Soundwise: Propellerhead Reason versus Ableton Live

Over the years I have worked with most DAWs that are available on the market. From Cubase, Nuendo, Sonar, Pro Tools, Live to Reason. A lot of money went into buying that stuff. And most of it, I found out, was money not very well spend because most software sucks imo. Badly designed workflows and instability are showstoppers for me. But the positive thing is that I found out the hard way what I don’t like and what I LOVE.

I bought Live version 1.2 in early 2002, a year after I bought Reason because Reason lacked audio at the time. Live didn’t do MIDI so running both programs in ReWire mode made them very much supplementary to each other. A happy couple! But over the years stuff started to blur. Audio was added to Reason and MIDI tracks were added to Live. It made my work a little more complicated since more decision stress was added to my own workflow. But again it made me aware of the things I did like and the things I HATED.

Ableton Live is still very much unique thanks to its wonderful workflow and GUI, its easy of use (for editing audio nothing beats Live imo), great effects, instruments + Max4Live which is like God For The Electronic Pioneer.

Stretch the time

It’s 2016 and while both programs are somewhat replaceable (although I must say: since Live can handle video it is my preferred app when composing music for film and video) I must say that soundwise Reason is currently the best DAW that is available on the market. Although all DAWs will be able to record uncompressed audio that will sound absolutely perfect, things start to become a whole different story as soon as you start to key-shift/pitch-shift and time stretch the audio tracks.

To make a long story short: Reason does time stretching better than any of the competition. A LOT better. Ableton Live has gotten a lot better at it over the years but is still far from perfect. Often stretched audio in Live sounds like, uhm, well stretched. While Reason stretches the audio in ways its undetectable to most ears. It uses better algorithms, simply as that. Super smooth stuff, even on dedicated material like vocals or acoustic guitars. Just lovely.

Analog sound in digital

Primal-Audio-REs

And thanks to the Rack Extension format many additional rack devices come to the market, developed by third party coders, that sound absolutely fabulous. I am a big fan of Primal Audio who have recently added the Acid Diode Ladder Filter to their arsenal of products. It’s just insane how lovely that saturation filter sounds. A filter that is based on the characteristic diode ladder filter design of the famous Roland TB-303. With this unit I can add that famous squelchy sounding overdrive to ANY sound source in Reason. And if the TB sound doesn’t feed me well I might choose to use a Primal Audio filter which is based on the Korg MS-20 filter or the Minimoog filter. These filters are at the moment only available as Rack Extensions for Reason. Nothing beats them imo, so Reason users have all the fun right now!

P.S. If you want extreme time stretch to sound butter smooth, stuff that goes beyond the standard tempo based time stretch, try Paulstretch which is available in the fan-tas-tic audio editor Audacity. Free and easy and open source!


Also published on Medium.

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28 Responses to Soundwise: Propellerhead Reason versus Ableton Live

  1. jp February 3, 2016 at 6:59 pm #

    thanks for the tip on Paulstretch!

    • Marco Raaphorst February 3, 2016 at 8:00 pm #

      You’re welcome John!

      • Moritz February 4, 2016 at 12:43 pm #

        This is a pure marketing spot!

        Your statement “Reason is currently the best DAW that is available on the market” is very subjective…maybe it is for you, and as a Reason user and lover of Reason, I have to admit that it is not the best DAW yet.

        There are other DAW that are more complete and accurate from an audio and mix engine point of view

        For example, the new mixer sounds good compared to the old Reason 5 mixer but it is not very reliable in terms of metering- for example the single channel only shows VU metering there is no peak indicator at all on the single channel? how is that?

        I also do not like the summing and mixing engine of Reason – I have done mixes in Reason and the same mix in Logic without using external 3d party (RE on reason, AU on Logic) and to be honest there is a quite significant difference.

        Most of the old devices still show the old midi value 0-127 and the automation of the mixer channel is still done in 0-127 range and not in db but the channel values and the metering is in db?it does not make sense to me

        I am not debating here the issue that everyone complains about Reason having only Rack Extension and no VST (some of the new RE instruments sounds really thin and sterile IMO) I do not use a lot soft synths as in general they all sound sterile and lack musicality) I am debating the sound of Reason which is still not great and I think it could be improved further in the audio and mix engine section.

        Thank you

        • Marco Raaphorst February 4, 2016 at 2:20 pm #

          Marketing? I am just writing down my own opinion about software. And that might change in a blink of an eye.

          I didn’t want to say Reason is the best DAW but the best SOUNDING DAW imo. Its time stretching is better than anything that is available on the market. The rest is a matter of plugins/RE’s. Although the build-in SSL is better than anything the competition has on offer too. Out of the box Reason is fantastic for recording and mixing.

