Windows audio software from the maker of Winamp has its coming-out party — but there’s a cover charge.

Well, we knew that wouldn’t last. REAPER, the promising, lightweight audio software from the creator of Winamp, hit version 1.0 last week. (This week significant bugfixes and optimizations, plus editable keyboard shortcuts, were released in updates; the software now looks quite stable.) During the beta, REAPER was free, but now you’ll have to pay for it.

The basic price, US$39.95, is a bargain for what this software does:

  1. Seamless, tool-less editing with arbitrary grouping of objects, automation envelopes, markers, and everything you’d expect
  2. Unusually flexible routing, which allows any track to arbitrarily be a track and a bus, a sophisticated monitoring and matrix facility, and support for feedback routing
  3. Looped recording
  4. Direct multi-track recording to WAV/W64/BWF, MIDI, WavPack, FLAC, and OGG
  5. MIDI support (not present in early releases), which lets you add MIDI to audio tracks, record MIDI from audio inputs, and other nice tricks
  6. Configurable UI, keyboard shortcuts, and colors
  7. VST and DX plug-in support (effects and instruments) with latency compensation, real-time and offline processing, and even supports for the Jesusonic (the crucifix-style computer shown below
  8. Tasty bundled effects: a sidechain-enabled noisegate and compressor with look-ahead, an “FFT EQ+dynamics processor” (um, okay!), and a convolution reverb

REAPER now features music by Brad Sucks as a demo, giving it extra street cred. The real story here is how quickly the software has evolved, as seen in screen shots. There are some really powerful features in there as far as editing, subtleties that really have no direct equivalent in other software I’m seeing. But there are some caveats, largely having to do with the new commercial pricing:

The bizarre Jesusonic programmable effects processor is now in software form in REAPER, making it less of a … cross to bear.

In an unexpected move, you only pay $40 if you’re a “non-commercial” user. If you’re making money in any way off your music (or intending to), the price jumps to US$199.95. I have two problems with that. First, it’s confusing: having different pricing for the academic market makes some sense, but I’ve always found separate “commercial” licenses to be counter-intuitive. It invites abuse, and the difference in price here could dissuade serious users. Second, $200 puts REAPER in the area of software like Mackie Tracktion, Ableton Live, Cubase LE, Adobe Audition, lighter versions of SONAR, and so on. No, these products don’t have some of the unique features of REAPER. But they also do a lot of things REAPER doesn’t — many of which people need. I think REAPER should just drop the commercial license and sell as many $40 copies as they can — because at that price, even owners of these other programs might spring.

I’m torn here. REAPER is fascinating, and if you qualify for the non-commercial license, it looks like a serious bargain. As it continues to grow, I expect it’ll become an even more serious threat to its competitors, and it’s terrific that it has such a lightweight core. But I don’t like the new pricing system, and I personally can’t find a use for this application. I’d rather just shell out the cash for something like the extremely polished Adobe Audition for my editing work, or for music production use Ableton Live for its more powerful capabilities in terms of improvisation and music creation.

But if you don’t need the features of those other products, and you’re a non-commercial hobbyist on a budget, REAPER does look like the software to beat. Hopefully we’ll have a full review soon.

Previously:
Free Windows Sequencers/Hosts for Music: Straight Out of No Cash 2

Straight Out of No-Cash 1: How to Make Hi-Fi PC Music on a Lo-Fi Budget

  • http://www.milezero.org Thomas

    The fact that it is ugly as sin shouldn't mean anything for my purchasing practices–but it's not helping either.

  • http://www.inverseroom.com inverseroom

    There is certainly one comparable app, in both features and price, and that's energyXT…which is soon to be upgraded to version 2.

    And it looks nice, too!

  • sirsmokealot

    I've been using this program for a while to capture live 1 track recordings from a mixer onto my Toshiba laptop. Definitely the best free program I was able to find, too bad its now going to cost money, but personally i think $40 is pretty good if you just want a good multitrack recording interface that is incredibly lightweight. I was able to run multiple instances of the program easily on my archaic Toshiba.

