Tuesday, September 21, 2021

DAW REVIEW: Bitwig Studio. V4, 8 track and 16 Track DAWs. Part Two: Major Instrument Devices.


Bitwig Studio is packaged with a number of powerful and innovative instruments and features that really do set it apart from all other popular DAWs and music production platforms, and in this part I'll take a closer look at five of Bitwig's major instrument devices. You'll find a basic introduction to Bitwig over at  part one

Firstly, there are a number of supplied synthesizer, sample, and drum instruments alongside processors and effects. Collectively Bitwig refer to this library of instruments and tools as Devices, and there are currently 150+ supplied with the software. 

But it is also the flexibility when it comes to using and combing these Devices that also sets Bitwig apart and unlock it's power. 

Three major features of Bitwig are key. The Grid, Instrument Containers, and The Unified Modulation System are all powerful and creative tools that facilitate the creation of custom instruments, modular synthesizer setups, and processor/FX stacks and tools. 

So in this part we'll take a detailed look at the major instrument devices and then these three flexible features in part three. Features that are making Bitwig so popular among computer music creatives and producers. 

The first part of my look at Bitwig (Intro) can be found via the link below. 

and I also offer training and consultancy services putting together computer systems built around Bitwig Studio and training courses/facilities. More information below. 

Bitwig Instrument Devices.

So I'll start by taking a closer look at Bitwig's major instrument devices. All the instruments come with a large selection of presets which can be loaded from the lower level of the browser on the right hand side of the screen, so there's lots of standard soundware to try with each instrument to give you an idea of it's sonic character and capabilities. 

Bitwig Sampler

A capable sampler is really a must for any music production software and Bitwig's Sampler instrument covers this base nicely. 

You can use it as a basic sample device for single 'hits', vocal phrase, or effects, or for playing and/or developing multi-samples instruments with complex cross-faded key zone mapping and velocity layers. As a bonus feature, Sampler seems to reliably load .sf2 Soundfont files despite there being no mention of this in Bitwig's user manual. There are lots of freely available .SF2 Soundfonts available to download through various sites and, if nothing else, are a great starting point for learning Sampler. You'll find lots of information and resources on Soundfonts at my dedicated Soundfont pages. 

My Soundfont library:

When dealing with 'simple' single samples, all parameters and the waveform view is contained within the instrument at the bottom of the page, when editing or developing larger multi-sampled instruments the view is expanded as per below. 

Multi-sampled instruments can be edited for key-mapping and velocity layering as a 'grid' or as a 'list' and full cross-fading is available. This really facilitates the development of very dynamic and playable instruments. 

Powerful individual waveform editing is also available with start, end, gain, reversing and looping (including crossfading) available. 

Time stretching is available through the 'Cycles' playback mode where speed does not affect pitch, and a 'Textures' mode offers granular playback mode with grain size and a randomised motion control offers granular synthesis. 

'Traditional' synthesizer parameter editing is also available with filtering and amplitude envelope editing. 

The right hand side contains two icons for nested device chains. These allow additional note processing devices and FX processors to be nested within Sampler. This allows additional devces to be nested within Sampler. This feature is available for all of Bitwig's major instrument device. More on this in Part Three. 

Bitwig Drum Machine.

The second major instrument device supplied with Bitwig is Drum Machine. This is a drum playback device containing up to 128 drum or 'hit' type samples. 

Editing for each sample 'pad' is available via a 'drum chain'. The default editing device includes attack/decay envelope, filtering and velocity sensitivity. Other devices can be added to the chain for applying effects to each pad/sound. Pads and sounds can also be assigned to 'choke groups' to allow triggered notes to cut off other notes in the group. The classic example is the hi-hat where the open hi-hat is silenced when the closed hi hat note is triggered. 

Bitwig Polysynth

Polysynth is a dual oscillator virtual analog synth with dynamic, synchable, blendable oscillators capable of varying between a sawtooth wave, a pulse wave, and a +1ve sawtooth wave. This is achieved via the 'shape' control which can be modulated over time. 

Each oscillator has an associated sub oscillator and multi-voice unison mode which makes it great for synth basses, a number of which can be found among the presets. 

The two oscillators can be mixed in a variety of innovative ways including amplitude modulation from oscillator 2 to 1, and phase cancelling options. 

A powerful multi-mode resonant filter is available with non-linear wave-shaping distortion modes.   

