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Reason 11

Modular Music Production Software
By Simon Sherbourne

The Reason Rack running as a  plug-in within Ableton Live.The Reason Rack running as a plug-in within Ableton Live.

Version 11 introduces the most radical development in Reason's long history: the Reason Rack now runs as a plug-in within other DAWs.

If you were asked to explain what Reason is, you'd probably describe a virtual rack of virtual music gear where you can put together synths and samplers, drum machines and effects, sequencers and arpeggiators. This virtual rack has been at the core of the program throughout its 20-year evolution into a complete DAW and mixing package.

That evolution has seen the Rack joined by a multitrack recording timeline and an epic SSL-esque mixer. In the process, Propellerhead — now Reason Studios — have done their best to keep the mixer linked into the original virtual studio rack, but I've often felt part of the compelling intuitiveness of the original experience got clouded along the way. So, while I enjoy working in Reason stand-alone, as often as not I use it as a sound source and sonic playground running as a Rewire client alongside Live or Pro Tools. However, linking up two applications in this way makes for a complicated workflow, and can be off-putting for beginners. Reason 11 thus introduces a new way to work: using Reason, or more specifically the Reason Rack, as a plug-in, placing Reason's devices and modular patching environment inside your favourite DAW.

The ability to run Reason as a plug-in is not the only thing new in version 11, but it certainly dominates the release. The feature list does also include a couple of new premium effects devices, independent modules with the signal processing from the Reason mixer, and a few updates to the Sequencer, but if Reason is your primary DAW and you don't need the plug-in, you're probably wondering if this is enough to justify updating. However, alongside the Reason 11 launch, Reason Studios are introducing Reason Suite, a collection which includes nearly every extra instrument, effect and Player they've ever made. If you're an existing Reason user who's not already invested in most of the awesome Rack Extensions like Complex-1 or Parsec then the Suite upgrade price should look tempting.

Reason Within

When I ran the Reason 11 installer, both the stand-alone Reason program and the plug-in were installed; there wasn't an option to install one without the other. Currently, only a VST3 version of the plug-in is included; AU will follow later for Logic Pro users, and I hope Reason Studios consider an AAX version.

In Live the plug-in showed up as both instrument and effect variants. After I dropped the instrument version onto a MIDI track, the plug-in window popped up and presented me with a start screen showing thumbnails of a few Reason instruments. I clicked on my favourite Reason synth, Grain, and it appeared in the Rack and was immediately playable in Live. This is perfect for anyone who simply wants to use individual Reason devices in their DAW without thinking about patching.

To get at the full menu of Reason devices, there's a pop-up floating in the Rack, or you can open the Browser. Just like in Reason stand-alone, the Browser appears as an extra pane to the left of the Rack, and provides drag-and-drop access to all devices, patches, samples and system-level files. The Browser is the same whether you're in the plug-in or stand-alone app. All my patches, Refills, and favourites were how I'd organised them before. Add-on devices in the Reason's native Rack Extension format are all available inside the Rack plug-in:...

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Published January 2020