          Metering can be better although I don’t really need peak on every channel. You can’t overdrive the internal outputs, these are floating point, but you can only overdrive the output (which sends out a signal to the DA convertor of your soundcard and THAT will only cause the distortion not the digital processing). There’s a peak meter on output for that. Try it for yourself: you can not overdrive an individual channel. So in theory a peak meter can give you the wrong information. If you’re thinking clip means: my signal is overdriven, it is not. Try it for yourself in Reason. You can’t overdrive channels or overdrive by summing. All DAW can do that by the way. If not, it’s junk.

          It is a myth that summing on some DAWs sounds better. There was a bug in Pro Tools years ago which created that confusion. If summing of channels sounds totally different in like Logic then Logic is broken. Summing in Reason, Live or whatever DAW sounds exactly the same. Try it yourself. Do some phase invention test, stuff like that. Summing is a simpel calculation in floating point. Summing. 1+ 1. If not, again, that software is junk.

          Using the old MIDI values from 0-127 is not okay indeed. There’s a lot of that kind of stuff in Reason I don’t like and which should be streamlined in future updates imo. Parameter automation can be done better. Same for Ableton imo. It’s never precise enough for my needs.

          Nothing is perfect. And no DAW has all the features in the world. Therefore I am using both Live and Reason. But soundwise I prefer Reason. Because of its time stretch and those super great sounding filters of Primal Audio. Put one of these filters on your thin sounding synth and it will sound warm and fat.

          • Samuel Claiborne March 29, 2017 at 1:33 pm #

            If you’ve never tried Samplitude, you’re missing out. Although I shy away from unsupportable statements like yours about Reason being ‘the best sounding’, IMHO, and I’m not alone out there, Samp is far and a way the best sounding DAW. It’s summing algorithms and internal math are simply better, and their built-in effects (many quote accurately modeled on analog effects) are incredible – but it’s the basic sound that’s amazing. Take some tracks, put ’em in Reason, Live, proTools, and Sampltude. And just mix them and play them back. You’ll be amazed.

            • Marco Raaphorst March 29, 2017 at 2:49 pm #

              Best sounding is a little tricky way to label a DAW because digital processing is very precise, perfect. Summing for example is a myth. You can simply find this out yourself by phase inverting some channels. Try it and you will find out that summing is 100% the same in any DAW.

              I am not aware of the Samplitude effects. Reason has a mixer which is super faithfully modelled after the world famous and extremely popular SSL 9000k analog mixing desk. So any channel in Reason can have that SSL EQ, gate, compressor + that famous “the glue” master buss compressor.

              • Samuel Claiborne March 29, 2017 at 3:26 pm #

                This is the conventional wisdom, that files sound the same in every DAW. I personally do not agree with this. We’ve double-blinded here at the studio, and we feel that certain shortcuts in internal maths cause issues. To be fair: it was a while ago when we did this (32 bit version of windows, not sure which version), and maybe they’ve caught up – but Samplutide was, as far as I know, the FIRST to roll out full 16, then 32 bit internal maths for the entire signal path, and they’ve continued to lead the way in this respect. Lots of symphony orchestras etc. use it for that reason.

                The idea that the files all sound the same is akin to the idea that a CD will sound the same on any CD player – regardless of what D/A’s are in it, the quality of RF shielding, wiring, vibration isolation – but it’s not true. Even very ‘minor’ things, like small BLER fluctuations can have an audible effect on CD playback.

                Perhaps the DAW algorithms are all standardized, but there are many, many shortcuts that DAW coders take that can have a cumulative negative impact on sound. I believe it’s a myth that all DAWs sound the same, and I’d love to see a large-scale double-blind test that included less well-known DAWs like Samplitude.

                As for SSL: I am 57 years old. I’ve worked on SSL mixers. They were popular for their incredible automation and ‘total recall’, however, when compared to APIs, Ameks, and Neves, MCIs, Harrisons, Tridents etc., they blew (well, they were easier to maintain than most – I’m talking sound). It was well-known in the 80’s that SSLs were kicking ass because of their incredible ease of use, the huge power and flexibility of their channel strips, and digital recall. All those coms etc. on each strip, it was like being a kid in a candy store for tweakaholic engineers (and most of us are, or were, tweak-a-holics). But in my circles (NYC, 80’s, 90’s) they were never revered by many of the engineers and producers I knew for their sound.A few loved them for their ‘gloss’, I always found them cold and grainy… but to each his own!

              • Marco Raaphorst March 29, 2017 at 3:55 pm #

                Reason uses 32-bit floating point arithmetic for all internal audio operations, with 64-bit summing in the mix bus in the Main Mixer Master Section.