  • Valis

    The program is definately fast & light. It's not going to get me to replace my main DAW anytime soon, but for quick editing of loops and jotting down ideas I can easily see using it in a way that I once used Acid–before Acid tried to do everything & became too bloated to run alongside a major sequencer app. (Currently I use LIVE for this in my workflow)

    Btw Thomas, I'm not sure if you'll read this again but note that the interface is already fairly customizeable in terms of color palette, which helps IMMENSELY. Since it's only just hit 1.0 I would imagine the 'skinning' abilities will only increase in the future.

  • Jamie

    This review is strange, as if the reviewer hadn't actually ran the app, but just read the website. What are these things other app's can all do and reaper can't?

    I have seen longtime users of PT, Acid, Vegas, Samplitude, Adobe Audition and Nuendo leave those apps to be part of reaper's development. There is even a picture showing a mixing session where the PT system and Trident console at Cherokee Studios was forgone in lieu of reaper. Surely if the app was so sorely lacking he wouldn't have done that right?

  • http://www.createdigitalmusic.com Peter Kirn

    Jamie, since you bring this up, and I'm the writer:

    This isn't a review, it's a preview, but I've tried REAPER, and I'm still not convinced about Reaper's hype.

    Let's take the example of Audition alone: Audition has a more polished interface (in terms of usability/readability, not just aesthetics), CD mastering capabilities, batch processing and automation, and more effects (many of which I use), and it's a more polished waveform editor than REAPER, which is really structured like a DAW. Audition just works well for me for day-to-day sound editing tasks. For my DAW sort of workflows, REAPER may be "lightweight", but I rely on Ableton Live for its extensive instruments and effects, its looping/warping, live performance, performance markers, sound triggering, sampling, and other capabilities, none of which I can imagine working in REAPER.

    The software you say people are dumping to me are pretty different in terms of design and capabilities. So if people are abandoning those, my sense is that those products weren't really right for what they were doing in the first place. That says a lot about REAPER, I'll agree. But what I'm still unclear on — and maybe someone can help on this — is what exactly the appeal of REAPER is, beyond a smaller file size (negligible on modern machines, I'd say), and price (negated for pro/commercial users by the new $200 sticker, though not for hobbyists). The open-ended routing is fairly cool, but not entirely unique, and the other functionality to me is only making REAPER more similar to its competitors. There has to be something else here that I'm missing.

  • Jamie

    Hi Peter, thank you for responding in a kinder way than I did. I apologize.

    "Let’s take the example of Audition alone: Audition has a more polished interface (in terms of usability/readability, not just aesthetics),"

    I don't agree, but you can't argue taste

    " CD mastering capabilities,"

    REAPER user Art Evans has created a number of utilities, one of which is ReaBurn which will take REAPER track markers and stick them in a file to be used by CD burning apps. Perhaps not the optimal solution and maybe REAPER will burn CD's directly one day.

    " batch processing "

    REAPER does some amazing and intuitive batch processing, though not in the way you would expect. "EditApply FX to Selected Items" is an incredible time and CPU saver. Perhaps it should be expanded upon maybe with a command "add selected items to offline batch" ?

    "and automation,"

    Automation in REAPER is pretty good. The plugin bypass is a true CPU bypass, unlike many apps users left for REAPER. Also thoughtful things like both pre AND post FX volume and pan automation, along with the item event handles work out pretty well.

    " and more effects (many of which I use),"

    REAPER's included fx were pretty targeted, based on user input on what they would want by Frankensteining together the good parts of available ones, with some new tricks thrown in.

    " and it’s a more polished waveform editor than REAPER, which is really structured like a DAW."

    I agree 100% here, luckily, items in REAPER can be opened into AA with one right click, or SOundforge, or Wavelab, or whatever.

    " Audition just works well for me for day-to-day sound editing tasks. For my DAW sort of workflows, REAPER may be “lightweight�, but I rely on Ableton Live for its extensive instruments and effects, its looping/warping, live performance, performance markers, sound triggering, sampling, and other capabilities, none of which I can imagine working in REAPER."

    This is where I see some "focus creep" going on. This app was made by engineers, with input from other engineers, for engineers. As you point out, its been a hard road getting those who use apps to CREATE music happy with REAPER. But it slowly comes.

