Bitwig Studio 4.4: What is it?
Bitwig Spectral Suite launched in October to some controversy. Bitwig sells its DAW on an ‘upgrade plan’ model: rather than purchase a specific version, users buy an annual plan that entitles them to the latest iteration plus 12 months of updates. This latest suite, however, was initially introduced as the DAW’s first paid add-on. This caused some understandable consternation: it’s a bit rich to sell someone a plan supposedly including a full year of updates, then try to charge them for new first-party features.
Fortunately Bitwig rapidly reversed course following user outcry, and within a week reintroduced Spectral Suite as a free update, now rebranded Bitwig Studio 4.4. It’s a shame this rollout has overshadowed the update itself, as the four devices are very impressive.
These are all based around the principle of spectral processing – breaking incoming audio down into hundreds of frequency bands in order to process elements individually. It’s not new or particularly uncommon technology, providing the basis for plugins from Sonible, Focusrite, iZotope and Ableton’s Spectral Effects. Bitwig’s applications each offer a unique take though, designed to work as part of the DAW’s unique approach to effects and modulation.
Bitwig Studio 4.4: Performance and verdict
Each device is an audio effect container, splitting incoming audio and then hosting devices or plugins to process separate elements. Frequency Split is the most straightforward, dividing the output into four colour-coded frequency bands. However, the distribution and spread of these is far more flexible than simply high/mid/low multiband splitting, with the ability to split the frequency range up-to 1,024 times and adjust the distribution through Split Direction, Spin, Nudge and Crossfade controls.
Transient Split divides incoming audio into Transient and Tonal elements, with a variety of tools to control the timing and distribution. It makes a wonderful tool for processing drums and loops, for applications such as applying distortion to the body of a drum groove without destroying the transients, or delay to just the percussive tones in a loop.
Loud Split divides audio into Loud, Quiet and Mid bands. This is handy for mixing and mastering applications, such as boosting quiet elements of a recording or taming just the loudest parts, but it also has a lot of fun creative uses, such as applying overt reverb or delay to just the noisiest moments of a track.
Finally, Harmonic Split is possibly the most interesting. This tracks the audio’s fundamental frequency, then breaks the output into two groups or harmonic divisions – eg, fundamental and harmonics, or odd and even harmonics – plus a third non-harmonic band. This allows for some brilliantly unusual melodic effects. An included bundle of presets from Bitwig shows off this, and the other devices, very well.
All of these tools are best when paired with Bitwig’s flexible modulators – and the nesting effects system – to create wild, ever-changing creative effects. If we can overlook the initial misstep on their launch, these are powerful, fun tools that (now they’re included) make Bitwig Studio even more appealing.
MusicRadar verdict: Bitwig’s take on spectral processing is typically creative and works very well with the DAW’s overall ethos
Bitwig Studio 4.1: What is it?
Bitwig 4.0 brought with it a raft of new features including comping, event Operators, and improved import and export options. The latest 4.1 update is free for all eligible owners and comes with a number of new key features.
It’s worth mentioning how Bitwig’s ownership works. If you’ve bought Bitwig in the last 12 months, you’re entitled to any updates within that period, including this version. If you’re no longer covered by that period and want to get 4.1, the best way is to purchase the Upgrade Plan. This will give you 12 months further coverage, including any additional point updates or even full version updates that fall within the period.
The plan is not a rolling subscription, so if your coverage has run out you can simply wait until a new point update or version drops before you buy. What’s more with regular discount deals, you can often time this to your advantage. The only thing we would say is that coverage gives you access to the beta process, and the beta of 4.1 was made available a number of weeks ahead of the official release version.
Bitwig Studio 4.1: Performance and verdict
First up, Note FX. There are eight new ones (making 21 in total), and on the face of it there would appear to be nothing particularly novel about these effects. However, dive in and you’ll find creativity and ease of use in abundance.
Note FX sit ahead of your instruments and typically work for the duration of the MIDI notes, so a sustained MIDI note is a great way to explore how they work. You can have multiple chained Note FX and their order can influence the outcome. They can also be connected to Bitwig Modulators. Let’s explore the new ones.
Humanize applies changes to timing, chance and velocity. It’s suited to beats and we particularly like the option that allows notes to be played early. Quantize meanwhile uses the selectable time base setting to hold notes until the next beat. The Amount and Forgiveness parameters influence how regimented this is, and by combining these parameters we found it quite easy to generate completely new rhythms.
Note Repeats supersizes the note retrigger concept with user-defined timebase and rate settings coupled with some randomness. You then have two pattern options to define accents within the repeats. Randomize, meanwhile, influences six parameters – pitch, velocity, timbre, pressure, pan and gain.
As their names imply, Dribble and Ricochet both owe something to the natural world. Dribble is a timebase and velocity sensitive repeat. However, it also has a Damping amount, and this helps create an effect like a naturally bouncing ball as it gradually loses height and speeds up. Ricochet meanwhile is a repeat that’s modelled on a ball bouncing off room walls. You can adjust the number of walls, overall panning width as well as the ball’s behaviour (Radius, Speed and Damping). Strum applies a time-based spread to the notes in a chord with up or down direction. Bend applies a pitch envelope to the note attack.
To showcase the extended Note FX, the Factory Extended Package has a new bundle (Note In Bloom) with 40 library clips. What’s more, in addition to the new processors, the naming of existing Note FX has been simplified and a few (Note Length, Note Filter, Arpeggiator and Multi-note) have been updated. Version 4.1 has also extended the colour palettes. You now have five onboard colour palettes, and you can also create custom palettes by importing any jpeg or png file, although we found this last option required a colour rich photo to yield a useful palette. Further 4.1 additions include direct MIDI output from any track chooser and improvements to the Sampler device.
