In terms of music production, you have different Digital Audio Workstations you have different methods to make music. If you are into Image-line FL studio, Ableton live, Steinberg Cubase or AVID Protools. Most of these DAWs will rely a lot on using the right plugins or VSTs. While there is still one DAW that does not rely heavily on a platform like VST, which is Propellerhead Reason. This last music production tool will have some limitations, but it also has its own unique strengths. From a workflow perspective and look and feel, this is where the Reason kind of shines compared to anything else.
The beauty of the Reason platform is that everything feels like it is integrated. From the Rack Oriented method to its cabling. The nice thing about this concept is that you don't have to rely on any external tools to get things done. Working with plugins in this integrated form is like a blessing. And everything here is done internally in Propellerhead Reason itself, not even using external tools or plugins. Since from a workflow perspective, it has always been a bit painful to use Rewire to hang reason on to life support using an external DAW like Ableton Live for instance.
Before Reason 6 the devices were all stock devices. In 2012, Reason 6.5 was released. And this came with its own unique platform called Rack Extensions. While Rack Extensions work only in Propellerhead Reason, there are some successful VST ports. A good example is the Legend from Synapse came as a VST and Reason Rack Extension. Same thing could be said about Predator from Rob Papen. While Rack Extension System Development Kit is still being developed, there are new features added per release. A good example is loading up wavetables in Reason 9.2 (which has been added since January 2017) and Panels in the SDK 2.0 (Reason 7). It shows over time that the platform of RE is getting more mature while time progresses.
Sure, the Reason rack extension platform has its flaws more or less. Some developers have announced not to make any more Rack Extensions because of different problems developers have issued. It is a common thing that due to the limitations of the SDK, some VST plugins may never see the daylight in the RE platform. But because of there are 425 different rack extensions already on the market. One may ask themselves if there is such a need to have every plugin as a Reason RE. There are plenty of alternatives to pick from. And if it is not there just yet, there is the combinator wiring and such to build your own unique module. And this is what we really love about this platform! It is flexible, versatile, has its limitations, but we overcome them.
The Reason platform known as Reason Rack Extensions is now almost five years old. It is a good time to write down a top 10 list of the most obvious choices. While these plugins are divided in subcategories I will enlist them in to these three main sections: instruments, effects and utilities. I might also note that the best rack extensions may also depend in what your flavor is, what type of music genre you are into and what your desired workflow is in Propellerhead Reason. The list I am providing will be set up as a general guide line in any type of production and to get the best experience from a Digital Audio Workstation as Reason. However, there could be a need for a specific type of production techniques where a specific type of rack extensions are required. While creating this list, I will also try to give additional counterparts.
With that all written, lets count them down.
if you have Propellerhead Reason 9.2 (the latest version by the time this article is written), you'll be pleased by using Thor as a major workhorse synthesizer. Just to show how versatile Thor can be as a synthesizer module, we created Thors Hammer that comes with 4000 patches. That kind of shows there is no real limitations on what sounds you can create using a single instance of Thor. Where Thor doesn't get it, there is also the Malstrom Graintable synthesizer. And last a Subtractor is an awesome polyphonic synthesizer which I still use on a daily basis. Just because of nostalgia feeling I the Subtractor is a cool thing to create sounds fast. For drums, I still stick with the Redrum drum computer. It is a workflow thing though, the NN-19 sampler comes second regarding to drums. It just works a tiny bit different. The Kong drum designer is a drum machine I barely touch. Because it takes a lot of time just to create a full working 16-pad drum machine. While with rack extensions there is a device which is now my go-to synths if the stock devices do not do it.
Blamsoft - Expanse
This should most likely not come as a surprise to many of you who regularly visit this website. Since of lately I have from the "E" word a lot of times. Expanse Hyperwave Synthesizer is cool in a lot of different ways. I personally see this device as a very good (if not the best) replacement to what Thor can do. It contains a wide variety of different waveforms from clean analogue sounds to the more moderns dubstep morphable yah yah sounds. The number of shapers (modulators) is quite insane. Frequency Modulation, Ring Modulation, Sync, Clip, Bit crush... it is all there. Combine that with its flexible interface to use different envelopes in different ways and the idea that you are able to load up your own custom wavetables in this device. If you have enough ideas, then Expanse will be a perfect synthesizer to make it happen. This synth is perfect for bass lines, leads synths or some evolving pads. So from this angle it a good all-around synth that can create a lot of different sounds.