    "The software you say people are dumping to me are pretty different in terms of design and capabilities. So if people are abandoning those, my sense is that those products weren’t really right for what they were doing in the first place. That says a lot about REAPER, I’ll agree. But what I’m still unclear on � and maybe someone can help on this � is what exactly the appeal of REAPER is, beyond a smaller file size (negligible on modern machines, I’d say), and price (negated for pro/commercial users by the new $200 sticker, though not for hobbyists). "

    You pretty much hit the nail on the head, but missed the wood. It is probably best to think of REAPER, as a bunch of users of different apps sitting around discussing. "My app is GREAT, except, I wish it could do what app X does in situation Y". Meanwhile, app X user says "Yes, it is certainly great in this situation, but when Z happens, I sure wish it would run like app A!"

    In REAPER development, the "good" of many apps were discussed and are at all times, added to REAPER, while the "bad" was kept out as much as possible.

    Another LARGE part of the appeal is the responsiveness and downright skill of the developer. A trip thru the REAPER forums will show you more than I ever could here. Usually daily or more, features get added, or modified based on user input, yet the app is still small and nimble!

    I think, as has been summed up elsewhere, if there were a product that could do as comprehensively as REAPER does in so many areas of audio engineering, REAPER never would have been built. As a Vegas user, the move to REAPER was a no brainer. Moving to another app seemed almost impossible as none would match Vegas' editing speed, but with Video becoming more and more dominant in the app, Vegas was no longer home. REAPER came along just at the right time.

  • http://www.1014.org Justin Frankel

    Hi, as the developer of REAPER I am quite biassed, but the big deal to me about REAPER is how quickly I can get things done with it.

    For brevity, I will use as an example live multi-track recording of a band, your friends, or whoever.

    You can fire up REAPER, easily create tracks, set their inputs, and start recording. This may not seem that interesting, as plenty of applications do this (some easier than others).

    What's great (and pretty unique) about REAPER, is while recording, you can create tracks, arm/unarm other tracks, switch inputs, switch a track to MIDI, add softsytnsh, pretty much anything and everything. It's a really efficient environment for recording.

    We've applied this same attention to detail to many other aspects of REAPER. So while on the surface there may be a "few" unique things about REAPER, if you dig down you will find a lot more.

    Cheers,

    Justin

  • Art Evans

    I'm extremely reluctant to get involved in slagging one app in favour of another as it so much depends on exactly what you want to do, and how. You can never say one is better than another without adding the words "for me", or "for what I do".

    However…. I've found that Reaper has replaced Audition's multitrack in my everyday use (which involves recording concerts on location and subsequent postproduction for radio).

    To take an example – in Audition's multitrack, delete some time across all tracks in between concert items. What happens to your cues? They're all in the wrong places now. If you've got automation on the tracks, that's all got to be redone too. You want to crossfade 16 tracks at an edit point? A major operation to do it manually. In Reaper these things take seconds and are built right in, with ripple editing (one track or all) and auto crossfading.

    Recent additions to Reaper's functionality now make it very quick and easy to use as a stereo editor – I'd put it up against Audition's edit view now in that respect. BUT – if I want noise reduction tools and that kind of functionality, yes, I'll still turn to Audition. And just by double-clicking on the clip in Reaper, the file opens in Audition's edit view, much like as if I'd done that in Audition's multitrack view.

    So – for me, Reaper provides huge timesavings compared to doing those same things in Audition. For other's tasks and requirements it may not work so well.

    For CD mastering with Reaper, btw, there's a handy utility called ReaBurn, (written by me…) which can be tracked down on the Reaper site, and which I find easier and faster to use that the Audition built in stuff for that purpose. Depends again exactly what you want.

    Chief thing about Reaper is that there's no obstacle to giving it a try – a few seconds to download and install, and evaluate at your leisure.

  • http://www.createdigitalmusic.com Peter Kirn

    Justin, I have huge respect for your work. I think I came across as being critical when I'm not … my major question was the divide in commercial/non-commercial pricing. But this does help me a lot in understanding where you and Art see this as coming from philosophically. In a world where we have a lot of audio tools, that's hugely helpful, and gives me a better frame to look at it in depth, which I will when I get a chance. (Probably after I dig out of Ableton Live 6!) Art, I'm with you; it's entirely personal which tool works for people — I'm not suggesting REAPER is somehow inferior to some of these other tools, but on the contrary, that which people use may have to do with how they're working. But I absolutely appreciate a product with a unique vision, and it sounds like one that will indeed fit alongside or as a replacement for some of these other tools — and since others had been trying to get a handle on that, this should give them some insight, as well.

