Bitwig Studio 1.3.5 digital audio workstation tested

Loop Samples

Bitwig can draw on unlimited resources when working with loop samples – only LMMS in Linux also provides collections of samples and presets, but it has far fewer options. The same is also true for working with music recorded on audio tracks and installed manually. You can, for example, distort the timing of individual sound events in a recording using an intuitive method to compensate for timing errors by musicians or to coordinate takes from sessions played at different speeds.

In principle, this works in Ardour or Qtractor, too, but is rather cumbersome in comparison. However, many classically oriented music producers are likely to prefer Ardour or Tracktion. In Studio, it is only possible to extend individual tracks vertically in two stages, which makes precise cutting more difficult. Those familiar with dealing with regions directly in the track in Ardour or Tracktion are likely to find the switch to Studio's separate editor difficult.

The specific Audio Editing template in the File | New from Template menu doesn't change much about the fact that Studio isn't really built for processing classical audio recordings. Even simple functions such as normalizing or reversing are not to be found. On the other hand, all tools work in real time – even the rather excellent stretch tool, which allows users to stretch and compress music without any audible loss of quality or change in pitch.

The grid, on which cuts and pushed regions engage, is guided only by the zoom factor, which takes a bit of getting used to. Manually installed recordings often require precisely cutting of the individual sample, and achieving this precision in Studio is only possible if the view is massively enlarged. By default, the accuracy limit is a sixteenth of a note.


On the other hand, it is possible to zoom really easily and quickly in Studio by moving the cursor up and down while pressing the mouse wheel. It is also possible to cut quickly if the grid accuracy doesn't constantly have to be manually adjusted. The latch behavior can be adjusted in detail in the lower right corner of the Arranger. However, if you want to use a value other than the sixteenth note default setting, the automatic reaction of the adaptive grid to the zoom setting is lost.

Studio adjusts all the samples supplied by Bitwig to the tempo of the current song with downright spooky assurance. This also worked in the test with many loop samples that I recorded and cut myself. Whether the combination of loops of different speeds actually correspond to the artist's intention remains to be seen, but Studio certainly makes everything sound good and fitting. Thanks to this automation and other functions (see the "Extremely Manipulable" box), you can easily change the tempo of a piece at any time. Recordings loaded manually automatically adjust their speed, which causes no discernible change in pitch or loss in quality, even with big changes.

Extremely Manipulable

One of the advantages of music production software is that it makes it possible to program effects in the playback. Program manufacturers developed such manipulations – called automation – especially for mixers: It is possible to change the volume and stereo panning of individual tracks at certain points in the piece, as required. Modern DAWs expand these options to at least include parameters of integrated effects and instruments.

Bitwig goes further into this area than most of its competitors. On one hand, you can automate an instrument's parameters in a MIDI track using the program and manipulate individual notes within the track (Figure 6). On the other hand, you can use various curve-like events in the music piece as automation for a parameter, as well as the classic methods in which a curve determines the course of a parameter in the piece. Thus, you can, for example, transmit the volume progression of a bass drum from a track onto the filter of a synthesizer onto another track.

Functions that Bitwig calls macros make it possible to create curves for several parameters at the same time. Many of the presets provided contain refined applications of macro technology. Studio provides some MIDI plugins for manipulating notes according to predetermined patterns. As well as the common arpeggiator functions, the diatonic transposer is appealing; it not only trims the incoming notes on major and minor keys, but also the more demanding ecclesiastical keys.

Figure 6: It is possible to draw parameter curves (e.g., the pitch here) for each individual note on MIDI tracks, even on different tracks at the same time in layer mode.

Rock Steady

Bitwig 1.3 doesn't need any longer to start than Ardour on the same computer and responds just as quickly – not a bad result for software that uses Java for its interface. Like any audio software, the program needs to overcome the challenge of reacting with a delay of less than 10 milliseconds and of processing data and plugins that come from obscure sources. It therefore seems difficult to ensure smooth operation under these circumstances: Plugins and audio files can contain errors; export functions from third-party programs don't produce standards-compliant files. Yet, in the test, I found it difficult to provoke a failure in the program.

Bitwig Studio isn't usually put off its stride by faulty plugins – the problems only affect the plugin's operation. However, Bitwig also had difficulties with the Carla VSTX plugin (which is very useful). Even simple actions caused the plugin to freeze and produced audible problems in the respective channel. Everything works as it should again once you remove the plugin. Only a WAV file intentionally corrupted in a malicious way completely freezes the play cursor and silences the sound output.

The button with the Bitwig logo at the top left of the window sets the audio engine going again after a crash in the same project at the same place. The consistent separation of the audio engine from the GUI and the operative part of the program proved to be useful here.

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