Reason 9 is here, updating that singular virtual rack of instruments and effects combined with song recording and arrangement. And a quick look at the features will likely have some people saying “fine, sure, but my DAW can already do that.”

But – exactly. And also – can it, really? Because Reason has a of doing things in a, well, Reason-y way – one that keeps its die-hard fans uniquely loyal. And it sometimes has a way of doing things best.

Reason 9’s feature list should at least satisfy existing users, with some new stuff that could change how you work. It continues Reason’s long march toward doing things that DAWs do. It also continues to do so in a way that is ruggedly, stubbornly consistent with earlier releases.

I need more time to do a full review. But I’m impressed already with the new additions to Devices, as well as the sound quality of the pitch editing engine.

Why this upgrade matters:

Reason is the one mainstream production workstation that’s patchable. Remember when modular was a niche thing? Now, from hardware Eurorack to software environments like Softube’s virtual module or Reaktor 6’s Blocks, it seems patch cords are as ubiquitous as faders. Reason has had patch cords since version 1.0, and that means all its virtual devices can be combined and re-combined however you like – even as rival environments make something as simple as sidechaining a major chore.

That means anything Reason adds in terms of Devices becomes instantly more flexible than it is in competing DAWs. (See the MIDI devices, below.)

Adjust intonation, change pitches, and adjust vibrato with monophonic audio sources - natively in Reason 9.

Adjust intonation, change pitches, and adjust vibrato with monophonic audio sources – natively in Reason 9.

You can now natively change the pitch of audio. The dream of editing audio pitches as easily as MIDI is basically as old as MIDI. We’ve been waiting for a DAW to really get this right. We’ve watched some half-assed implementations, and we’ve seen DAW makers try to bake Celemony into their DAW – which gives them a pretty decent environment, but generally crippled in functionality and not native to the DAW. Well, now Reason has gone all in.

All the usual features for monophonic lines are there – adjusting intonation, changing pitch entirely, adjusting vibrato, and for light edits, heavy fixes, or experimental uses. You’ll still want Celemony for polyphony, but it’s nice to see it integrated here.

My first impressions were really good, and more experienced Reason users I’ve talked to have been absolutely blown away. This could be a reason to dive into Reason again, no doubt.

Audio to MIDI converts audio to notes. Also monophonic – but this is fun for singing in lines, for instance, rather than playing them. Also, cough, this easily bests Ableton Live’s terrible, overly ambitious audio to MIDI features. (But side note to Ableton: please don’t fix that, or at least leave a “terrible mode” switch – it’s so bad, it’s good, in that you can generate unexpected musical materials.)

The three "Players" give you some powerful options for transforming MIDI.

The three “Players” give you some powerful options for transforming MIDI.

It’s got new note-transforming devices. Dubbed “Player” devices, three devices focus on MIDI.

1. Note Echo: rhythmic, pitched delays, rolls, and the like.
2. Scales & Chords: monophony and polyphony, they are … things.
3. Dual Arpeggio: well, two arpeggiators. But that means you can make polyrhythms, and each on its own is powerful.

Do other DAWs have this? Yep. Can you patch into them? Nope. And there are some other nice details here (weirdly a lot of DAW arpeggiators are … not terrific); I’ll cover this in the review later this summer.

Propellerhead obviously care about them, as they recently did a full live stream to show them off:

There’s a dual channel LFO, free. Pulsar was one of the better devices for the Rack when Propellerhead released it – but now you get it free instead of shelling out fifty bucks. That may anger people who did purchase it, but I think it’s reassuring: for anyone who thought Reason would become an empty shell and you’d have to buy all the new devices, App Store style, that’s clearly not what’s happening.

And let’s say again: modular patching. It’s the business. LFOs just aren’t as flexible in any other DAW, because you have to deal with restrictive routings.

There’s finally a dark theme. Black is the new black.

Bounce in place. Augh. Yes. This one is huge for me – you can finally bounce in place to quickly create audio clips from soft synths. Oh, and … wait a minute. Then you could edit that with the new pitch editor and … hold on. I may have to go seriously abuse these features.

Reverse MIDI and automation with a click. Also clever and creative.

Split notes with the Razor tool – as you would audio. Necessary.

And there are 1000 new sound presets, though… c’mon, let’s make our own! Who needs sleep?

