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Cockos Reaper 3.6 review

Cockos Reaper
Our Rating :
Price when reviewed : £41
inc VAT

It’s not for the uninitiated, but this powerful recording environment exhibits outstanding attention to detail.

Justin Frankel was one of the web’s first programmer-celebrities, unlocking the potential of the MP3 format first with Winamp and later with Shoutcast and Gnutella. Today, he develops the music-production software Reaper.

Reaper’s parentage is significant for two reasons. One is that it’s distributed as shareware. The full commercial licence costs USD $225, but anyone who makes less than $20,000 from music is eligible for the $60 discounted price. It can be installed on as many computers as the license holder uses, and the license is valid for two major version updates – buy now and updates will be free until version 5. Frankel’s influence can also been seen in the prolific frequency of these updates. In the last six months, Cockos released 17 new builds with a total of 548 changes. Amazingly, the application weighs in at around 5MB, so keeping up to date isn’t a chore.

Such prolific development has produced an interface that demonstrates an enormous attention to detail. It takes a lot of work to make software appear to anticipate users’ every intention, and Reaper does just that. There’s also tremendous scope for customisation, from the ability to save and recall window layouts to the massively open-ended Floating Toolbar.

The attention to detail is more than skin deep. There’s a 64-bit version of the software, and demands on system resources are remarkably low. Unlike some recording software we’ve tested, the timing of audio and MIDI recordings is faultless. There are comprehensive facilities for recording multiple takes, chopping them up and compiling a best-of performance. Signal routing couldn’t be more flexible, with the ability to send audio and MIDI streams from any track to any other. As such, there’s no distinction between audio, MIDI, instrument, effects or folder tracks – each one just handles whatever you pipe through it.

The flipside is that less technically minded musicians might be overwhelmed by the open-ended design. The flexible routing options leave users to configure the mixer from first principles, which allows for some interesting experimental techniques but won’t point newcomers towards standard ways of doing things. We’re also slightly put off by the long lists of options in the menus, which make it hard to locate certain features. Extensive use of keyboard shortcuts means that this will become less of an issue with time, though.

Reaper can’t compete with the full versions of Cubase, Sonar and Ableton Live in terms of peripheral features. There’s nothing here to match Cubase’s VariAudio vocal manipulation tool or Live’s Audio Warp facilities. However, for conventional recording, editing and mixing, it’s more than a match. The bundled effects aren’t quite up to professional standards, though, and the virtual instruments are extremely basic. Then again, for £41 the effects are excellent, and certainly good enough to be getting on with. VST plug-in support means it’s easy to upgrade these at a later date.

Reaper’s competitive price and outstanding core recording tools present a refreshing change from the pricier, more established competition. Rather than taking what comes pre-packed with Cubase et al, users can choose a powerful, flexible and – in our tests – unflinchingly stable recording application, and use the money saved to pick and choose the plug-ins they need. The lack of ancillary features might also be a blessing for those who want to focus on performing with instruments rather than a mouse.


Price £41
Rating ****

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