Note: We reviewed new features in Reason 8 in this review. For a full review of Reason, see our review of Reason 7.
Propellerhead's Reason has long been a favorite for musicians because of its large collection of instruments and excellent synths. Over the years, we've seen the number of instruments grow and the number of samples included in the soundbank grow, and while this growth has been good for Reason users, it has also introduced challenges in keeping things organized. Reason 8 seeks to change all of that with an improved workflow that makes Reason more productive. Along with these changes, Propellerhead introduces two new Softube amp models, both of which sound lovely and are suitable to replace the aging Line 6 amps we've come to know and love.
The first thing you'll notice when you launch Reason 8 is the new interface. The interface feels fresh and new with a revamped flat look, and gone is the frustration for those of us using Reason without multiple monitors. Reason 8 makes it quite simple to optimize your layout in Reason. You can maximize the Rack, Sequencer and Mixer windows by double-clicking on the window's title bar. A Show/Hide button on the left side of the title bar conveniently allows you to minimize a window and then restore it to its previous state quickly. You can drag the title bar of any window in order to resize that window, and you can detach any window using either keyboard shortcuts or the Window menu.
On the left side of the Reason rack is the new Browser pane where you can add instruments, presets and patches to your rack. The Browser pane is contextual, so what it displays will change based on what you're doing. Once you add something to the rack, the Browser pane automatically changes so that you can easily browse presets and patches. You can double-click on a patch or preset to load it, or you can simply drag it from the Browser pane onto the instrument or effect in the rack to use it. (You can also drag to the Sequencer pane if the rack isn't visible.) If you find a patch that you really like, you can add it to a Favorites list so that you can find it more easily next time.
The Browser highlights a subtle change in Reason 8 that makes a big difference. Everything in Reason 8 is now drag-and-drop enabled. For example, you don't have to dig through menus or click context menus to add an instrument to your rack. Instead, just drag-and-drop the instrument or device from the Browser. It's even cooler than that, however. You can drag and drop an instrument or device to the sequencer and it will be added to your rack even if the rack isn't visible. These kind of changes make the creative process in Reason even easier, and that's always a good thing.
This upgrade feels bigger than it looks on paper.
Not everything new in Reason 8 is simply a redesign of what we had in Reason 7. Version 8 brings two new amp models from Softube. Both the Softube Amp and the Softube Bass Amp bring the luscious sound that Softube is known for to the Reason rack. These amp models are available alongside of the familiar Line 6 offering, and Propellerhead has said that the Line 6 amps will still be there at least until October of 2016. The Softube models make some great new presets available for guitar and bass players, but they also provide some unique opportunities for keyboard players such as myself when creating unique sounds.
The question that most Reason users are asking is whether or not version 8 is worth the $129 upgrade price. In our opinion, it absolutely is. Reason users should be used to incremental upgrades from Propellerhead, but this upgrade feels bigger than it looks on paper. As you use Reason 8 and you experience the improvements in workflow and creativity, you may find it to be a more impactful upgrade than you first thought it would be. Once you add the two wonderful Softube amp models, it becomes quite hard to make a case against upgrading.
Whether you are looking for a wonderful and creative experience in a home studio or you need a rock-solid and reliable DAW for use in live performances, Reason 8 stands out as a solid choice. Pair it with Propellerhead's exceptional Balance audio interface and the technology melts away, revealing the magic of musical creativity that all musicians seek. Reason continues to be one of our favorite tools for making music. We're confident it will be a favorite for you as well.