One of the really cool things about Reason is that you can add powerful features easily with rack extensions. Unlike plug-ins for most DAWs, rack extensions are usually pretty affordable, and at just over 100 bucks, the Parsec rack extension is no exception. Parsec is a spectral synthesizer that can produce some really lucious and full sounds thanks to the enormous number of oscillators available to you.
Let's have a look at Parsec so that you can determine if this is a rack extension you want to add to your Reason rack. (Hint: Yes! You will want to. Go get it . . . right now!)
Additive synthesis is the act of combining sine waves to create complex sounds. It's a very cool approach to making sounds, and if you're one of the many people who have added Thor to your rack at some point and spent hours trying to create just the right sound (and maybe not succeeding), you will be blown away by what you can do with Parsec in just a few minutes.
Every Reason user should pick it up now before the Props come to their senses and start charging what it's worth.
When you create a sound with Parsec, you start with a single sine wave. You then modify that wave and add additional sine waves to create complex sounds. (As you'll see later in this review, it's easier than it sounds.) This is very different from the traditional subtractive synthensis in a synth like Subtractor. In subtractive synthesis, you start with a complex wave and you create your sound by filtering that wave to remove what you don't want. There are benefits to each approach, but certainly one of the main benefits to additive synthesis is that it's easier to create just the sound you want.
If you want to see more about what additive synthesis is all about, check out this cool video from Propellerhead.
Creating Sounds with Parsec
Parsec comes with a large bank of sounds that you can use in your mixes without any modification, but if you don't find what you're looking for, you may want to just create your own sounds from scratch. (You can also modify the included sounds, but that's not as much fun!) For many Reason users, creating synthesized sounds from scratch is a daunting task, but not so with Parsec.
After you init the patch (reset the device so that you're starting from scratch), you start off by selecting from one of Parsec's 12 generators. When you do, you'll get a basic partial on which you can build your sound. You can modify the sound using a modifier. Each modifier can be further adjusted using the X and Y knobs. The function of these knobs varies based on the geneator you choose. For example, if you choose a LPF modifier, you can control the frequency and resonance using the X and Y knobs. In the figure shown here, I have selected a comb peak modifier, so I can adjust the frequency and the resonance using the X and Y knobs.
Just by adding a single modifier to Parsec's default sawtooth wave generator can provide the starting point for pretty cool sounds. For example, if you select a dual band generator and then sweep the frequency using the X knob, you can get a pretty cool sounding synth sound, and if you add one of Parsec's LFOs and have it sweep the frequency using a sine wav, you've got a usable synth sound (albeit fairly simple) in just a few clicks. Even though it's a simple sound, it's amazing that you can create it with so few clicks and so intuitively.
You can spend a long time playing around with sounds from a single generator and modifier, but Parsec goes way further! You have two generators, each with two modifiers, an LFO and an envelope. The possibilities are endless, and when you add the additional punch you get from the modulation bus. Using the modulation bus, you can control just about everything in Parsec. You can Parsec's envelopes and LFOs as inputs, but you can also use mod wheels, breath controllers, expression pedals, aftertouch, and even CV input. That means that Parsec is also an excellent choice for musicians who use Reason for live recording, and because it's so easy to tweak out just the right sound, you'll likely find yourself using it more than many of Reason's included instruments.
I'll give you an example. My band plays a song that has a unique sounding synth in it. In order for me to reproduce the sound of that synth, I had to use multiple Subtractors, an NN-XT, and four Scream 4s. It took forever for me to get the sound where I wanted it, and it still wasn't perfect. I was able to get a more satisfying result using Parsec, and I did it without any other instruments!
Propellerhead says that Parsec uses "breakthrough processing" to allow you to use a huge number of oscillators without bringing your computer to its knees. We can vouch for that first-hand.
We tested Parsec on two different computers. One is a low-end Windows machine and the other is a high-level Macbook Pro. It certainly won't surprise you that we had no problems at all on the Mac, but it might surprise you to know that we were able to play some incredibly rich patches on the low-end machine without it even breaking a sweat. We were pretty surprised by this because Reason's DSP meter will often peg on this machine if we throw too much at it, and since additive synthesis is known for being pretty taxing on computers, we were very surprised that we weren't able to choke our PC with Parsec. Propellerhead says that Parsec uses "breakthrough processing" to allow you to use a huge number of oscillators without bringing your computer to its knees. We can vouch for that first-hand.
By far, the fastest way to learn how Parsec works is to load up one of the many included patches and see what makes it tick. Even if you are already familiar with Parsec, you'll likely pick up a few tips and tricks by checking out the included patches. Propellerhead just updated Parsec and added over 200 additional patches, so even if you're not interested in creating your own sounds, there's plenty to love about this rack extension.
With the introduction of Parsec, Propellerhead has managed to greatly enhance my Reason rack. I own a few rack extensions, but none of them adds as much to my rack as Parsec. When I'm looking for just the right synth sound, it's a no-brainer, and because Parsec is so flexible, it doesn't stop at synth sounds. You can create amazingly natural sounding instruments with Parsec as well. At just over $100, Parsec is one of the treasured bargains in music creation. Every Reason user should pick it up now before the Props come to their senses and start charging what it's worth.