Reason Studios: MacBook Pro M1, iPad Pro Wireless Display & Launchpad X

Freak am I lovin’ this mobile setup I’ve created for Reason (Reason Studios). It’s based around an Apple MacBook Pro M1, Apple iPad Pro 11”, Apple 11” Magic Keyboard and Novation Launchpad X.

I use my iPad Pro as a wireless second display using macOS’s Sidecar feature. I use the iPad Pro’s Magic Keyboard to prop the iPad up as it floats the iPad above the Launchpad X. This makes it as if the two were designed together. Thankfully Novation made the Launchpad X thin enough to do this. 

I came up with this set up; I wanted to see if anyone else had done something similar. I didn’t find anything, especially nothing as elegant as this setup. And it’s modular; I can use the MacBook Pro M1 with the Launchpad X with no iPad Pro or with the iPad Pro but no Launchpad X. And I can space them out; MacBook Pro M1 on my lap while in bed with Launchpad X on the bed next to me with the iPad Pro sitting on a bedside table.

Portability of MacBook Pro M1, iPad Pro and Launchpad X

The fact that everything is portable and lightweight is amazing. All three are able to lie on one another. Because of the silicon material of the iPad Pro’s Magic Keyboard (which covers both sides of the iPad Pro) and the rubber padding of the Launchpad X, all three devices can be stacked in any order without fear of scratching each other. I’m able to carry all three with one hand.

The Launchpad X is the perfect size to my 11” iPad Pro; making them almost identical to the MacBook Pro M1.

I use a USB-C to USB-C cable that has a right angle connector on one end. This allows me to place the iPad Pro and Launchpad X flush up against the left side of the MacBook Pro. I chose the left side because the headphone jack of the MacBook Pro M1 is on the right side. My Sony MDR7506 headphones use a large headphone connector so it works perfectly having the right side free.

MacBook Pro M1 performance

The performance of the M1 chip inside the MacBook Pro is amazing. Simply amazing. The performance it has with Reason is so good. But what’s even better is the fact that, at the time of writing this, Reason 11 Suite isn’t even written for Apple silicon (ARM). Reason is running in translation under Rosetta 2. This means when Reason Studios finally updates Reason to run natively (as a “universal app”), the performance will be even greater. 

Part of the reason I’m getting such good performance is because 99% of everything I use in Reason are stock or rack extension devices. Only 1% are VST’s and those are simply utilities (such as Youlean Loudness Meter), never instruments or effects. Running true Reason devices and not VST’s gives me some of the best performance I can expect out of Reason.

So most of the headroom of the M1 chip is not utilized. What am I getting with all that unused performance headroom? Battery life…

MacBook Pro M1 and iPad Pro battery life

Equally as impressive is the battery life of the MacBook Pro M1 running Reason (version 11 Suite through Rosetta 2). With Reason open, I also always have Safari (averaging 1 to 7 tabs), Mail, Photos, Notes, Messages and Finder open in the background. Typically within my Reason songs I’ll have a fairly streamlined, non-wasteful rack. 2 to 3 Kongs, 1-7 Combinators mixed between instruments and effects, 3-7 direct instruments and about 13 direct effects. Almost never any VST’s. I’m not activating EQ, dynamics or other channel strip functions unless they’re required (mostly not until I reach the mastering stage). Although every song of mine uses an above average amount of dynamics through CV LFO’s (which is surprisingly CPU intensive).

Over the course of a few months, I estimate my MacBook Pro M1 running Reason, wireless display and powering the Launchpad X at full brightness can run continuously for 9 hours . Using my iPad Pro as a wireless monitor via macOS Sidecar, I estimate I can get up to 6 hours of battery life. 

To put this in perspective, Apple claims (and I’ve confirmed) the MacBook Pro M1 can get 17 hours of web browsing through Safari (and 20 hours streaming from the Apple TV app). Apple claims (and I’ve confirmed) the iPad Pro can get 10 hours of web browsing. 

The battery life averages I’ve experienced are while using my iPad Pro as a wireless display and while powering (over USB) the Launchpad X. And, since I’m outside a large majority of the time with this setup, the MacBook Pro M1’s brightness is at 100% as well as the brightness of the Launchpad X (which, again, is running off the battery power of the MacBook Pro M1). So these battery numbers running Reason, powering the Launchpad X and doing a wireless display to the iPad Pro is phenomenal.

Although most of the credit goes to Apple, a large part of it also goes to Reason Studios / Propellerhead. Reason is an incredibly optimized program in my experience when using mostly Reason Studio devices.  There’ll be times I’m using Reason and macOS is reporting “No Apps Using Significant Energy”.

Longer battery life encourages new experiences

Having extra battery power not only makes you feel comfortable going out, but it encourages you to stay out longer than you expected. It encourages you to get into the groove. It encourages you to get lost in the moment. And man… when it comes to creating music? Gettin’ lost in the moment is what it’s all about.

But it also encourages spontaneous opportunities. In creating this article, I wanted to take some photos of this set up at the beach. It had just turned five o’clock which meant the sun was going to be low in the sky, perfect for photos but I had to leave immediately. The problem was that I hadn’t charged my MacBook Pro M1 in over a day. No problem since I know I can go hours even on a 50% charge. That enabled this spontaneous moment to work on a song while gettin’ some good photos for this article. Ya see how massive battery life can enable situations and events that wouldn’t be possible otherwise?

iPad Pro as a wireless second display

So how’s the iPad Pro 11” (2018 model) work out as a wireless second display? Great. There’s no lag most times. It feels like I’m getting 30 frames per second. Using my iPad Pro as a second wireless display for Reason, 1 out of 20 times there’ll be a little stutter in cursor movements and it only lasts for maybe 5 minutes. The performance is so fantastic I forget which monitor is the actual MacBook Pro and which is the iPad.

