PROS / The browser window makes it easy to search for and use sounds within the software.
CONS / Reason isn't compatible with third-party plugins.
VERDICT / Reason 9 Essentials doesn't offer as much as other entry-level programs we compared, but it is an inexpensive way to try Reason for the first time.
Propellerhead has been making improvements to its audio production software, Reason, year after year. Reason has always been known for its effects and loops as well as its ability to create beats using MIDI controllers. Reason now can record live instrumentation combined with great-sounding plugins that make this program competitive in the audio production world.
Reason is composed of four main workstations – sequencer, rack, mixer and browser. The browser is the cornerstone of music production in this software. It is placed in the upper left corner of your window and is essentially the first step in your music creation process. In the browser window you will find all of your virtual instruments, loops, effects and sounds. This gives you access to the lifeblood of the program: its sound library. From here, you can simply drag and drop virtual instruments, effects and sound loops right into your rack unit. You can also connect an effect to a virtual instrument by dragging the effect over the instrument in the rack. Reason will automatically link the two together. This software is unique in this fashion. The rack allows you to chain and route many different plugins and virtual instruments by simply dragging and dropping, something other DAWs don't do.
In Reason 9 there is a render-in-place option. Some professional-level DAWs have this capability, but few entry-level programs do. You can easily render a piece of audio right within the arrangement window with one button click. Many programs make you search through menus to find this feature.
Another cool feature is reverse MIDI clips. You can take a piece of MIDI data and instantly reverse it in one click. Finally, you can change the skin or theme of the interface. There are a few options to make the interface look different. Since you can spend a lot of time staring at the interface, it is important to like the way it looks. Few DAWs allow you to change the look of the interface like Reason does.
If you upgrade to the full Reason 9 suite, there is a Players tool located within the browser that has ample capabilities, including easy chord creation and musical scale maneuverability. There are also dual arpeggiators and note echo devices that can all be paired together to create really interesting sounds.
Essentials has a decent sound library. This electronic music software has over 3,000 loops. Reason 9 has added over 1,000 more sounds to its library since the previous version, but it's unknown how many of those new sounds made it into the Essentials version. It’s a sizable library, but the best audio production products in our comparisons have 7,000 or more loops in the library. Reason falls a little behind in this category.
This music studio software is expandable. There are over 400 rack extensions you can purchase and add to your sound library. Propellerhead has always liked to keep its production in-house, meaning you can’t use third-party plugins. If you are going to expand your plugins, you have to do so with Propellerhead products.
Reason doesn’t constrict your recording capabilities by capping the number of tracks you can add to a single session. You can add any number of audio and MIDI tracks to each recording session. What is a bit restrictive is the seven total plugins and six virtual instruments available on Essentials. This is far fewer than its full version as well as almost all of its competitors on the entry-level tier of music creation programs. The total number of plugins, virtual instruments and loops all fall short of its competitors.
Reason 9 boasts a powerful mixer, the SSL 9000K. The master compressor is the highlight of the mixer, letting you add polish and punch to your recordings. The basic Reason Essentials 9 mixer is composed of a two-band EQ. Many mixers in other audio production programs have more extensive multi-band equalization parameters than Essentials offers.
Reason 9 allows you render audio in-place and change the skin of the interface, which makes it comfortable to work within the program. For entry-level software, it doesn't offer as much in terms of sounds, loops and plugins as others in our comparison do, but Reason is such a unique program that it is worth a try anyway.