Sure, the price tag of $149 / €149 might seem like a lot (since it is equivalent of an upgrade price for Propellerhead Reason alone). But it is sure worth every penny.
|Price||$149 / €149|
Propellerhead - Parsec 2
Propellerhead Parsec Rack Extension will most likely not require any introduction. This instrument is a monster of an additive synthesizer. Since of recent (end of 2016) Parsec version 2 was released and brought a couple of new features to the table. Most of wavetables from Thor are placed in Parsec 2. While at the same time they sound somewhat clearer compared to the original sound source. Additional 5 new modifiers were added (Partial Envelopes, Pitch Curves, Filter Curve, Pitch warp and Harmonic Stretch). Adding the option to route Engine A to Engine B, which can drive sounds to insanity.
Parsec 2 in my productions are mostly used for Pads. Since I feel like it really works well in Ambient type of productions. With its additive sound engine, the methods to reshape the waveform in different angles (position), and the number of flexible controls (x/y) to move the sound in different directions it makes it a perfect synth for evolving pads. From a modulation perspective, it is not an ideal synth. Personally (because I am biased), I prefer to edit automate every single parameter manually. From Generate A, to Generator B to all the X/Y parameters this synthesizer has. Because this gives it full control.
While additive synthesis is relatively new in the Reason realm, there are some other alternatives to get these type of sounds in your rack. I will just name them: Zvork Noxious, Zvork Oberon, WizAudio Additive wavetable, Vibro wavetable and Zero Hybrid Synthesizer.
Audiorealism - ABL3 Computer Bassline
The ABL3 Computer Bassline is a perfect Rack extension replacement tool for the Roland TB-303. While the Roland TB-303 still plays an important role in the music of today it would not come as a real surprise that this like bassline creator is on my top 10 list. While the synth is quite limited, it just screams pure classic. It is ideal for bass lines, but on the other hand pretty good for awesome acid lines. No wonder this one has a sticker on it "I love acid". Even while rumours had it (on Facebook) that this would be replaced by a feature. It never happened, so the sticker is still there.
The best part of the ABL3 Computer is the filter and using a lot of resonance. A little hidden gem in this device lies in the rear (the back of the device). There is a little switch called "Clipping". Turn this to soft clip or hard clip you have your instant techno machine. It feels like having good old Rebirth in your Reason Rack. And Propellerhead Rebirth was pretty freaking awesome too.
The only downside with this device is that it tries to emulate the TB-303 a bit too much. Since at some extent they could have taken this one 2 steps further by having the features: polyphonic/monophonic and sustain. But still, even without these features this device is go to synth if I need "that type of bass line".
|Shop link||Abl 3 Computer Bassline|
While these 3 instruments are just 3 picks I have added in the instrument section, there are plenty of other choices that I could easily throw in this top 3 list of Rack Extension instruments. And sure, a lot of people could say why isn't Vecto on this list, or Predator? But the Legends is awesome too, so is Antidote. I know, but since I have 3 different categories to go through I have to make choices. And the choices are made in terms on what I use a lot and where I think it could serve people their best needs. And these 3 are the first 3 that come to mind. For me, it was a close call between ABL3 and the Legend. While I love the Legend for what it does, I haven't really used it that often. That is partially the reasoning behind these.
In terms of effects, we are being spoiled in Propellerhead Reason. In the native stock devices, we have plenty of effects such as filters, chorus, reverb, delay, distortion, compressors, and some creative effects (such as audiomatic, which is a native device in Reason 9). While this is going to be hard one just to enlist "must have effects", a lot will depend on a flavor of style. My choices are clear on this for a lot of different reason. While I will admit, I have a LOT of effects on the Rack Extension platform. Since a lot of stuff I do relies a lot on effects (not just synths). So I hope there are no real surprises here if I think in terms of the following 3 candidates.
This little gem is perfect as it comes to being a creative delay effect. If you are into guitars, you'll love it. If you are into pads, you'll love it. If you are mentally insane... I'll love it too. Echobode is a delay and a frequency shifter in one. While the shifter can drive the sounds in a really "weird" way. The best way to use this device is with Fine tune settings on the Frequency. Other then that, you could use this as a radio type of effect (wide). At the same time, it kind of acts as a phaser type of sound with using low delay times. While it is not really phasing you are doing (since this requires an All Pass Filter in theory) it creates a unique type of "sweep" effects using a lot of feedback on the delay.
