Welcome to Surface Sessions number 5. Reason 8 has just arrived and so it seemed rude not to jump straight in and see how well it runs on the Surface Pro 3.
Full text beneath the video.
Reason 8 is downloadable as a 3.6GB zip file – pretty weighty but much more conservative than Cubase or Pro Tools. Then you simply extract and run the installer – all too easy. It doesn’t bother you with questions about whether you want the 32bit or 64bit version or where to put the sound library – it just gets on with it. Usually I like to have control over where sound library goes, so that I can stick it on a separate drive or partition, but with the Surface I just have the single drive and so I’m releasing my grip a little and going with the defaults.
Reason has a three way approach to copy protection – they have their Ignition Key or dongle to you and me which holds your license and allows you to run Reason on any computer you like – just like Cubase or Pro Tools – however, and this is particularly useful on the Surface, you can also license a specific computer or authorise your session by connecting online to the Propellerhead servers. So you open Reason, sign in and off you go without the need for the Ignition Key hanging out the side of the Surface – hoorah!
Reason is very tolerant of audio systems and can use pretty much any driver you care to throw at it. The usual problem we have with the speakers and the headphones having their own driver means that if you wish to switch between the two then running ASIO4ALL will make that a lot simpler (see earlier videos for more detail on that).
As we don’t have to contend with a dongle you can plug a USB audio interface straight in without the need of a hub. Although of course adding a USB MIDI keyboard, which is pretty likely, would bring our hub back into use. This makes a good case for one of those combined keyboard/audio interfaces like the overly chunky Behringer UMA25 or Roland A30 although I’d like to see one of those cool mini keyboards also have an audio interface built in to give a decent set of low latency outputs along with a bag friendly keyboard.
No problems with desktop scaling and the mixer and rack look beautiful at the highest resolution but the knobs and controls really do become very small and you’ll probably strain yourself working with it. So back up at the recommended scale is where it’s most comfortable. Reason tends to fight itself a bit for screen space so you do have to get the hang of navigating the interface to make the most of it. You can always attach another screen and move one of the three views over there. Otherwise you just have to get the hang of navigating about. You can use the function keys to change the different Windows to full screen but they are not the easiest thing to use on the Touch Keyboard as you have to hold the Fn key down to access them – but it works fine.
Reason was born to be touched and it frustrates me that I can’t seem to get Propellerheads interested in implementing multi-touch support. The hardware illusion of the interface invites your fingers, the side bar explorer is perfect for touch navigation, the wiring on the back would benefit from moving more than one cable at a time – but, everything is very small and so not exactly friendly for fingers. If I was Mr Propellerhead I would stick a “touch” button on the side of every rack device which blew the interface up to touchable proportions. Pinch and zoom works in the sequencer window but unlike Cubase and Pro Tools which zooms horizontally in the timeline, in Reason it zooms vertically to expand the tracks. The mixer is again begging to be touched but alas we get to move only one thing at a time – surely it’s time to start getting touch technology into this kind of software.
In previous videos I’ve talked about how once you remove the keyboard you’ve lost all your vital keyboard shortcuts to basic functions and finding them with the pen is a bit of a hassle. I’ll be doing a separate video on this soon but I’ve found another alternative to the Emulator controller I built for Cubase. Reason doesn’t have the sort of depth of MIDI control over commands that Cubase has and so I needed to find something that would provide actual keyboard events in the shape of a toolbar and I found this – it’s called the Toolbar Creator by a mysterious guy called lblb or something and you can download it from the TabletPCReview.com forum.
It has its pros and cons when compared to the MIDI based Emulator option and I’ll get into all that in another video. For now – this is exactly what you need to make Surface – Pen – Reason experience work.
Shall I do another quick “making music” demo? You know you love it.
There’s no general benchmark for Reason so I made one up. I figured if I loaded up a ton of synths and ran some notes through it we could get to a point where the system overloaded and then make a note of how many synths were running before the overload. To make this easier and slightly more realistic I used combinator patches – these tend to load up a handful of synths with each one and vary enormously which adds a bit of flavour to the test. So I’ve set up a loop of 8 sustaining notes and I’m using the list of SynthPoly presets and seeing how many it will run.
Reason has a very impolite overload message – rather than crackling a bit and eventually slowing to a crawl like Cubase does it simply stops playback and pops up saying “your computer is too slow” – errrrr thanks!
In this test with this untweaked SP3 and the FastTrack running at the lowest latency I was able to get up to Easysynth without glitching. As a comparison I have our little Midget audio PC here which is running a full powered desktop i3 processor and that was able to do one or two more Combinators before pegging out.
I’ll be doing a full video on comparative performance very soon – this is just a guide.
The design and workflow of Reason lends itself perfectly to the Surface Pro 3. Part of the coolness of Reason is how it lets you make music easily with just a mouse, or a pen in this case. The pattern based drum machines, matrix sequencing, rex file manipulation is all geared towards that kind of input and its tolerance of audio drivers makes it the ideal platform for making music on the go with just your pen and a pair of headphones. If they could just make it multi-touch and blow up the GUI’s like I mentioned earlier then it would be perfection on the SP3.
If you’d like to hear my thoughts on Reason 8 as a whole then check out my other video for a full review. Otherwise it’s Ableton next so watch out for that.
And remember, if you need a desktop computer for music production – like our most fabulous Midget – then please visit us at Molten Music Technology.com
Until next time – please connect with us on the blog, subscribe here, twitter or facebook – I’d love to hear from you.