Wednesday, 1 October 2014

Reason 8 is here!

Hello again!

In this post I will be giving Propellerhead Reason version 8 the once over and talking you through all of it's new features. First impressions from this upgrade is that it represents another big step forward if you are a guitarist or bass player. From Reason version 6.5 onwards the software has come shipped with the Line 6 guitar and bass amp emulator offering as standard, but the Softube units are another step up from that in terms of quality.

For those of you not familiar with Softube, they have carved out a niche for themselves in the pro audio market producing hardware emulations of famous pieces of analogue and digital studio equipment from through the decades. Their product line is really high quality stuff, with a lot of work put into getting an authentic emulation of the equipment in question. I've used their FET Compressor and Trident A-Range extensively in the past, so I personally was aware of their work. As a result, I was very excited to hear about the inclusion of these new devices within Reason 8.

As good as the Softube plugins are, they tend to be quite pricey, so getting two included within the cost of Reason 8 represents a great deal in financial sense. If these devices were being sold separately you can bet the RRP would come to more than the cost of the Reason upgrade, so it is well worth considering Reason 8 on that basis alone.

Softube haven't to my knowledge explicitly said what amps these plug ins are modelled on, but they have hinted that they are based on some legendary pieces of rock hardware. You will have to be your own judge on that. Both the guitar and bass amp feature a variety of amp and cabinet models as well as both room and mic emulation. There are a variety of preset patches built into the units, but you also have the full range of dials that you would get on an amp front to play around with if you want to set your own tone up in fine detail.

The tasteful faceplate and detailed controls of the Softube Amp guitar plug in for Reason 8.
As you might expect from a Scandinavian company, there are a lot of presets in the Amp device that ape the sound of the classic British heavy metal period of the late 70's and early 80's, which remains tremendously popular on that side of the North Sea. For this, think valve amps, with a slightly warm tone and lots bite.

There are also some American sounding clean presets and a raft of high distortion, transistor amp modelled sounds for those of you that like your metal a bit more modern and heavy sounding. The Bass Amp device is similar in features to it's guitar based cousin and covers everything from smooth and low key to some rubber band style, slap bass twanging.

The Softube Bass Amp plug in for Reason 8.
With regards to the rest of the upgrade features, it is definitely a case of evolution rather than revolution. The only two revolutionary upgrades of Reason in the past ten years have been version 5, which allowed audio recording for the first time (when used in conjunction with Record) and version 6.5, which allowed third party software to be introduced to the Reason Rack for the first time.

All the other released of Reason down the years have seen gradual change between the version numbers and this release is no different. The focus this time is largely on improving the user experience. The new Browser window makes it much easier and quicker to complete tasks like cycling through patches on a device. Click on the device in question and they are all there, with folder navigation right beside them.

The Mixer, Rack and Sequencer windows are all now stacked on top of each other, which is a bit too cramped for me, but you always have the option of detaching any of them and viewing them in a separate window and/or on a separate monitor. The Transport and Sequencer windows have also had a bit of make over, with a new, smoother finish to them. That won't make your records sound any better, but it is a nice touch.

The new Reason 8 windowing format makes it easier to get from A to B within your project.
The Sequencer window also now has the facility of click/unclick note drawing. Simply speaking, click on a note you have just drawn again and it is deleted. Much quicker than having to reach for the Reason rubber in previous versions.

Reason 8 may have a user interface that is more like other DAW's on the market than ever before, but that is certainly not a bad thing. Bit by bit, release by release Propellerhead are steadily closing the gap in all the areas they have traditionally lagged behind rival platforms, whilst continuing to expand and improve upon what has always been the major advantage of Reason over it's rivals, the Reason Rack.

If you are upgrading from version 7 to version 8 then the value of the Softube plugins alone might be worth it for you. If you are upgrading from an older version of Reason though, remember it is the same price to upgrade from Reason 1 to Reason 8 as it would be to upgrade from Reason 7. That is an awful lot of software to be getting for £129 Euros!

Finally, Propellerhead have been kind enough to offer a free upgrade to Reason 8 from version 7 for anyone who registered their copy on or after July 1st of 2014, so there are no excuses for not getting onto Reason 8 asap...

Happy Reasoning!


Friday, 27 June 2014

Reviewing the new A-List Acoustic Guitarist Rack Extension from Propellerhead Reason

The acoustic guitar device for both guitarists and non guitarists is here!

