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Propellerhead Software Record 1 (Mac/Win) Review

November 1, 2009
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FIG. 1: Sequencer tracks always serve devices in the rack. Audio Track and Mix Channel devices also pair with mixer channels.

FIG. 1: Sequencer tracks always serve devices in the rack. Audio Track and Mix Channel devices also pair with mixer channels.

If you're among the many Reason users who from day one have been harping on Propellerhead Software to add audio recording and sequencing to the program, you'll be delighted with Record. It expands on Reason's rack-and-sequencer paradigm by adding full-featured audio recording and tracking, and it boasts an elegant mixer modeled sonically and graphically on the SSL SuperAnalogue XL 9000K. Record includes many of Reason's high-end effects devices, along with new bass and guitar amp-and-cabinet modelers from Line 6 and a sample-based General MIDI-like virtual instrument, the ID8, for laying in utility MIDI tracks. Better still, if you have Reason installed, it becomes fully integrated into Record. (Of course, you can also run Reason by itself.)

To address two hot-button issues up front, Record, like Reason, is a closed system and doesn't host third-party plug-ins. That makes Record much more CPU-efficient, and it eliminates incompatibility issues. But to use third-party plug-ins, you need to run Record as a ReWire slave to a program (typically another DAW) hosting the plug-ins.

With Record, Propellerhead has opted for hardware copy-protection. The company has made a serious effort to mitigate the downside of the USB key by implementing a save-enabled Demo mode (you can save but cannot load while in Demo mode) and real-time online authorization (you only need to be connected when you load projects).

More GUI

Record's user interface is divided into three sections toggled by three hot keys: mixer (F5), device rack (F6) and sequencer (F7). Key combinations reveal multiple sections in the same window, and you can tear off the mixer and rack to their own windows. I found stacking the sequencer and mixer in my main monitor and moving the rack to a second monitor to be an ideal setup. If you recombine the windows (Command + F7) and then tear them off again, Record remembers their former sizes and arrangement — nice!

The mixer is huge; there's the fader section at the bottom and concealable input, dynamics, EQ, inserts and sends areas above. Switches let you rearrange the signal path order of the dynamics, EQ and inserts, as well as route the dynamics processor's sidechain input through highpass and lowpass filters in the EQ section. The EQ section also houses high- and low-shelving filters, and two parametric bands. Eight global send buses round out the mixer, and you can cable those through any combination of effects in the rack.

The rack is almost identical to Reason's, but you can have as many columns as you like. Two special rack devices, Audio Track and Mix Channel, always have matching channel strips in the mixer. Creating an Audio Track device also automatically generates a sequencer track for recording and playing audio clips through that device.

The Mixer Channel device has an audio input. Creating it doesn't generate a sequencer track, but you can add one for automation. The device is primarily used to provide mixer buses for instruments, but it has many other creative applications. Although there are myriad ways to add and configure devices, channel strips and sequencer tracks, Record does an amazing job of ensuring that necessary elements are present and correctly connected.

For example, you can create a real-time vocoder setup in three steps. Create an ID8 device, which gives you a track for playing or recording MIDI and a Mix Channel device for the ID8's output. Create a BV-512 vocoder in the Mix Channel's insert slot, which automatically rewires the ID8 as the vocoder's carrier signal. Create an Audio Track device and cable its output to the vocoder's Modulator (voice) input. You're now set up to vocode from a mic and MIDI keyboard, or from audio and MIDI clips in the sequencer (see Fig. 1 and Web Clip 1).

In Sequence

Time stretching is an essential ingredient of any modern audio sequencer, and Record features an outstanding implementation that works simultaneously across all audio formats, sampling rates and bit depths. Each audio track has two stretch modes — Melody and Allround — which, when applied appropriately, produce high-quality results even for large tempo changes (see Web Clip 2).

Although the Stretch mode is track-based, you can disable time stretching for individual clips on the same track. That with the Bounce Clip to New Recording (aka, bounce in place) option makes it simple to mix and match clips with no embedded tempo information. You simply disable time stretching, manually adjust Record's tempo until it matches the clip's, bounce the clip in place, enable time stretching for the bounced clip and then return to the song tempo. Bouncing embeds tempo information in the clip's header, allowing Record to time stretch it as needed.

Record will also bounce clips and mixer channels to disk. The latter makes it extremely easy to create stems from your songs. You choose which tracks and send buses to bounce, set limits (the whole song or the song loop), decide what mixer settings to include and choose a format. You then get a neatly bundled set of stems on disk or as new tracks in your song.

Sequencer tracks always correspond to devices in the rack, although you can have rack devices without sequencer tracks. All track types have multiple drop-down automation lanes, and instrument tracks also offer multiple note lanes that can play simultaneously. All lanes have individual mutes. Automation is easy to create or record, and you can edit it directly in the automation lane without switching to the sequencer's Edit mode. That lets you work with visual reference to other tracks, whereas Edit mode displays one track at a time (see Fig. 2).

FIG. 2: Tracks can have automation lanes, and in the case of MIDI tracks multiple note lanes.

FIG. 2: Tracks can have automation lanes, and in the case of MIDI tracks multiple note lanes.

Audio tracks do not have multiple lanes for audio clips, but you can record or import multiple takes on a single audio track and use Record's powerful Comp mode to create composite takes (see the video in Web Clip 3). Compositing is not implemented for MIDI, but with a mouse-click or keystroke, you can start a new take or overdub lane. Unfortunately, that's not a hands-free process, and you must manually slice and mute takes to create comps.

Record You

Record comes with a substantial collection of instrument and effects Combinator patches. The instruments — which include keys, strings, synths and percussion — are mostly performance-oriented. Effects run the gamut from utility (EQ, dynamics, reverb and mastering) to extreme processing (beat manglers, modulation and distortion), and you get a useful collection of bass- and guitar-amp setups to show off the new Line 6 plug-ins. You also get a variety of groove templates for the ReGroove Mixer. And, of course, Reason users have access to the Reason Factory Library and their own collection of ReFills.

Record's documentation comes in two forms: searchable help accessed directly from the application and an 850-page PDF manual. You can get to most functions through context menus, and both those and the menu-bar menus show key-command shortcuts when available. Surprisingly there's no PDF of those shortcuts, but Reason users will find a lot of overlap.

Record on its own is an impressive audio recording and sequencing package. Its sequencer is easy to use, carries a light CPU footprint and includes an impressive array of plug-ins along with a powerful mixer. And its time stretching is as good as I've heard, allowing you to mix and match virtually anything in your audio arsenal. If you're a Reason user, the integration and low upgrade price make Record hard to pass up. If you need third-party plug-ins and instruments and compatibility with other DAWs, Record's ability to render tracks and export stems quickly still makes it a worthy musical tool.


Len Sasso is an associate editor of EM. For an earful, visit his Website, swiftkick.com.

Propellerhead record summary

GUIDE TO EM METERS

5 Amazing; as good as it gets with current technology

4 Clearly above average; very desirable

3 Good; meets expectations

2 Somewhat disappointing but usable

1 Unacceptably flawed

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