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Reason Studios Reason 12

Music Production Software By Simon Sherbourne
Published January 2022

Reason Studios Reason 12 & Reason+

There are now two ways to buy Reason, but whichever you choose, v12 is an essential upgrade.

Version 11 was the start of a new double life for Reason, as the virtual Rack and its trove of devices jumped ship from the self‑contained Reason production environment to set sail in other DAWs as a plug‑in. This has been great for those of us Reason users who enjoy polyamorous relationships with our music software, and it was presumably an important milestone for the company too, who now have a much larger market they can address.

There have been some other changes on the business side since Propellerheads transmuted into Reason Studios, with the company embracing a subscription route under the banner of Reason+. Having cleared the decks and set a new course Reason Studios are focused on what they do best: making cool fun stuff to produce music with. And I promise that’s the end of the maritime metaphors.

The prospect of subscription may have split opinions among Reasonistas (see the 'Reason+' box), but nobody can take exception to the choice of new features that have appeared in Reason 12. Reason Studios have tackled what must have been the three most popular and long‑standing feature requests: high‑resolution graphics, a more powerful Combinator and a simpler, more playable sampler.

Clear Vision

Reason has always had a highly visual focus. Much of its popularity stems from the revolutionary (at the time) virtual rack of skeuomorphic instruments and devices. Everyone remembers where they were when they first saw the Rack spin around to reveal those wobbly patch cables. But since Reason was launched, computer screens have gained steadily in resolution, leaving the fixed‑width Rack looking a bit on the poky side on a typical HD monitor, and grainy on today’s high pixel density ‘retina’ displays.

The updated graphics engine brings the wow factor back to the Rack.The updated graphics engine brings the wow factor back to the Rack.

The programming guidelines for Reason’s devices and Rack Extensions have actually been preparing for this for several years, requiring high‑resolution graphic assets for the panel interfaces. But the Rack itself was stuck in the noughties and couldn’t take advantage of these resources. With Reason 12, a mammoth overhaul of the graphics engine has brought things up to date.

The Rack, Browser and Mixer now have native support for the double resolution offered by retina, UHD or 4K displays. In other words, for a given size on screen, a device will appear significantly sharper and more real. The effect is pretty startling, aided by the fact that the panels have been reworked with improved detail and lighting.

The whole application is also now scalable, meaning that the size your Rack appears on screen is no longer tied to the global screen resolution/scale you’ve set in your system. This is really useful whether or not you have a UHD display. What you can’t do, unfortunately, is scale the Rack independently from the rest of the app. I guess the intention was that scaling would be a set‑and‑forget option simply to balance the overall scale of Reason against your OS, but a lot of early user feedback agrees that we’d love to be able zoom in on the Rack itself when working with devices. Reason Studios have taken this on board (sorry), so hopefully we’ll see this in the future. This is of course not an issue for the plug‑in, which, being just the Rack, already scales independently from the DAW it finds itself in.

Sampling In The Age Of Reason

There are several samplers in Reason, most of which date back many versions. The classic NN‑19 and NN‑XT devices have been the workhorse sample players, primarily used for powering multisampled instruments in the factory library and third‑party sound packs and refills. Then there’s ReDrum and Kong to take care of sample‑based drum kits. Reason has not had a need for a bells and whistles modular sampler like Kontakt, as you could achieve similar results by patching devices together in the Combinator.

However, while the NN units resemble S‑series Akai samplers, and Kong follows the classic MPC layout, they are missing some of the key features that can make sampling a fun and creative musical technique. They are good for programming and making patches, but you can’t just drop a sample into them, chop it, stretch it and play it with immediate results.

Mimic: an inspiring new device that brings fast slicing and sample warping.Mimic: an inspiring new device that brings fast slicing and sample warping.

Reason 12 introduces Mimic, a new sampler instrument that focuses on quick results, experimentation and performance. In its simplest, default mode (Pitch) you can drop in a sample (or record in directly) and immediately play it back from the keyboard. In this respect, and also in the general appearance of the panel, Mimic has similarities to the Grain instrument which appeared in Reason 10, with a large waveform display and set of modules below for settings, modulation and sound shaping. However, it’s been kept simpler than many of the flagship Reason instruments, without a modulation matrix or envelope designer.