                I am not talking CDs. That’s a mechanical device. But any DAW should sound 100% the same when not applying DAW specific effects. Just do a phase inversion test and you know everything there’s to it. Super simple.

                Sure, if the SSL eq, compressor doesn’t fit your needs, you need to choose a different type of EQ and compression. There are so many plugins available, there’s enough to choose from.

                In Ableton Live I don’t have that SSL mixer available, but Live has a superb build-in EQ and Glue Compressor. It really doesn’t matter what I use, both programs are capable of the best sound I ever got. I do all documentaries in Live (prefer it’s audio editor over Reason’s one) and do most of my music in Reason. Sometimes I sync both programs using ReWire.

                All DAW systems these days are great. The differences is in the workflow mostly. And stuff like time stretching is a bit different sounding among all DAWs because these are using totally different algorithms.

          • pedestrian November 2, 2017 at 8:31 pm #

            dont worry, they are just butthurt they didn’t buy reason…

  2. Moritz February 4, 2016 at 5:09 pm #

    I would also add that in Reason I notice that the low end get cancelled out quite easily, this does not happen in Logic or Live for example.

    • Marco Raaphorst February 4, 2016 at 5:48 pm #

      “low end get cancelled out”. Please explain.

    • Moritz February 5, 2016 at 11:50 am #

      I disagree about the fact that summing in Reason Live or Logic sound the same.

      To my ears the same track with same sounds played in Logic does not sound the same in Reason for example (no eqs and no dynamic processor on both)

      To my ears, when i open a drumloop in Logic and compare it to how the same drumloop sounds in Reason I noticed an immediate difference

      I do not know what is the cause of this difference to be honest- something that a software developer would probably know more than me.

      • Marco Raaphorst February 5, 2016 at 12:29 pm #

        Better is relative. When I introduce more high transients to a signal most people like that. So in general even aliasing will give many people the impression the sound is more bright and therefore “better”.

        All sorts of things might be the case here when using loops. Different time stretch algorithms. Sample rate conversion etc. But what sounds better to your ears might sound worse to my ears. Mayby what you’re hearing is a low bit convertion + aliasing. Or simply a volume difference. But for summing: both programs are 100% the same.

  3. jp February 4, 2016 at 5:19 pm #

    Like Marco, I have been using these 2 (and Logic for a while as well) since they came out. I switched from Reason so I could use Stylus RMX. and through the years, I have come to like Live’s flow more, especially with Max added. I understand the Prop’s stance on vst’s, but it always seemed a real hindrance, as I use Stylus a lot(outside of it’s ugly GUI, I love th eway it sounds and what can be done with it as a “sub sequencer”:. So, my opinion here is not so much about the fidelity, as the flow and opportunity to use 3rd party software.

    When I go to a “real” studio, 9/10 it’s ProTools, which feels like I am in 1992.

    • Marco Raaphorst February 4, 2016 at 5:51 pm #

      I am always wondering if I should buy the Stylus RMX. Need to investigate it. I have already many tools and want to make new sounds myself. But maybe the RMX will give me ideas. Groove based, auto playback, easy variations, that kind of stuff.

    • Moritz February 5, 2016 at 3:24 pm #

      I respect your opinion

      Maybe I explained wrong- I am not importing drum loops from sample library, i am importing loops i made with modular synths and or reaktor- so these are my pure sounds.

      When I open them Reason they do not sound like they sound good as in Logic – there is no effect, no compression or any sort of dynamic processor- time stretch is disabled and tempo at matches my loop

      Even samples of my hardware synths sound different and to my ears quite worse in Reason.

      It is a like for like comparison

      • Marco Raaphorst February 5, 2016 at 3:35 pm #

        Something in your workflow does not seem to be correct. If the audio is not stretched it should sound exactly the same in Logic and Reason. If you are using Reason in ReWire mode with Logic there’s one big bummer though: time stretch will be in low quality mode because Reason in ReWire mode has to guess the tempo. But when you compare both DAWs stand alone they are the same. Set the levels in both the same and make exports of the loop. Phase reverse one of the exports and leave the other loop in phase as it was. Both loops will produce zero sound, perfect phase. You can try this in Logic or Reason. Doesn’t matter which exports, the orignal file or the rendered version. Or phase reverse it in Logic and Reason, import that an phase reverse it again. You get perfect cancelation: meaning, both files are 100% the same. Try that.

