Windows audio software from the maker of Winamp has its coming-out party — but there’s a cover charge.

Well, we knew that wouldn’t last. REAPER, the promising, lightweight audio software from the creator of Winamp, hit version 1.0 last week. (This week significant bugfixes and optimizations, plus editable keyboard shortcuts, were released in updates; the software now looks quite stable.) During the beta, REAPER was free, but now you’ll have to pay for it.

The basic price, US$39.95, is a bargain for what this software does:

  1. Seamless, tool-less editing with arbitrary grouping of objects, automation envelopes, markers, and everything you’d expect
  2. Unusually flexible routing, which allows any track to arbitrarily be a track and a bus, a sophisticated monitoring and matrix facility, and support for feedback routing
  3. Looped recording
  4. Direct multi-track recording to WAV/W64/BWF, MIDI, WavPack, FLAC, and OGG
  5. MIDI support (not present in early releases), which lets you add MIDI to audio tracks, record MIDI from audio inputs, and other nice tricks
  6. Configurable UI, keyboard shortcuts, and colors
  7. VST and DX plug-in support (effects and instruments) with latency compensation, real-time and offline processing, and even supports for the Jesusonic (the crucifix-style computer shown below
  8. Tasty bundled effects: a sidechain-enabled noisegate and compressor with look-ahead, an “FFT EQ+dynamics processor” (um, okay!), and a convolution reverb

REAPER now features music by Brad Sucks as a demo, giving it extra street cred. The real story here is how quickly the software has evolved, as seen in screen shots. There are some really powerful features in there as far as editing, subtleties that really have no direct equivalent in other software I’m seeing. But there are some caveats, largely having to do with the new commercial pricing:

The bizarre Jesusonic programmable effects processor is now in software form in REAPER, making it less of a … cross to bear.

In an unexpected move, you only pay $40 if you’re a “non-commercial” user. If you’re making money in any way off your music (or intending to), the price jumps to US$199.95. I have two problems with that. First, it’s confusing: having different pricing for the academic market makes some sense, but I’ve always found separate “commercial” licenses to be counter-intuitive. It invites abuse, and the difference in price here could dissuade serious users. Second, $200 puts REAPER in the area of software like Mackie Tracktion, Ableton Live, Cubase LE, Adobe Audition, lighter versions of SONAR, and so on. No, these products don’t have some of the unique features of REAPER. But they also do a lot of things REAPER doesn’t — many of which people need. I think REAPER should just drop the commercial license and sell as many $40 copies as they can — because at that price, even owners of these other programs might spring.

I’m torn here. REAPER is fascinating, and if you qualify for the non-commercial license, it looks like a serious bargain. As it continues to grow, I expect it’ll become an even more serious threat to its competitors, and it’s terrific that it has such a lightweight core. But I don’t like the new pricing system, and I personally can’t find a use for this application. I’d rather just shell out the cash for something like the extremely polished Adobe Audition for my editing work, or for music production use Ableton Live for its more powerful capabilities in terms of improvisation and music creation.

But if you don’t need the features of those other products, and you’re a non-commercial hobbyist on a budget, REAPER does look like the software to beat. Hopefully we’ll have a full review soon.

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