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+Sound Quality
+All-In-One Solution
+Kong Drum Designer
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-No third-party plug-in support
-Closed system
-No MP3 import support
-No Automatic Tempo Detection
-Can't create REX files

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Off The Record:
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"If you are willing to solely work from within the program and forgo some of the creative plug-ins available, then the Reason/Record Duo is a compelling proposition."
--Greg Geller

"Ultimately, Propellerheads needs to suck it up, figure out a way to merge Reason and Record into a single product, open up the program to third-party plug-ins, and create a new solution, dubbed something like Reason Pro, if they truly want to compete against comparably priced solutions like Logic and Cubase."
--Dan Brotman

"Sorry Propellerheads, but if I got $500 burning in my pocket to buy a complete music production solution, I'm buying Logic."
--Garth Fields

"With the introduction of Kong, Propellerheads now have a persuasive argument to attract laptop Hip-Hop producers."
--Neville Carrol

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August 27, 2010

../ TestDrive: Propellerheads Reason 5 & Record 1.5

Propellerhead Software, a boutique music software developer from Sweden, has updated Reason and Record, their two flagship products. For those of you that have been living under a rock for the past 10 years or so, Reason has firmly established itself within the industry as a robust and creative music production solution that both established and brand new users have found very attractive.

Propellerhead Reason 5 Screenshot - Review

Reason 5's main work environment (with Record integration)

Reason was released at the end of 2000 as a virtual replacement for your hardware studio gear. In fact, it utilized the "rack" concept as a visual metaphor, even going so far as to include the ability to patch virtual cables on the back. Reason was completely self-contained and came with synths, samplers, effect processors, a sequencer, and other goodies married to proper technology that provided a high level of processor efficiency and stability.

However, the program contained a couple of major limitations that some would say grounded Reason from taking off and becoming a truly dominant player in the market. First, is that it's a closed system, meaning, no VST, AU or any third-party plug-in capability. Propellerheads has always maintained that introducing third party plugs would adversely effect Reason's CPU efficiency and stability, but other developers have successfully tackled this issue, which somewhat diminishes the company's credibility.


  • Introducing Kong Drum Designer (Reason)
  • Dr. REX octuples into Dr. Octo Rex Loop Player (Reason)
  • Neptune Pitch Adjuster and Voice Synth Device (Record)
  • Block based pattern sequencing mode makes song creation fast and flexible (Both)
  • Expanded Factory Sound Bank with Signature patches (Reason)
  • Live sampling in the rack (Reason)

Propellerheads' Dynamic Duo

Propellerhead Software's Dynamic Duo in action

The other big problem has been its lack of digital audio recording capabilities like a traditional Digital Audio Workstation (DAW). Propellerheads claimed that Reason was never designed to record audio and that "Rewiring" Reason to a DAW is their recommended path to solve that problem. Propellerheads Rewire technology has been nothing short of revolutionary and their liberal licensing agreement meant that many third parties benefited immensely from the ability to seamlessly "mate" with other software. However, some would argue that Propellerheads themselves was never able to take full advantage of the technology, like Ableton, and the inability to record audio was pacing Reason further and further behind their competitors.

Enter Record

Last year, Propellerheads released Record, a program designed to record digital audio. What?? I don't get it... Why would Propellerheads release a separate product to provide the most requested feature that Reason users had been clamoring for the company to provide for years? That's what consumers thought as well. Compounded by the product again being a closed system, which didn't allow for third-party plugs, and inane marketing that created more questions than answers, Record, despite its quality sound, was a major sales disappointment.

So why would Propellerheads insist that their users buy an entirely separate product, which is handicapped by today's standards with no third-party plug-ins, in order for Reason users to have digital audio recording capability? Backend technology. For Reason to have full-on, built-in recording capability, Propellerheads would have to completely reprogram the entire product. In addition, they were hoping that users would gravitate to Record as a separate, stand-alone digital audio recording product, which would have opened up an entirely new market. It was far easier to write an entirely new program, have it seamlessly integrate with Reason, and create a new revenue stream in the process.

Unfortunately, it didn't exactly pan out that way. Record was never going to be regarded as a viable stand-alone solution without third-party plug-in support, and Reason owners were somewhat miffed that Propellerheads wanted them to pay for an entirely new program when that functionality should have just been added into Reason. Users may have been more sympathetic to the company if they were able to effectively communicate the hurdles, but poor marketing and promotion only seemed to make matters worse. Understanding Propellerheads' limitations would certainly have smoothed some of the rough edges, but the company fumbled the ball every time they attempted to address the issue.

Although Propellerheads is somewhat moving to a single product "philosophy" with their Duo packaging, the truth is that they may never fuse the programs and simply continue to develop each one separately, which brings us to our Reason 5 and Record 1.5 reviews. In spite of the fact that this is a simultaneous release of two updates for two different software titles, FutureMusic is going to treat this as a single, combined review.

Record Mixing Console

Record 1.5's mixing console interface

Record makes some nice strides with the 1.5 update with Blocks, Neptune and the ability to finally normalize and reverse audio.

