Reason 12 continues a long line of excellent music-making tools stretching back 20 years. It includes all of the virtual instruments, effects, and utilities you need to make incredible music. However, while Reason 12 offers near-infinite creative freedom and opportunities for inspiration, it is really starting to show its age.
In this Reason 12 Review, I’ll help you decide if Reason 12 is right for you. I’ve used Reason since Reason 2.5, and songs I’ve created it in have been streamed 100,000s of times, included in TV show and movies, and have earned me $1,000s.
A Brief Note on this Reason 12 Review
Before we go further, though, I want to note a few things. First, there are essentially two versions of Reason 12: the “standard” version of Reason 12 and Reason+. We’ll get into this in more detail below, but the review will depend in part on which version of Reason you own.
The second thing to note in this Reason review is that Reason can either be used as a standalone DAW or as a plugin inside of another DAW. Again, the review will depend in part on how you plan to use Reason.
Note: this article may contain affiliate links, which mean that I receive a commission for any purchases you make, at no added cost to you.
What’s new in Reason 12?
Assuming you’re not brand new to the Reason train, let’s start this review by talking about what’s new in Reason 12!
If you’re curious about what was included in previous versions, check out this review of Reason 11.
Reason 12 brings four new headline features:
- HD graphics with zoom
- Enhanced browser
- A brand new sampler, Mimic
- A powerful new Combinator
Review of Reason 12’s New Graphics
Reason looks and works great in HD, at least in my experience. I’ve been running it on a new-ish iMac and have found performance to be snappy, despite the graphic update. The devices are now much cleaner and easier to see, especially on larger displays.
The HD re-skin also applies to third-party rack extensions. On top of that, the mixer and sequencer are also much easier to use now that they’re in HD.
That said, the sequencer is still the weak link in Reason. Its overall size, color contrast, and layout still make it difficult to deal with, even after the HD upgrade.
The new zoom feature is less robust than I’d like, though. Essentially, Reason can now work at fixed zoom percentage, which can really help with fatigue. I’ve found that running Reason at 110% zoom makes things much easier to see on the iMac.
But this zoom ratio applies to all of Reason. It doesn’t apply to individual devices, nor does it apply to just the mixer, or just the rack. In other words, it’s a global zoom. It would be really nice if instead you could have per window zoom. Or even hotkey based zoom for specific rack units.
It's also worth noting that at release, the Transport Bar had not been updated to HD. Reason Studios promises an update is coming.
Reason 12’s Updated Browser Review
Reason 12 features largely the same browser as before, but updated to be much, much faster. Apparently, Reason Studios did significant work under the hood to update the browser. They claim that it will be the foundation for future updates.
I sure hope so!
While it’s great to have a fast browser, the truth is that this browser is woefully underpowered compared to what you find in other DAWs.
For example, there’s no tag based browsing. There’s not ratings/favorites. There’s ability to see key. And when it auto-previews it doesn’t sync to BPM.
Thankfully, there is a free workaround for these shortcomings. LoopCloud is a free sample library management tool that automatically adds all sorts of tags, tempo, and key data to your samples, and lets you effortlessly browse them. To download it you do need to start a free trial, but it’s yours to keep after.
The new Mimic Sampler Review
Reason 12’s new sampler, Mimic, is amazing. Check out this article for a more in-depth look at how to use Mimic. I’ve found Mimic to be a world-class creative sampler that does most of what I need.
It includes plentiful sample modes, powerful time-stretch algorithms, and really useful onboard effects. The workflow is simple, but provides tons of flexibility. Whether you’re looking to chop samples or pitch around one-shots, Mimic is a great every day sampler. For the majority of users, it’s good enough that you probably won’t need to buy another sampler.
For dedicated crate diggers, though, Mimic might not cut it (get it)? It doesn’t let you manipulate individual samples that you’ve sliced, for starters. It also only has 8 outputs, which is plenty for me, but not totally compatible with everyones workflow.
It also doesn’t have smart/automated/sync’d time stretch so it can be hard to get the rhythm of your chops right. Finally, Mimic doesn’t let you automatically insert slices by the grid. For some styles of sampling, making this type of workflow easy is essential.
I’ll also add that while Mimic didn’t automatically detect the pitch of the samples initially, at launch the feature was added that feature.
Overall I think Mimic is a great sampler and will form the inspiration for many a track in the future. It certainly fits in well with my workflow and has allowed me to chop and manipulate samples easily to create really please results!
Reason Combinator 2 Review
The new combinator is like the old combinator. But more and better! It allows so much creative freedom to create new patches, complex routings, and beautiful, creative chaos.
If you've used and created combinator patches in the past, you'll get even more value from the new Combinator. But if the Combinator was never your jam, the new version is not going to change your mind.
The Combinator is awesome, but I think it will take a while for its full creative potential to be realized by the community. I'm super excited to see what people come up with, and feel like this might be Reason+'s biggest selling point over the next few months. That said, Reason 12 only shipped with 100 new Combinator patches (though apparently 1,000 old patches were updated). Still, you'd expect a flagship new device to see more love.
Which version of Reason 12 to purchase?
As I noted above, there are essentially two versions of Reason 12 available. The base version of Reason 12 includes everything included with Reason 11 Standard, as well as all of the new features described above. Reason 12 can be purchase here for $549 new, or $219 as an upgrade. If you purchase Reason 12 this way, you will own a license to use Reason 12.
