Propellerhead Reason Could Be Great

A Collection of Thoughts From Three Years of Daily Use.


Before I go into how I believe Propellerhead Reason can dramatically improve, I’ll first lay out some personal history and impressions.

I began my journey with Propellerhead’s Reason with version 8. I looked up my original order as I finished writing this post, and it’s been 3 years, 6 months and 22 days. I’ve used the software nearly daily, and have had soaring highs and incredible lows, in terms of productivity. I upgraded to 9.5 for VST support. Then, I upgraded to version 10 for the hope of a significant performance update.

Version 10 will be my last Reason upgrade, until several much needed additions are brought to bear. It will take much more than just a new instrument or another ‘content dump’ of samples to get me to spend another $129. For another upgrade fee, now, I’ll want a lot of performance and workflow improvements. Many workflow improvements.

I need click-labor reduction. I’m looking for faster and faster ‘getting things done.’ That’s what will cause me to buy not one, but many more upgrades in the future. That’s benchmark.

Hopefully Propellerhead Software will see this post, and realize that money is on the line, and understand that I am not the only user of their software who wants these core feature additions, and that they shouldn’t abuse our patience. The post is date stamped, obviously, so it’ll serve as a record to know when, or if, progress is being made.

VST performance fixes, I’m aware, will come with a promised Reason 10.x free update that they’ve already announced. They missed their ‘by the end of the year (2018)’ goal, and that’s disappointing.

Reason doesn’t have the greatest reputation in the industry. “You use Reason? You’ll get a real DAW someday!” I get that a lot. My Sweetwater sales guy turns his nose at me for using Reason, and has said many things over the last few years that have fused doubt as to whether Reason will ever improve in the areas that I sorely wish it would. “…Reason’s DAW features were brought in from another application they didn’t want to support, and because it started as an instrument stack, they don’t care to update the DAW component.”

Many of the changes users have begged for, are very small additions. One or more could have been added with each update over the years, and it would have satisfied so many people. The obvious question is: Does this mean they can’t add these features? Or do they have contempt for their customers? Who can know.

I’ve gotten the impression that Propellerhead Software has had a lean budget, prior to recent outside investment, especially compared to other major DAW companies. Perhaps this is at least part of why they’ve neglected the DAW component of the application. Everything else gets priority; extraneous products like sample collections and Rack Extensions seem to get prime development budget. The Rack Extensions, many times, feel like a cash grab. Even when I like the ideas, it stings because they’re ignoring DAW pain points that need improvement.

I love what Propellerhead have brought to the table, in many areas. In the realm of Instruments and Effects, I would put Reason 10 at the peak of creative expression in software. Some of their Instrument designs are genuinely mind blowing, and rival any VST instrument on the market. Objective minds give them universal acclaim in this department.

In terms of DAW workflow, I would call it a frustration machine at times. “How can a company release a piece of software that is so amazing in one area and so poorly executed in another?” is something I’ve asked myself more than once. It seems incomprehensible that this could happen, but that’s what Propellerhead Reason is.

So let’s point out the things Reason’s DAW component lacks, that would take it from Good, to Great. Let’s go!


Reason 10.3 Update

*I promised an update after the Reason 10.3 update fix. Here is my update regarding the VST performance:

VST performance in the Reason 10.3 update is essentially on par with other DAWs. The performance increase is obscene, in some cases.

I would never run 25 copies of Ozone, for example, but as a test I added as many copies of Ozone (most resource intensive plugin that I use) as I could, before problems set in. Before the update, I couldn’t even run one copy of Ozone, and after the update I could run 25 concurrent copies.

VST Performance & Advancements

The performance problems with VST plugins have been a serious bummer, since VST options were introduced with 9.5. I have a dual-core i7 with 16GB of RAM and a 1TB fast SSD. I get the dreaded “Your Computer Is Too Slow To Play The Song” error far too often.

To add insult to injury, there are no methods to diagnose issues with VSTs. If a VST doesn’t open, there’s no way to know why (VCV Rack?!). If a session is grinding to a halt, there is no way to determine which VST is the offender. Propellerhead Software should add a task manager, to give some clue as to what’s going on.

VST Freeze, a feature found in other (most) DAWs to eliminate performance problems caused by problematic VSTs, would be a more than welcome advancement.

With VSTs like Izotope Iris2, I have to use Sonar, a free DAW, instead of Reason, a DAW I’ve paid good money for. I sometimes use VCV Rack (Host version; only $30) to do my jamming and experimentation, because no performance hit accompanies the application, and my computer handles the plugins flawlessly.

Speaking of VCV Rack, the VST version of the software doesn’t work in Reason for me at all. Shows up in the Effects and Instrument panes, but won’t open when added to the Reason Rack. It works in Sonar, and other DAWs, just fine.

In addition to performance issues, VST3 are not yet supported. This really sucks (see ‘automatic audio alignment,’ later in this post).

I’m aware that Propellerhead Software has stated that they are working on VST performance.. In facebook posts they’ve indicated that this will require a serious rewrite of the audio system. The new year came and went, and sure enough, no VST performance update was to be had. Still waiting, and losing patience.

