Go go gadget DAW. That’s the feeling of Bitwig Studio 2, which is packed with new devices, a new approach to modulation, and hardware integration.

Just a few of these on their own might not really be news, but Bitwig has a lot of them. Put them together, and you’ve got a whole lot of potential machinery to inspire your next musical idea, in the box, with hardware, or with some combination.

And much as I love playing live and improvising with my hands, it’s also nice to have some clever machinery that gets you out of your usual habits – the harmonies that tend to fall under your fingers, the lame rhythms (okay, that’s me I’m talking now) that you’re able to play on pads.

Bitwig 2 is full of machinery. It’s not the complete modular environment we might still be dreaming of, but it’s a box full of very powerful, simple toys which can be combined into much more complex stuff, especially once you add hardware to it.

A few features have made it into the final Bitwig Studio 2 that weren’t made public when it first was announced a few weeks ago.

That includes some new devices (Dual Pan!), MIDI Song Select (useful for triggering patterns and songs on external hardware like drum machines), and controller API additions.

The controller API is a dream if you’ve come from (cough) a particular rival tool. Now you can code in Python, but with interactive feedback, and performance – already quite nice – has been improved.

I’m just going to paste the whole list of what’s new, because this particular update is best understood as a “whole big bag of new things”:

NEW FEATURES AND UPDATES

A re-conceptualized Modulation System
Numerous device updates, including dynamic displays and spectrum analyzers
Remote controls
Fades and crossfades
VST3 support
Better hardware integration
Smart tool switching
Improved editor workflow
MIDI timecode support
New menu system
Dashboard
Notification system
Adjustable track height in arranger
Controller API improvements
…and much more

25 ALL NEW MODULATORS

4-Stage
ADSR
AHDSR
Audio Sidechain
Beat LFO
Button
Buttons
Classic LFO
Envelope Follower
Expressions
HW CV In
Keytrack
LFO
Macro-4
Macro
Math
MIDI
Mix
Note Sidechain
Random
Select-4
Steps
Vector-4
Vector-8
XY

17 ENTIRELY NEW DEVICES
Audio FX

Spectrum analyzer
Pitch shifter
Treemonster
Phaser
Dual Pan

Hardware Integration Devices

MIDI CC
MIDI Program Change
MIDI Song Select
HW Clock Out
HW CV Instrument
HW CV Out

Note Effects

Multi-Note
Note Echo
Note Harmonizer
Note Latch
Note Length
Note Velocity

At some point, we imagined what we might get from Bitwig – beneath that Ableton-style arrangement and clip view and devices – was a bare-bones circuit-building modular, something with which you could build anything from scratch. And sure enough, Bitwig were clear that every function we saw in the software was created behind the scenes in just such an environment.

But Bitwig haven’t yet opened up those tools to the general public, even as they use them in their own development workflow. But the new set of modulation tools added to version 2 shouldn’t be dismissed – indeed, it could appeal to a wider audience.

Instead of a breadboard and wires and soldering iron, in other words, imagine Bitwig have given us a box of LEGO. These are higher-level, friendlier, simple building blocks that can nonetheless be combined into an array of shapes.

To see what that might look like, we can see what people in the Bitwig community are doing with it. Take producer Polarity, who’s building a free set of presets. That free download already sounds interesting, but maybe just as much is the way inw which he’s going about it. Via Facebook:

The modulation approach I think is best connected to Propellerhead Reason – even though Reason has its own UI paradigm (with virtual patch cords) and very distinct set of devices. But while I wouldn’t directly compare Reason and Bitwig Studio, I think what each can offer is the ability to create deeply customized performance and production environments with simple tools – Reason’s behaving a bit more like hardware, and Bitwig’s being firmly rooted in software.

There’s also a lot of stuff in Bitwig Studio in the way of modernization that’s sorely missing from other DAWs, and notably Ableton Live. These have accumulated in a series of releases – minor on their own, but starting to paint a picture of some of what other tools should have. Just a few I’d like to see elsewhere:

  • Plug-in sandboxing for standard formats that doesn’t bring down the whole DAW.
  • Extensive touch support (relevant to a lot of new Windows hardware)
  • Support for expressive MIDI control and high-resolution, expressive automation, including devices like the ROLI hardware and Linnstrument (MPE).
  • An open controller API – one that anyone can use, and that allows hardware control to be extended easily.
  • The ability to open multiple files at once (yeah, kind of silly we have to even say that – and it’s not just Ableton with this limitation).
  • All that, and you can install Bitwig on Linux, too, as well as take advantage of what are now some pretty great Windows tablets and devices like the Surface line.

