Guide to the Best MIDI Controllers for Reason

One of the best things about being a musician in the modern age is the ability to purchase hardware and software from a wide variety of manufacturers for reasonable prices. Every musician, from the amateur to the expert, can record, produce, mix, and master songs from the comfort of home, thanks to technologies that continue to advance. What results from this rising technology is a growing list of software developers of digital audio workstations (or DAWs).

Although Pro Tools has been considered the industry standard for many years, budding developers are making their mark on the music industry with streamlined, accessible, yet deep DAWs that evoke creativity from amateurs and seasoned composers alike.

Reason, developed by Swedish brand Propellerhead, is one of these impressive DAWs. Reason offers users a great amount of control and versatility, emulating racks of synthesizers, samplers, compressors, and signal processors. Like many other DAWs on the market, Reason offers a user-friendly interface that boasts accessibility and a complex system of tools and editing options. This means that you don’t have to be an audio expert to get started in Reason—it allows the novice to jump right in and get started.

That being said, as you continue to learn more about the art of music production, new worlds of editing will be opened up to you with Reason, for it offers very in-depth, professional editing options to help your songs achieve the quality that you would get from major studios. 

Below, please take a look at some of the best MIDI controllers available that work with Reason, as we’ll be discussing many of these keyboards in-depth throughout this article.

Akai MPK249Akai MPK249
arturia-keylab-49Arturia KeyLab 49 MKII
roland-a88Roland A-88
Novation Launchkey 61 MK3
Roland A49

Reason’s Work Flow

Even though Reason shares many similarities with other DAWs on the market (such as Logic Pro, Ableton, Cubase, etc.), there are characteristics within its workflow that separate it and make it unique. Perhaps the most unique feature, and one of the most useful, is Reason’s emulation of hardware racks. If you want a certain synthesizer, signal processor, compressor, or pedal on one of your instrument tracks, you can drag it from your library of rack options and drop it into the rack window.

This gives you a visualization of what the hardware rack looks like, and you can edit from there, adjusting outputs, inputs, cable routing, and overall signal flow. The awesome thing about this is that you are developing two skills simultaneously—digital audio editing and hardware signal flow.

Most DAWs only focus on the former, but by giving users a visualization of a hardware rack, Reason helps users understand signal flow while also improving the digital work flow. Simultaneously developing digital audio editing with analog audio editing is achieved best in Reason.

Below, please take a moment to view some of the best-selling MIDI controller keyboards currently on sale online.

1) M-Audio Hammer 88
2) Arturia KeyStep Pro
3) Arturia KeyLab 49 MkII

Key Features and Functions

Now because of Reason’s ability to simulate hardware racks via digital software, you have the ability to easily edit and manipulate virtual instruments, patches, and samplers to your will. The system is so versatile because you can route signals and effects any way that you want—not just where the software presets determine. To further your editing options, you can choose to turn your hardware racks around to view the backs, rerouting cable configurations in this way. Because of these options, you can tailor your music and sounds to exactly what you want. It’s not unlike building with LEGOs—stack them how you want and build whatever your brain is concocting.

Another feature of Reason that makes it unique are the Player functions—Chords and Scales, Dual Arpeggiator, Pitch Tuner. Other DAWs contain features similar to these, but Reason offers more control and versatility. Chords and Scales, for example, allows you to select which scale or mode you’re in, and when you play one note, the software will construct the appropriate chord for you.

Reason takes this a steps further and allows you to change the range of the chord, open chords, the number of notes, inversions, and color tones. The Dual Arpeggiator offers two polyphonic arpeggiators that will sound at the same time, but you can change the subdivision of the second arpeggiator to add more rhythmic interest.

The Pitch Tuner allows for seamless vocal editing (or any monophonic instrument) by allowing you to simply drag the audio to fit on different notes on a piano roll. All of these editing options are seamless, yet they had depth and precision to your sound editing.