Sequencer Upgrades

(Update: Reason 11 has the features that are struck.)

Every comparison of Reason against other DAWs sums it up with 1.) “Great for completely in-the-box producing and has a wide range of plugins and software available,” and that it’s 2.) “Not the best for audio recording and editing.”

Without a doubt, the worst part of this critique isn’t’ just that it’s true, it’s that it could be so much better.

  • MIDI Paint; Sonar, many other DAWs and even Native Instruments Maschine, support this in their Piano Roll sequencers.
  • Automation Curves; should be able to draw shapes in a breeze and transform them easily. Common feature.
  • Global Chord Track; a a page from Cubase and Studio One’s book, that helps with intuitive composition.
  • Track Freeze ( and VSTs/FX). Dead DAW products like Sonar have had Freeze track/VST since the beginning. I can’t think of a DAW that doesn’t have this functionality. It seems to be only Reason that lacks this feature set.
  • Track Folders. Many DAWs have this feature, and it’s so valuable.
  • Notepad feature  In Sequencer.
  • Markers & Jump-To-Marker Via Numpad (and on-Transport Jump-to-Marker Positions).
  • Export MIDI option.
  • Auto Punch-In (without MIDI Rec-On seq. workaround). Imagine being able to ‘paint in’ where you want your punch-ins to be. It would be wonderful.
  • Video Sync Edit functionality.

Having these features and functionality does not make Reason too complicated. It just makes it competent.

Transport Section Upgrades

Much of Reason’s style is derived from simplicity in design, and i understand the appeal, both from the perspective of designer and user. Simple pop-out windows for a few areas leading to additional options wouldn’t clutter the Transport. It can be done better!

  • Metronome / Click Options – Examine any other DAW’s metronome section. Start with Cubase.
  • Jump-To-Part Marker Points – A Marker system on the Transport Section that allows a user to simply ‘click and jump’ to where they need to be in their project.
  • Remove Alihoopa drop Link, and use the space for something better!

Workflow Between Reason Lite/Intro & Reason 10

Reason Lite & Reason Intro have limitations, some of which are understandable; track count limits, and limitations on available instruments. I have no issue in in-app limitations, in terms of the toolset, or track count. You can’t put everything in your introductory product.

Reason Lite & Reason Intro produce files in .relt format, which can be opened in the full version of Reason (in same version series; 9.*, 10.*, et al). Once a full version of Reason saves work done, it can only save it to a .reason file, which cannot be opened in Reason Lite or Intro, even in the same version series.

This damages workflow fatally between disparate users of Reason. This grinds creativity to a halt. This is a destroyer of worlds.

Disparate Reason Project File Formats Example:

My co-songwriter and drummer is in Nebraska. We swap files via Google Drive. He uses a Roland TD-8 electronic drum kit, and Reason Lite to capture MIDI data, saves it, and sends it to me. After I do my work, because it saves-as a .reason file, the person I’m working with can’t open the file in Reason Lite/Intro.

This is incredibly frustrating, because my drummer doesn’t need instruments, large soundbanks, or any number of other features. He just needs to be able to track MIDI and audio, and send things to me, and have me able to send things back. Having it all in the same project file that doesn’t change would be so helpful.

I handle all the production for our tracks, so I’m the only person who needs the advanced functionality a full copy of Reason brings. He just needs MIDI capture in a sequencer, and occasionally audio tracking of bass and guitar, which are scratch tracks that’ll get replaced later. Yet, when I need him to change a drum part, we have to go through a frustrating process of editing, when it could be so simple. Reason Intro should open .reason files, and simple operations like tracking should be able to happen without it turning into a misery machine. Place other logical limitations, if needed. It just needs to make sense and be fair.

MP3 & Other Export Options

The MP3 Patent expired. Why Can’t users of Propellerhead Reason export mixes fast and easy to MP3 format? Or many other formats, for that matter. Having to bring a .wav file into another application just adds to the process. It should be fast and easy.

Sure, anyone can export a .wav and open it in VLC and convert it for free, outside the DAW. But that’s click-labor, and takes time. This small workflow improvement eliminates waste of our most valuable asset: Time.

While we’re on the subject of export formats… Why can’t we have a format like .flac as an export option? Most car stereos I see in stores now support .flac. Bandcamp and other music sites support .flac and other lossless formats. We should be able to export these options!

This is an area wherein it just seems lazy to not include these options.

Propellerhead Shop

  • Wishlist Functionality. -Every store online has this?
  • Virtual Gift card option. -So friends, family, fans can ‘gift’ Propellerhead Shop credit.
  • Artist Pages – Allow people do have public account profiles, on the shop,  with wishlists and support options; allow users to gift money to artists via their profile pages.

Surely they can handle this stuff, right? They like making money, right?

Notes & Misc.

(02/05/2019) Based on feedback from Propellerhead software, I removed a feature request regarding an ability to create Favorites lists in the Browser panes for commonly used instruments and effects. Although it’s not implemented in the way I would like, in the UI sense, it’s there. I also corrected some language regarding auto punch-ins, and added a link to a workaround video.