We dive into the latest and greatest instalment from Reason Studios…
Our Reason 11 review should give you enough to chew on before deciding whether or not it’s the DAW of choice for you.
Reason 11 arrived a few months ago, following big changes from the studio that created it, including the departure of one of its founding members and a name change from Propellerheads to Reason Studios. Now change can be scary and not always a good thing but in this instance, a refresh comes as a welcome addition to the Reason workflow.
We got hands-on with Reason 11 Suite, to bring you the low down on what’s good, what’s okay and what’s not so great in the latest edition of this all-in-one music production software.
Reason Rack Plugin
The big talking point is that you can now you use the famous Reason Rack in any DAW, bringing the wide array of sounds and realistic customisation options into your favourite sequencer. You may have used Reason’s ReWire function previously, which is similar in functionality to what the Rack plugin does, however, was far more difficult to actually execute thanks to CPU usage and compatibility issues.
As part of our review, I briefly tried using the Reason Rack in Presonus’ Studio One 4 and it worked a treat, picked up automatically by the DAW and working immediately with the assigned MIDI controller. So long as your DAW is VST3 compatible, the Reason Rack plugin will pick up straight away just like any VST instrument, leaving you free to utilise the amazing synth sounds within the comfort of your preferred DAW.
Now although this is a huge talking point for the program, we wanted to test how Reason 11 holds up on its own. We put it through its paces utilising the standalone version of the program, so we’ll come back to the Rack shortly.
Upon start-up of the program, you get a pretty typical view of the modern DAW. Mix window, sequencer window and browser are all present and accounted for, easily customisable for your personal preference. There’s a little tutorial window for those amongst us who are unfamiliar with the program itself but if you’ve used a DAW before, it’s pretty obvious what does what and pretty easy to get cracking on the important stuff.
Adding some tracks and inputting the notes was a breeze. Reason picked up my Akai MPK Mini 2 with ease, even assigning the controller knobs to relevant parameters on the soft synth, allowing for easy tweaking of settings and sculpting of some pretty wild sounds. It didn’t take long until I had the basis for a song with some nice pads, a bassline and some drums.
Now whilst the input phase was breezy, I did find it difficult in the editing phase. I used the Quantize feature to drag my beat to the grid however some hits needed manual aligning where I’d played slightly late or early. Diving into these proved more difficult than I imagined, due to the clunky zoom feature that Reason has retained from previous iterations.
At the bottom of the sequencer is a slider that lets you navigate your track as well as zoom in and zoom out in one button. I typically use another DAW so this functionality feels like an unnecessarily complex thing to have where a more typical slider and two buttons would do the same job just fine. Not only does this feel a slightly awkward way of doing things but I found I had to zoom in a lot to get into the fine-tuning of things, resulting in a lot of time spent zooming and scrolling to get my beat where I wanted it.
Reason 11 Rack
Now whilst the sequencer window has some issues, we don’t want this to dissuade you from taking a punt on Reason 11. There’s plenty of positives here to get excited about, starting with the Reason Rack.
Already widely known for its unique interface and depth of customisation options, the Reason Rack hasn’t actually changed all that much and that’s because it hasn’t needed to change – if it ain’t broke don’t fix it.
The typical Reason instruments from the past are present, from the classic Kong drum designer to Subtractor and the NN-XT Advanced Sampler, and with all the instruments the crazy amount of customisable options are accounted for, allowing you almost unlimited tweaking.
Creating sounds is an absolute joy, even for someone not so synth-inclined such as myself. One of the best things about making music is experimenting, and Reason lets you do this with exuberant abandon. Even just a cursory glance at the presets can have you up and running in no time, with plenty of scope for those of us who like to take our sonic sculpting to the maximum. If you don’t know what you’re doing, everything is visible for you to tweak in real-time, allowing you to further your understanding as well as enhancing creativity.
The Grain Sampler impressed massively, allowing you to split, splice and stretch any sound you like as well as letting you apply synthesizer-based parameters such as LFO’s, Envelopes, Pitch Correction and various effects to create beautiful, otherworldy sounds as well as crazed and chaotic stuttery noise.
The mainstay Kong Drum Designer is still going strong, looking no different from previous iterations but still having immense versatility to help you produce powerful sounding kits. There are plenty of layering options to help fatten your sounds a tonne of defaults to get started with. The built-in FX sends are handy, letting you scope individual drum sounds before you even touch the mixer window.
Master the Mix
Mixing in Reason is a similarly joyous experience to creating. The mixing window feels very much like what you’d find in a studio or in a live scenario, with your Dynamics, EQ, Inserts and FX send’s laid out in a very intuitive way. It didn’t take long for me to find my way around to start adding compression and sending channels to FX.
The ‘Width’ feature on the Fader section was a pleasant surprise and definitely opened up some creative options in the mixing phase, allowing you to pan something narrow or wide, which really helped with getting instruments to sit nicely in the mix depending on their sonic qualities.
If you’re a beginner it’s ridiculously easy to get up to speed with the mixer thanks to its concise layout plus built-in compression and EQ tools mean that you don’t have to mess with plugins, just tweak and turn the knobs until you get the sound you want.
Reason 11 is an amazingly powerful piece of software that gives you everything you need to start producing music with a professional sound. We’ve barely touched the tip of the functionality iceberg in this review but we can firmly say that with this incredible piece of software there’s no (ahem) Reason not too!