Hello again. Today I am going to be taking a look at the new Rack Extension that Propellerhead have released, the 'A-List Acoustic Guitarist' device.

This brand new unit follows hot on the heals of the Syncronous Rack Extension that was released less than a month ago. It has been launched to address the pressing demand from Reason users for some realistic guitar emulation devices within the Reason Rack.

This demand is not just from non guitarists either. There are a lot of people out there who play the guitar but have little to no recording equipment with which to record their work. Even a basic set up for recording acoustic instruments requires a fairly hefty outlay on equipment and the required skill to use it all. The A-List Acoustic Guitarist is perfect for that as all the recording work has been done for you. All you need to do is load the device into your Propellerhead Reason Rack and get creating.

As with all Rack Extensions, you need at least Propellerhead Reason 6.5 to be able to use them. If you have Propellerhead Reason 6 you can get a free upgrade to 6.5, allowing you to open the vault of Rack Extensions that are out there. Since Rack Extensions came along, Reason as a product as evolved beyond all recognition from what it was even just a few years ago. Rather than just a synth and effects plug in for something like Cubase, Reason is now a fully fledged DAW in it's own right, suitable for recording any kind of music you can think of.

Looking at the A-List in more detail, the first thing that struck me was just how big the file size is for a Rack Extension. It clocks in at 1.2GB!!! For a Rack Extension that is absolutely massive. The reason behind this size though is that the A-List contains a vast sample library of almost every type of guitar chord, strumming pattern, accent and attack you can possibly think of.

The front of the A-List showing all the ways you can tweak your sound.
All those samples take up space, but it is space well used as you are getting a very substantial sample library for a very reasonable price when you look at alternative products that are available for other DAW packages.

The A-List is MIDI keyboard mapped, with chord voicings assigned a single key on your MIDI keyboard. Add together different notes to build interesting chord voicings that you may not have experienced before (or be able to play for that matter).

Once you have chosen some chords by drawing in the notes you want into a MIDI lane, you can then play around with the various parameters on the front of the device. The 'Character' dial mimics different mic placements and the 'Style' section the different strumming patterns present in a wide variety of music.

You can also influence parameters such as how hard the strings are being struck using the 'Attack' dial, the volume, feel and swing of the guitar part. Add to that you can switch between the sound generated if your part was being recorded through an ambient mic or via a pick up in the guitar. To beef the sound up there is even double track automation available by pressing the 'Doubling' button.

During playback of the device the 'Chord' window tells you the exact chord voicing being played. This is especially useful if your music theory is not great and you want to start adding in MIDI parts from other instruments, such as bass or keyboards.

You can add further detailing and customisation to your sound by selecting one of the presets included with the device. If you flip the A-List round, as well as the usual CV controls that you would expect to see, there is also a MIDI map for what sounds and styles the different key mappings generate. You also have the option here of toggling between the 'Default' chord set and the 'Full' chord set. The full set has some extra voicings giving you the option of the simplicity and ease of use of the default settings or the full width of the larger chord set.

The rear of the device with CV control, chord set choices and keyboard mappings.

So in summary, if you want to bring some acoustic guitars into your tracks without needing a guitar and recording set up, this is the device for you to do it with. As ever with all Propellerhead Reason Rack Extensions you get to try them for free for 30 days before committing to buy. Have a look at the video introduction below and the Soundcloud page for the device here or at the Propellerhead website.



Tuesday, 6 May 2014

A Sepultura/Nailbomb style track with drums from my 'Rock and Metal Drums ReFill Volume 1' pack

Hello again!

This is just another quick post to point you in the direction of a demonstration track that I have done to show you the power of the Kuassa Creme Rack Extension. I've covered some of this already in my previous post, but now is a good time to talk a bit more about one of the other features of this track.

The drums are from the collection of samples and loops I have given away under the banner 'Rock and Metal Drums ReFill Volume 1' which is available here. I have cut and spliced a few different patterns from the 'Set A Straight Rock' bank of sounds.

The demo track can be found on Soundcloud here. Pretty beefy I am sure you will agree and all done with DI guitars from the Kuassa Creme device (except the bass, which is the Line 6 Bass unit that is available as standard within the Reason Rack).

A touch of Nailbomb about this track perhaps?

This is a rough mix that needs some cleaning up harmonically (but not too much - I don't want it to lose that raw edge) and also the tracked guitar parts recording separately in some places rather than the doubling up that I am using at present. This track started out just to demo the Kuassa Rack Extensions and my drum ReFill, but I really like it now so I'm going to keep working on it and try and get a finished song.

