Bitwig Studio has been quietly plugging along in development, adding loads of engineering improvements under the hood. Version 1.1 is the largest update yet.

Here’s the summary of the update:

Minus the marketing speak, the exhaustive changelog (here, for Mac):

It’s an impressively long list of enhancements in quantity, though most of the changes are fixes and enhanced hardware and plug-in compatibility. For instance, you can side-chain VSTs, and there are new options for routing multiband effects and multi-channel plug-ins.

The big enhancements:

  • More routing for audio and MIDI
  • VST multi-out sidechain support and multi-channel effect hosts
  • Updated controller API
  • New Audio Receiver, Note Receiver, Note MOD, De-Esser devices

And you can genuinely deactivate devices to save CPU, something Live lacks, as well as take advantage of “true latency compensation.” (Whatever that means – that will require some testing. Bitwig’s explanation of what makes their tech different is that it actually works. That sounds good.) Some other features play catch-up with Ableton Live – tap tempo and crossfader, modulation and timestretching. But it’s a welcome update.

And as we’ve tangled recently with Ableton Live’s spotty controller support and the weird gymnastics required to make controllers work, it’s worth scolding Ableton for not making their hardware integration work better. Bitwig, with a sliver of the development resources and very little incentive for hardware makers to add support, is quickly adding controller support simply because it’s easier to do. This could be a model for Ableton, particularly as its user base and the diversity of hardware for it continue to expand.

If you’re on desktop Linux (yes, I’m sure someone is out there), the choice is easy: Bitwig is a terrific, fun piece of software with lots of rather nice effects and instruments. It’s fast and ready to go out of the box. And there isn’t much else native on Linux that can say that (Renoise springs to mind, but it has a very different workflow).

The problem is, if you’re not on Linux, I still can’t work out a reason I’d recommend Bitwig Studio over other tools. And, of course, the elephant in the room is Ableton Live. I reviewed Bitwig Studio for Keyboard, and found plenty to like. But the problem was, Bitwig Studio has competition, and as I wrote for that magazine, to me it comes a bit too close to Live to be able to differentiate itself:

While Bitwig Studio improves upon Live’s editing functionality, it replicates even some of Live’s shortcomings: There’s no surround audio support, nor any track comping facility…

Compared to Ableton Live Standard, Bitwig Studio’s offerings are fairly comparable. But at that price, Ableton gives you 11GB of sound content, more complete plug-in support, more extensive routing, more controller compatibility, and video support.

Since writing that review, two of these has changed. Controller compatibility is a narrowing advantage for Ableton because of Bitwig’s superb scripting facility and aggressive hardware support. And routing MIDI between tracks has been fixed, which combined with the new modular devices, allows for more flexible routing in Bitwig than in Ableton in certain cases.

The problem is, if you want a change from Live, you likely want software that works differently (Cubase and the like for traditional DAWs, Maschine for drum machine workflows, Renoise for a tracker, and so on). If you want a Live-style workflow, you’re likely to choose Ableton Live.

You can read my whole review for Keyboard and see if you reach a different conclusion, though:

Bitwig Studio reviewed [Keyboard Magazine]

And as I’ve seen a handful of people start to use Bitwig, I’d be curious to hear from you: what was the deal maker that convinced you to switch? What is Bitwig offering you that rivals don’t?

The DAW market remains a competitive one, and it’s clear there’s always room for choice. Bitwig’s development pace at least continues moving forward. But I’ll keep repeating: I’d like to see this tool stray from its rivals.

And for me, the main thing is: once that review was done, I found myself returning to Ableton Live and finishing tracks, and not Bitwig Studio – even if I sometimes cursed Live’s shortcomings. Even if that is simply force of habit, it seems I’ll need more to kick that habit. And, unfortunately, you can’t judge software based on its forthcoming features.

Update: I’ve heard from some fairly vocal Bitwig users (well, I did ask). Some of them I can’t parse into specific feedback or use cases (“it’s just better” wasn’t what I was hoping for). But I have heard three themes, apart from Linux use, wheree, as I said, Bitwig Studio is a no-brainer:

1. Dynamic routing. Because routing is more flexible, and can operate dynamically, some of you are using Bitwig Studio as a kind of modular sound design environment. It seems to me this advantage would become more radical if Bitwig can ship their promised forthcoming open modular environment – then, it’s a whole different game, as that tool is integrated with the DAW rather than being grafted on top as with Max for Live. But I do see a use case here.

2. Workflow/usability with sessions. I found that the ability to open multiple projects at once and to have side-by-side session (clip) and arrangement views made less of an impact in my work than I expected. But to some of you, it’s important. Now, in my case, I otherwise found Bitwig’s UI more rigid than Live’s. They don’t look identical, though, and that becomes a matter of taste.

3. Performance. Live can be sluggish at certain tasks; Bitwig has a new from-scratch engine and operations like opening projects is definitely snappier.

Combine this with Bitwig Studio’s suite of effects and instruments – though it has to stack up against Live gems like Simpler, Operator, and physical modelling instruments, for instance. This wouldn’t convince me to switch, but at least it provides and insight into those who have. Keep the feedback coming.