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|Reason v2.0: The Review by Paul Ortiz
Few audio software titles have, in my opinion, left as great an impact on the computer music scene as Propellerhead?s ?Reason?. The idea of a self contained software sequencer/synth/sampler is certainly not a new one, but few - if any have managed to pull it off quite like these guys. If you?ve used Reason v1.0/1.01, or indeed read the review right here at the site, then you?ll know just what it?s all about. So you?re probably dying to know what?s new right? Read on?
Well okay, the list of new features is hardly a long one, but let?s look closer at exactly what?s been added before we pass judgement; remember, it?s quality not quantity. First of all, there have been some subtle but useful changes about the place. On first installing the package you now have the option to define the default song on start-up, as opposed to having to erase the demo song every time you create a new file or, alternatively, save your own blank default page in the Reason program directory; a minor but welcome change. Secondly there have been a few cosmetic changes to the sequencer window, as well as the addition of 4 new tools. The ?hand? is used to quickly pull your way across the arrangement while the magnifying glass is handy for zeroing in on a specific area of any given song. The eraser tool, unsurprisingly, erases and the line tool functions much like the compass in Cubase allowing you to rule a straight line across event velocities to even them out, or to create fades. Also worth note is the fact that the sequencer panel is now entirely detachable from the virtual rack which is great for when you need to work on individual parts but occasionally tinker with your devices. In previous versions, maximising the sequencer window meant obscuring the rack. For those of you lucky enough to have a dual screen configuration?well you can imagine the possibilities here.
The existing rack mounts haven?t changed at all, save for the addition of a ?sync? button next to practically every LFO. This is fantastic for keeping them in time with the track; something which was virtually impossible to do in previous versions unless you manually recorded the automation for the parameter in real time?a very arduous process especially in longer songs.
And of course there have no doubt been countless ?under the bonnet? changes. I seem to have shaved a cool millisecond off my latency bringing it down to the even number of 8.
Well, surely that isn?t everything? Nope, the best is yet to come. All you Reason freaks out there now have two new rack mounts to play with! And they are immensely welcome additions to the already impressive line up of gadgets on offer. First up is the Malstr?m Graintable synthesiser. If you haven?t heard of Graintable synthesis, that?s probably because it didn?t exist before Reason v2.0. At its most basic, Graintable synthesis is a sort of mutant hybrid of Wavetable and Granular synthesis. It?s not simply a sampled wave form, nor the manipulation (emulated or otherwise) of voltages. Perhaps the best way to describe it is to think of a REX file; a sound is sampled and divided into slices. Each portion of the sound plays in sequence and each slice has its own attributes. Put together, these slices form a complete sound (a beat, a musical phrase etc.). With graintable synthesis we?re dealing with that principle but on a far smaller scale where the synthesisers waveforms are actually samples subdivided into very small slices (milliseconds long as opposed to seconds). Of course, the process is far more complex than that, but there you have the basic idea behind the Malstrom. And it is, quite frankly, the most bizarre thing you?re ever likely to hear! At its simplest you have a nice number of static sampled waveforms to play around with ranging from abstract guitars, thru to voices and strings, as well as a selection of more conventional shapes such as sine/square waves, saw tooth and so on. Once you start fiddling though, you?ll soon find you have the ability to warp any of these sounds completely beyond recognition. You can define where the waveform begins, you can time stretch or compress it, alter its harmonic content entirely using the ?shift? feature. Added to that you can also send each of the two oscillators to wherever you like, allowing for some awesome stereo sounds.
As is the case with the Subtractor synth, there is the option to route the modulation wheel, an additional external controller, and note velocity to the various parameters. Also worth mentioning is the ?shaper? module, which includes saturation, clip and noise effects, all of which can be applied to an external source (e.g. NN-19, Redrum etc). Of course there are the usual features that you?ve come to expect, ADSR, filter envelope, 2 modulators (which interestingly enough can be set to ?one-shot? mode, acting as yet another envelope). The features just go on and on and I can?t really do justice to the Malstrom in any review. But I?m sure you get the idea?it?s a serious piece of kit and it?s quite unlike any other synth you?re likely to have heard so far. Sounds pretty impressive eh? It gets better?much better.