This Bitwig update is all about the Note FX, and this could have been a letdown. But these processors are excellent, providing new creative opportunities and a way to transform very simple MIDI to create complex, unpredictable, and individual sounds. We know these features won’t appeal to everyone, but you can’t deny that Bitwig are committed to adding extra features, and continue to plot their own creative course, all of which is a good thing.
MusicRadar verdict: For the creatively inclined, this update adds great new features and continues to forge Bitwig’s innovative pathway.
Bitwig Studio 4: What is it?
It’s seven years since Bitwig Studio first appeared, bringing with it a fresh approach to audio and clip arrangement that made many of the established DAWs feel sluggish and, quite frankly, a bit old-fashioned by comparison.
In the intervening years, a program of regular updates and full version upgrades have enhanced its features, expanded the bundled content and generally finessed its offering. Nevertheless, the underlying concept, which combines linear clip arrangement and performance style clip-launching has remained the same.
Where Bitwig Studio differs from many of its competitors is by providing its two key concepts (Launcher and Arrange Timeline) side by side in the same tracks. This is not only easy to understand but also aids with drag-and-drop functionality, better integrating the creative, performance and arrangement aspects of
In fact, drag-and-drop is featured throughout Bitwig, as is a deeply integrated modulation system with 36 Modulators. This is further developed via The Grid and its ‘any signal connected anywhere’ methodology. Here either synthesis (Poly Grid) or effects (FX Grid) are patched together from the 175 available modules.
Of course, no DAW is complete without a selection of instruments and audio effects (Bitwig has 90 in total). You’re also furnished with a decent Library of sounds, patterns and presets. Further features include integrated timestretching (Scale) powered by zPlane’s excellent Elastique. There’s also support for MIDI polyphonic expression (MPE).
Bitwig Studio 4: Performance and verdict
Bitwig Studio 4 brings with it some key updates, enhancing both traditional DAW features and also pushing the creative boundaries. The headline addition is Comping.
In typical Bitwig fashion this feature is part of a clip, and is achieved by cycle recording in either the Launcher or Arranger. The resultant Takes are edited in the Detail Editor Panel at the bottom and automatic colour coding keeps things clear. Take regions can be selected, trimmed and renamed, and different takes easily swapped in and out of a region.
There’s also individual region gain and the option to slide the position of each or all Takes. What’s more, any overdubs on the clip are simply added to the available Takes – very handy. Using Bitwig’s Layered Editing Mode you can also apply the same comp edits collectively across multiple clips.
All these features give excellent flexibility for those recording audio, but Bitwig Studio 4 also provides an excellent comping option for working with existing audio. Fold to Takes launches comping by splitting an existing audio file at a user-defined length into a number of user-defined multiple Takes. We found this was great for reworking or finessing loops.
Next up, Operators. These add a new and very powerful dimension to how and when MIDI or audio events are triggered. The four options – Chance, Repeat, Occurrence and Recurrence – are pretty self-explanatory once you get started. Accessed via a panel in the Inspector you can activate them individually and have up to all four running concurrently if desired.
The first two options (Chance and Repeat) control whether an event plays and how many times. Occurrence includes nine ‘conditions’ and influences how an event is played with respect to other events or within a repeated loop.
Occurrence also includes a Fill Mode condition (on or off) that ties in with the global Fill button. This allows you to create a bunch of events that only play when this button is engaged, and also define a bunch of events that don’t play.
In essence, the way a fill often works in a track. And yes, you guessed it, Fill Mode can be mapped to a MIDI controller or indeed automated via its own lane. Excellent stuff.
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Finally, Recurrence allows you to specify when an event plays as part of a looped clip. You can choose between 2 and 8 cycles of the loop and then specify on the graphic which cycles the event will play on. Overall, Operators provide a new perspective on humanising, randomising, programming and manipulating sounds.
Existing Bitwig users will be familiar with the Expressions option, which allows you to specify real-time changes within audio and MIDI events. Perhaps inspired by the Operators feature, you can now apply a randomising Spread range to these parameters, and you will see a real-time visual representation of this.
Further v4 changes include improved export formats; you now have five options (WAV, FLAC, OPUS, OGG and MP3) with selectable bit rates. And on the import side, you can now import data from FL Studio (FLP) and Ableton Live (ALS) sessions.
In addition to support for OSX, Windows and Linux, Bitwig 4 runs natively on Apple Silicon machines. There is also proper language localisation for Chinese, Japanese and German, including all the labelling, in-app documentation and interactive help.
Bitwig Studio 4 offers some great new features and shows how a fresh approach to an existing concept such as comping can bring better functionality. In a future update, we’d love to see the Bitwig team apply this ethos to pitch correction. Nevertheless, Bitwig’s forte remains its creative features and v4 pushes these into ever more weird and wonderful directions.
MusicRadar verdict: Bitwig Studio 4 is not an earth-shattering update, but the new features are excellently implemented and it’s a highly creative DAW.
Bitwig Studio 4: The web says
"It’s come a long way since version 1 in 2014 and I think more is to come. The support for Bitwig Studio is excellent and the staff listen to feature requests from their customers. You will not be disappointed and if I could give more than 5 stars, I would."
Part time producer
Bitwig Studio 4: Hands-on demos
Bitwig Studio 4: Specifications
- High-performance audio software, with full multicore and multiprocessor support
- ASIO, Core Audio, and JACK support including JACK transport on all platforms
- 32-bit floating-point audio processing, up to 192 kHz audio sample rate
- Scalable vector-based GUI
- VST plug-ins (with 32-/64-bit bridging, delay compensation, and crash protection)
- VST plug-in multi-out and side-chain support
- Audio comping (new feature for version 4)
- Contact: Bitwig