Once I've cleaned it up a bit I will also be doing a video fly through to show you how everything has meshed together. I've chopped all the parts up into sections of just a few bars, then built a song out of them. A bit of a jigsaw approach really. But once I've got a full song included solo breaks and everything then I will start from scratch and show you how far you can really go with Propellerhead Reason.

It is all recorded in standard E tuning on an Ibanez as well. It sounds like it is in E flat because of the big, bass heavy nature of the mix, but that is down to the EQ'ing. I'm even using nine gauge strings as well!

Check it out and let me know what you think!



Great guitar Rack devices for Propellerhead Reason are now available to buy.

Kuassa are here to bring some great modeled amp and cab sounds to your Propellerhead Reason tracks.
Hello again. Hopefully I have given you some insight within the pages of this blog on how to build your own guitar patches from stock Propellerhead devices. Some people are not interested in DIY though and are willing to pay for an off the shelf solution.

Until recently there hasn't been a great deal of choice apart from what you get as standard with Propellerhead Reason, the Line 6 bass and amp offerings. These are great devices, but may not have taken your fancy. Fortunately a third party has stepped in to fill the breach. They are Kuassa and now it is time for me to take a look at a couple of great Rack Extensions they have made available.

These are the 'Amplifikation Creme Guitar Amp' and the 'Amplifikation Vermilion'. Both are based on an amp head and cab set up with a great range of presets and endless possibility for tweaking your sound. Like anything guitar based when recording, some basic production tricks are necessary to get the sound you want. However if you are just using either of these devices for practicing it can be as simple for you as plug in and play.

Looking at the two offerings from Kuassa at a high level for a minute, they are both similar to each other in terms of function, control and layout, however in terms of patches they seem to be catering for two different audiences. If you are a Rock or Metal player then you may find the Creme Rack Extension to be the one for you. It contains a lot more overdriven and crunchy patches than the Vermilion, which has more clean tones available and appears to be aimed at people who perhaps prefer their fretwork a bit more subtle.

With respect to the controls that are available both devices have a standard set of controls for 'Axis', 'Distance', 'Pan' and 'Vol' for the cabinet element of the devices. Both the Creme and the Vermilion also give you the choice of having two cabs active simultaneously to blend sounds together. On top of that there is a choice of cabs available and a choice of the mics used to virtually capture their sound. Both devices also let you play around with the positioning of the mics, which will effect the sound they capture.

The Vermilion Rack Extension, for those of you who like cleaner, smoother guitar sounds.
Looking at the amps now for both devices, there is a clear indication here that the Creme is meant to be the Rock amp as it contains a separate overdrive section, which the Vermilion does not. On the Creme you can control the drive, tone and level of the overdrive heard in the signal. The Vermilion on the other hand has some additional controls for tremolo and reverb, which the Creme does not.

Both devices give you three amp models to chose from as well, although naturally the Creme device has assigned them slightly more aggressive names, like 'Sharp', 'Mid' and 'Heavy'. rather than just 'A', 'B' and 'C' on the Vermilion.

As well as these features, both devices also contain a noise gate for eliminating amp buzz as well as CV controls on the rear of both units for automation of various parameters.

At around 35 Euros each both units are also very reasonably priced. To get the most out of them though you will need to use external devices like compressors and chorus units as well as have some basic knowledge of recording techniques as I mentioned earlier.

The Creme device, for those of you who like your guitar playing to have a little more bite.
To stop guitar parts sounding a bit thin when recorded you really need to multi track arrangements. As I've said in previous posts just taking two copies of the same part will add some thickness, but ideally you need to be using multiple takes of the same part to add that truly professional sound.

Record two takes of the same riff, then pan one left and one right. Then go to your audio track and flip the Rack over. Disconnect the right audio jack on both of them to put the audio track outputs into mono rather than stereo, which is a standard recording method for guitar parts. If you want to get into the production side of things do some reading on EQ settings when recording guitar parts, to help get the sound spot on.

A combination of some basic production tricks and either of these two devices from Kuassa and you will be well on your way to producing great sounding guitar tracks in Propellerhead Reason.

I've done a demonstration track to show you the sort of things you can achieve in Reason if you put your mind to it. The link to the Soundcloud page is here if you want to check it out. I've EQ'd all the tracks and added some mastering, but it really needs me to sit down with a clean pair of ears and do a proper mastering session. Nothing too polished though mind you, as I really like the raw, nasty, distorted sound its got.

