E-RM multiclock integration in Bitwig Studio

Apr 19, 2017

We collaborated with clock and sync specialists E-RM Erfindungsbüro from Berlin to expand Bitwig Studio's integration with external hardware. The HW Clock Out device in Bitwig Studio 2.1 now seamlessly supports the E-RM multiclock out of the box. Recently we spoke with Maximilian Rest, one of the founders of E-RM:

Could you first explain us what the multiclock is and how it was invented?

Sure! We started to tinker with better sync and clocking options back in 2013 when a couple of friends needed better synchronization for their multi-laptop live act. This is how the midiclock⁺ was born, an ultra-precise MIDI masterclock generator which allows the synchronization of MIDI clock slave-able devices. The multiclock is basically based on all the feature requests and ideas we got during the first years of making the midiclock⁺, and it extends the feature set to flexibly sync MIDI, DIN sync and Modular System sequencers, drum machines, arpeggiators and everything else which requires a clock input. Its main advantages are the ability to slave itself to a special analog audio clock sync signal from another master and to allow each of its four output channels to be shifted relative to the master in real time! This is a major improvement for the synchronization of external gear to a digital audio workstation like Bitwig Studio.

What's the advantage of this analog audio clock signal over a MIDI clock signal to sync external hardware to a computer?

The main advantage of using an analog audio clock signal over MIDI clock is its timing precision. Every MIDI clock message sent from the software to external hardware needs to pass a lot of stages inside the operating system of the computer and also in the external hardware, which usually all have a lot of other things to do rather than paying attention to "real time" signals. This introduces a particular uncertainty in the transmission time of each clock signal, and this in turn causes a sloppy sync signal. This deviation from the expected timing is what we call jitter —; just imagine a friend who you are always supposed to meet for lunch at noon but she continually arrives at the restaurant at some random time between 10 and 2. In contrast to this, the analog audio clock signal is always on time, as it is sent via a separate audio channel of the soundcard. There is no considerable jitter in our audio signals, otherwise we wouldn't want to listen to our music anymore. Using this technique, we are able to derive rock-solid sync signals inside the multiclock and convert them into MIDI clock, DIN sync and Modular System clocks while keeping the precision.

Is there anything that stands out with the analog clock implementation in Bitwig Studio?

The main advantage of the implementation of the Analog Clock signal in Bitwig Studio is that it works seamlessly out of the box, with no external plugins and complicated settings required. Simply load the HW Clock Out device into a track in Bitwig Studio 2.1, connect a mono channel of your soundcard to the multiclock, select this channel in the HW Clock Out device and hit play! For best performance: activate the Gate button and set tick rate to 1/96.  I was also very impressed with the internal development workflow of the Bitwig team, which made this collaboration a breeze. Implementing features such as sync deeply into the DAW opens many opportunities and greatly improves the setup and user experience, so that making music with external gear and the computer becomes a lot easier. This way you can focus on what you really care about: making music!

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