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Cockos Reaper 4.2 review

Kat Orphanides
12 May 2012
Our Rating 
Price when reviewed 
38
inc VAT

Although not as polished as its rivals, Reaper provides a stable and very professional audio workstation environment

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Specifications

Reaper is a surprisingly cheap Digital Audio Workstation (DAW) with a cult following that includes both professional and amateur musicians. It’s available in both 32-bit and 64-bit versions and comes with one of two licences – a $60 (£38) licence for amateur or educational uses and a $225 (£142) professional licence. Only the licences differ – both types of user get the same software.

Reaper 4.2

Basic multitrack recording is as easy as you could hope, with a simple right-click interface to create new audio or instrument tracks. A pull-down menu lets you choose which inputs you wish to record to each track if you're using a multi-input sound card, which is particularly handy if you're doing live studio recordings of multiple instruments. Once you've got the wave file recorded, your options are rather limited in terms of what you can do with it, as Reaper has no integrated PCM audio editor. However, you can associate an external editor such as Audacity, our favourite open source editor, to handle the task.

It wasn't immediately obvious how to set up our MIDI keyboard, but Reaper has an excellent documentation wiki and active community support to help. We initially had to enable our MIDI control surface - an M-Audio Axiom 49 USB MIDI keyboard - in a process that's similar to that in most other DAW software. However, rather than defaulting to a functional MIDI output device configuration automatically, Reaper leaves configuring the details up to the user. While this process is a little complicated, the fact that you can set up any track as either MIDI or PCM is an example of the program’s flexibility.

It's not hard once you get to grips with it: you have to create a new track from the right-click menu and use the track's pull-down input menu to select your MIDI controller. You can then use the I/O configuration window to force Reaper to use Window's General MIDI patch bank, but we wouldn't recommend it - the patches don't sound as good as the Roland Sound Canvas instruments they're based on and tend to sound rather quiet if you use them in Reaper.

A far better option is to use a Virtual Studio Technology (VST) instrument plug-in. You choose from the plug-ins currently loaded into Reaper using the FX button on your track. Reaper only comes with the ReaSynth - a rather basic synthesiser which allows you to generate some standard waveform sounds and adjust them. If you want fancy pads or ambient noises, you're going to have to get them elsewhere. Once we'd gathered some VST plugins we were laughing, as Reaper’s plugin support is excellent, giving its users access to a massive range of instruments.

There's also the rather awesomely named ReaSampleOmatic5000 sampler interface, which allows you to import sounds you've recorded and map them as MIDI instrument patches. This is remarkably simple, making Reaper a stand-out option for those who are just getting into sampling for the first time. However, it's worth noting that configuring the hardware output device to play the sample can be bit fiddly if you have multiple audio outputs set up on your PC.

As well as VST plug-ins, a range of software extensions are also available, including score and guitar tablature editors to supplement Reaper’s default piano roll editor. Both MIDI and analogue effects can also be applied using Reaper’s plug-in interface – a decent selection is provided and you can add third-party JS or VST effects plug-ins.

Once you've completed your masterpiece, you can use the Render function to easily export it as a single file in either a PCM format or in a compressed format such as FLAC or MP3. You’ll need to point Reaper to the location of the relevant encoder on your PC to use these formats, though. Other export options allow you to save your music as collections of tracks.

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