Looking at the image above, you may notice that the only modulators visible above are two envelope generators. One for filter, one for amp. The reason for this is that, like all Bitwig's instruments, modulation is achieved via their Unified Modulation System (more on his in Part 3). This allows all instruments to access a range of synthesizer modulators including LFOs and envelope generators which can be routed to any parameter. 

Audio and note effects can be nested within Polysynth via the two boxes on the right hand side of the instrument to provide audio effects such as delay and chorusing, and/or arpeggio and chord memory features. The audio/note effects can then be saved along with the Polysynth parameters as complete patches. 

Used in conjuction with Bitwig's Unified Modulation System, Polysynth is capable of interesting and powerful creative pads, deep analog synth basses, and powerful synth-comps. 


Bitwig FM-4

FM synthesis is great for cutting bass sounds, icy pad textures, bells and mallets. That sort of thing. Bitwig is equipped with a four operator FM synth called FM-4.


For a detailed explanation of FM synthesis, try this one from my friends at Landr:

Each of FM-4's oscillators (or operators, as they are commonly referred to in FM synthesis) has a base frequency, a frequency multiplier and a modulation amount control. 

Which operators modulate other operators is determined by a matrix in the central control panel. Operators can modulate themselves or feedback on themselves, gradually turning the standard FM sine wave into a saw wave to produce raspier, thicker sort of sounds. 

An overall ADSR envelope generator and a mixer for the 4 operators plus the on-board noise generator complete the picture.

Like all of Bitwig's instruments, FM-4 also has a 'note stacking' feature. This appears in the expanded menu on the left hand side, so you can stack several versions of the same patch on top of each other to produce thicker sounds. Not something you could do with early version of FM synthesis.   

FM-4 does seem adept at creating all those classic FM-type sounds. Icy trance pads ('ice' is a word used a lot in FM preset names), 'solid' type bass sounds, and bells/mallets, etc. But, of course, in true Bitwig style the FM-4 synth is really just the 'core' engine if you like. Using the Unified Modulation System, and the nested FX/Note Instrument Container, you can really create your own synth around it. Add a traditional subtractive filter, envelope and/or LFO modulators, or an arpeggiator and/or chord memory note FX. Then store the results as a patch. The possibilities are almost endless. 

Bitwig Phase-4

Phase 4 is phase manipulation synthesizer using both phase distortion (a type of synthesis pioneered by Casio in the eighties) and phase modulation techniques. 

A detailed description of phase distortion and phase modulation synthesis can be found at the following link:

Unlike early PD synthesizers, Phase-4 goes beyond basic sine waves and offers a number of waveshapes for each oscillator including saw and pulse waves. It also adds a subtractive style filter to the mix.

4 oscillators/modulators can be combined in a number of different ways (algorithms) to produce various synth textures. 

PD and PM synthesis is a little more difficult to characterize than FM. Complex, harmonically rich textures and pads can be created and well as thicker, raspier sort of sounds than FM, especially using the 'note stack' feature. Once again, Phase-4 can be combined with any of Bitwig's audio and note devices to produce an almost limitless set of possibilities. 


So there are Bitwig's five 'major' instrument devices which all function within Bitwig's flexible environment, offering many additional possibilities via the Unified Modulation System and the Instrument Container feature. 

They cover all 'essential' basics some other slightly quirkier bases. A powerful sample instrument, a drum machine, and a 'virtual analog' mono/poly synth alongside FM synthesis and a phase manipulation synth. 

I still maintain that this set of instrument choices alongside Bitwig's feature set make it a music production platform for 'hardcore' electronic music producers and specialists. The flexibility of it's modular design brings with it a degree of complexity.  For me, it is still not for singer/songwriters.  

But if you are an enthusiastic 'synthesizer based' producer/writer and/or an instrument and soundware developer you will find it's flexibility and it's scope for experimentation liberating. But you may find yourself getting lost in it's endless possibilities. 

In part three I'll take a closer look at some of these features and concepts including Instrument Containers, Unified Modulation, and The Grid.

The best place to keep up with all my latest news and development including software reviews, new product news, sample libraries, synth patches, loops and beat would be my Facebook Page. Why not like/follow me there. 


The information contained within this blog post is offered on an informal basis and is correct to the best of my knowledge. I accept no responsibility for outcomes arising from the mis/interpretation or use of this information and/or associated download files. Always download files via security/scanning software. 


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