  • FelipeCortez

    You can easily route LFOs / sequencers to almost everything using Max for Live’s audio and MIDI LFOs. I believe something similar applies to Bitwig. Logic has the exact same note echo thing, plus you can write your own scripts

  • “Reason is the one mainstream production workstation that’s patchable”

    I know you don’t personally like Bitwig, but it’s possibly the most modular/patchable DAW out there, even though you don’t see fancy cables dangling from behind the rack. Plus you get VSTs, an amazing Javascript API (documented – looking at you in disapproval, Ableton) and so on. But sure, Reason is totally the best option for people who love vendor lock-in.

    • pymai

      it probably sounds stupid to most people but the vendor lock-in was the number 1 reason i decided to go with reason over any other daw. i knew that i would get too distracted by VST and would always be looking for just a few more or looking at features in other programs so reason was perfect in that sense. something that was self contained.

      but that was back at version 6 when i started. they have their own type of VST now so i do still get distracted every now and again but at least there arent that many.

    • Ivan

      Did you see “usine hollyhock”, looks pretty patchable/modular too, thought. But I’m actually did not use it, just discover couple days ago.

      • Usine, for sure. But unfortunately, “mainstream” here is the key word … Reason’s user base is far larger than Usine. I didn’t want to get too deep into the options here … the reality is, the class of DAWs competing with Reason in terms of scale (now talking Logic, Pro Tools, Ableton, SONAR, Cubase, DP) just aren’t modular.

        Once you get further down the long curve, there are lots of interesting shifts in paradigms….

    • I don’t think that’s correct – yet. When Bitwig gets to realizing this vision of being genuinely modular, it’ll leave Reason far behind … but for now, the modular innards aren’t available to end users.

      For now, I don’t think Bitwig is quite comparable to Reason’s patching metaphor in conjunction with the Combinator. There’s a reason I followed this story up with this wild amp stuff … that’s very much a Reason thing.

      JavaScript API is another animal altogether, though very cool…

  • Evan

    The comment on sidechaining being “a major chore”, I find pretty much any other daw to be way faster at setting up a simple sidechain than reason. Reason you have to go and split out your kick (or whatever your using) to its own output, then route that into either the channels compressor or whatever other compressor you slap around. Most daws its as simple as choose input track to side chain, done (though ableton is obviously the easiest if your using drum racks since you can directly pick the kick from within the compressor)

    Also mentioned was ‘patching in to’ the player devices…….not sure whats meant by that but the players offer no patching abilities

  • Future

    yep, Reason is cool. now who will give me a license as a present ?:)

  • problembarnet

    Reverse midi and automation, why would you need that? Any creative things you could use that for? Its not often I make a melody and think “oh how I wish that was backwards instead” 😀

    • Doug Gough

      Actually, I do this exact thing a lot in Ableton. Not necessarily with a melody per se, but when I’m experimenting with fragments of midi to try and generate ideas, this feature is awesome.

    • Paul Antonio Ortiz

      Turn a downer into a riser, create arp variations, just make things a bit crazy I guess!

  • TG

    reason is not “Locked in”… not any more than any other DAW…
    In Reason you have midi out, to any hardware, made by any manufacturer, and the ability to record that back in (of course!)

    Reason is a rewire slave. (Even thought they created rewire, with steinberg i believe)
    This means you can slave reason, basically use it as a plugin, if you so wish, in your favourite DAW.
    the majority of other DAWs are rewire hosts so you can use reason IN your DAW ..
    No lock in there – you can use it inside your other software!
    (Reason users have been shouting for Reason to be a host then we could have VSTs in Reason rather that the other way around! )

    Logic and its’ AU format, protools and its’ RTAS or AAX …
    these are surely DAWs for “people who love vendor lock-in” just as much as reason users?
    Sure, rack extensions are reason only, but Reason is not “locked” any more than any other DAW, IMO.

    Don’t get me wrong – ALL manufacturers should be talking to each other, I’d love to see the likes of Native Instruments NKS or something similar being adopted by ALL software platforms + hardware manufacturers.
    i assume we would all love to see all of our hardware either class compliant or somehow integrated easily with all of our software? We should be shouting for hardware and software integration! Not per manufacturer – but a universal standard – Just as midi is – accepted by all DAWs!

    • pymai

      whats the deal with them not letting reason being a host? when they are the ones who created rewire? seems strange

  • heinrichz

    The big backside of Reason is that there is no proprietary hands-on controller: using just the mouse for everything is kind of antiquated by now. NI with Maschine were first to create a system integrating hardware and software from its inception, Ableton followed by retrofitting the software to a lesser extent but never the less in an impressive way. These are the new industry standards for performing electronic musicians and and a DAW that cannot follow up here will be somewhat at a disadvantage imo.