    There’s also the sense that Bitwig’s engineering is in order, whereas more ‘legacy’ tools suffer from unpredictable stability or long load times. That stuff is just happiness killing when you’re making music, and it matters.

    So, in that regard, I hope Bitwig Studio 2 gets the attention of some of its rivals.

    But at the same time, Bitwig is taking on a character on its own. And that’s important, too, because one tool is never going to work for everyone.

    Find out more:
    https://www.bitwig.com/en/bitwig-studio/bitwig-studio-2

    • wetterberg

      I must admit to feeling smitten by Bitwig… This system seems to have that nicely contained “instrument” vibe that I sometimes miss from Live. Now we just need Max for Bitwig 🙂

      • I’m actually sure with the direction the Bitwig team is currently going for, you won’t even need Max for Bitwig in the future. Also in Ableton it feels a bit weird to load an entirely different working environment into your DAW, as it was clearly added afterwards. Bitwig seems to take the approach of opening up its main tool instead of relying on a third-party integration which promises a much better performance (but probably lacks the big support and community behind an established tool like Max).

        • Yes, exactly. Max for Live is at this point providing two things – a fully modular development environment, and a scripting environment / API tool.

          Bitwig Studio has a native API that you can access directly far more easily than either Ableton’s Python API (unsupported, and tricky to compile against) and the API provided in M4L.

          In fact, I think you can fundamentally say that Bitwig has an API as a core feature in a way that Ableton does not.

          I mean, if you’re a big Max/MSP fan, then this is another matter. But as far as providing internal support for developing instruments, effects, and controllers, then what Bitwig is promising is something that’s more native. And as far as controllers, they’ve done that already.

          That said, I think you could do some libpd / Bitwig integration if you wanted … and you could use the Bitwig scripting interface to integrate stuff built in Max/MSP/Jitter, too.

          This is not to slight Max for Live — for one thing, Bitwig’s full modular environment still hasn’t arrived yet — but there is a difference in approach.

          • kevin

            Not having use Max4Live personally, I’m curious if is using Reaktor as a VST isn’t another suitable alternative? Or are there some significant limitations to using it as a VST compared to the tighter integrations Max4Live may have that I’m unaware of?

            • Yes, Max4Live does indeed have tighter integrations while something running as a VST will always be rather more limited (unless I’m mistaken somehow):

              “Besides building new instruments and effects to be used in Live, Max For Live also allows to access Live itself, its tracks, clips, devices and hardware control surfaces.” https://docs.cycling74.com/max5/refpages/m4l-ref/m4l_live_api_overview.html

              Apparently the Bitwig API is more easily accessible, but I don’t have a strong sense of what it’s like.

      • EvanBogunia

        I felt that same way after working with their controller API. It’s just so much easier to get things done in Bitwig than in Live as far as controller integration goes. Development/debugging is not a huge pain and timesuck. Unfortunately, I rely too much on tools I’ve made with Max to jump ship at this point. But I think this update shows where Bitwig is wanting to go, and I definitely like the direction.

        • chap

          Same. Ten years ago, i might have gone for the Bitwig way (too much stuff done).
          One question though, can it loop audio live ?

    • Very interesting development and a pace of new features that other DAWs can only dream of. Ableton is currently painfully slow at delivering new features, especially ones that don’t have anything to do with the Ableton Push hardware. I guess you can really tell that the Bitwig team has been keeping extensibility and upcoming features in mind when developing Bitwig Studio. If only they didn’t have this one-year “subscription” pricing model (I know it’s a perpetual license but a software without updates feels clearly less powerful than an up-to-date one for me)…

    • Lord

      Downloaded the demo, opened it. Overwhelming amount of info on the screen. Closed it in 30 sec and deleted it from my computer.