The NN-19 sampler in v1x was adequate enough. In fact considering we?re not talking about dedicated sampling software here it was quite reasonable. But there were a few things I didn?t like about it. There was no option to assign individual modulation parameters to specific key groups. Nor were there any facilities for exclusive key grouping (making realistic sounding drum kits near impossible unless you resorted to the somewhat limited Redrum). And there were several other things I would have liked to see implemented, velocity switching, better control of looping?I could go on but you get the idea. So along comes NN-XT. On adding this inconspicuous looking device to your rack you may wonder what the big fuss is about. Expand the ?remote editor? however, and you?re in for a nice surprise. At a glance you?ll see that this is way more serious than the NN-19. There are countless more controls, and a larger area for arranging your samples (I found the NN-19 display a bit on the small side). It?s only when you start adding sample layers that you begin to realise just how powerful the NN-XT is. Each sample has its own set of parameters, envelops and LFO?s which can be applied either to individual sounds or to groupings of sounds. Modulation and velocity routing is also specific to each sample or sample group, as is in fact, pretty much every other control you see on the remote editor.
Rear view ...
This is an immense improvement on the modulation section on the NN-19 which could only be applied globally to the entire patch. Another feature you?ll be pleased to know has made it onto the XT is velocity switching and cross fading. This it does remarkably well, allowing for extremely realistic patches to be created, specifically drum patches where you may wish to cross fade between multi sampled drum hits. And on the subject of drums you can also now define a maximum polyphony for any group of samples, meaning hi-hat cut off is at last possible. The looping facilities are still a little basic, but are a vast improvement. There is now the option to set the loop start and end points, whereas before looping could only be achieved if the sample already contained loop data and editing this data could only be done with an external audio editor. Unfortunately there is still no graphical representation of the wave form, so finding the ?perfect? loop is a little on the tricky side. There are also options to set the play mode of the sample; whether it should play once, or sustain forwards through the looping portion of the sample or even ?ping pong?. Another great feature is the XT?s 8 stereo outputs, meaning you can route any given group(s) of samples to an effect or dynamics processor. Again this is particularly handy for drums where you might want to apply a gated reverb to the snare only, without affecting the rest of the kit. On top of all this there is also a limited set of controls on the XT master panel, although these are only really useful for crude editing of the patch as a whole. The NN-XT Advanced Sampler is not, however, a substitute for the NN-19. Both have their merits. Some may find the Advanced Sampler a little too involved at times, especially where you simply want to shove a sample into Reason and start playing.
BTW - All existing instruments now have LFO sync.
So, the verdict? Well it may at first be easy to mistake this upgrade for simply being ?Reason, but with bells and whistles?. That is true to a certain extent; don?t expect to find any sort of massive overhaul to the real core workings of the program. But the addition of the Advanced Sampler alone, I feel, justifies this upgrade. It potentially moves Reason well away from the tired Dance/Drum and Bass scene and into a whole new realm of serious music. This wasn?t so much a criticism of Reason upon my first review, but an observation; it had potential for a lot more than 4/4 Club patterns and synth arpeggios. Blips, beeps, sweeps and frantic drum patterns are fun for a while, but there is at least the option now to create rich and realistic sounds to be used in almost any style of music imaginable. The Malstrom reinforces this with its ability to create some genuinely new and innovative sounds, ranging from atmospheric effects, to lush sweeping pads and even outlandish tribal drum sounds. The sequencer is still a love or hate affair. Personally, I more often than not find myself firing Reason up alongside VST5, perhaps because I?m more familiar and comfortable with the arrange window. The ability to detach the sequencer panel is a step in the right direction and it does indeed make a world of difference when performing in-depth editing. And with perseverance you may well find that the Reason sequencer surpasses that of any dedicated sequencing package in terms of control and scope. At the end of the day it?s a matter of preference.
Overall then, this is a very worthwhile upgrade. If you?re an existing Reason user, you can look forward to some basic enhancements of the core functionality as well as the two new modules, and a barrel load of preset sounds to play with. If you?ve yet to have the ?Reason Experience?, then you don?t know what you?re missing?hop on down to your nearest music software vendor, or go to www.propellerheads.se now and get yourself a copy!
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|2003-01-01: Why ask stuff you allready have? That's just plain stupid! by Elektroj?nis|
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