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REVIEW: Reason 9

An updated version of the Propellerhead sequencer

2016 Aug 13     
2 Bit Thugs

Reason 9 is a renovation of the familiar DAW boasting new features, 1,000 new sounds, a facelift and workflow enhancements

The charm of Propellerhead's Reason is that it makes you feel like Brian Eno, using the entire studio as your instrument. For as long as I can remember Reason has given you the ability to go behind the rack and re-wire anything from audio to control voltages to your liking, increasing your creative potential exponentially.

Setting up Reason has always been simple and V9 is no different. Choosing the download option, I was surprised to see that the software only occupies around 4GB, and there's an even smaller option of under 500MB if you are just upgrading.

New: rack devices
What's new in Reason 9, you ask? Perhaps most exciting is the addition of the new Reason rack devices, three ‘controllers’ that modify incoming MIDI data from the producer (you). This is great news if you are a bit of a one-finger keyboard player!

The first of the trio is the Scales & Chords player. Here, the Chords section will take a few simple notes and explode them into epic chord progressions that are customisable to your taste: a little extra harmony to a full palette of sonic colour can be generated from a few notes. The Scales section, meanwhile, gives you the opportunity to select a certain scale or mode to use for an instrument; then the keyboard will not allow you to play a wrong note. If you are looking to create electronic music but have little music theory knowledge, this will get you playing beautiful melodies in no time - I was very happy exploring the melodic possibilities of the G Phrygian mode.

The Dual Arpeggio player can take the MIDI input from the keyboard or mouse and play notes in rapid succession. This in itself is nothing new, but having two arpeggios at the same time did create some interesting results and it’s refreshing to start exploring the world of polyphony.

Finally, Note Echo is a cross between a delay unit and your MIDI keyboard on a triple espresso, taking your simple MIDI information and transforming the notes, rhythms and dynamics. Once again, independently this is nothing to write home about, but it becomes exciting when combining all three Player devices to really push the boundaries of your music. This is especially interesting if you are not so strong at music theory but want to enhance your melodic and harmonic content.

Updated workflow
The next feature is the Pitch Editor. The Pitch Editor is focused on improving vocal takes. The concept is not new and has been available in Logic and Cubase for a while, yet Reason’s execution of this is actually quite good, providing that the vocal take is of a high standard initially. It allows you to manipulate the pitch of a recorded vocal as if it were MIDI notes. For small corrections this sounded very smooth and clean; yet for creating additional harmonies and changing the melody of the vocal, anything more that a transposition of a major third started to create some T-Pain style artefacts.

This is not necessarily a bad thing, and in the right hands it can be a great tool, but the Pitch Editor is not going to polish a turd for you. In the same breath, Reason have updated the ability of the audio editor, allowing you to quickly fix small timing errors in a recording. This is bread and butter nowadays, so to be honest it’s about time. The same goes for the new reverse MIDI function, which does exactly as you would expect.

However, there were some workflow additions that piqued my interest, namely Bounce in Place and Audio Pitch to MIDI Notes. Once again, Bounce in Place is a feature that has already been available in other sequencers but it works well in Reason and notably sped up my workflow which is impressive. It can also lead you down the road of re-sampling, a technique synonymous with harder styles of dance music.

Audio Pitch to MIDI Notes, meanwhile, takes an audio sample and turns the notes of the audio into a MIDI representation of the melody. I could also see this being really useful if you have a great idea for a new track, but you can’t play it on the keyboard. Sing the part into a microphone and Reason will have it in MIDI for you in seconds!

1,000 new sounds
Propellerhead has been shouting about the 1000 new sounds that are included in V9. They have tried to include a wide variety of genres, including metal, which definitely shows diversification, yet there is still a definite primary focus on dance and electronic music. This is great for electronic music producers working in genres such as hip-hop, house, EDM and dubstep.

The Pads & Leads sounds contain a lot of high-quality material in the sense that it is inspiring, and rich in frequency content without being unusable. This is a great start if you are looking to create an eerie atmosphere for the intro of your track and will be beneficial for those who desire more of a sound designer's edge in their productions.

The drum packs are of a good standard for the most part, with the better quality samples focused on hip-hop and electronic drum kits. The acoustic kits seem a little lacklustre, and this might be where they have saved some of the space in the download size. One point of annoyance is that the majority of the toms in the pre-sets seemed to be panned from the audience perspective, which I always find a little alien and uncomfortable. Imagine not being able to air drum to the amazing drum fills you have just programmed - madness, I tell you!

One other tiny workflow enhancement that's worth mentioning is a small orange box that highlights you are in browsing mode for the patches in that instrument. There are a few of these minor features in V9, such as allowing you to search by sound designer, and the accumulation of these additions make the music creation process a little more streamlined.

To conclude, all of the things that you know and love about Reason are still there, the new look and design is pleasing to the eye and the idea of a late-night mode works well. Reason 9 still has all of the rack extension and re-fills that you would expect, yet an interesting addition to the fray is a Project Sam Rack. It's good to see top-tier developers getting involved with the software, and shows great promise for the future of Reason.

One thing that I wanted to talk about is the online videos promoting Reason 9. They have an overly self-congratulatory tone, suggesting that they have achieved a transcendent quality, which I think is unfair to younger, more impressionable producers. The Reason software is good and the ‘beats from scratch’ tutorials did have some great information, but remember that there are other programs out there such as Logic, Cubase, Pro Tools, Ableton Live and Studio One. My advice would be to try the demo versions before you actually purchase anything.

If you are looking to just upgrade to V9 from an earlier copy of Reason then this is a worthwhile upgrade at €129. For buying it new, €369 is a little steep and I would strongly recommend using the demo version before buying. There is also the stripped-back basic version called Essentials for €69, which is has some obvious limitations.

V9 is an interesting update: nothing about it is particularly groundbreaking, but this is one instance where the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. Making music with Reason 9 is intuitive and gets you focused on creating good ideas, which is a positive aspect. Yet I can’t shake the feeling that with a final mix of a club or dance track, to get it sounding like 'professional' you might need some extra attention from third-party plug-ins that are still out of reach for Reason users.

Words: Matt Chapman

Review score: 4/5

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Tags: Reason 9, DAW, music software, sequencer, Propellerhead