      • Rolf Bause

        Well, duh! It’s Ableton on steroids – what did you expect :D?

        • Lord

          Not for me, too gimmicky, not very smart, lots of unnecessary stuff on my way.

          • Rolf Bause

            It’s really not that different from Ableton, if you really look at it. The UI looks more cluttered at the beginning than it really is. imo, someone who knows his way around Ableton, will get along with Bitwig just fine within a day, so I wouldn’t be so quick to judge honestly. The clip inspector on the left is actually really smart… and if you don’t need all of these modulation options – fine, you don’t have to use them ;). but, I wouldn’t be so quick to call it “not very smart” after looking at it for 30s.

          • pacyderm

            Just curious how you came to that conclusion within 30 seconds lol.

            It’s not possible to come to any realistic conclusion about any daw (not to mention ANY software) within 30 seconds. You need at least a good day of use.

            • Lord

              30 seconds is a metaphor. I opened a demo song and was immediatelly scared by the amount of stuff, it didn’t feel like an intuitive modern piece of software. It’s like they added stuff with no limits. Shame, because the modular stuff is nice, but it’s like too much candy and animations for what it actually gives you. Developer skill show off to me. Someone on the internet descibed it perfectly: “it’s like an answer to a question that doesn’t exists”.

            • lokey

              that really reflects more on you than on the software.

            • Apoclypse

              I have to disagree. I’ve been playing around with it today and the interface is heads and tails better than Ableton in some respects imo. It’s not perfect, there instances where it gets way to complicated (plugin/preset browser for one), but they really revamped the GUI in version 2 and made it easier and more intuitive overall. Menus are now task sensitive, so no menu diving to find things, they also keep the menu items short and to the point. The File Menu is all the way to the left where it’s supposed to be. Buttons are big and easy to read for people like me with bad eyesight the UI feels very readable and accessible overall.

              Ableton always feels a bit foreign to old school DAW users like me (Logic, Cubase, etc) and Bitwig kind of marries the two workflows into something more cohesive, not to mention the arrange view doesn’t suck ass and the ability to assign shortest to things (like zoom which annoys me to no end in Ableton).

              At the same time they took things from Ableton that I don’t like. I have a trackpad why the hell can;t use pinch to zoom in and out, Logic, Studio One, etc do this. I having to go to a specific area in the UI just to zoom in and out, one of my most major gripes with Ableton. It literally gives me a headache just thinking about.

              There are some issues that prevent me from buying it though. Namely the pricing scheme they have going. I’m not going to pay a yearly sub on a piece of software, when Studio One, Logic, and Ableton gives me what I need for free. I know why they are doing as they probably need the revenue but in this crowded market making your DAW more expensive is kind of the opposite of what you need to be doing, especially when you lack the features to justify the increase in price and yearly subscription fee.

              Too bad the software is good and if it were $199 I would get it in a heartbeat. After this version I like it better than Ableton but not enough to let them overcharge for unfinished software.

      • polygooner

        A classic internet comment: I looked at it for 30 sec and now I have an opinion which I must broadcast to the world. lol

        • Lord

          A classic internet idiot.

    • R__W

      The UI is too complicated.

      Bitwig engine uses 17-25% of my laptop CPU even when it’s not doing anything. It turns the fan on within 1 minute of it being started. This was the same experience the last time I tried it out.

      Otherwise, maybe it’s cool? IDK, I probably won’t bother given the first two issues.

      • Rolf Bause

        Performance is fine imo – on par with Ableton.

        • Karl

          Fanboy spotted.

          • shaboogen

            Hater spotted.

            Different people have different experiences.

    • LeBlanc

      When using Maschine as a VST inside Ableton you’re limited to only 1 midi out to an Ableton midi track. This is a limitation from Ableton. Is it possible to use more (16) midi tracks with when you use Maschine within Bitwig?

    • James

      Ha! I think he was calling you the Bitwig fan, Rolf. Between you and me, I think your opinion is good for the counterpoint here, and I’m sure more Bitwig users can reinforce what you are sharing. Being comparable in CPU to ableton is not a selling point though; as you point out-it needs to uphold its edge on resource allocation, sandboxing, etc. Ableton has been hanging too much ornamentation on its original engine, and that’ll be a major reason why folks would jump ship.