Just lastly, before I go, this track uses some of the loops from the free Rock and Metal drums ReFill I gave away a while back. If you haven't already had a look at this make sure you do here.



A demonstration of the power of Propellerhead Reason for recording guitars

Hello again. This is just a short post to give you a demonstration of how good a guitar sound you can get in Propellerhead Reason using the guitar patch that I built in this tutorial a while back.

As you can see from the above link, this patch has been built entirely using standard Reason Rack devices available in Reason version 6.5 onwards. The only difference between the patch built in that tutorial and the sound that you hear on the track at the bottom of this post is that I have added an Ozone Maximizer and Softube Trident A-Range Rack Extension into the mastering section.

If you don't have these Rack Extensions though, you can use standard devices such as the MClass Equalizer and MClass Maximizer in their place. Looking at the settings on the A-Range just briefly, if you have one of these devices you will be familiar with the 'Gentle Loudness' preset, which is the one I have used on this track.

The Trident A-Range is basically an equalizer with a facility for emulating analogue distortion built in to the unit. The EQ settings on the 'Gentle Loudness' preset roughly translate to a smile shape EQ. The low gain and high gain are boosted slightly and both the low-mid and high-mid frequencies are cut slightly. You can replicate this EQ profile using most EQ devices, including the MClass Equalizer. The A-Range though is great for giving anything guitar based a gritty, old school sound.

If you want you can add in some analogue distortion using the Propellerhead standard device, the 'Scream 4 Distortion Unit'. There quite a few nice analogue distortion emulating patches within it's presets and particular favourites of mine are the 'Tape 499' and 'TApe Saturation A' presets within the 'Warm Saturation' folder.

To get a thick, full lead sound I have four tracked the guitar part as I recorded it, then panned two left and two right in the stereo field. On both banks the signals are panned slightly away from each other to further widen the sound of the part.

The backing track is a Jazz jam track in the key of B that I have downloaded from Youtube. Ideally I would have added the same reverb unit to both tracks on a low setting to add a bit of group ambiance (i.e. make it sound as if the guitar and the backing track are in the same acoustic space) but this track was recorded in a bit of a hurry as a single take for someone. 

As a result it has had minimal work done on it production wise and indeed has a couple of mistakes in the playing. Listening back to it though, in my opinion that adds to the live feel of the track.

Have a listen to it here and see what you think for yourself!



Thursday, 10 April 2014

Synchronous has landed!

Another fantastic new Rack Extension from Propellerhead has landed!

Hello again,

Hot on the heals of the recent Reason 7.1 update (to be reviewed here soon) is Propellerhead's brand new Synchronous Rack Extension, which is free to all Reason 7 users until the 30th of June. You can also buy it as a standalone Rack Extension if you can't afford to/don't want to upgrade to version 7 for any Reason. If you are wavering about doing so however then this new device may well tip the scales for you.

So what is Synchronous then? Well basically it is a tempo synched modulation device with a graphical user interface. If that is all Greek to you, then in layman's terms it is a device that manipulates a sound fed through it in a way that is musically in time. How that manipulation is applied is controlled by an interface that uses graphics rather than just dials.

The modulation comes in the shape of three separate waveforms that you can drag and draw as you please over a tempo synched background. These three waves interact with each other to produce the final sound that you hear in Synchronous. You can change the musical intervals of the grid that you are drawing over using the different 'Rate' parameters above. For those of you that don't know any music theory at all the range goes from '1/1', meaning only bar intervals are shown, right down to '1/64' which means 64th note intervals are shown. You also have the option of a none tempo synched effect using the 'Free' button on the device.

The front of the Synchronous shows the user friendly graphical controls.

The shorter the note intervals that you select means the more lines you have in the background to tempo synch to. Modulation set to a '1/64' pattern will cycle much more quickly than one set to bar intervals and thus create something that sounds completely different.

Under the Synchronous 'Tool' section you also get to choose the specific waveform of you modulation effect. All the usual suspects are on there and this feature will again help you to customise your effect.

Below the graphical interface on the device you have parameter control for distortion, filter, delay and reverb. The distortion has four different voices for you to select from, the filter has four different band pass models, the delay includes roll and ping pong and the reverb allows you to modulate the reverb amount and decay time as well as giving you the option of modulating either the send or return signal passed through Synchronous.