In contrast, with Reason+, you pay $19.99 per month for access to Reason 12, and a whole lot more (note, sometimes Reason+ is on sale for $3 for the first three months by using the promo code 333). However, if you cancel your Reason+ subscription, then you lose access to Reason.
In addition to access to Reason 12 with Reason+ (and Reason 13, as well as future updates), you also get access to every Reason Studios brand Rack Extension. These additional Rack Extensions are worth probably an extra $1,000. On top of that, you also get new patches and samples every week.
I’ve done an in-depth review of Reason+ here, and found that Reason+ presents a great value for many people - especially those first starting out in music production. To help you figure out which version might be best for you, I’ve also created a handy calculator on that page to answer the question of whether Reason+ is a good value?
How do you intend to use Reason - as a DAW or Plugin?
Whether you use Reason as a plugin within another DAW or a standalone DAW will really influence how much value you get from the update.
Reason 12 Plugin Review
Did you know that you can use Reason as a plugin inside of other DAWs, like Logic and Ableton?
Reason as a plugin works really smoothly and gets you access to tons of cool effects, instruments, and music production tools. And Reason 12 only makes this better!
The new HD graphics in Reason allow it to work seamlessly with your other DAW. Everything is in the same resolution and looks beautiful together. The resizable windows allow you to make things fit just right. And the enhanced browser makes it easier to find what you’re looking for.
Many DAWs already include samplers. And while Mimic isn’t necessarily better than any of the others, it is way more unique. It offers a lot of cool, creative options that might inspire you to chop samples in ways you never anticipated.
By using presets with the new Combinator is also a great way to quickly get started with Reason devices without having to learn as much about Reason. And then once you get better at using Reason, you can start making your own devices.
Reason 12 Plugin Alternatives
If you're looking for a fully featured set of plugins for your DAW, there are a few you can consider besides Reason. Compared to Native Instruments’ Komplete, Reason offers an equally solid collection of instruments, effects, and samples. If you’re more interested in having a great collection of sounds that are more natural - from strings to brass to acoustic guitars - Komplete offers the better package. If you’re more into EDM or Hip Hop, though, Reason 12 has you covered, an for a lot less money.
Reason DAW review
If you’re using Reason as a your main DAW, there is less to love about this update, because the core DAW got less love!
Yes, this is the best version of Reason, including features that definitely enhance its usability. All of the aforementioned updates are great in the Reason, as well.
However, nothing got specifically “improved” in the DAW.
So much so, that I would hesitate to recommend Reason 12 as a DAW to someone who is just getting started. Why? Because the lack of attention paid to the core DAW features demonstrated in Reason 11 and Reason 12 make me wonder if the Reason DAW will ever get a much-needed update.
Exhibit A of the DAW taking a back seat to the plugin is that, at launch time, the transport bar on the DAW still wasn’t in HD!
I’m sure they’ll fix it, as they’ve promised to do. But it demonstrates that they are not prioritizing core DAW users with their development resources.
Update March 2022: The graphical glitches have been fixed
That said, the DAW did see a small improvement with the removal of the Combinator inside of the mixer. I think it definitely streamlines the DAW workflow, especially when you can now place Combinators inside of mix channels. It should make rack management somewhat easier.
They also completely re-skinned the Groove Mixer in the DAW. I like the new look, though some folks don’t. In any event, it’s a change, but not really an “upgrade.”
Should you Upgrade to Reason 12?
In contrast to people looking for a new DAW, I would definitely recommend that existing users consider upgrading! Look, you’ve already spent the money on Reason and its Rack Extensions. But more than that, you’ve spent the time learning how to use Reason.
Clearly you’re stubborn!
But really, if you’ve enjoyed making music in Reason up until now, you will only enjoy it more in Reason 12! The HD really makes it easier on the eyes, and the Mimic Creative sampler will turbocharge your workflow by adding a whole new palette of tools.
You’re probably already familiar with the Combinator, and the new version will re-inspire you to create awesome patches, which you’ll be able to find faster with the new browser.
Basically, if you’re coming from Reason 10 or earlier, Reason 12 provides a lot of value and is definitely worth the upgrade. You’ll get the new effects from Reason 11 as well as the myriad small workflow improvements, on top of everything with Reason 12.
If you’re coming from Reason 11, it’s still worth it to upgrade, although it is a much closer call. The way I look at it, buying a comparable sampler to Mimic, like Serato Sample would cost $100, so you’re getting an updated Combinator, faster browsing, and HD for another $30. Update March 2022: Now that Reason 12 costs $219 to upgrade, I'm do not think it is worth it to upgrade from Reason 11.
Now arguably HD should have been in Reason for a long time, but it is what it is. Reason is undoubtedly better in HD, and it is absolutely worth paying $30 for.
Plus there will undoubtedly be additional improvements as the development cycle rolls on.
Finally Thoughts on the Reason 12 Update
Overall Reason 12 is a great plugin, and the best version of Reason. It’s well worth purchasing as either a plugin or as an upgrade. But if you’re just starting fresh in music production and looking for a DAW that will continue to grow with you, I can’t recommend Reason 12 in good conscience. We need to see a lot of updates to the DAW’s sequencer and workflow before Reason will be on par with its peers.
That said, you can still create amazing music in Reason, and it’s always a blast to explore. If you’re on the fence, consider starting a trial of Reason+ to see if Reason 12 is right for you.
At least, that’s my opinion. What do you think? Leave a comment below!
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