    • JonYo

      It might not be custom hardware *only* for Reason, but there are plenty of manufacturers making HW that can be mapped very well with Reason for more than just performance control, like Nectar’s stuff.

    • Polite Society

      Touch screen.

    • Have you tried Nektar’s controller keyboards? I haven’t tried them myself, but only heard and read good about them – particularly with Reason integration.

    • pymai

      yea those nektar keyboards are pretty solid. i couldn’t imagine if propellerheads made a keyboard that it would be that much different. they do almost anything you could want

      ive tried a few different bits of hardware for controlling effects but settled on a touchscreen in the end. its not perfect for everything but suits 80% of my needs and you don’t have to worry about setting up a controller and mapping this to that. that kind of stuff is also antiquated at this stage 🙂 much easier to just reach out and touch a screen

    • Unreallystic

      Bluntly put I left Reason because of controllers. I got tired of work arounds, setups, and trying to get Reason to actually function and emulate what I could do in say Ableton natively. I used Reason from 04 to 15 – real long time, but what I could do with the Push just destroyed Reason. Reason REALLY needs a Push like controller – something such that the user can quickly play around with settings in Thor (what started my controller journey).

      The audio pitch work REALLY makes me want to give Reason another shot, but not sure I really feel like upgrading (7.x) just for that tool.

    • Frank

      Nektar Panorama P1.

    • E.I.

      I use the Mackie MCU Pro + 2 extenders. Works great, especially now that they have the proper codex in R9 if you have multiple extenders.

      Get a FREE! Crown Loops sample pack!

    • newnumbertwo

      rsTouch Pro for Reason is one of the best iPad touchscreen integrations I’ve seen. It rivals or exceeds touchAble for Live and Cubase iC Pro.

  • And Softube Amp, Bass Amp, Audiomatic Rack Extensions are now included. Audiomatic is a great example of what a Combinator is capable of making many people believe it has some convolution engine on board while it was just created out of Reason default devices. This modularity is still really interesting. I personally am very much interested in saturation and analog side effects. Reason allows me to recreate the sound of tape, tubes and things like that. But with the convenience of saving it, having more control over it. It feels like innovating the past. You take the good things and build on that.

  • I used Reason for quite a while with versions 6.x and 7.x and found them utterly inspiring for a while. But the switching between Rack, Mixer and Arrangement/Sequencer, as well as the Rack flipping for all the patching was more of a hassle to me than actually being a “nice” workflow. A lot of things have improved significantly since version 6, but I found myself going back to Live or Logic (which I have been using since the good old Notator days…) over and over again. And I am not sure it is a really good selling point to say that Reason now also can do the stuff others can already do since whenever.

    Also, when reading user comments in Propellerheads forum and on their Facebook page, not all existing users are exactly happy with it. It seems, a lot of them stick to some older versions and only use them for very specific use cases, but switch to other DAWs or platforms for the final arrangement, production etc.

    Also, ultimately, I am not sure if this hyper-realistic presentation of patch cables and synths and effects in “rack format” really helps getting stuff done or at least being inspired? I found myself being more distracted by it and feeling that Live’s relatively clean and straightforward UI is more accessible. Same goes for the updated Retina-enabled devices in the latest Logic versions.

    Edit: And this is what I mean with the UI issues: The mixer and sequencer are kind of OK, but the rack just doesn’t fit in anymore, in my opinion.

    • Elekb

      This. Back when I started making electronic music, I tried several different DAWs and although I had some fun with Reason (tried out version 2 or 3, if I recall, for a couple of weeks) even at that time I found the workflow and interface confusing when compared to Cubase, Logic and FL Studio (particularly considering that I never worked with analogue synths and racks before). I remember really liking the sounds and virtual instruments, but the UX part of Reason kind of drove me away. From the looks of it, it seems to have gotten worse.

      But again, with the addition of audio and new sound libraries over the years, I suppose dedicated users will remain loyal.

      • Jamie

        worse is subjective. I think FL is *far* worse. Reason seems much more friendly, in a kid-friendly sort of way. Very easy to visually follow everything. My kids can literally figure it out. They sure as hell can’t figure out FL or Cubase!

