Bitwig Studio goes full modular
Ever since its release back in 2014, Bitwig Studio has received praise for its innovative design and workflow. It clearly drew inspiration from the likes of Ableton Live but added countless nuances bundled in a vivid, minimalist UI of its own that just works. And adding to its already robust feature set, upcoming version 3 introduces a powerful, modular routing tool called The Grid.
The Grid lets users build sounds and effects from scratch by dragging and dropping modules onto a canvas and routing them however they like. This sort of modular design isn't new. The venerable Native Instruments Reaktor long ago established a high standard in visual routing. The Grid follows largely in those footsteps, adding more innovation like integrated, interactive documentation for each module and the ability to drag a module onto another module's output to automatically create or inset a new connection. It sits flawlessly in Bitwig's arsenal with its familiar, color-coded design and users get a bird's eye view within the device panel that they can use to navigate a patch.
Bitwig is notably one of the only commercial DAWs that directly supports Linux. This new modular power is especially important there since Linux users have limited access to the bewildering array of plugins available on Mac and Windows. This would at least offer a way to create a sound if they couldn't get it otherwise. It also makes projects more portable across platforms. If only native modules are used, a project should work on a bare installation on another platform without having to install other plugins.
While alternatives exist, very few provide both the ease of use and level of integration of The Grid. MuLab is probably the closest though it's hard to compete with The Grid's interactive help and general aesthetics. Bitwig itself is probably the closest competitor to Ableton Live, for which there's Max for Live. Like Pure Data, it provides a powerful but very complex system that feels closer to raw programming. It's outstanding, though not as easy or as focused as The Grid. VCV Rack is another amazing, cross-platform app, though with a modular design akin to real world rack mount hardware. It's made to closely simulate real hardware and thus lacks an arrangement view. On the other hand, Propellerheads Reason uses a rack mount design and offers modular routing behind its rack modules. It's ridiculously powerful, but isn't really made to provide core building blocks like The Grid. Several music trackers offer modular flexibility, notably Buzz, SunVox and Radium. The tracker workflow is fast and efficient but it's not for everyone. Most people find it much easier to use a familiar arrangement view like Bitwig's.
The Grid's modular features have been teased since Bitwig's release as the native effects and instruments are reportedly built on a modular core. It's finally a reality Bitwig users can dig into and tweak to their heart's content as they right now have access to the beta through their account.