This situation is so good a lot of times when I’m inside my house I’ll use it even though I have a studio setup with a large, 34” ultrawide monitor and 29” ultrawide vertical monitor (dedicated solely to the Reason rack).

I’m nearly as productive with this set up as I am with my desktop studio set up. It seems like a small thing, but having a second monitor like this enables a lot of productivity. Being able to move from couch to kitchen counter tops to dining room table helps balance personal responsibilities.

Of course, the wireless Sidecar connection needs a wifi connection. When I’m away from home, I connect my MacBook Pro M1 and iPad Pro to my iPhone’s hotspot or my Lexus’s cellular wifi connection. The wireless display works just as well when I’m at home.

Using Launchpad X with Reason

The Launchpad X serves as both an isomorphic keypad and as a standard full 48 keypad and Kong 16 pad controller. I created a custom MIDI set up for the Launchpad X and that’s how I’m able to get a standard 48 key layout as well as the 16 pad layout for Kong. So in this set up, I don’t have to choose if I want the playing style of an isomorphic keypad or the playing style of a traditional 49 keyboard (although 48 keypads instead of 49). In the 48 keypad set up, I even have modulation wheel (but sadly, due to MIDI protocols, I can’t create a pitch bend wheel).

The Launchpad X has replaced my Ableton Push 1. It’s a long story that’s outside of the scope of this article.

My playing style, which you can hear in my songs, is to play chords with my left hand in around the C1-C2 range and to play individual (or sometimes chords) with my right hand in the C3-C6 range. In the 48 keypad set up, I’m able to play the same way; my left hand is on the bottom of the pads while my right hand is on the middle and top pads. My right hand primarily plays single notes as I’m able to move between octaves (which go down a row instead of being left and right like on a standard piano). My left hand can play chords at the same time my right hand is playing notes, but moving between octaves isn’t easy. For playing chords between octaves (up and down rows), I typically need both hands. In those situations, I’ll simply record the chords part in Reason as one take and then record on a new note lane the higher notes (free to choose single notes or chords as well).

Keep in mind I’m only using the Launchpad X for three functions: an isomorphic keypad, a traditional keypad and a 16 drum pad layout for Kong. Reason doesn’t support clip launching so I’m not doing any standard “Launchpad clip launching” things you’d expect. In fact, the Launchpad X is one of the only Launchpad devices that can even function as an isomorphic keypad. 

A few things about the Launchpad X:

  • It’s velocity sensitive
  • You can easily adjust velocity sensitivity directly on the device 
  • You can turn velocity off completely
  • Supports aftertouch
  • You can easily adjust aftertouch sensitivity directly on the device
  • You can adjust the LED brightness directly on the device
  • Superior pad performance compared to Ableton Push 1 and 2
  • One of the brightest LEDs pad on the market (still not perfect in direct sunlight)
  • Same metal-like feel as Ableton Push
  • Less than 1/3 the weight of the Ableton Push 1 (Push 1: 6.6 lbs, Launchpad X: 1.8 lbs)

Space saving size

The physical size set up of this MacBook Pro M1, iPad Pro and Launchpad X setup is really accommodating. Most of this is thanks to the space-saving features of the Launchpad X. The iPad Pro 11” and Launchpad X take up less width than the MacBook Pro M1 13”. I use a folding table and folding chair when on my porch or when going places that don’t have a table and chair.

The set up of the MacBook Pro M1, iPad Pro and Launchpad X is so space saving it can be used in unconventional places, such as inside a car. (Meant if you’re going to be in a situation where you need to go somewhere and wait for someone for a while.)

Normally I’d just suggest taking the MacBook Pro M1 by itself, but you never know when you may need to play an instrument so taking the Launchpad X isn’t too hard. And there’s the catch; if you’re going to find space for the Launchpad X to sit, that same space you can fit the iPad Pro (with Magic Keyboard). So while just using a MacBook Pro M1 in the car by itself is easier to handle, having a full 48 key (4 octave range) keypad is far more useful and using the keypad with the iPad as a wireless display isn’t as unpractical as it sounds.

It’s doubtful this set up would work in a moving car or on an airplane of course. In those situations, it may be possible to use a MacBook Pro M1 and a Launchpad X one-at-a-time. For instance, using the MacBook Pro M1 on your lap while the Launchpad X is placed by your side towards the ground and swap devices out when it’s time to record something. 

Best mobile Reason set up I’ve seen in 20 years

I’ve been using Reason (desktop and mobile) since version 1.0 (when I was young). I’ve met a lot of people who used Reason (and other DAW’s). I’ve had some pretty good mobile set ups. First was using my laptop with my Kong padKontrol to go out to places like Steak and Shake (which is how I ended up creating my song 5 AM Awake, listen to it below).

Yet in all these 20 years of Reason’s history, I’ve never seen such an elegant, simplistic yet powerful mobile set up as what I’ve come up with here. I felt an obligation to share my set up ‘cuz I think a lotta’ people out there are gonna’ love what I’ve come up with.

Later. – MJ