For anyone looking for a huge modular plug‑in suite of instruments and effects, Reason is more desirable than it’s ever been.

Slot Machine

Mimic has eight sample slots, all of which have independent panel settings. Depending on the mode, the slots are used differently. In Pitch or Slice mode, only the selected slot is active at any one time. Multi Slot mode lays out the samples across the keyboard, repeated every octave. This is ideal for using Mimic to trigger a kit of drum sounds or other one‑shots. Multi Pitch lets you map slots to keyzones like a traditional sampler.

Slice mode fills one of the most obviously gaps in the Reason sampling arsenal. Although Reason has been equipped to play back pre‑sliced samples with the Dr REX instrument and Kong, until now if you wanted to chop a sample you needed to do it in an audio track in the sequencer. Mimic brings Reason up to speed with other performance samplers by building slicing into the device itself. By default slice points are dropped automatically by transient detection, with the usual Sensitivity knob for manual assistance. You can also freely add, delete and move markers, but you can’t do a manual real‑time chop as you might on many hardware workstations.

While slicing was top of my wishlist for the new sampler, it’s been the time‑warping powers that have really inspired me in Mimic. You get independent control of pitch and playback speed using various stretch modes. In the default Tape mode Mimic behaves like a traditional sampler, pitching notes across MIDI notes by changing playback speed. In other modes, playback speed is consistent across keys, with various stretching schemes used for repitching.

This is not revolutionary stuff, but there are two things that really stand out. First is the exceptional quality and range of Reason’s Advanced stretching when applied here. You can slow down the playback speed all the way to zero (actually a tiny loop) and get incredibly smooth results. You can modulate the Speed around zero and get granular style scanning, except that it sounds much better than any granular! The range of textures you can get out of a single sample is amazing.

The other addictive mode is Vocal. On the face of it this is a stretch mode with a movable formant control suitable for good results with vocals. But it’s the Fixed Pitch mode that steals the show. In this mode, the sample is forced, auto‑tune‑style, to the pitch of the MIDI note you play. I’ve got slightly obsessed with a trick where I load in a whole line of vocals, switch the Start position to Global (which keeps sample playback position continuous as you trigger new notes), and choose the Fixed Pitch vocal mode. You can then replay the phrase with any melody, or simply play the original melody for a unique take on the Auto‑Tune sound that continues to permeate so much modern music production.

Combine & Conquer

Reason+ sound packs are already taking advantage of the Combinator macro possibilities.Reason+ sound packs are already taking advantage of the Combinator macro possibilities.The Combinator device was probably the most important addition to Reason since its launch. It provides a way to pack a multi‑device patch of other rack units into a self‑contained sub‑rack which can then be treated like a single chunk. The composite device has its own audio, MIDI and CV connectivity, and it has a macro panel for controlling selected parameters within. Similar concepts are now in other DAWs, for example Live’s Instrument Racks or Bitwig’s Containers.

Combinator has many practical and fun uses in Reason. I’ve used it for live performance, setting up a different Combi for each song with samples and keyboard splits pre‑arranged, along with any performance Macros I need. They’re great fun for inventing new instruments and effects from combinations or chains of other devices. They also provide an easy way to transfer something you’re working on in the standalone Reason to the Reason Rack plug‑in.

Combinators have become the main way to create preset patches in both the Reason factory libraries and third‑party Refills and sound packs. As a Refill developer, I moved from creating patches for individual devices to Combinators as soon as the device was launched. The format provides more scope for recreating the authentic sound and control of an instrument you’ve sampled, or for coming up with completely new device ideas.

Inevitably, though, these sound‑design projects would hit inherent limits in the Combinator environment, in particular the fixed macro control provision of four knobs and four buttons. There was also a limit to how many mappings you could make to each device. Reason 12 introduces an overhauled Combinator. We’re not just talking about a few extra controls, you can now completely customise the macro panel.