    Peter

  • Tijeraspete

    Doesn't even have a Count In Audio Metronome.

    Requires you to use lame Click Track that is so limited and can't Count In. If you tell these people how necessary this is, they don't listen to you and lamely argue with you that you don't need it. Don't bother to argue, they do not understand and will tell you are stupid for thinking this is a necessay feature.

    Can't use "Acidized Loops". Its work around starts to distort these after stretching them over a measure and considerably after 2 measures.

  • Evan

    As good as it may be at this point (judging from word of mouth not personal experience), I think it definitely needs a serious rethinking of the interface. I think it's ugly. Some people think it's ok, others think it shouldn't matter. Even with the color themes, it's ugly. Less ugly sometimes, but ugly.

    That's not the worst part… The worst part is that it actually looks *confusing*. The fonts, the UI elements and controls, the icons, the contrast, the separation of the various panels, the clickable areas versus the non-clickable areas… it's like a visual mine-field.

    I am hoping some serious attention will be put in this aspect of the software so that more people will feel inclined to give it a go.

  • kasper

    I´m using Reaper every day.

    As a comercial user, i think the pricing is VERY good, and like the fact that the Comercial and non-comercial has the same features, so there´s no Light version. I also have a PT Mix+ in the studio, and Nuendo, PT LE, Saw and Sonar.

    For use in the Studio, this program perform very well. I can setup headphone sends faster in any other program. When recording, i can mix and route stuff, so while tracking i´m also setting up the mix. Inserting plugins on the go and setup up sends for rev and delay.

    The folder system is fantastic, you can setup a folder for the drums, and it acts as a groupmaster too, so it´s easy to setup a master comp on it.

    When setting 24 inputs for recording the matrix let´s you do that in a split second. Instead of the old way where you have to click on every track and select an input. I know other DAWs has way to set the inputs, but only in sequentel order.

    As far as look goes, it´s just as fine as ProTools. Nothing spetacular, but fast!!!!!

    I prefer a fast interface, instead of a slow one with glitter all over the place. There´s plenty of different looks for it.

    And this program is STABLE.

    So as a studio DAW this is allready among the best. And the support is THE best in the entire audio buisness.

    This is just my personal opinion.

  • http://www.sony.com/ SONY

    While we are prepared to admit that our audio devs are in a mild state of shock after the release of REAPER ONE we will continue to develop and publish updates of ACID and VEGAS, God knows why.

    What's the use of life anyway? Video?

  • http://www.createdigitalmusic.com Peter Kirn

    Ha! Video is definitely the meaning of life.

  • http://ljkhlk Shawn

    FFT is the Fast Fourier Transform. It's kind of sorta, well, important for waveform processing.

  • http://www.myspace.com/huey_p Steve

    program is great fewer crahsed would be nicee !!:)

  • http://www.goodsounds.co.uk Stuart Fox

    OK, Reaper looks like its well worth a try, especially since I am currently using FX Teleport over 4 PC's to run plugins, but even though I'm a part time music masters student, I would still count as a commercial user even though I probably spend more than I make with my studio right now… This brings the price up to a level which I simply cannot pay for such an immuture application. Its a shame beacause I'd really like to try it :-(

  • Karl Steinberg

    When I saw Reaper getting mature, I thought it's about time to sell Steinberg to someone who is dumb enough…well, suddenly these Yamaha guys came around the corner…:D

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  • http://straywasp.co.uk straywasp

    I have been trying to use a TonePort UX2 with a Vista machine and Reaper is the only software that has worked so far. I'm sure the other stuff will work eventually but I'm glad I could use this to confirm that the TonePort actually works!

  • G DeMuth

    We are amatuers. How do you use the software and what equipment do you need, other than your computer, to record quitar songs that I play and sign with the music? I know nothing about any music recording programs. Thanks for all your help. GD

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  • Stephen Degenkolb

    Hell, I am new to the music production arena and have just bought the acid .80 studio and have discovered that the synth effects on my ctk 5000 won't come through into the studio to record, but some one in the sony forum mentioned that the free,( no longer free) reaper program is capable of doing that. Could you get back to me as I am interested in using my keyboard to its fullest potencial.