In term of shimmering sounds, I prefer the combination of the Echobode Rack Extension with a lot of reverb (RV7000-Mk2 stock device). This combination is quite deadly and works all the time in my music productions. I almost wanted to through Jiggery Pokery Steerpike on this list. But it didn't make it because I can turn Echobode in a similar direction as Steerpike (by using multiple Echobodes that is). But then again, there are choices to be made.
Sononics made a few good Rack Extensions. Revival (organ) and the GSX (effect). While the GSX is a thing I use a lot. Since it does so many things at the same time: Beat repeater, Tape stop effect, Transient Shaper, multi-band gain (or reduction), multi-band effect processor and a limiter. So yeah, that is GSX Graphic Shaper and Effects in a nutshell. I enjoy this device for a lot of different reasons. Especially when it comes to doing stuff in a live performance set up, this is my go-to device. When it comes to chopping up stuff and repeat them and glitch them, this device can take full control on those elements as well while manipulating the sequencer of Reason (since it receives midi notes). If there is one effect that does something different than your typical "buffer and loop" thing, this would be it. On a personal note, the first time I laid my eyes on this device it was love at first sight.
Softube - FET Compressor
The FET Compressor from Softube is a type of compressor I could 110% recommend. Sure, I will admit the price tag of this one is pretty darn high (too high if I may be honest here). However, if it goes on sale and you get it pretty cheap, then go for it. This compressor is for me the master of all compressors I have in my gear. And I use it in every song since I have it. For me this is the ideal replacement for the MClass Compressor, or side chain compressor if you will. The FET from Softube works ideal on percussion elements. Especially if you are into genres like Drum and Bass or Dubstep, you will love this thing in your Reason Rack. I personally got this on a sale, and have never had any regrets on buying it, therefor it is on my top ten list of best Rack Extensions until this day.
|Shop link||FET Compressor|
Control Voltage components
In terms of Control Voltage devices, these type of devices can become rather specific to what people really need. I'll keep in mind that most devices I personally use are not really devices everyone needs. So I'll try to set up a list that is best suited for everyone (since we're talking about a top ten right). So with that said, here we go.
Normen Hansen - VMG01
Since Rack Extensions have been introduced, it also came with its own unique problem which we are Reason users never really had to deal with before. Latency issues. While latency has been an issue for using Midi devices, the RE platform sometimes creates hearable issues (phasing issues if you will) while applying different effects and such. The VMG-01 is a device that helps to measure the amount of delay a device can have. And then you can use the same device to compensate the delay.
Especially if you use a lot of rack extensions with different latency issues then the VMG is the way to get this sorted. Make note, this device does not "solve" latency by itself.
|Price||Free (since 10 april 2017)|
Robotic Beans - Step note recorder
The step note recorder is like an advanced matrix step sequencer. And it works pretty sweet. The beauty of this device is the way it works. You can either manually enter the notes in the sequencer by clicking with the mouse. Or you can enter the notes by recording with a Midi Keyboard. An ideal Rack Extension if you need sequences done pretty quick. While I got this device on a black Friday sale, I personally use this device in a lot of complex combinator setups. Even while a lot of rotaries accept CV inputs, I prefer to see what is happening with this type of device while adjusting Control Voltages.
Lectric Panda - PSQ 1684
The PSQ 1684 is a bit more complex type of sequencer. It works ideally in terms of Eurorack designs. A lot of euro rack will have a pulse generator. While you could do this with lets a Matrix Pattern step sequencer, Propulsion or Korde. I find the PSQ the perfect creative tool to get things going. The pulse can be manipulated on the fly (something that the other device can not do). This rack extension is flexible and tweakable in a lot of different ways. Where version 3 came with a Modulation Bus Matrix, it made the options even crazier.
This device is pretty awesome in live performance setups, or if you just want to create complex combinators that automatically run and do their own thing
Mastering in Reason
For the last section, I am going to pick one for mastering in Reason. While there are 2 major candidates to pick from (Kratos and Ozone) I am going to pick the most obvious one. Based on how it works and the price of the device.
iZotope - oZone Maximizer
While Kratos is currently my go-to Maximizer when it comes to price vs quality and the way things work I have to pick Ozone Maximizer. Just because it is everyone their favourite maximizer. No surprise though since this one has been there since almost the beginning of the Rack Extensions were introduced. Therefor I have to pick this one.
|Shop link||Ozone Maximizer|
While there are lot of different rack extensions and different picks I could make regarding making a top ten list of all rack extensions, this would be mine. Do you agree with this list? Are the other different choices you would make? And let us know why!
Written by hydlide