Makes its own music
Reason is not a standard digital audio and MIDI-sequencing program, as Cakewalk Sonar is; instead, you use MIDI technology to create notes, and Reason simulates the instruments you need to play back those sounds. You then process, mix, and output the sounds through your speakers or save them to your hard disk as a WAV or MP3 file. Since you create all your sound within Reason, the only external hardware you need is a moderately fast computer and a MIDI interface and keyboard or a sound card. This keeps your cost and clutter to a minimum, since you don't need an external audio mixer, for example.
The software offers 16 modules stacked atop each other in the interface, all of which emulate traditional studio equipment. This setup isn't the ultimate in user interface design, but it faithfully mimics what you'd find in a recording studio. You'll find a virtual mixer (complete with sliders) and eight different audio-processing modules, which range from a digital reverb to a two-band parametric equalizer. Of course, every studio needs instruments. Reason offers four simulated modules, including an analog synthesizer, a sample playback module, a loop playback module, and a drum machine. You can always add more; just go to the Create menu and choose a new module. You can, for example, throw in a synthesizer for a bass line, a separate module for playing back a string part, or a delay unit to add echo to the bass line synthesizer. We found Reason's audio quality outstanding, even compared to a standalone synthesizer.
Reason's power depends almost solely on your CPU; the faster your computer, the more modules you can add. Happily, Reason is also extremely frugal with CPU resources. On a 400MHz G4 Macintosh, we created a composition that used 19 separate instrument modules, 9 effects modules, and two mixers--all at once--without a hitch.
Sounds within Reason
If you're used to creating a musical track using a MIDI sequencer, Reason holds no surprises; just select a track, hit Record, and perform the part on a MIDI keyboard. The essential difference between Reason and a standalone synthesizer is that once the MIDI part is captured, the resulting sound doesn't come from your keyboard. Reason itself generates the sound. However, playback is somewhat different than with an external MIDI synthesizer. Because the program has to create, then output the sound, you'll hear a slight pause, or latency, between when you press a key on the MIDI keyboard and when the program plays that note. The latency takes a bit of getting used to, but you can adjust your settings so that the pause is barely noticeable.
Once you've added all the parts to your piece, you can save a complete file that includes mix settings such as the volume, equalization, the left and right pan of each track, and the percentage of added effect on all modules. This is where Reason shines over a traditional studio: if you want to edit a specific element of the file, you don't have to rerecord a whole track. You can lower the sound of the drums, add some reverb, or equalize a guitar just by pressing Record and reworking the mix to your heart's content. Reason will remember all of the sounds, automation, and other critical data every time you open the file.