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  • Propellerhead Record

    PROLOGUE

    It may seem inappropriate to start this Pro Review with a story about Ableton Live, but please bear with me.

    Many years ago I was at the Frankfurt Messe when Gerhard Behles, one of the driving forces behind Ableton, confided in me that the next version of Live was going to include MIDI. I was skeptical, to say the least. "But then you'll add notation, and all these MIDI filters and plug-ins, and your elegant program will become just another bloated DAW. That's not what I want for live performance."

    He could tell I was pretty upset. But he just looked at me, put his hand on my shoulder, and said "Don't worry, Craig. We do MIDI the Ableton way."

    And they did, incorporating it in an intelligent way that worked smoothly with Live, but didn't overextend itself to the point where it became a hindrance instead of a cool feature.

    So what does this have to do with Record? Well, we have the inverse situation here. Propellerhead produced the ultimate MIDI studio - Reason - so when I heard they were adding audio recording capabilities in some new program, I was again skeptical.

    But, they did it in "the Propellerhead way." And what exactly is the Propellerhead way? Well, here's what it looks like to me.

    In 1994, while everyone else was trying to get ornery digital audio algorithms to stretch audio, Propellerheads decided instead to cut digital audio into little pieces, and trigger those pieces with MIDI. Thus the REX file format was born, which paradoxically, is far more popular now - 15 years later - than it was when it was invented. If a loop library these days doesn't include REX format files, it's in trouble from a commercial standpoint.

    Then in 1997, they basically started the "let's emulate vintage instruments" craze with ReBirth, which virtualized the Roland TR-808 and TB-303, then later added a TR-909 in an update. (And, major props to Roland for taking ReBirth as the tribute/homage it was meant to be, and not sending in a team of lawyers to mess everything up.)

    A year later, ReWire appeared as a way to get ReBirth (and later Reason) into other programs. But it was adopted by a zillion other manufacturers, and few among us have not ReWired something into something else at some point.

    Then in 1999, as the world started retiring their ADATs and diving deep into digital recording and plug-ins, Propellerheads went in the opposite direction and produced Reason, a brilliant implementation of a MIDI studio with no VST/AU/DX plug-in support, and no digital audio. It didn't matter: This laptop-friendly, rock-solid, highly cost-effective program took the music world by storm. And, more than one DAW owner bought Reason solely as a "super virtual instrument rack" to ReWire into their host DAW of choice.

    Over the years ReCycle has gone through revisions, the REX format became stereo, Reason is now up to version 4, and Propellerheads also found the time to produce expansion sound packs of peerless quality (Reason Drums is still one of my favorite ways to do drum tracks).

    My point? We're dealing with a company that's an innovator, that follows its own muse, and has a passion for creating exceptional music software. Of course, they're definitely not the only company that fits that description, but few would dispute that Propellerheads has occupied an important position in the music software industry.

    Okay, by now you're saying..."c'mon Craig, shut up with the encomiums and start reviewing Record!" But here's why this intro is important.

    I recently read a review of Record in a magazine that shall go nameless. It listed the various features - sequencer, mixer, processors, instruments, Reason integration, time-stretching, and so on. It was accurate, and it was definitely favorable, as it should have been. But with all due respect to a fellow author, I think it missed the point.

    This Pro Review is (hopefully) about not missing the point. Record isn't another DAW, and it isn't just a way to add audio recording to Reason so Reason fanatics would stop complaining that they weren't able to record digital audio. Record is all about emulating not just a studio, but the workflow of a traditional hardware studio - which is not always the same as a DAW, as we'll find out over the course of this review.

    But wait a minute - aren't Pro Reviews supposed to start when the reviewer opens the box? And doesn't it seem like I already know a bit about the program?

    Well, yes, I have to point out that this time around, I had already written up a one-page review of Record for the December issue of EQ magazine as part of a roundup. In the process, I learned quite a bit about the program - mostly about how easy it is to get a project off the ground. But this Pro Review affords an opportunity to go deeper into the software, and if it goes the way I hope, it will also serve as a place where people can contribute tips and opinions about this innovative - yet curiously retro - program.