Of course, Reason offers other features that you would expect from any DAW—MIDI editing, various VSTs, sequencing, etc. Reason offers the basics of what any DAW offers, plus audio editing features that are unique and useful.

MIDI Controllers

Before finding a MIDI controller best suited for Reason, you must make decisions about what you’re looking for. It’s important to know that purchasing a MIDI controller is a different process than buying a digital piano. There is a wide variety of MIDI controller options that offer different focuses and abilities. Here are a few questions to get you started:

  1. What is your budget?
  2. How many keys do you need?
  3. Do you need drum pads?
  4. Does it need to be portable?
  5. Do you want many editing features at your fingertips?

Determining a budget first of all is essential (this is good advice for all decisions, by the way)—after doing so, you can determine which features you’d be willing to sacrifice or pay extra for.

Knowing how many keys you want in a controller is also important—25, 46, 61, or 88, generally. The price of controllers goes up as you add more keys, so it’s important to determine what your music requires. Another thing to keep in mind is that Reason’s Chords and Scales feature can generate octave-spanning chords at the press of one key on your controller, so that is something to consider when determining how many keys you would like to have.

Different MIDI controllers offer varying amount of editing options—pads, sliders, knobs, and buttons that adjust different parameters. With Reason’s hands-on, hardware rack simulation, a certain degree of analog control on your controller will go a long way. As your working on a synthesizer, for example, you will be able to adjust your filter and mixer in real time using a controller with a selection of knobs.

Furthermore, Reason allows you to record in your knob-turning in real time via automation, allowing for dynamic sounds that change over time. It’s for these reasons that I would suggest a controller that offers a certain degree of control in these areas.

Most MIDI controllers are pretty portable, as they are not meant to be stage pianos, so it’s not hard to find a controller that you can take on the road. That being said, some controllers are more easily transported than others, so this is something to keep in mind.

Top Five Picks for Reason

Novation Impulse: This MIDI controller offers a little bit of everything—semi-weighted keyboard, drum pads, assignable controls, pitch bend. You won’t be disappointed with this controller, for you can assign it to control whatever parameters in Reason that you choose. Every control feels solid and comfortable, and the Impulse is offered in different keyboard sizes – 25, 49, and 61. Although some slider options are sacrificed on the 25-key model because they wouldn’t fit.

Novation Launchkey: This MIDI controller falls right under the Impulse. Although it’s not quite as powerful as the Impulse, it boasts an impressive price point of $200. It’s difficult to find a controller that contains many features and assignable controls at this price. If the Impulse is a bit out of your price point, the Launchkey may be the perfect option for you.

Akai MPK249: This controller is similar to the Impulse in that it contains a good amount of editing options and assignable controls. The main difference with this one is that the price point is a little bit steep, but if it falls within your budget, it will be a great controller for you.

Nektar Panorama: This controller offers many of the same features as the two above controllers. It can be configured with reason and allows for assignable controls. It boasts a slick black-and-white aesthetic and feels comfortable to play. However, like the Akai MPK249, the price point on this one is a bit steep, so if you have a strict budget, this one might be a bit too pricey.

M-Audio Keystation 49: M-Audio’s MIDI controllers are always easy-to-use and responsive. This one may not contain the same amount of features as the above controllers (which is why it’s not higher on the list), but you can’t go wrong with M-Audio’s knack for producing quality keyboards. If you’re less interested in assignable controls, and more interested in a budget-friendly keyboard, this will work!

Because of Reason’s unique interface and software features, a solid MIDI controller that offers control will be the best option. Being able to navigate and real-time edit Reason’s hardware racks is made easier and more streamlined with a MIDI controller that offers assignable controls.

Before buying a MIDI controller for Reason, however, I would recommend getting familiar with Reason’s interface and audio features (if you haven’t already). It can be difficult to decide what you really need in a MIDI controller before you get to know what kind of software you will be working with. Once you are familiar with Reason’s workflow, you will have a better idea of what you’re looking for.

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