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Page 3: Bitwig Studio 3

Music Production Software By Nick Rothwell
Published September 2019

Zoning In

Amidst all the options for sample mangling and manipulation that have arrived in Bitwig Studio 3, it's easy to forget that Sampler is essentially designed for playing back samples from a keyboard, which implies support for multiple zones according to pitch and velocity. Everything we've described about Cycles and Textures can be applied to a setup of multiple zones. Parameters such as sample source, play start and end, loop mode and location are zone-specific; the play mode (Repitch, Cycles or Textures), freeze setting, filter and envelope settings are common across all zones.

Zone editing in the list view, showing some pitch and select crossfades in a  single zone group.Zone editing in the list view, showing some pitch and select crossfades in a single zone group.

Previous versions of Sampler supported zones for pitch and velocity, but in a rudimentary manner: a simple jump from one zone to another without any overlap or fading. (You could overlap zones visually, but only one would be active in the overlap area.) Version 3 brings a much more sophisticated zoning scheme. Zones can overlap, and the 'expanded device view', where you set up the zones, has been improved: there's a sample drop area to the left, zones can be dragged around in the pitch/velocity space, and there's now an inspector pane for zones which allows fine-tuning of parameters.

The zone inspector pane provides easy access to some of the most important sample parameters, such as playback and looping boundaries and tuning, but there are some new parameters here as well. At the top of the pane is a group selection menu: zones can be collected into groups for editing, so that a single parameter edit can be applied to all zones in the group: useful, for example, to nudge a related set of zones up or down together in the MIDI pitch range. Below are parameter boxes for key and velocity, as a substitute for graphically dragging the edges of the zone boxes, and parameters for fade amount: this is where you'd set up your pitch and velocity crossfades. And there's an additional zoning parameter called 'select', accessed by a knob in the main Sampler panel (and amenable to MIDI or automation control or modulation); you can arrange your zones to fall into areas of the select range, so that the select value dictates which zone is played on Note On. And just to add some more zone selection options, zones can play 'round-robin', so that in any area of zone overlap the zones are triggered sequentially per note rather than all at once.

If you want to see the crossfade areas, you have to switch to a second view of the zones called the 'list view'. Here the zones are laid out from top to bottom, with one column for key range and one column switchable between velocity and select. The fade regions are shown in place. (Fade values can be edited in the inspector, or graphically by Alt-dragging in the column area.)

And just when you thought the Sampler modulation scheme couldn't get any more sophisticated, enter zone parameters. Three modulation sources (labelled P1, P2 and P3) can be applied to the Sampler voice architecture (including its modulators). Then each zone can set its own values for these parameters, so that different zones can have individual voice variations. With zone parameters, stacking parameters and round-robin triggering, the potential to animate a sample set is immense. (Much as I'd hate to complicate things further, it would be good to also have modulation sources representing position-in-zone by key, velocity or select in order to create a spread of parameter values across an entire zone.)

I've spent a lot of time describing Sampler, but in Studio 3 it really has been transformed into a truly sophisticated instrument, with myriad modulation and performance options. While some of these features are found in third-party instruments such as Native Instruments' Kontakt, the way that Sampler integrates into Bitwig Studio makes it a compelling environment, even for users (like me) who don't generally work with sample libraries.

Count Me In

Since Bitwig Studio is so strong on modulation, it makes sense that some new modulators should arrive as part of this upgrade. Note Counter counts upwards as notes are played, resetting to zero when the count reaches a configurable limit, and the output modulation amount is a measure of how far the count is towards the limit. It is a polyphonic modulator, affecting instrument voices individually. I tested this by applying it to position offset in a Sampler instrument, and was rather confused to see the position marker jumping around in a fairly random manner, until I realised that this was Bitwig switching its visual sample display between the different voices as they triggered and expired. (I should have trusted my ears, which were telling me that everything was working as expected!) I should also emphasise that Note Counter actually appears to count voices rather than notes, so if you are stacking voices the counter will advance quicker than you might expect.

