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Don't Fear The REAPER Audio Editing Software

written by: •edited by: Rhonda Callow•updated: 9/22/2010

Over the last year or so, there's been a quiet revolution in the world of digital audio and home recording. It has been brought about with the development of a new generation Digital Audio Workstation - REAPER.How good is it? Read on ...

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    The REAPER Paradigm

    Most software companies work to a cycle of yearly upgrades each of which costs the user about 30% or 40% of the $500 to $800 they paid for the program in the first place. Every such upgrade fixes some old bugs, introduces a lot of new ones, and adds a few new features, all without addressing flaws in the product's core functionality which might be eight or ten years old. Then they throw in a few VSTs and perhaps a VSTi or two, to go with the dozens that you already have and never use.

    Not so with REAPER. Bug fixes and updates come every couple of weeks. The developers are phenomenally responsive. Come up with a good feature request or report a bug and the chances are you can see it implemented within a few weeks.

    What's more, it's lean and it's efficient. The install file is only just over 3 megabytes. No, that's not a misprint! You can download for free a fully functional uncrippled version for a 30 day evaluation period. You can even install it on a flash drive and take it from computer to computer! Its miserly use of CPU sets a benchmark that other developers struggle to keep up with. If you decide you like it, a non-commercial license costs only $50. No dongle, no PACE protection, just what you see is what you get.

    For that you get core functionality that most other DAW users can only dream of. I'll mention just two examples here.

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    Custom User Defined Actions

    You can assign shortcut keys (via the PC keyboard or a Control Surface) to almost every Reaper command or function. You can also chain together command sequences into macros. Easily, and without needing a degree in computer programming. Now that’s a simple thing. It’s also quite extraordinarily powerful. For example, with the press of two keys I can automatically assign markers at the start of every clip in any selected track, or fade out every track to the current mouse cursor position. Now that’s easy, and that's powerful. It's also only the beginning. The productivity and workflow implications are just awesome.

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    The real magic lies in the routing. Quite simply, you can route anything to anything else, and you can split any and every track into up to 64 channels. Let me give you just two instances where I find this so useful. There are countless others.

    Genuine Sidechaining

    I can send all of my instruments to a submix (with just a few mouse clicks, by the way) and then insert a compressor to lower the instrument submix volume automatically whenever the vocal cuts in, getting the threshold to respond to changes in volume on the vocal track to. OK, other DAWs can do that. But REAPER can do much more. It can use sidechaining to control other compressor parameters such as ratio, and attack and release times as well. And not only compression. You can apply sidechaining to any parameters on any VST plug-in. You can get the EQ settings on one track, for example, to respond to changes in volume on another track. Or the wet/dry mix of delay on a track to automatically change as the track's own volume fade. Or anything you want really.

    Parallel FX processing.

    You can process track FX in parallel, in series, or in any permutation of these that you like. Here's a simple example. I want to add three FX to a guitar track – say Distortion, EQ and Reverb, but in parallel, not serial. With most DAWs you would either need to make two copies of the track or use three busses. With REAPER I can do that quickly and easily, all in a single track. I can change my mind and experiment without ending up with a workspace that takes up two screens just to show all the tracks. If I want to try out the Reverb and EQ in series rather than in parallel, it takes about 15 seconds to change it. Then another 15 to change it back. Suddenly. I'm limited not by my digital workstation behaving like it was a 1950s tape deck, but only by my own imagination and creativity.

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    I could go on, but …. maybe you should try it for yourself. You can download REAPER from

    And here at Bright Hub, you'll find a series of articles that will ease you in to trying out some of its awesome capabilities like audio panning, making sounds fuller, or how to fill out a thin audio mix.