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Reason vs Ableton: Which Is The Better DAW?

reason vs ableton

Reason vs Ableton.

Welcome to the world of digital audio workstations (DAW).

With so many choices out there, it can be hard to choose the one that’s right for you. Sure, there are several articles out there evaluating software.

The difference here? It’s all facts and no bias. 

In the end, it’s always a matter of opinion. Different options suit different people.

We’re going to keep our personal opinions to ourselves (we love you, Image-Line) and only rely on our professionalism and cold hard facts to evaluate Ableton Live 10 vs Reason 11.

Before we begin our head to head challenge, let’s first take a look at the history of both Ableton and Reason. 

Ableton Live History & Timeline 

  • Based out of Germany, Ableton was founded in 1999.
  • The first version of Ableton Live was released in 2001.
  • In 2004, Ableton Live 4 was released. The biggest update was the introduction of MIDI sequencing and the use of virtual instruments. 
  • Ableton Live 7 introduced the “Suite” option, the popular drum rack, and the ability to sidechain. 
  • Ableton Live 9 introduced 3 versions: Live 9 Standard, Live 9 Suite, and Live 9 intro. 
  • In 2008, Ableton began a certified trainer program. This gives experienced users the ability to share their knowledge and gain a certification from Ableton to train others to use the software.
ableton live 10 suite

Available Versions of Ableton Live

Ableton Live currently offers 3 versions of software:

  • Intro 
  • Standard
  • Suite

Intro is the base version, Standard unlocks more features, and Suite unlocks everything. Here’s a quick look inside the 3 versions and what they have to offer.

IntroStandardSuite
Instruments4515
Effects213455
Sounds Included1,5001,8005,000
Audio/MIDI Tracks16UnlimitedUnlimited
Audio Inputs/Outputs8256256
Audio SlicingNoYesYes
Audio to MIDINoYesYes

If you can’t afford to pay the lump sum up front, Ableton also offers a payment plan for each version that spreads the cost over a 6-month period. 

Reason History & Timeline

  • Based out of Sweden, Reason (originally Propellerhead), was founded in 1994.
  • Reason 1.0 was released in 2000.
  • Reason 6.5, released in 2012, introduced Rack Extensions.
  • In 2016 Propellerhead released Reason 9.1 with Ableton Link support.
  • Reason 11 can be used either as a DAW itself or as a plugin within another DAW.
reason 11 suite

Available Versions of Reason

Reason currently offers Reason 11 Intro, Reason 11 Full, and Reason 11 Suite. You also have upgrade packages. The upgrade packages allow you to upgrade any version of Reason to the latest release, add some extras to your existing version, or bridge the gap between the Intro version to the Suite version.

IntroFullSuite
Instruments111728
Effects112931
Sounds Included3 GB11 GB24 GB
Audio/MIDI Tracks16UnlimitedUnlimited
Audio Inputs/Outputs335773
Audio SlicingYesYesYes
Audio to MIDIYesYesYes

Reason also offers additional effects and instruments that you can buy outright or rent-to-own. 

Price Comparison

Both Ableton and Reason offer free trial versions with limited features. In both cases, the trial gives you access for a limited amount of time.

While the features do vary between the two, Ableton’s Intro version is priced at lower than Reason’s. Of these Intro versions, Ableton offers 25 different instruments and effects whereas Reason offers 22. The downside with the cheaper pricing of Ableton is that you’re unable to import audio samples and slice them. You also can’t render to MIDI with Ableton. 

Ableton may be the cheaper option, but it’s also the most restrictive when it comes to purchasing the base software. 

For the other 2 available versions, Reason becomes the cheaper option. 

However, Ableton offers more instruments and effects and audio input/outputs. Considering that the price difference is relatively small, once you factor in the additional options, you may pay more, but you get more. 

What’s new?

With the latest releases of Ableton and Reason, what’s changed since the respective prior versions? 

Taking a look at things like bug fixes, updates, and additions will give you some insight as to which one is constantly evolving and keeping up with the latest needs of audio producers.

In the long run, which is more likely to sustain?  

Ableton

Ableton Live applied a larger update from version 8 to version 9, offering MIDI editing and the ability to convert audio to MIDI. Of course, this went hand-in-hand with the Push hardware controller.  