Spin the device round and you will see that the Synchronous has both CV in and out controls as well as send and return audio left/right jacks. Finally if sonic experimentation is not for you there are over 100 patches available with the Synchronous for you to play with straight out of the box.

The rear of the Synchronous showing the patching options available.

The Synchronous sounds fantastic when you take advantage of Reason 7's 'Parallel Channels' feature. This allows you to add a clone of a track you have created with two outputs in the SSL mixer. Add send effects to one but not the other, then mix the two together and you get a full, fat sound giving you the best of a processed signal and an unprocessed one. Stick the Synchronous in the processed channel and sit back and listen to the results.

If you are already on Reason 7 you will need to download the free upgrade to Reason 7.1 from Propellerhead's website before you can install this Rack Extension for free. The download is 3.9GB and takes about 15-20 minutes to download on a decent broadband connection.

Anyway, get on it, get creating and let me know what you think of this awesome new Propellerhead Reason Rack Extension!



Thursday, 27 March 2014

Reviewing the Synapse Antidote Rack Extension

Introducing the Synapse Antidote synthesiser.

Hello again!

Synapse are one of the few developers for Propellerhead Reason Rack Extensions that are currently providing both instruments and effects plug ins from the same range of products. They have a Phaser, Ring Modulator, Equalizer, Reverb and Chorus available within their lineup, as well as an analogue filter and the aforementioned 'Antidote' synth. They are all well worth a look and hopefully I will have an opportunity to cover the whole range in more detail at some point in the future. However today I am going to be looking at the Antidote only.

Synapse's synth offering is similarly priced to it's direct competitor, Rob Papen's 'Predator' synth and both are currently the go to device for general purpose synths that have a bit of everything at your disposal. Unlike a lot other instruments and effects available as Rack Extensions, the Antidote has been developed specifically for Propellerhead Reason and with that environment in mind. As of right now the 'Antidote' is a Reason exclusive device, you won't find it listed as a VST or native synth for any other DAW out there.

The front of the device showing the variety of features at your disposal.
The 'Antidote' comes with two stereo oscillator banks, each with up to 50 virtual oscillators per voice. The unit has a maximum of 16 voices which adds up to a total of 800 stereo oscillators! The more oscillators a synth has it's disposal the more closely real life sounds can be modelled.

As well as coming equipped with all the standard synth waveform such as, sawtooth, sine and pulse, the 'Antidote' has a 'Modifier' dial to allow you to mutate and customise these standard waveforms. You can also blend different forms together to create interesting new sounds.

The filter on the 'Antidote' is what is known as a 'multimode filter' and features a zero latency design that more closely resembles the profile of a vintage analogue filters than a lot of other synths that are out there. The filter design also includes an 'OTA Low Pass Ladder Filter', allowing you to roll off anywhere from 6db to 24db for use in a wide range of sounds. There are also filter options for highpass filtering as well as a diode filter design similar to that employed by the legendary Roland 303 bass synth from the early 1980's.

The 'Antidote' has three Envelope control sections, two LFO's and an arpeggiator to further help you sculpt your sound. Using the CV outputs on the rear of the device you can use the modulation section of the 'Antidote' to alter the sound output by other devices (provided they have a 'CV Modulation Input' section).

The rear of the device, showing some of the external routing options possible using the device.

A further feature of the 'Antidote' is an effects chain featuring eight different modules. These include, 'EQ and Bass', 'Distortion', 'Phaser', 'Chorus', 'Reverb' and 'Compressor'. These effects can also be routed externally for processing other devices and have been designed to have zero processor usage when idle to facilitate this.

Since the 'Antidote' was released in late 2012 there have been a couple of upgrades bringing in a variety of new effects and features, including the addition of eight different wavetable synth options and a 'Sallen-Key Low Pass Filter'.

The more technical of you out there may well enjoy designing your own patches more than anything, but for those of you either don't have time time of patience to try there is also a huge factory sound bank, featuring an impressively diverse set of presets for you to use.

To demonstrate the 'Antidote' in action, click here for a link to a Soundcloud collaboration between a friend and myself. At the minute the song only has guide vocals on it whilst the final take is being recorded. :You can hear the 'Antidote' itself though crystal clear in the track. Everything bar a few 'Parsec' instances to fill out the top end and a single Rob Papen 'Sub Boom Bass' for the very low end is provided by the Synapse device on this track.

On the intro 'Antidote' synth I am also using the Synapse 'AF-4 Analogue Filter' with the filter controls automated to add some dynamic movement to the track. Check it out and let me know what you think!