    If you want to follow along, you can download a demo version of Record from http://www.propellerheads.se/download/. Now, sometimes having a downloadable demo available is the kiss of death for a Pro Review - after all, what do you need a review for if you can check the program out for yourself? But that's one reason (no pun intended!) I want to bend this more into the direction of a "Record user group," where we all contribute our own little nuggets on how to use this software. Of course, we'll point out the limitations (yes, it has definite limitations) and strengths, because it is a review. But like all Pro Reviews, it's an "open source" review that's open to comments from all, including the manufacturer. In fact, I've invited representatives from Propellerheads to check in from time to time and give us any unique insights they might have.

    So, let's investigate Record. After all, it does digital audio "in the Propellerhead way." And it's an interesting way indeed.
    N E W S O N G ! To Say 'No' Would Be a Crime (Remix) is now streamable from my YouTube channel.

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  • #2
    Thanks, Tom.

    For me, a Reason user since 1.0, Record was the answer to most of my prayers.

    But I still had to get past the atrocious marketing of Record, which was equal parts intelligence-insulting and doomed-to-be-a-disappointment hyperbolic.

    The marketing for Record was so bad that it put me off it for like a week or so.

    But then I came to my senses, saw what it could do for me, and I bought it.

    And I'm very happy that I did.

    But no matter what gets written here, and how many pages deep this thread goes, I think that, at the end of the day, it comes down to this . . .

    If you're a Reason user, it's damn near inexcusable not to have Record, and if you're not a Reason user, but are using a DAW of some sort, there's very little reason to pick up Record (unless you're REALLY into time-stretching).

    But if you're new to making music on the computer, you could probably do worse than the Reason/Record combo.

    You could also probably do better.

    P.S. I know your name's "Craig" . . . I'm just being daffy. It's from that old Letterman bit, where he'd have a fake NBC/GE executive come out. The fake exec would always start out whatever he said with a "Thanks, Tom" . . . "mistaking" Letterman for Tom Brokaw.

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    • #3
      But I still had to get past the atrocious marketing of Record, which was equal parts intelligence-insulting and doomed-to-be-a-disappointment hyperbolic.

      The marketing for Record was so bad that it put me off it for like a week or so.

      But then I came to my senses, saw what it could do for me, and I bought it.

      And I'm very happy that I did.


      Well, I don't like to bash the people who do marketing because it's a tough gig, but I have to say that while I didn't find the marketing insulting, I don't think it communicated what the program was about, or who it was for. I think the biggest aspect of Record is that it virtualizes a traditional hardware studio, not just a multittrack recorder with a virtual studio added on. The difference is subtle, but it has a great effect on workflow.

      Propellerheads have made a conscious decision to limit options in Record, and that's part of what makes it different from the norm. One of the objectives of this review is to point out those differences compared to the traditional way of doing things.
      N E W S O N G ! To Say 'No' Would Be a Crime (Remix) is now streamable from my YouTube channel.

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      • #4
        Like any hardware studio, Record has a multitrack recorder (i.e., a MIDI and digital audio sequencer, with plenty of editing options), rack o' outboard gear, and a big mixer, modeled after an SSL.

        Each of these sections plays a crucial role within Record, as (with a few exceptions) they're pretty much the only windows you'll use most of the time. If any program ever cried for a triple monitor setup, it's this one - rack in one monitor, sequencer in another, and mixer in a third. The software encourages it, to: The main mixer and rack and detachable, and can be floated as separate windows. You can also jump between function keys F5, F6, and F7 to fill the screen with the mixer, rack, and sequencer respectively.

        Then again, you can also show all three in one window, then vary their widths and on-screen proportions. I've been trying to figure out how to show screen shots of these various elements, but it's not easy - especially given our 900 x 700 pixel limit. So, the first attached image shows the mixer filling up a 1280 x 1024 screen, but reduced so it will fit within our current limits. Don't worry about the lack of detail; we'll have "close-ups" when we cover each section individually. For example, the mixer shows only a few of its modules (there are show/hide options if you want to trim the size).

        Look carefully: There's one knob/switch, one function. Yup, the analog paradigm - no menus, hidden functions - everything is within reach. Now, this is probably hell with a laptop, but on my dual-screen monitor setup it's pretty cool. (By the way, I've loaded a demo project that comes with Record to take these shots because I haven't finished anything myself yet using Record.)

