully functioning VSTs plugged into the unique Reason workflow, including flexible audio routing, patchable CV control, and inclusion within Combinator patches. Reason 9.5 hosts 64-bit VST 2.4 plug-ins (VST 3 and 32-bit VSTs are not supported) in a nearly identical way to other Reason instrument and effect devices. After a plug-in scan upon first launch, available VSTs appear beneath Reason and Rack Extension devices in the Instruments and Effects sections of the Browser and the Create menu. Analysis plug-ins, such as spectrum analyzers, appear under Utilities.

Drag VSTs straight into the rack or the sequencer (for instruments), and Reason automatically sets up a sequencer and mixer channel with basic audio routing. New Plug-in Rack Devices, which look much like a Combinator device, host the VST in the rack.

The main difference is, the Open button launches the Plugin Window, which includes the VST’s normal GUI, as well as a few title bar options. You can set the Plugin Window to stay open even when you click on other rack devices, and you can keep many Plugin Windows open at once. The Automate and Remote buttons let you choose any parameter of the VST for which to open an automation lane in the sequencer or to assign to a connected MIDI control surface.

A CV Programmer arrow on the Plugin Rack Device opens a matrix for assigning CV inputs to any VST plug-in parameter. Flipping the Reason rack to the back, first you must patch a CV output from a device like the Pulsar dual LFO or Alligator triple gate to one of the eight Modulation CV Ins of the plug-in. Then in the CV programmer, you can assign any of the CV inputs to any available plugin parameter, either from a menu or by clicking Learn and selecting a parameter from the plug-in’s interface. You can also set the Amount from 100 (full modulation) down to-100 (full reverse modulation) and set the Base Value, or starting point for modulation.

The CV routing, as well as selecting VST parameters for automation and remote control from the Plugin Window, worked well for every plug-in I tried, except for sample library instrument hosts such as UVI Workstation and Native Instrument Komplete Kontrol. With Komplete Kontrol, I could create automation lanes and assign remote controls for the parameters of individual instruments loaded in it, but the Parameter list for CV modulation was incomplete. With instruments loaded into UVI Workstation, their parameters weren’t recognized for automation lanes, remote control assignment, or CV modulation. I suspect third-party programmers and Propellerhead could work out this incompatibility over time.

In addition to being remarkably stable when using VSTs within the program, Reason 9.5 includes plug-in delay compensation.

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Remarkably, none of the VSTs I tested crashed Reason or crashed at all, though Propellerhead has some sandboxing built in to help prevent a crash, as well as plug-in delay compensation. You can also disable problem VSTs from the Manage Plugins window.

Reason 9.5 has been born anew. It’s the same great system with a clean slate of possibilities.

VST instruments and effects cleanly integrated with Reason’s unique workflow. VST parameters can be automated, MIDI mapped, and modulated with device CV outputs.

VSTs not supported in ReWire mode. Some or all parameters within sample library instrument hosts cannot be automated or CV-modulated.

$399 street ($129 upgrade from any version)

Markkus Rovito is a writer/musician/DJ. He’s been down from day one of Reason.