First debuting in 2012, Bitwig Studio has slowly been gaining a cult following on the DAW market, primarily taking aim at electronic musicians as an Ableton Live alternative - in fact, the software was in part designed by ex-Ableton software engineers. Booting up Bitwig Studio, it’s immediately apparent there’s a lot of similarities in the two platforms: there is a browser, clip launcher view (called mix view) and arrangement view with each track’s instruments/effects running along the bottom.
Being a synth nerd, straight off the bat I navigated to the Poly Synth instrument and dropped it in my project to see what I was dealing with. Turns out it’s a very clear and easy to use synth. The wave shaping knobs can result in some wild sounds and the resonant filters are suitably dangerous. As a synth that comes standard, it’s an excellent and useful inclusion. Throwing on some effects, I found the reverb super usable and very easy to tweak, the chorus nice and thick and the delays exceptional - getting a convincing warbly detuned tape style delay took no time at all. Controls across the board are all very intuitive - creating classic, sought after sounds is absolutely possible with the included instruments and effects.
Something unique to Bitwig Studio, once you have a loop recorded there is an entire extra view dedicated to editing that loop. You can chop it up, pitch a segment, pan a segment, reverse a segment, change the tempo of a segment - things can get pretty wild. Bitwig Studio makes all this fit easily, being completely contained in the existing audio loop. If that’s not enough, Bitwig Studio also supports ‘layered editing,’ a mode in which you can edit multiple loops at once, with waveforms stacked and aligned, enabling you to really fine tune how each clip interacts in a mix.
BITWIG + HARDWARE
I was initially confused setting up Bitwig with my Roland TR-8 drum machine as there’s no tab in preferences for MIDI sync. After some searching I found you need to manually add a ‘generic MIDI clock transmitter’ in the controllers tab. Seems to me that could have just been a box to tick somewhere, but once I found it I had no trouble getting some beats going. Sending midi notes out to one of my hardware synths via USB MIDI proved straight forward, selecting Hardware Instrument from the Routers section of the browser.
SO HOW DOES IT STACK UP?
Newcomers to the software market have their work cut out for them. However, Bitwig Studio is a truly powerful and tempting alternative. Excellent sounds and a very flexible interface (that keeps music making fun) are huge assets, and with a strong online community, scripts are frequently popping up that enable Ableton Live controllers to be used in a similar manner in Bitwig Studio. I would certainly advise anyone looking for an inspiring DAW to download the free, unrestricted (except no save/export) demo and give it a go.
Hits and Misses
Excellent inbuilt sounds
Loop edit screen
Stable midi sync
Didn't crash once
Slightly fiddly MIDI set-up