The melodic synths are augmented by a range of drum-specific instruments: E-Clap, E-Hat, E-Kick, E-Snare and E-Tom. These are simple synth devices, but they show how Bitwig could offer a clever twist on traditional approaches to production. Like Live’s Drum Racks, the Drum Machine Container allows Instrument devices to sit alongside samples. Let’s say you load up the standard TR-909 kit from the 19 presets in the Browser, but you decide you don’t like the 909 clap in your track. Instead, you can drag the E-Clap device onto the clap slot and create your own sound. In fact, it doesn’t just have to be a built-in drum synth; you can drop any device or plugin onto any slot in order to build up your own drum sample and synthesis palette. It’s a neat approach which integrates the drum synths nicely with the workflow – a very flexible approach to drum programming.
The range of audio and MIDI effects in Bitwig is also quite limited. This isn’t entirely surprising – rival DAWs have had decades in which to build up libraries of effects, whereas Bitwig’s playing catch-up – but we’d have liked to see at least a couple of truly unique effects which contributed to Bitwig’s personality as a piece of software. Instead, you’ll find a fairly workaday collection of EQs, compressors, modulation effects and the like. The reliance on a functional orange and grey graphical theme throughout all of Bitwig’s devices also seems misguided in places. In most cases it works perfectly well, but in the case of devices such as the Reverb and Filter effects a little more visual feedback or clearer graphical representation of parameters would be a major improvement. Nobody wants a flashy GUI just for the sake of it, but they make sense when they genuinely make the software easier to use.
the range of built-in instruments and effects very quickly starts to feel limited in comparison to other DAWs
Like the instruments, the effects get a little more interesting when you look to the Containers. The multi-band and mid/side options are impressive, allowing effects to be routed much more easily than in most DAWs. Nevertheless, the range of built-in instruments and effects very quickly starts to feel limited in comparison to other DAWs, meaning users will have to turn to third-party plugins to expand the options. If you already own third-party plugins that might not be a problem, but for new producers looking to get started with Bitwig it’s potentially an important factor. (It’s worth noting that third-party plugins are sandboxed in Bitwig, meaning that if they crash the rest of the DAW isn’t affected – an excellent feature which we hope to see in all DAWs before too long.)
Unique selling points
So what of Bitwig’s promised unique selling points, the so-called Ableton killers? Well, first off, Live 9.1 already beat Bitwig to the punch with dual monitor support last year, but frankly that’s not a feature anyone should be getting excited about in 2014. Session view automation also became possible in Live 9, pre-empting some of Bitwig’s equivalent features. Nevertheless, Bitwig has a few unique tricks up its sleeve. The most notable is the way it handles modulation. This is interwoven through almost every aspect of the DAW’s operation, from the use of standardised assignable note expressions in the built-in devices (velocity and pitch plus gain and timbre), through to very simple inter-device modulation mapping. Note and clip editing is undoubtedly one of Bitwig’s strong points, with the Detail Editor for audio and Dynamic Object Inspector (which changes focus based on the context of the selected object) providing a range of user-friendly options, not least the unique histogram editor for each of the note expression parameters.