Ableton Live 10 does have a few changes, mostly aesthetic, but some bring Ableton up to date with features offered by most other DAWs:

  • Automation points now “snap-to-grid” as well as lock horizontally and vertically. 
  • Create groups within groups or select all groups and create a master bus group.
  • 1 new device. A wavetable synth simply named “Wavetable” which is somewhat comparable to Xfer Records Serum plugin synth.
  • New effects include Echo, Drum Buss, and Pedal that emulate a guitar pedal board.
  • The Capture feature allows you to recall the last thing you played. 
  • Arrangement View improvements include time stretching, one-key zoom, and drag-and-drop track duplication.
ableton audio to midi
Ableton Live 10 Audio to MIDI

Reason

There have been quite a few improvements made from Reason 10 to the latest version, Reason 11: 

  • Propellerhead Reason is now Reason Studios.
  • Use Reason as a standalone DAW or as a plugin within your DAW of choice in VST3, AU, or AAX format. 
  • 6 new devices have been added that include an EQ, master bus compressor, subtle compressor, beat map generator, sweeper modulation, and quartet chorus ensemble.
  • For an improved workflow, the latest features include curved automation, audio clip crossfades, vertical zoom in the sequencer, mute/unmute individual MIDI notes, drawstrings of notes, displayed playing, and edited notes.
  • 1 new instrument, included with the Suite version or available for individual purchase: Scenic Hybrid has been added. It’s loaded with powerful atmospheres and adjustable parameters for sound shaping and customization. 

Evaluation

Now it’s time to open up each DAW and compare some of the features that matter the most. 

  • Ease of Installation
  • Resources & Support
  • 3rd Party Plugin Support
  • Exporting Format

Whether you’re making beats, recording voice, recording instruments, overdubbing, sequencing, composing, mixing and mastering, lets see who’s got what it takes to come out on top.

System Requirements

Keep in mind everyone has a different system. When it comes to installation, looking for compatibility is crucial. It all begins with the system requirements. Let’s see who demands the most of your system in order to operate.

AbletonReason
Windows OSWindows 7 or laterWindows 7 or later
Mac OSOS X 10.11.6 or laterOS X 10.11.6 or later (64-bit)
Processor64-bit Intel Core i5 or AMD multi-core processor.Intel or AMD multi-core processor
RAM4 GB RAM (8+ GB recommended)4 GB RAM (8+ GB recommended)

Both Ableton and Reason state that they’re compatible with the Catalina update on Mac OS.

Installation

Ableton 

From purchase to download to installation, Ableton is straightforward and you can be set up in minutes. 

The biggest issue reported is with upgrading. Download and installation of newer versions brings about “duplicate” problems. Basically, the folders are named the same despite the version change and the new installer requires no previous version be present. The simple solution offered directly from Ableton is to just uninstall the previous version and start fresh. 

Reason 

Purchasing is simple: download and unzip the folder. When installing, there are a lot of reported issues with Reason. One I am familiar with is after installation and attempting to startup. Errors occur that prevent you from activating or utilizing the program. 

Unlike most programs, you don’t get to choose where the program is installed. Reason just does its own thing. It also requires additional downloads for an authorizer and CodeMeter. (Similar to i-Lok, this is how they authorize software.)

In most instances, these errors can be resolved by allowing the program through your firewall or any other security software you may have. 

Here is where Reason shines. Their support. They offer the standard help topics and forums, but you can also send a message to an actual person. The best part is you’ll actually get a response. Should you experience any issues, there’s a real, live person to make sure you get up and running. 

Reason 11 Interface

Learning & Support

So you bought the software. The installation went off without any issues. The amount of excitement you feel is combustible and you could just about burst at the seams. It’s time to fire it up. 

For those with experience, you’ll still need to take a couple of days to figure it out. For those with no experience, you’ll likely stare at the interface and your ear-to-ear grin will turn into more of an open-mouth gaze as you scratch your head.

No matter your skill level, there will arise a function or feature you may not be sure of how to use. So, what’s the manufacturer going to do to ensure you know how to use their software? 

Help With Ableton Live

There’s a help box in the software itself. When you hover over anything within Ableton, you’ll get a description of what it’s inside the box. Yes, this box can be closed. 

Learning

Ableton offers video tutorials on their website that cover everything from setup to importing 3rd party plugins. 

Support

Should you get stuck and need help, Ableton offers a typical FAQ and an automated guide that asks questions and routes you to the topic that should resolve the issue.

If not, you can join their user forum and consult other users for help, or you can use the submission form to send a message to technical support.

Help With Reason

They do offer a “Help” option from the menu inside Reason.

Learning

From the Reason website directly, there isn’t as much as Ableton, but their blog does feature some artist tips and “how-tos” on operating many features.

Support

As with Ableton and most DAWs, they do have a designated forum. This allows you to ask questions and interact with other users who may have overcome your obstacle or know how to help resolve it. 

Should you need an online guide, FAQ, or to open a support ticket, you can do that by logging into the website. All responses will be in the “my tickets” option under “my account.”

3rd Party Plugins

These plugins are great for when you feel that you want more than what the stock plugin instruments and effects have to offer, or you hear about an amazing synth or effect someone else is using.

Who offers the most versatility? 