        • Moritz February 7, 2016 at 10:47 am #

          I am not using rewire

          I am opening Reason first and importing audio with no timestretch and no effects

          I close Reason I open Logic and the same track with same tempo no TS no effects sound better

          I can hear imore clarity depth and definition in Logic

          This applies to whole track produced in Reason or simple loops recorded in Reason ( synths riffs, loops from drum machine rtc)

          I have also a quite good DAC (Metric Halo) which is quite revealing and flat soundjng driving 2 old genelec 1030s. The diffefence is immediately spot
          on

          This is a real shame because I love Reason and my production are 90% built in Reason but I am afraid I will have to learn logic for the best audio quality and more accurate metering on the mixer
          I do not like rewire so no option

          Maybe I will do the stems and import in Logic at the beginning

          • Marco Raaphorst February 7, 2016 at 2:45 pm #

            Sound levels are 100% the same on both programs? If levels differ the louder one gives you the impression to be better sounding. If both programs sound different I would write an error report for both Logic and Reason to find out what is causing this. I don’t have this issue, but when I have I error report straight away. Both programs MUST sound the same. Try Audacity also. Should sound 100% the same too.

            • Moritz February 7, 2016 at 8:42 pm #

              Both sound levels are 100% the same

              I will try Audacity too

              I tried in Live and Reason sounds better than Live, it sounds more open in Reason, again I am using no effect and no warping in Live too.

              There is definitely a difference in sound between the 3 programs.

              I think it cannot be easily spotted on a prosumer sound card but be can be definitely heard with an high end DAC and good pair of speakers

              • Marco Raaphorst February 7, 2016 at 9:36 pm #

                Please download this Live 9.6 project I have just made:
                http://www.melodiefabriek.nl/downloads/Reason-Live-cancelation-Project.zip

                It contains 2 files, one captured live in real-time from Live and one captured live in real-time from Reason. Both files are identical and will phase cancel as you can hear if you run that Live Project.

                • Moritz February 8, 2016 at 1:09 pm #

                  Great thanks for the file-

                  I opened Live 9.6 and your test confirm that both files are phase cancelling each other out.

                  I will do the same test with Logic.

                • Moritz February 8, 2016 at 11:19 pm #

                  I think the fact that all DAWs sound the same is a myth.

                  Even Robert Henke stated in one of his public discussion that not all DAWs sound the same.

                  I also read somewhere from the developers of Samplitude pro stated exactly the same thing, that not all DAW sound the same and sound good.

                  This article on SOS is very interesting I invite you to read it (in particular not all DAW sound the same)

                  http://www.soundonsound.com/sos/apr11/articles/it-0411.htm

                  • Marco Raaphorst February 8, 2016 at 11:42 pm #

                    I’ve read the SOS article but it’s just an opinion. Many people using Live are using timestretch on all tracks and even use beats-algo on everything. Many professional productions are done using the beats-algo.

                    Read this https://www.image-line.com/support/FLHelp/html/app_audio.htm

                    Or read this http://music.tutsplus.com/articles/fl-studio-vs-ableton-live-battle-of-the-audio-engines–cms-23560

                    If you are hearing differences you should contact support because a DAW should sound like any other DAW.

                    • Moritz February 9, 2016 at 1:54 pm #

                      Very good articles, thanks for sharing Marco

                      I think I had read the FL studio ones, some time ago when I was using FL for a project ( btw I love FL for steps sequencing approach).

                      The music.tutplus.com states very good points.

                      And the real good point is that most probably all DAWs sound the same, as you said, before starting to process and mix the sounds and it is at this stage that each software will probably show its strength, weakness, quality of the effects/eqs/compressor and so on.

                      My sound card allows to do summing inside its mixer with 80 bit resolution (so a bit higher than any DAW out there); most metric halo users said that they found benefit from mixing inside the MH mixer using its own effects; to be honest I have not noticed a dramatic difference between summing in the Reason SSL vs the Metric Halo summing mixer and plug-ins; the only things that makes really a difference is Character which I love and use all the times, this really make difference to my recording and bounce.

                      http://mhsecure.com/metric_halo/products/software/character.html

  4. jp February 4, 2016 at 7:11 pm #

    I found great uses for it by loading in non riddimic sources..saxophone solos FE. Also, the synthesis part is pretty deep..so for sound design it works great..the ability to assign different things to steps as well..makes it a motion sequencer. also, easily convert to different time sigs.

    Of course a lot of these features are now in Live, especially with Max. And it is expensive..worked well when it came out because there was nothing like it, but due to no recent updates (unlike Omni) it might not be all that great of an investment.

  5. john February 8, 2016 at 11:30 pm #

    You two are bringing up some great points, thanks. This is the kind of discussion that’s needed.

  6. Evan April 19, 2017 at 12:33 am #

    Reason also gives you so many more ways to approach your project. Whether it’s seamless time stretch in the mixer, converting to rex files a stretching (but occasionally getting interesting rhythmic effects if you change the tempo too much), or using traditional samples in the nn-xt.

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