Format: MAC/PC CD‑ROM
**** Score = 4/5 stars
Reason, Propellerhead's virtual studio, was bound to inspire third‑party Refills — self‑contained sample and patch collections. Initial examples tended to focus on repackaging loop collections from existing sample CDs, but Strings, direct from Propellerhead, seeks to offer something different.
This 170Mb collection features the Moscow Session Strings working through a varied selection of fully‑arranged riffs, which have been processed with Propellerhead's Recycle 2. The resulting stereo REX loops can have their tempo, pitch, feel, and even note order manipulated inside compatible applications — in this case, Reason's Dr:rex REX‑player module.
Tempos range from 85‑125bpm, with a good variety of major and minor root keys. While the collection isn't arranged stylistically, you'll soon discover busy and sustained riffs, and riffs suitable for intros and outros. There are 35 full string orchestra and 40 string quartet loops, with each quartet loop being further divided into solo loops from the two violins, viola, and cello. This is a great idea because it allows you to employ multiple Dr:rex devices to create arrangements from the raw material of one or several riffs. The style of the riffs themselves is early 20th century, without being too experimental or atonal — think Janacek or serious 1940s/50s film music. And there's also a collection of 48 double bass loops, all roughly in 'C'. Played 'finger style', these are less classical than the other material, with a loose and jazzy feel. Lastly, five simple harp riffs make up in twinkle what they lack in variety.
Sound quality is excellent, with a nice sense of the space where the players were performing, and the overall vibe is fashionably mournful — even in the case of the busy, spiky loops. You may notice occasional bow noise and small tuning and timing errors, which remind and reassure that these samples feature real people playing real music. Recycled loops don't use time‑stretching, so be prepared for artifacts, such as gaps between slices, when loops are played back much slower or higher than their base tempo and pitch.
The loops are augmented by 42 solo, section, and ensemble string patches for Reason's NN19 sampler, with pizzicato, arco and tremolo options, plus a few expressionistic, 'synthy' variations. At first, I thought the patch collection was a bit on the strange side, and sometimes felt the need for the tonal variety offered by more multisamples, not to mention layered or velocity‑split samples (which NN19 can't accommodate). But when getting down to using the patches, I found that they blended well together, and with the loops.
Despite a few sluggish attacks, and some obvious crossover points, the overall quality of the sound was convincing, especially on slower melodic lines. I also liked the two harp glissando collections, a lush quartet/trio patch, and 'Dreamy', a silky pad based on the quartet samples. Personally, I was hoping for more patches, but it was Propellerhead's wish, with Strings, to demonstrate that Dr:rex is capable of playing back more than drum and percussion loops, and to provide Reason with the rhythmic string loops that will suit certain contemporary musical styles.
The bottom line is that Strings brings a slice of instant atmosphere to Reason; the loops are neutral enough to fit in with a variety of musical contexts, yet distinctive enough to make a real contribution to the mix. The collection isn't expensive, it's easy to use, and it comes with the bonus, and excellent, Zuwonga Patch Bonanza NN19 and Subtractor patch Refill. And the package keeps on giving: the REX loops are duplicated in a folder on the CD so you can use them in other REX‑compatible applications, such as Cubase and Logic Audio (v5 onwards).
£59 including VAT.