Blocks — This addition to the Sequencer is designed to allow you to sequence and construct arrangements in a non-linear fashion. The idea is simple. You have 32 Blocks. Each one can be a different sequence of any length utilizing any of the devices from the rack. Blocks can then be chained together in Song mode on a Blocks track to create the finished arrangement. Overdubs and new tracks can be created over the block arrangement as well. If you choose not to use Blocks, you can just remain in song mode and sequence the old fashioned way. Clips can be copied seamlessly between Song mode and Blocks, so you could theoretically start your project in either mode. We found Blocks to tremendously speed up the arrangement process and liked the fact that you can dive in and out of Blocks and Song mode during playback making various edits without ever having to stop the sequencer. Nice!

Blocks is very reminiscent to folder tracks in Logic, but if live triggering and recording of them were to be incorporated in the next update, a new world of possibilities would emerge.

Neptune — This audio processor is a unique proposition. Rather than go with a "traditional" pitch shift command from an edit menu, Propellerheads decided to up the ante and deliver something provocative that fits the mold of their rack design called Neptune Pitch Adjuster. It's a rack device that can be connected to an audio track, or any other device for that matter. On it's front panel it allows you several functions for pitch adjustment including auto-tuning and voice synth.
First, it allows you to transpose incoming audio up/down an octave. Second, it has pitch correction. Neptune can detect flat and sharp incoming notes and correct them. Correction speed is adjustable, so, a longer time for correction speed would create an exaggerated automatic tuning effect. The tuning note can be overridden with MIDI input, and some creative things can be explored using the Matrix pattern sequencer or an RPG-8.
And lastly, it works as a voice synthesizer. Triggering a MIDI keyboard while it's processing audio synthesizes a voice at the note that is input. This allows for instant harmonization of parts. We found Neptune to be incredibly easy and powerful to use. It feels like the perfect compliment to Record's stellar time stretch algorithm and certainly delivers an essential set of functions to Record. Propellerheads twist on the pitch concept will add some unexpected, but very welcome surprises to your music.

When Propellerheads updated/upgraded Reason in the past, their updates were not only substantial, but also significant. The trend continues with Reason 5. There are several wonderful enhancements in the latest incarnation of Reason including...

Dr. OctoRex — The Dr. Rex Loop Player has been eliminated from Reason's palette of devices. Replacing it is his evil cousin Dr. OctoRex, but don't worry, all of your older Rex files will work just fine with this updated Rex player. Dr. OctoRex can entertain up to 8 Rex files simultaneously. There is a RUN button, just like on Combinator, and when engaged, each can be triggered from a dedicated button on the front panel of the device in realtime and recorded to a pattern lane. Loops can be triggered at the Bar, Beat, or 1/16th note division at your specified tempo.

There is a global transpose and master synthesizer section, nearly identical to Dr. Rex. You can also possess a multimode filter with EG and Amp EG, assign LFO, perform pitch adjustments, and execute mod wheel and velocity assignments. The device also has 8 outputs. Most exciting about Dr. OctRex has to be the slice edit mode, which allows for unbelievably fast editing, altering, and mangling of each slice of loaded Rex loops. On the fly, you can edit pitch, pan, level, decay, playback direction, filter frequency, alternate note, and audio output for each slice of your Rex file. Now, I admittedly am not a big user of Rex files, but, after experimenting with the slice edit function to mangle some Rex loops, I found myself inspired by the happy accidents that I had created and can see implementing this into my workflow in the future.

Live Sampling — Now here's a novel idea - a software sampler that actually samples! OK, so every rack device that plays back samples, now has a sampling button located to the right of the load sample folder icon. Simply press it, and you are recording whatever is connected to the Sampling Input jack in the Hardware Interface device at the top of the rack. When the Sampling button is pressed, a little box appears on screen displaying the waveform for the audio that's being recorded. The window has an edit button on it that, when pressed, brings up a basic waveform editor with almost all of the functions that you can think of to begin tweaking. Live Sampling provides the ability to record from inputs on your audio interface, but also allows you to re-sample anything in the rack. Being that I utilize a heavy amount of resampling in my own tracks, this is a very welcome feature. Having the built-in waveform editor is also key. You can edit any sample, in any sampler device, from inside the program.

KongKong is no doubt aimed at the MPC- beatmaking audience, and Propellerheads didn't cut corners here. At first glance, it looks like an Akai MPC with the familiar 16 pads staring you in the face. However, the similarities stop there; the Kong Drum Designer is a new drum device that's designed to give you incredible flexibility and control in shaping and designing drum kits and sounds.