        The second attached image shows the sequencer section, which won't be much of a shock to Reason users. In fact it's worth mentioning that if you know Reason, you've already reached a plateau in Record's learning curve without even trying.

        The third attached image brings us to the rack, which clearly builds on Reason's rack concept and include quite a few Reason modules. However, there are a few additions, perhaps the most important being the audio track (which we'll be discussing soon enough). And yes, those are Line 6 guitar amp processors (there's also a Line 6 bass amp).

        If you own Reason, it integrates with Record and you don't have to use ReWire or anything else - it's just there, once you register Reason for use with Record. Of course, you can still use Reason by itself.

        Speaking of registration, Record is the first Propellerhead program to use a CodeMeter USB dongle, which they call the "ignition key." This works like a dongle but with one huge difference: If you don't have it on you (attention, laptop jockeys), as long as you can connect to the internet the Propellerhead server will give registered users the authorization to run Record. Even if you don't have an internet connection, you can save what you do (but you can't load projects you create).

        And that's the 10,000 foot view. Next, we'll zoom in a little closer.
        N E W S O N G ! To Say 'No' Would Be a Crime (Remix) is now streamable from my YouTube channel.

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        • #5
          Noise!
          www.guslozada.com

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          • #6
            (Indeed, Gus, and it gets nicer )

            So where to start...after all, there's a lot going on. It seems to me the mixer is as good a place as any, because it will be something new to Reason users as well as those checking out Record. Besides, no matter what you do, it's going to end up in the mixer - and this also gives us a chance to introduce the concept of audio tracks in Record.

            As an overview, there are two types of mixer channels - one for devices like soft synths, the other for audio tracks. Conceptually, audio tracks are represented by a "single rack space" device in the rack (in addition, of course, to having a track in the sequencer).

            Think of Record in terms of a hardware paradigm. In the rack, you see tone modules and signal processors - what we're used to seeing in hardware racks. For a hardware analogy of the audio tracks, think of each audio track in the mixer as a one-track "sampler" with pretty much unlimited memory, and you record audio into one of these samplers.

            In the attached image, you can see various Audio Tracks, as well as Mix tracks for a couple of devices, in the rack. Note the Line 6 guitar amp; it's serving as an insert effect for the Rhythm Guitar audio track (second down from the top).

            If you look at things this way, the mixer might seem more like a control surface for all these devices sitting in the rack rather than a traditional mixer. Nonetheless, the layout and functionality are that of big console, and relating to the mixer interface is like relating to a physical console as every function is brought to a single control.
            N E W S O N G ! To Say 'No' Would Be a Crime (Remix) is now streamable from my YouTube channel.

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            • #7
              A key concept in Record is getting around windows with the Navigator. Obviously, you can’t fit a mixer with a huge number of tracks into a monitor made by mortals, so you need to scroll around. Nor can you see all elements of a channel strip if you elect to show them all. So, Record includes a zoomed-out thumbnail of your entire setup, and you can move a little rectangle around on the thumbnail to indicate which part will be presented at full size.

              I figured the easiest way to get this across would be with a video. Both MP4 (640 x 480 for iPod compatibility) and WMV versions are attached. In the video, you’ll see the channel strip thumbnail on the right side; note how moving over it changes what’s visible in the main mixer view. You can also scroll vertically with a mouse scroll wheel.

              In the next part of the video, the cursor moves up to the Navigator that scrolls horizontally through the various mixer channels. The same type of Navigator protocol is used in other windows, for example, when finding a specific portion of the rack, or moving up and down through a lot of sequencer tracks. You can use a touchpad to do the scrolling, which is pretty cool.

              Before going too much further, I have a question: Do you like these kinds of video examples? If so, I’ll try to include them wherever appropriate. Otherwise, I’ll stick to screen shots, which are somewhat faster to download. Also, if you have any trouble playing these, let me know.
              N E W S O N G ! To Say 'No' Would Be a Crime (Remix) is now streamable from my YouTube channel.

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              • #8
                Do you like these kinds of video examples?


                +1 on the video.
                Security Officers have been trained to not touch the service monkey

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                • #9
                  Keep it up Craig. I think the videos will add clarity to concepts that may be hard to explain in words.

