We examine the quirky but powerful ways of working with effects in Reason’s mixer.
The Main Mixer is one of the things that sets Reason apart from its fellow DAWs. One big difference is that Reason doesn’t subscribe to the usual convention of plug-ins. Most DAWs centre around a built-in mixer, with tracks and channels containing slots (inserts) where you can add plug-ins. In this way of working, mixer plug-ins are used as insert effects, send effects, or instruments, but they must all exist on tracks, with routing and bussing set up within the mixer. As Reason has always modelled a real-world hardware studio, things are done a bit differently and there is no real concept of ‘plug-ins’. Instead virtual effects units and instruments are cabled together in any way you like, and connected to the virtual mixer in the old-school way. This is great if you learned your music production skills in a traditional studio, but may not be so easy to pick up if you’ve moved from another DAW. Let’s start with the basics.
In a traditional mixer the inserts are patch points where you can tap off the signal on that channel, route it through a processing device, then send it back on its way as though it never left the desk. DAW plug-ins mimic this of course. The original simple mixer device in Reason had no inserts at all, so source devices had to be manually plugged through an effect before connecting to the mixer. The big beast of a console that lives on top of the modern Reason rack has a single insert point in each channel. This doesn’t mean that you can only use one effect in each track — effects are chained together within the insert point.
There are a several ways to add an effect to a mixer channel. The simplest is to right-click on the mixer channel, choose the Effects submenu and pick from the list. Alternatively, if you choose ‘Create Effect...’ the Browser will open to the effects section and you can use the visual list. Either way, the effect device will be slotted into the Inserts section of that mixer channel’s rack unit. If the Browser is open it will move to the factory preset list for the new device, allowing you to audition patches. Adding another effect to the same channel will automatically cable it in after the previous one, creating an effects chain (screen 1). Re-ordering the devices in the rack does not change the signal path — this must be done by manually re-cabling.
Devices can also be added to mixer channels by drag-and-drop. Unfortunately it doesn’t work to drag directly to the mixer; they need to be dropped on the channel’s rack device. To jump straight to the right place from the mixer click on the Rack button at the bottom of the channel. Now drag the device you want over the channel unit in the rack and the Inserts area will flip open. Drop it in where you want. This gives you more control over where the device is placed: you can drop it above or below existing insert devices to cable it before or after, or drag over the top of a device to replace it. You can also drag a device from the Browser onto an Audio Track in the Sequencer to add it as an Insert. Note however that doing this on an Instrument Track cables the device after the instrument in the rack, not into its corresponding mixer channel.
Once you’ve added Insert devices in the Mixer you can quickly access them by clicking the Edit Inserts button on the channel. This will bring that channel into view in the Rack, flash it to get your attention, and unfold the Inserts view. You can then adjust the device directly in the rack. That’s not the whole story, however, as Reason also has a way to bring some of your effect device parameters directly to the Main Mixer panel. Each channel (including the Master) has four knobs and four buttons in its Inserts section, which can be assigned to control parameters on any device inserted in the track (screen 2).
In fact, you can load in a Combinator effect patch as an Insert and its panel controls will automatically appear in the mixer. To do this, click on the folder icon (the regular Reason patch load symbol) at the bottom of the Inserts section. Then navigate in the Browser to a Combinator that is set up as a processing device (not an instrument). The main bank of these in the Factory Library is in Factory Sounds/Combinator Patches/Effect Device Patches. (It can be very helpful to drop this folder into your Favourites section of the Browser). As well as cabling the processing chain from the Combi into your mixer channel, you also get the four knob and button controls. You can also drag and drop from the Browser onto a mixer channel rack device. It doesn’t work if you drop it into the Inserts area (as with a single device) — you have to drop it on top. The Combinator’s devices will replace anything else already in the Inserts.
Mapping your own controls will be a very familiar process if you’ve ever created Combinator patches. Start by finding the Mixer Channel device in the rack, and clicking the buttons to Show Programmer and Show Insert FX (see screen 3). The Programmer features the same control mapping matrix as Combinator. Devices inside the Insert are listed on the left. Selecting a device shows its assignments. Use the Source and Target pop-ups to map knobs and buttons to the parameters on the device. As with Combinator you can define the control range and direction, control multiple parameters from a single control (including from multiple devices) and assign CV and other modulation sources.
This might seem like a lot of work to put in for not much return in a typical mix, but it can be used to varying degrees. Typically, for a one-off mix you might just pull out a couple of key controls that you want to come back to so they’re immediately accessible on the mixer. If you find a particular processing chain that you use repeatedly, it might be worth taking the time to assign a few more controls. When you’re done you can store this as a preset using the Save button in the Inserts section. This will dump out your device setup and controls as a Combinator device, ready to drop into any other channel or share with others. Finally, this technique is useful for setting up for a live performance, where you want the easy visibility of key effects controls possible with hardware control mappings.
When it comes to Aux buses and inputs, Reason’s Mixer once again closely models traditional hardware consoles. There are eight stereo Send outputs that appear on the back of the Master Section rack object. These are fed from the Sends section in the mixer channels, with a master level for each bus in the Master Channel at the right-hand side of the mixer. The eight corresponding stereo inputs appear in the FX Return section in the master channel. To auto-cable an effect device into the mixer using a Send/Return routing, right-click on the mixer and choose Create Send FX..., then select a device from the Browser. You can also drag a device into the Rack and drop it underneath the Master Section to achieve the same result. Note that the Sends on the Mixer panel all start out inactive. On each channel that you wish to route to the send you’ll need to click the number button for that send.
In the next instalment we’ll dive deeper into some advanced techniques for mixing with effects that are made possible by Reason’s modular architecture.