Step-sequencing lots of parameters at once with ParSeq-8.Step-sequencing lots of parameters at once with ParSeq-8.A more complex newcomer is a modulator called ParSeq-8, a parameter step sequencer. Bitwig Studio already has Steps, a step sequencer which can control a single modulation parameter. ParSeq-8 is a more complex proposition: each step (up to a maximum of eight) is its own modulation source, and can be applied to any number of parameters in the modulator's device (or for that matter in other modulators). By default, each step is independent: when the step begins, all of its modulations are applied, to an amount specified by a slider for the step; when the step finishes, all modulations are reset to zero, and the next step takes over. Steps can be disabled, and each step has a 'hold' switch which holds the modulations of the previous step unless the new step is applied to any of the same parameters. There's a control for shifting the phase of the entire sequence, and another for smoothing the modulation changes. And, again, aspects of the steps (on/off, hold, modulation amount) can also themselves be modulated. I found ParSeq-8 to be an immensely powerful way to generate new rhythmic ideas: find an instrument preset with a full set of remote control knobs (FM-4 or Phase-4 are good choices, since the controls tend to make drastic timbral changes, and if there are embedded audio effects, so much the better), create a clip with a simple repeating MIDI pattern, and then start arbitrarily modulating the remote controls with steps until something compelling emerges.

Lost In Actions

Clips in the clip launcher (as opposed to the linear arrangement) now support 'next actions' to allow playback to transfer between clips in the same track. After a set period of time once the clip launches, specified in bars, beats and ticks, the specified action fires. Actions include Stop (stop the current clip), Return to last Clip (return to the clip playing immediately before this one), Return to Arrangement (return control to the linear arrangement) as well as selection of first, last, previous, next or random actions. As well as actions which take place within the same contiguous block of clips in a track, actions can 'jump the gap' and target other contiguous blocks. However, there's no probabilistic selection of actions: each clip has one possible action at a fixed time. (I wouldn't be surprised to see a selection feature in a future release.)

A clutch of interface improvements have also made their way into Studio 3. Tracks and scenes now have variable width (though scenes have to be viewed horizontally for resizing), and scenes now support custom colours. In the arranger view, audio can be 'slid' back and forth without moving the enclosing clip. Support has been added for new controllers from Novation, Sensel and others. Textual hints for mouse actions are now provided in a footer area at the bottom of the application window, and if you have an external controller with knobs or sliders that can send control change messages, the state of these controls is also shown in the footer, colour-coded and labelled with the names of the parameters they are bound to. And a handful of existing devices have been given minor improvements.

Of course, there are invariably one or two niggles. In the standard vertically stacked launcher view, the scene column itself cannot be resized, so you can only see the first few characters of the scene name. (When working in theatre, I put dialogue cues into scene names, so they need to be long.) Audio files cannot be renamed. Remote control knobs cannot have their target range scaled (you have to use a modulator for that). And projects are completely independent, so if you make backup copies or distinct versions they all end up with a complete copy of all the audio assets. (But at least you can have multiple projects open at the same time to move material between them.) None of these is a show-stopper, more a reminder that every DAW has its own ways of working and its own interface trade-offs.

All in all, Bitwig Studio continues to advance by leaps and bounds. Version 1 was respectable, but version 2 brought the modulation system centre-stage and, in my opinion, repositioned Bitwig Studio as both DAW and fledgling modular synthesis engine. With 2.4, the Sampler instrument was reworked and enhanced, delivering granular and wavetable synthesis, and leveraging the modulation system to radically expand the program's sound design potential.

With the arrival of The Grid in Studio 3, Bitwig have knocked the ball out of the park. While it may not be the most powerful software modular in the world, the integration between The Grid and the rest of the DAW is deep and thorough, opening up creative possibilities and realising the full potential of the modulation system which arrived in version 2. Whether you approach Bitwig Studio as a DAW with a modular synthesizer at its core, or an extensible modular environment with multitrack recording and processing on the side — or both — this is an exciting hybrid design philosophy that calls out for new imaginative ways of working in response, and finally sets the application truly apart from the pack.

Checkout the SOS Tutorials video on Bitwig Grid.

Sound Libraries

Bitwig Studio 2 came with a fair selection of sound libraries ('collections'), some from Bitwig and some from other artists. In the intermediate version 2.3, 2.4 and 2.5 releases, some collections have been updated and new ones added. Collections requiring Bitwig Studio beyond 2.0 are tagged '2.x', but as I undertook a quick tour through the presets I encountered a few requiring the new features of Sampler, which arrived with 2.4. At the moment, no collections seem to make use of The Grid, so you'll have to make do with its bundled presets.