      And the “first impression” response above is also valid: if folks don’t “get it” either because of clutter or its lack of familiarity, they are certainly in a position to dismiss the interface. Granted, renoise and, say, adobe audition can look elaborate too, but I know why I would reach for those applications and why it’s worth grasping what I see.

      That’s been my issue thus far: there’s no clear pathway for a deeply-rooted ableton person to get what Bitwig is doing. I like what wetterberg is saying below–that it feels more like an instrument–but it’s been my experience that Bitwig feels more like a production environment and far less playable in real time. I always give it the benefit of the doubt when these conversations flare up. And then I shelve the whole idea under “I don’t get it” or “I’m just not ready” or “It’s just not ready.”

      • Rolf Bause

        No, that’s right – CPU alone is no selling point… I was just referring to R__Ws original comment on the 17-25% CPU in idle – and that I definitely cannot confirm…
        But in terms of workflow – and this is where it gets important for me – Bitwig definitely eliminated some of the conceptual limitations, I always saw in Ableton and still don’t understand why they still haven’t changed it (things they could easily fix: like clips with multiple audio events for ex). Ableton still has some of the best devices out there, but if you have no Problem with using FabFilter and the Glue Compressor for ex. – you can live with that quite easily, because again: Bitwig has implemented the sidechaining the way it really should be implemented: logical and easy, to the point that VSTs feel as native as internal devices.
        So, if someone asked me what is the better DAW: I would definitely say: under the hood it’s Bitwig. – But it is also clear that the overall UI just is not Ableton and you have to invest a little bit of time to adjust, obviously – and you will find little details you just liked more in Ableton. But that’s the way it’s always gonna be, in the end it’s just a matter of taste.

        • R__W

          i just fired it up again, loaded the demo song, played it once, stopped playing and put the window behind my web browser. My fans are whirring up, I look at Activity Monitor on my MacBook and “bitwig engine” is taking 17% of the CPU.

          I don’t know if Live is worse, I use Reason and Logic, which don’t take up any CPU when they aren’t doing anything. They don’t take up much CPU even when they are doing stuff either, maybe because their code bases are 20 years old when devs were forced to be more efficient? Maybe it’s just that i’m in Bitwig demo mode and it is doing something strange? In any case, I probably won’t open it again.

          I’m not a hater at all, I develop software like this and its a brutal and a thankless business. The idea behind Bitwig seems pretty cool. However there’s enough DAWs. Sadly i think the real draw to a new DAW would be a very low price point, not improved workflow, or controller mappings or even exposing the ‘fully modular’ aspect of the architecture with an API…

          • Rolf Bause

            17% don’t seem really dramatic to me, for a project with idk 10+ tracks. But maybe you are running into some kind of problem/bug with it, it’s still 2.0 after all, you maybe can try out the last 1.3 demo instead (1.3.15), that really ran well imo. But the way I see it: you can either have less CPU usage, that is less responsive and with more lag (what personally drives me crazy way more) or a little more CPU usage with less lag. That the CPU doesn’t necessarily drop, with a project open, I know as quite normal, both in Ableton and Bitwig (I thought you meant upon open). That’s what the engine on/off buttons are for, if you’re really not using it. But that it would use horrendously more CPU, while working on a project, than Logic for ex., I cannot confirm. I would actually say it’s written quite lean and snappy – but maybe we disagree here, idk :D. I have a MB too (i7). And I don’t think that the older codebase really plays in as a real asset here either, because all of these old DAWs have their codebase rewritten countless times, adding multi-core support, 64-bit etc… I wouldn’t necessarily count it as a con either, but it’s also not really a pro in my books.

            • lokey

              yeah, i /wish/ my ableton sets only took up 17%, i normally run around 45% when playing sequences. But it all depends on what you’re doing with the system. If you’re just being bare-bones about it, its not that heavy. But really taking advantage of the framework is computationally expensive ;D

          • James

            Price point has been my issue with Bitwig from day one, further exacerbated by the subscription scheme. It’s why I keep bringing up Renoise, which to me was just as groundbreaking at the time it arrived and very fair priced…

            • R__W

              agreed, Renoise is my favorite new ‘daw’