Reason 5 Kong Drum Designer

Reason 5's killer Kong Drum Designer

Each pad can have a separate drum module loaded into it. The drum modules include:

  1. NN-Nano Sampler — it's a sample playback device that can have many, many layers of samples and provides basic editable parameters
  2. Nurse Rex — A basic Rex loop player...when assigned to a pad it will trigger the whole pattern in time with the rest of the sequence. The Rex file can also be spread over the pads in specific segments
  3. Physical Bass Drum — a physical model of a bass drum giving full control over its physical attributes
  4. Physical Snare Drum — a physical model of a snare drum giving full control over its physical attributes
  5. Physical Tom Tom — a physical model of a tom drum giving full control over its physical attributes
  6. Synth Bass Drum — this is an analog modeled synth kick, ideal for creating 808 or 909 style kicks
  7. Synth Snare Drum — this is an analog modeled synth snare, think 606
  8. Synth Hi-Hat — an analog modeled hi-hat with ring mod
  9. Synth Tom Tom — an analog modeled synth tom that also works quite well for Simmons-like effects and percussion sounds

The module then runs through two insert effects that can be either support generators or effects units. The support generator and effect palette for Kong is as follows:

  1. Noise — this will add noise - kind of like what we hear from a synth snare drum - it contrasts nicely when used with a more acoustic sounding snare.
  2. Tone — generates a tunable tone that can be used to possibly add a synthetic body to a more acoustic sounding kick.

Now you can add your two FX processors:

  1. Compressor
  2. Filter
  3. Overdrive/Resonator
  4. Parametric EQ
  5. Rattler - adds a synthetic snare rattle
  6. Ring Modulator
  7. Room Reverb
  8. Tape Echo
  9. Transient Shaper

Kong has one internal Bus FX, which can receive any of the drum patches. It also has a single Master FX, which is global. On it's backside, it has 16 outputs, two Aux Sends for using additional effects from the rack, and a Gate in and out for each pad making it possible to use a Redrum to trigger Kong's pads. Audio inputs are present as well to allow Kong to be used simply as an effects processor.

Kong contains an impressive variety of methods for generating and shaping drum sounds, but it manages to still feel intuitive and easy to operate. It took no time to create very usable sounds and kits simplified by quick edit buttons, which are littered all over the front panel to make life that much easier.

Reason and Record contain several other noteworthy enhancements including:

Automatic Self-Contain Of Samples
Make your songs self-contained by embedding samples and even ReFill sounds in your file. This simplifies collaborating with fellow musicians and for tidying up your archive process.
Resize Audio Clips To The Timeline
This is one of the biggest updates to Record. I've thought that it's time stretch algorithm was phenomenal, since I first heard it, but, up until now, it wasn't very usable for my purposes, since it missed this simple feature. Couple this enhancement with Neptune, and you have some pretty wild possibilities with digital audio.
Normalize and Reverse of Audio Clips
A small thing, but absolutely necessary. I wished it had been there in the initial release, but, better late than never...
Bounce Audio Clip To Sample
Audio recordings can be bounced to samples for use in any of the sampler devices.
Additional CV Inputs On Combinator
Combinator now has four more CV inputs on its back. CV inputs can be routed to control various parameters of the devices housed in the combinator through its front panel programmer.
Tap Tempo
Pretty self-explanatory, but a welcome addition.
Mute Tool
A new mute tool, accessible by key command, allows for easier muting and unmuting of clips.
Loop a Clip with CMD-L
A host of new keyboard shortcuts, aimed to improve workflow and working from a laptop have been added.


We can't imaging using Record/Reason without the new functionality and devices. Nearly every update and addition to both programs is well thought out, very usable and will give you the tools to craft even better tracks. There is no question that these updates are directly targeted to the Hip-Hop, beat crafting audience, but I am sure that producers of all styles will find the new functionality to be outstanding.

Although, we hammered Propellerheads in our opening about how they handled Record, they are clearly working hard to make Reason and Record the best products they can be with their current resources. In many ways, they have shot themselves in the foot with the clear absence of certain features, and their continued stance on third party plug-ins, but both Reason and Record are excellent programs and well worth their admission fees if you are willing to solely work from within their ecosystem.

The Future: If we haven't made it absolutely clear by now, there definitely is an audience that is dying to see the incorporation of VST/AU plug-in capability. Fact is, including this functionality would be a game-changer.
We'd also like to see Recycle, with all of it's functionality, built into Record. The program is quite long in the tooth as a stand alone product, especially for $199. With the addition of the waveform editor and a couple of devices that are practically begging to use Rex files, this should be really a no-brainer for Propellerheads, if - they - can - just - let - go - of - this - cash - cow. To have to bounce back and forth from Record to Recycle, just for slicing purposes is just clumsy, especially in 2010.
Realtime launching of Blocks would open up a major possibility for live performance. Add the ability to record the performance, and you'd have a whole new world of arranging options.
MP3 import, which should have been an addition in this update, should move up on Propellerheads' To-Do list. Automatic tempo and pitch detection of audio should also be considered in the next incarnation as well.

Propellerhead' Reason retails for $349 and Record will set you back $299. More information on Propellerhead Reason & Record.

>>> Buy Both Now For $399!

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Propellerheads' Reason 5 and Record 1.5 are potent products as long as you are willing to accept certain limitations.


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