Propellerhead Reason 4

Propellerhead Reason 4

Reason’s Thor synthesizer offers extensive filtering and modulation options, and sounds as massive as it looks.


Having essentially started the business of software emulation of classic musical hardware, Propellerhead Software has worked very hard on delivering a comprehensive, self-contained virtual synthesizer and audio processing rack to rival expensive, heavy hardware equivalents. Reason is the result of these combined efforts, and after eight years and four versions, this rack is rockin’ in a major way.


Unlike many other full-spectrum audio recording suites, Reason concentrates on emulating a typical analog/digital synthesizer studio, with a large array of separate components that can be plugged into one another with virtual patch cables, mixed through a mixer, and output to separate audio channels. There’s an integrated MIDI sequencing window, which is one aspect of the program that has undergone significant changes and enhancements. For folks already using a dedicated recording package such as Logic Studio or Ableton Live, and who want to access the vast array of sonic tools in Reason, the ReWire protocol lets Reason connect to these programs in the background (instead of through the more typical Audio Units plug-in interface). The real fun—and power—of Reason comes into play when you hit the Tab key, and the whole virtual rack flips around to let you engage in cabling modules together in myriad ways, opening up the floodgates to intensely creative—and fun—experimentation.


There are a medley of truly cool synthesizers in Reason, including a straightforward subtractive synthesizer, très cool retro drum machine and sample playback synth, and wild sonic monsters such as the Malstrom granular synth, which sounds like it was salvaged from a crashed alien spacecraft. One of the biggest new additions to Reason 4 is the Thor modular synthesizer, a truly heavy-hitting leviathan capable of ground-shaking sonic waves of bliss. The range of modulation options, filters, and oscillators is really impressive, and the truth is that we’d love to see this beast available as a separate AU plug-in. The scope of Thor is beyond what we could ever hope to cover in this review, but for any existing Reason user, it’s reason enough to bite the bullet and order the upgrade.


As far as audio-sweetening goodies, Reason has everything plus the kitchen sink, from utilitarian equalization and mastering dynamics processors to Scream, perhaps our favorite distortion processor in the known audio universe (and which has no hardware or software counterpart). Reason 4 has also added a longtime wish-list item—a very capable arpeggiator, which automatically plays selected ranges of notes in a variety of different cyclic patterns and speeds, making it easy to quickly whip up lovely permutations of bubbly musical passages. Like KraftWerk? Now you can sound just like ’em, without ever setting foot in Berlin. The newly reworked Sequencer window makes it much easier to edit recorded music and automation than previous versions, with additions both large and subtle. Earlier versions were sometimes exercises in frustration, but the enhanced track editing abilities of Reason 4 are right on the money.


The two issues that have always been a limitation of Reason are still unresolved: the lack of support for AU plug-ins and no facility for recording sampled audio into its own dedicated track. There are workarounds for the second issue—loading long samples into Reason’s sampler modules and playing them back as MIDI tracks—but we’d really like to see this drawback addressed in a future version.


The bottom line. Reason 4 is a slick, lovely sounding upgrade to an already popular music creation tool, and merits serious consideration as a one-stop shop for modern music production.


COMPANY: Propellerhead Software


PRICE: $499, $129 upgrade from any previous version

REQUIREMENTS: 1GHz, G4 or later or Intel PCU, Mac OS 10.4 or later, 512MB RAM (1GB recommended)

Awesome Thor modular synth. Slick new note arpegiattor. Wide range of audio processing tools. Enhanced MIDI sequencer.

No Audio Units support. Still no dedicated sampled audio track.





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