You can now add and edit your own Combinator controls, as well as change the size, colour and backdrop of the panel.You can now add and edit your own Combinator controls, as well as change the size, colour and backdrop of the panel.

A new Configure mode in the Combinator editor lets you add control elements from a library of different knobs, buttons, sliders and faders, and position them freely on the panel. (Some handy tools help you align and space the elements you create). Apparently the library will continue to expand with different graphical styles. In addition to this, you can now adjust the size of the Combinator panel. It was previously fixed at 2U, but can now range from 1U to 6U. The background colour can be changed, and, as before, you can import a custom background image, which now supports the high‑resolution graphics that came in with Reason 12.

Reason+ sound packs and the built‑in Reason Sounds collection are already beginning to do great things with the new Combinator, as you can see from some of the screenshots here. Reason Studios are also talking about further developments that could make the Combinator even more of a sound designer’s dream.

This Combi from randomnoisemusic uses a custom backdrop and macros to create a new instrument.This Combi from randomnoisemusic uses a custom backdrop and macros to create a new instrument.

Conclusion

With this launch Reason Studios have shown that they can still deliver a traditional big box upgrade release, ticking off three big items from the very top of the wishlist, and bringing important modernisations to the underlying tech. At the same time they’ve been canny in demonstrating the benefits of a Reason+ subscription: early access to feature releases, sound packs that take advantage of the new devices, and of course the keys to the whole toyshop of Rack Extensions and Players. Either way it’s an essential update for existing users; and for anyone looking for a huge modular plug‑in suite of instruments and effects Reason is more desirable than it’s ever been.

Reason+

There are now two ways to use Reason. You can go the traditional route: buy it and own it, pay for upgrades when you like, and purchase additional Reason Studios premium instruments if you want them. Or you can opt for Reason+, a subscription service that gives you access to everything while you stay on the plan. The Suite option, which was the previous way to buy the whole collection, is now discontinued.

If you judge reality by YouTube comments and social media, then subscription is something that software companies love and users hate. It’s certainly true that subscription is great for a company: it provides a more predictable, regular income than a sporadic upgrade cycle, and investors in particular love predictability. But it’s also popular with new users, who get to start using the software without a large initial outlay. The total cost over time is likely to be higher, which is why the pot gets sweetened by including extras like instruments and sound packs. This of course might sting if you’re a long‑time user who’s already bought the software and some extras.

The Reason+ Companion app manages your devices and sound packs in one place.The Reason+ Companion app manages your devices and sound packs in one place.Overall I think Reason Studios have managed to steer a careful course through these waters. They’ve kept the original buy‑to‑own model for those who don’t want anything to do with subscription (other than dropping Suite), and they also have a “cancel any time” policy so you’re not committed if your circumstances change, and you can drop in and out if you’re a casual, occasional user. The only thing that remains to be seen is whether the price is right.

So, what do you get if you join the Plus Club? As well as the Reason app and plug‑in, you have full use of everything Reason Studios makes, bar ReCycle. That includes all the awesome recent instruments like Complex‑1, Friction, Algoritm, and earlier must‑haves like Parsec. There’s also the premium Players like Drum Sequencer, PolyStep Sequencer and Pattern Mutator.

An extra that only comes with Reason+ is access to Sound Packs. These are small collections of 10 patches with a particular theme, created by various producers. They seem to be aimed at providing inspiration boosts. The collection is added to weekly, and is accessed via a new app called Reason+ Companion, which also manages updates and installation of devices and Rack Extensions. The Packs are a nice idea, and the collection has already grown to include some quality stuff. Once installed by Companion, they appear in the browser in a dedicated Packs category. Each pack is a folder which you have to dig a couple of levels into to find the patches, and this could do with tidying up.

Pros

  • Rack facelift for modern displays.
  • Custom Combinator Panels.
  • Time warping, chopping and vocal manipulation on the new Mimic sampler.

Cons

  • No independent Rack zoom.

Summary

It feels like a new era for Reason with a makeover both on and off screen.

Information

Reason 12 £499, upgrade pricing from £199. Prices include VAT.

www.reasonstudios.com

Reason 12 $499, upgrade pricing from $199.

www.reasonstudios.com

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