Propellerhead – Record review

audio recording and mixing for PCs and Macs
Photo of Propellerhead – Record
£229 (Standard), £115 (upgrade from Reason)

The much-loved Reason from Propellerhead, a superb collection of software synthesizers, samplers, effects, sequencer and other digital music goodness, has long had a missing component – the ability to record audio.

This has driven fans into the arms of other music programs like Cubase, where Reason can sit – courtesy of Re-Wire – and do its stuff as a kind of monstrous, all-encompassing plug-in. It works, but there’s a lot of faffing around to get everything talking to everything else properly.

Record is Propellerhead’s answer, a PC/Mac home recording studio “designed for musicians – not audio engineers” that’s intended to streamline the recording process so that it’s easier for songwriters – especially guitarists, by the look of things – to get their ideas down quickly and easily.

But although it’s pitched as being easy to use, it doesn’t feel like a product for beginners; rather one that’s designed to tempt back those who been put off music software in the past by the problems caused with dodgy audio interfaces, latency, pops, crackles, incompatible drivers, klutzy monitoring and so on. While Record doesn’t entirely remove these problems, it does make them easier to navigate.

We installed it on a four year old Dell PC with a SoundBlaster Audigy ZS card – hardly Abbey Road – and apart from one false start when we used the wrong ASIO driver, we only had to fiddle slightly with the control panel to get the latency down to the point where we could record MIDI and audio and monitor the results without any noticeable delay. Thereafter the program performed well.

Once installed, Record looks familiar enough. There’s an ‘arrange’ window with tracks laid across the screen like lanes in a swimming pool, a rack window where the program keeps effects, the two included Line6 Guitar and Bass Pod amps, the ID8 (a simple synth with General MIDI-style sounds) and a mixer; this is a faithful reproduction of an SSL 9000k analogue desk, rated by those in the know as ‘world class’.

Individual MIDI notes can be edited to within an inch of their lives using the piano roll and there’s a nice ‘comp’ tool which makes it straightforward to combine sections from different audio takes into a composite one that sounds like a single performance.

We also found the time stretching features to be among the best we’ve used (they’re certainly the simplest) and were impressed by the program’s ability to speed up and slow down digital audio (so our clunky fingers could get some finger picking just right) without introducing weird effects. We also liked the fact that each audio track has a built-in tuner, and how easy it was to assign effects to individual tracks using the rack.

We’re less keen on the copy protection, a combination of USB dongle and online authorisation which seems heavy-handed and won’t endear Propellerhead to anyone. We’re also sure that newcomers would appreciate some simple click-here-click-there tutorials to get them started rather than having to dive into the 800-page (yes, that’s 800 pages) manual.

Record ships with a number of useful templates suitable for different recording scenarios (for example, four audio and four MIDI) plenty of high class digital effects like reverb, chorus and delay as well as a set of GM-style instruments including piano, bass, drums and strings which are good enough to get songwriters started.

For anyone who wants to go further, Record integrates with Reason so tightly that they appear to be the same program – which will be a relief to anyone who’s had cause to make Reason work with another audio sequencer – and that means thousands of new sounds and all of Reason’s effects can now be applied to tracks recorded in Record.

The standalone Record costs £229, but existing Reason owners can buy it for only £115 (an absolute bargain since it also updates them to Reason 4); alternatively, you can buy both Record and Reason together in some places for 535 Euros.

Record is clearly an attempt by Propellerhead to put existing Reason users back in the box and stop them straying to other programs by giving them what they’ve been after for a long time: audio recording. That said, it’s also a genuinely attractive proposition for songwriters who want to record with real instruments rather than just synths; and by integrating it with Reason, Propellerhead has delivered an all-in-one recording studio suitable for any kind of music and all kinds of musicians.

Company: Propellerhead

Contact: +46 8 556 08 400

Absolute beginners will find better value elsewhere - something like Steinberg's Sequel 2 is a good choice - but if you're a musician who's been burned by audio software in the past, Record looks inviting. As many tracks as you like, good effects, a great mixing desk, highly expandable - courtesy of Reason - good-enough audio editing and time-stretching that actually works as advertised. And if you've already got an old copy of Reason, the upgrade is a bargain.