                  BTW...I sent you a PM ages ago, did you get that?
                  stilwel

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                  • #10
                    Haven't checked PMs since AES, was working around the clock on getting the AES videos done. Am catching up on Pro Reviews, and will get to PMs early next week. Busy busy busy...
                    N E W S O N G ! To Say 'No' Would Be a Crime (Remix) is now streamable from my YouTube channel.

                    Subscribe, like, and share the links!

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                    • #11

                      Before going too much further, I have a question: Do you like these kinds of video examples?


                      hil:

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                      • #12
                        I thought I'd record some tracks so I could actually show something in the mixer as we discussed it, but got sidetracked: I wondered what would happen if I brought in an Acidized WAV file. Obviously, Record has the REX playback stretching thing down by including the Dr. Rex player for Rex files (the NN-19 sampler can also play back Rex files). However, digital audio stretching is a different kind of thing.

                        Well, Record doesn't seem to recognize the Acidization metadata in WAV files, but has its own way of doing stretching that's somewhat tedious but sounds really good, as the attached audio examples show.

                        If you import an audio file you want to time-stretch, you first need to disable stretching in the file, then match the tempo to the loop. Once you've matched the tempo, you bounce the clip to a new "recording." This embeds the original tempo information you just determined into the file. Now when you enable stretching for the clip, it follows tempo changes.

                        Stretching is a two-step process, where first you hear a lower-quality preview pretty much instantly, but then a flurry of calculations goes on in the background and when done, you hear the "rendered" version. I'm used to this because I work a lot with Sonar, where you hear real-time previews, but then its necessary to render a stretched file as a separate, non-real-time operation for maximum fidelity. I know of Sonar users who never realized they needed to render to get high quality, and therefore thought the quality wasn't very good; that's not an issue with Record, as the transition from preview to rendered file occurs automatically.

                        What is an issue is I can't find any way to transpose a non-Rex file to a different key. I looked in the Help under transpose, pitch, stretch, audio...and drew a blank. Am I missing something, or can you not easily transpose digital audio?

                        Now, about the audio examples (MP3, 320kbps). Each plays back the same 8 bars, but at a different tempo. The drums and guitar are audio (the guitar is processed through an AdrenaLinn, and is a loop from my AdrenaLinn Guitars sample library), whereas the bass is a MIDI part (which of course, stretches pitch or rhythm pretty much effortlessly).

                        You may not be able to tell which is the original and which is the stretched, so I'll tell you: For the drums, it's 140BPM and for the guitar, 100BPM. You can decide for yourself about the stretching quality, but I'm very impressed.
                        N E W S O N G ! To Say 'No' Would Be a Crime (Remix) is now streamable from my YouTube channel.

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                        • #13
                          Been eagerly awaiting this review.
                          Very interesting so far and many thanks for your efforts.
                          Venn Diagram - Artist WebsiteMachinedrum, Monomachine, Analog Four, Octatrack, NordModular, Moog SubPhatty, Novation Nova, Korg MS20 Mini, Maschine, Tassman, Aalto, Absynth, Uhe's ACE & AudulusContact

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                          • #14
                            You're very welcome! This is a fun review - more to come.
                            N E W S O N G ! To Say 'No' Would Be a Crime (Remix) is now streamable from my YouTube channel.

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                            • #15
                              The mixer is conventional, in that it has channel strips for each channel, and sends that go to buses. The channel strip modules are, from "top" to "bottom," Input, Dynamics, EQ, Inserts, FX (sends), and Faders.

                              As no standard monitor can accommodate showing all channel strip modules at one time, you have two options:

                              * Use the Navigator as described previously to focus on particular sections of the mixer.
                              * Show/hide various mixer elements.

                              When you hide mixer elements, they nonetheless display small labels above the faders. The attached image shows all channel strip modules minimized other than the faders (the show/hide buttons are circled in red). Note the labels for the hidden modules; a red "LED" to the right of the module means that something's happening with that module - EQ is active instead of bypassed, sends are enabled, etc.

                              Now let's check out the modules.
                              N E W S O N G ! To Say 'No' Would Be a Crime (Remix) is now streamable from my YouTube channel.

                              Subscribe, like, and share the links!

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