    • Tom

      Eh, I mean, when it comes down to it UI is ultimately about preference and familiarity.
      That image might look like a nightmare to you but after using Reason since version 4 and witnessing the gradual UI changes over each iteration I can very easily understand everything in that image. Show me a picture of cubase (which I’ve only used once for 15 minutes) and I can barely understand what’s going on:

      There’s no fault on cubase’s part, I just don’t know the software well enough to understand what’s going on there.

      On the patch cable point you could really say the same thing about a lot of functionality within a lot of other DAWs, do the live clips really help you get inspired in Live or are they distracting and unnecessary? If these features weren’t used they wouldn’t be included and I think again you are talking about your preference and familiarity here.

      • Elekb

        That Cubase window does look like hell.
        But I’m sure that for someone learning the ropes, working with Ableton Live clips is a much more straightforward and intuitive affair than patching several virtual software instruments.

        Anyway, you have a point, a lot of this discussion comes down to familiarity and user habits and preferences… I guess people who worked with racks and hardware modular systems will find Reason works great for them, since I come from a rock/jazz instrumental background, Logic Cubase and Live made more sense for me.

      • Agreed. UI is in many points a matter of personal taste, preferences and what you have been used to look at for a while. And my opinion is obviously irrelevant for anybody who still gets music done with Reason. That’s why my post is just that: my opinion.

    • erja

      “Not all existing users are exactly happy” with a DAW in a forum, you say? Hope you’re ready to not use any DAW.

      • In fact, I am. I am currently running a tiny setup with an Octatrack, a minilogue and a Bass Station 2 and I couldn’t be happier.

    • Jamie

      My first thought after looking at the image (and my Reason 7 window, which does not have the same button shapes or a browser tab at all) I thought “what is wrong with his UI? Is there a glitch that is supposed to be obvious? Everything looks fine to me…”

      I’ve been using reason since 2.5 but only really started learning it just about when 6 came out (I upgraded from 2.5 to 6). It all looks legit to me. I also learned Live (easy to learn, uninspiring to use. warp points are not as easy to grasp as reason’s Slice Markers.) and Logic (9 and then X) and again the audio quantize is not so good as Reason’s. Pro tools is fine for audio editing, but who wants to use PT all the time? Not for MIDI anyway…

      I only wish I could use Reason for multi-track editing and for sync to picture… those two features would allow me to uninstall all of my other DAWs (LPX, DP8, Live8, PT)

      Here’s looking forward to Reason 10 so I can upgrade. I hope by then NI makes a Kontakt RE!

  • Robin Parmar

    It’s great to be reminded of products I had completely forgotten about and thought disappeared. First Sony ACID, now Reason. (Oh, no sarcasm intended. This is something cdm does very well.)

  • Dopamine Addict

    Anyone know if Reason 9 is has a high res interface that looks good on a 5k iMac or similarly equipped Windows system?

    • Rocketpilot

      Some kind of scaling on the UI is well overdue. I find Reason 8 almost unusable on a 2013 27″ iMac as my 39-year-old eyes aren’t really up for the microscopic intricacies anymore.

      • Dopamine Addict

        That’s odd. Its such a beautiful piece of VI design. I’m a bit surprised they’ve not enhanced the resolution.. I do respect that its a lot of work and only supports a small number of screens, but given the direction all displays are headed in it seems like a safe investment in the future.

        • LeBababa

          Propellerhead support actually told me a while back that Reason 8 actually did not support retina displays, so a lot of UI elements would appear pixellated on a retina screen.

          I asked their PR person on twitter if there was retina support in Reason 9, but got no response, so I assume it is still the case.

          • Indeed it is. They’re smarter than Ableton was in their pre-Retina versions, where everything down to he save-as dialog boxes and the three small dots on the title bar in macOS was home made (what a no-go – that’s what OS makers build APIs for), but all the rack devices are non-Retina. Text and some (probably vector rendered) graphics in the arrangement/sequencer view are fine though.

  • partofthepuzzle

    I loved Reason when it first came out and used it for many years and even bought a pivoting monitor so I could see more of the vertical rack (before they *finally* implement two device columns – years later). But having to switch between the devices and arrangement and mixer views was never ideal and it finally became much too tedious. They also shot themselves in the foot by taking *forever* to support audio tracks and I just got tired of messy Rewire setups. And the lack of VST support was always a serious problem: they lost me before they supported 3rd party plug ins. A great product but hampered by self defeating, slow development strategies and choices.

    But I will always and forever give credit to Propellerheads for the truly ground breaking ReCycle and the open Rex file format. That has to be on of the most innovative and game changing products ever released in the world of computer music production.