ReasonAbleton
32-Bit PluginsRequires J-BridgeMay work with J-Bridge
VST FormatYesNo
VST 2 FormatYesYes
VST 3 FormatYesNo
AU FormatYesYes
Reason 11 Rack Plugin

Mobile

When you don’t have your laptop or are away from home, it’s good to know you can still access your project files. And what about those instances when a creative idea just can’t wait? 

Ableton

While there’s no official Ableton Live for mobile, there are a number of compatible “controller” type apps for both Android and iOS. These apps have been given the green light from Ableton. Some offer you the ability to create tracks and import them into Ableton. 

Reason

If you’re an iOS user, you’re in luck. Reason Compact is the mobile version of Reason that allows you to create beats, record vocals, and overdub. For iPad users, you can use the versatile Thor instrument. 

While Reason says they haven’t given up on the idea of an Android app, they first want to ensure it will operate without compromising performance and quality. 

Extras and Freebies

Aside from what comes with any stock version of either DAW that you choose, what other choices do you have when it comes to native plugins, expansions, presets, and DAW templates?

Ableton

Boasting a “FREE” section in their shop, Ableton currently offers a handful of freebies that include a step sequencer, artist exclusive audio sample packs, and artist exclusive project files for Max for Live.

Reason

From rack extensions, such as a chord generator, wavetable synth, a sequencer, and more, you’ll find a decent amount of instrument and effect plugins for additional purchase in the Reason shop. 

Offering everything from instrument and effect plugins, refill packs, audio samples, and artist exclusive products, there isn’t a shortage of audio production tools that will cost you absolutely nothing, and the quantity of items is much higher than Ableton. 

Rendering 

AbletonReason
Export StemsYesYes
Render Loops/SamplesYesYes
Convert to MonoYesYes
WAVYesYes
FLACYesNo
MP3YesYes

Which DAW really is the best? 

It’s time to add up the points and declare a winner. 

Diversity and Capability

Something to consider is that Ableton is a multi-track recording software that works for composition but excels for live performance.

Reason is geared more towards the composition of music, using plugins, loops, and audio samples.

Ableton Live 10 gets a point in this category for its diversity. Not only can you record multiple instruments and voice tracks, you can also compose using plugins, loops, samples, and play live in performance mode. You also can use Reason as a plugin in Ableton Live. 

Native Instruments & Effects

This is the number of instruments and effects offered with each version, plus those you can purchase individually.

  • Who’s got the most?
  • Who’s got the best?

Hands down, this one is going to Reason. Whatever features Reason doesn’t offer standard, it makes up for by offering those features in the form of plugins. Not only are these some of the most aesthetically pleasing, but the crisp and clear sound quality of their instrument emulators and synths before mixing, hits the ball right out of the park. 

Reason also offers the most different types of synth plugins:

  • Shapeshifting 
  • Polysonic 
  • Monotone Bass
  • Subtractive Polyphonic 
  • Graintable 
  • Modular 
  • Spectral 

There really isn’t anything that Reason doesn’t offer when it comes to plugins. Most DAWs offer plugins that sound mediocre at best. Reason has such professional sound quality from their native plugin instruments that it almost makes the need for 3rd party plugins obsolete. 

Ableton does offer basic plugin instruments like a sampler, wavetable synth, and operator, but the design is drab and they are as they are: basic stock plugins. 

Learning and Support

Ableton must pride itself on ensuring complete customer satisfaction. The information that they’ve made available for learning how to use the software is easy to understand, and there’s no shortage on any topic. 

Reason? You’re pretty much on your own or left to trust the results you find on YouTube. 

Ableton gets another point. 

Quick Points

As we evaluate the other things we’ve covered, as well as some additional comparisons, here’s a quick point breakdown. 

AbletonReason
1. Mobile OptionsAdvantage
2. Audio Export OptionsAdvantage
3. 3rd Party Plugin SupportAdvantage
4. InstallationAdvantage
5. PriceAdvantage
6. Beginner EaseAdvantage
7. Sound QualityAdvantage
8. FreebiesAdvantage

There are by far so many features and functions that could be covered here. Since our time is limited, our basic criteria has been set and our evaluation is complete.

For this head to head challenge of Reason vs Ableton, which is the better DAW? Reason 11 or Ableton Live 10?

Sample us a drum roll please…

reason vs ableton: who wins?
Reason vs Ableton. Who wins?

Reason vs Ableton: The Winner Is…

Ableton.

AbletonReason
Total Points65

For being able to handle a recording session, composing, editing, mixing, and live performance, Ableton Live 10 offers a user-friendly interface, plenty of learning support, more compatibility with 3rd party plugins and rendering audio formats, and is able to run Reason as a plugin.

With Ableton Live 10, you can have the best of both worlds all in one DAW.

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