Of the new content, I was quite taken with Analog Waves, part of the Bitwig Extended Collection. This is a 760-sample sound library which was released alongside version 2.5, featuring a huge number of high-quality analogue synthesizer waveforms, making good use of Sampler's new features: the presets often arrange samples in multiple layered zones, so that the Select knob can be used to choose waveform shape, while other presets use the Cycles or Textures modes, and in all cases, modulators have been skilfully configured to add expression and animation throughout. The presets seemed to be MPE-aware, supporting note-by-note pitch-bend and pressure, but I didn't see or hear much obvious support for other MPE gestures. (It is, however, pretty trivial to add these yourself.) I'm not a massive fan of synth sample libraries, preferring to use an actual synthesizer, but Analog Waves is so versatile that it's easy to forget that it's sample-based at all. Some of the one-shot samples are great starting points if you want to put Sampler into Cycles mode and start experimenting with wavetables.

Other new content has arrived in the Artist Collection category. Fingalick Jams is a collection of presets and drum kits in club music and urban R&B styles, and they are well produced although I'm probably a decade or two too old to fully appreciate them. (The 'vocal chants' drum kit does sound a bit like what everyone was doing with their Akai hardware samplers in the late 1980s.) The Claude Young Cinematic Synth Sounds are all sample-based, making use of Bitwig's new sample-manipulating features to deliver some tasteful film soundscape material. Most impressive, though, are the libraries from Cristian Vogel: the original Bitwig Lab I has some nice polysynth presets and analogue synth sampling, whilst Bitwig Lab II makes good use of the new Sampler and modulators to deliver some lovely, dynamic, slowly evolving vector-mixed granular textures.

Multi MIDI

Studio 3 is multi-channel MIDI-capable. By default, tracks convert all incoming MIDI data to MIDI channel 1, but you are free to turn off this conversion and let up to 16 channels of MIDI into your tracks and your clips, should you have plug-ins or external instruments for which several MIDI channels are needed. There are various options for editing clips with multiple MIDI channels: the layer editing mode, generally used for editing multiple clips at once, now has a mode for treating MIDI channels as layers, complete with a cheerful rainbow colouring, while the drum editor groups notes by channel as well as pitch.

Some new MIDI effects allow channels to be filtered or mapped. The Channel Filter device has 16 on/off switches, while the Channel Map device can map each of its 16 channel inputs to any channel output. And by this stage it should come as no surprise to discover that both devices accept modulators, allowing you to dynamically vary the filtering and mapping behaviour. In addition, Bitwig's 'layer' containers for grouping instruments and effects can themselves filter and map based on MIDI channel.

Prior to Studio 3, Bitwig supported containers (or if you prefer, 'groups') for layering instruments and audio effects in a track, and selectors for activating one instrument or effect at a time from a selection. But it took until version 2.4 to get a group container for MIDI note effects, and until 2.5 to get a selector container for them. I suspect part of the motivation is to make the most of multi-channel MIDI: incoming notes can go into a note layer to be filtered into specific processes according to channel, and then reconstituted at the end. Notes that enter a MIDI effect inside a selector container are active in that effect until they are released, so you could (for example) play some notes into an arpeggiator, change the effect selection, and play additional notes into some other effect, releasing all notes to stop everything.


  • Integrated modular synthesis environment.
  • More powerful Sampler instrument with sophisticated zoning, granular and wavetable synthesis.
  • New 'next action' clip triggering feature in launcher clips.
  • Multi-channel MIDI support with filtering and mapping features.
  • Better support for MIDI controllers.
  • General device, modulator and UI improvements.
  • Analog Waves is a high-quality, versatile sample library for building synthesis instruments, while Cristian Vogel Bitwig Lab II contains some dynamic sound textures.
  • 200+ Grid presets for modular exploration.


  • Sample's Cycles mode could do with some specially curated source material.
  • 'Next action' feature could be improved.
  • Some minor user-interface niggles.


Bitwig Studio 3 is a major upgrade to the newcomer DAW, exposing a new modular synthesis environment at its heart, and drastically increasing the power of its built-in Sampler instrument to provide integrated granular and wavetable synthesis. Modulators and devices have been enhanced, as has MIDI controller support, and the user interface has been improved.


€379; 12-month upgrade plan €159. Prices include VAT.

$399; 12-month upgrade plan $169.

test spec

  • Bitwig Studio 3.0
  • Apple MacBook Pro with 2.5GHz Intel Core i7 CPU and 16GB RAM, running Mac OS 10.14.5.

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