  • fillspace

    Not sure if anyone else has mentioned this, but Logic has been able to do some pretty advanced realtime MIDI processing in the environment for as long as I can remember (which is longer than I’d like to admit). They’re not as easily accessed, but they’re definitely patchable, and I dare say unparalleled in any daw (Transform can do some pretty cool things).

    That being said, I’m always happy to see MIDI getting a little realtime processing love. I think this might convince me to upgrade from v7.

  • Booga 1

    One major point not mentioned, is (what I think) the best aspect of current Reason versions:
    The ssl modeled mixer, working with it is a joy I could play with sliders and knobs all day.

  • Dávid Hanzséros

    Is there any way or plugin in Ableton to make these awesome chords as easy like in the video? The last Reason version what I used is the 3rd one 🙂 Since then I am using Ableton.

    • Midi FX : scale, chords, arpegiator. And if you have M4L plenty of variations !

  • If you’re a new customer I think you should also consider Maschine Mikro

  • drno

    Taking the plunge from 6 to 9 just for those nifty EASY BUTTON note-transforming devices. I’ll never spend $100 on an extension though. They are getting over on folks with that extension pricing. Wish I could keep 6 though.

    • pymai

      you can install both on the same computer, and switch between them

      • drno

        couldn’t get 9 to authorize until I uninstalled 6. oh well. hope its not to different.

  • CapBlackSK4

    A simple feature that caught my eye: the dual arp can be bounced to midi. This means that once it’s a midi track, you can apply Regroove to it for more funkiness. No more of the robotic 16th notes that arpeggiators have been stuck with for decades.

  • Paul Antonio Ortiz

    I’m on Reason 9 and loving it! Yeah there are some things that still need a little work – a scalable UI is overdue, especially for people with ultra high res monitors (fortunately that’s not me!). And there are a handful of features I’d like to see, like track folders and visibility options.

    But yeah, what it does well, it does really well. Quick tip for people who find using a mouse awkward; look into something like the Wacom Intuos. It’s £60(ish) and makes patching and tweaking really easy.

    As for the GUI looking cluttered, yeah I never have all three windows open at the same time. At a push I might have rack and sequencer side by side. Or sequencer and mixer. But generally I find it best to just do one at a time. Even in other DAWs like Cubase 8.5 it’s rare that I need to see my mixer while I edit MIDI notes, although obviously not everyone works like me 🙂

    But yeah, like I said still some things I’d like to see from Reason. But its unique features make it worth it to me. I just hop into another DAW if I need something different!

  • lazenbleep

    Peter, what’s the little knobby box on the table?

    • Dan

      Looks like a livid controller

  • drno

    Moved from Reason 6 to Reason 9. Those note-transforming devices are the main reason why. TO me it’s the equivalent of the sync button in DJ’ing to where you can sound like a champ without having to have ‘paid the dues’. With DJing learning to beatmatch via vinyl or cdj and with music learning to actually play an instrument (chords, theory, years of training, reading and writing music ect). The thing is, both of these ‘cheats’ are wonderful. A DJ with a great knowlege of music can concentrate on what he or she is going to play instead of sweating out trying to keep 3 tracks and a loop all in time manually. I can play a decent amount of chords but I found my music was starting to sound like various clones of stuff I made in the past melody wise. Not any more. Enter Scales & Chords 🙂 Steely Dan type chords. Poof! Its nice. “That’s cheating” a friend of mine said upon hearing the 1 finger chord technique lol. Yep, it sure is 🙂 And it sound incredible. Wait till she get a load of the music theory extension I was looking at. The Dual Arp can sound like a guitarist all tabbed out on acid if you want. Nice tools.

    On one hand, yes going to Reason 9 from Reason 6 was kind of a let down as far as what is new compared to the VST world. its basically the same offering you had 10 years ago with ‘modern day features’ tossed in every few updates. On the other hand if you love the Reason work environment there is plenty to get into as long as you have the money for the extension$, which is basically a lazy DLC way of keeping Reason up with the joneses. The fact remains you can make some stunning music with Reason and a midi controller. And if you come from a hardware background then Reason is the best it gets because patching and routing is something it does better than anything else out there. At the end of the day that’s all that really matters I suppose. Yes those version ‘upgrades’ (service packs) should be free to Reason owners who have invested in the product since the ‘ignition key’ days, but what can you do?

    I’m enjoying Reason 9, and I hope they get it together and start to give owners more instead of holding back because Reason has not reached its potential yet. SO much more you should be able to do with this incredible piece of software.