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Review: Propellerhead Balance & Reason Essentials

Powerful Recording, Small Footprint

About.com Rating 4 Star Rating

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Propellerhead Balance

Propellerhead Balance

Courtesy Propellerhead
When starting a home recording studio, you'll probably be shopping for an audio interface. Audio interfaces come in a large variety of shapes, sizes, and track counts -- from single-channel interfaces to multi-channel, MADI-compatible powerhouse. For those looking for something simple, reliable, and good-sounding, Propellerhead sets the bar high with their newest product, Balance.

What is Balance? Balance is, quite simply, a two-in, two-out audio interface, paired expertly with Propellerhead's Reason Essentials package -- add a computer, headphones or monitor speakers, and a microphone or two, and you've got a full-featured recording studio. Let's take a look at what's behind the Balance package.

An Introduction to Balance

For those who know of the brand name Propellerhead, most instantly think of their flagship product, Reason -- a powerful software package used on countless recordings for mixing, mastering, and sequencing.

Reason has a legion of followers who won't use anything else -- and it's no surprise that Reason's smaller brother, Reason Essentials -- included with Balance -- is equally as powerful as the interface it's bundled with.

Reason Essentials comes with various guitar models, drum machines, loop samplers, effects, and much more. Reason Essentials also includes a built-in virtual guitar and bass amp modeler, courtesy of Line 6's POD series. Using Essentials, you'll be able to mix, master, and track just about anything.

Balance In Use

Balance is a simple interface with high-powered features. In this simple desktop interface, you'll find two high-quality microphone preamps alongside two high-impedance guitar and bass inputs. You'll also find two stereo line-in ports with 1/4" jacks, as well as a stereo pair of 1/4" outputs. There's also a standard USB connection on the back, as well as a high-quality headphone amp with a jack on the front. Build quality of Balance is awesome for the price -- rubberized plastic with high-quality knobs makes the Balance interface feel professional-quality.

One of the most interesting features of Balance is the anti-piracy feature IgnitionKey. Your software licenses for Reason Essentials is stored within your interface -- eliminating the need for an extra iLok -- allowing you to bring Balance with you to work on other computers, software and all.

How does Balance sound? When used with high-quality microphones, Balance's preamp sounds excellent -- silky smooth, musical, and able to deal with extended frequency response and high SPL with ease. Misusing the preamp stage is protected by Propellerhead's Clip Safe procedure -- allowing you to record your audio to two channels, one pre-set to a lower gain setting; if one channel clips, you can instantly substitute the other, non-clipped channel.

Balance also has a very nicely done meter, which doubles as an instrument tuner on the TRS inputs; this allows you to tune instruments before recording direct, saving time overdubbing failed takes later on due to tuning issues.

Overall, Balance -- combined with Reason Essentials -- works beautifully. Even on my modest-spec'ed Macbook Pro, I had very little issue using Balance full speed ahead; at no time did I experience a slow-down due to overworked system resources. Such a powerful package in such a small footprint, along with the included software, offers new recording engineers an extremely powerful product. And, with a retail price around $450 for the total package, an easy way to start not just recording, but actually creating, on a budget.

Balance with Reason Essentials is available now for around $450.

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