7. Introduction to Devices

The word "devices" has come up a few times now. For one thing, we have already been using them on instrument tracks (see Loading an Instrument Preset). For another, we have seen how other Bitwig Studio interfaces give us access to devices we were already using (see Devices Section). But in this chapter, we are finally dealing with the nuts and bolts of loading and using devices. This small exploration will benefit users of all levels.

[Note]Note

More "advanced" device concepts are covered in chapter 15: Advanced Device Concepts, which assumes familiarity with the concepts found in this chapter.

The purpose of this chapter is not to teach you the particulars of any device. Instead, it is to acquaint you with accessing devices, their general interface concepts, and the layout of the Device Panel. A short section about the Bitwig devices themselves can be found at the end of this document (see chapter 18: Device Descriptions).

To expand slightly on chapter 1: Bitwig Studio Concepts, each track in Bitwig Studio is equipped with a device chain. Each track passes all played-back audio, note, and MIDI signals to this device chain, which passes the messages from one device to the next, like a bucket brigade. The final device in the chain returns its audio output back to the track so that the mixing board controls (volume, panning, etc.) can be applied before the audio is passed to the track's assigned output buss.

Devices are grouped into the following descriptive categories:

  • Analysis. Devices that merely visualize the signals that reach them. They make no effect on the audio chain they are a part of.

    Examples include Oscilloscope, which shows a time-domain representation of incoming audio signals.

  • Audio FX. Devices that manipulate incoming audio signals before passing them onward.

    Examples include various "modulation" audio effects (such as Chorus, Flanger, Comb, and Blur), and other assorted processors (such as Freq Shifter, Ring-Mod, Rotary, and Tremolo).

  • Container. Utility devices whose primarily function is to host other devices.

    Examples include Drum Machine (for individual note splits), Instrument Layer (for stacks), and Multiband FX-2 (for multiband audio processing).

  • Delay. Delay line-based processors that operate on their incoming audio signals.

    Examples include various configurations of single tap delay lines (Delay-1 and Delay-2) and multitap delay lines (Delay-4).

  • Destruction. Distortion and other mangling processors that operate on their incoming audio signals.

    Examples include Bit-8 (a signal degrader) and Distortion.

  • Drum. Individual drum piece emulators that use incoming note messages to synthesize audio.

    Examples include such electronic drum emulators as E-Kick, E-Snare, and E-Hat.

  • Dynamic. Processors that operate on their incoming audio signals, based off of those signals' amplitude levels and trends.

    Examples include Compressor, Gate, Peak Limiter, and Transient Control.

  • EQ. Sets of frequency-specific processors that operate on their incoming audio signals.

    Examples include various configurations of equalizers (such as EQ-5 and EQ-DJ).

  • Filter. Frequency-specific processors that operate on their incoming audio signals.

    Examples include a multimode Filter unit and a layered Resonator Bank.

  • Hardware. Interface objects for sending signals and/or messages to devices beyond Bitwig Studio (such as hardware synthesizers and effect units, etc.). This can include transmitting and/or receiving audio signals, control voltage (CV) signals, and clock messages.

    Examples include HW Clock Out, HW CV Instrument, and HW FX.

  • Keyboard. Keyboard instrument emulators that use incoming note messages to synthesize audio.

    Examples include Organ.

  • MIDI. Transmitters for sending various MIDI messages via the track's device chain. This is useful for sending messages to plug-ins or to external hardware (when used in conjunction with Bitwig's hardware devices).

    Examples include MIDI CC, MIDI Program Change, and MIDI Song Select.

  • Note FX. Devices that manipulate incoming note messages before passing them onward.

    Examples include Arpeggiator (for animating held notes), Multi-Note (for using single notes to trigger multiple notes), and Transposition Map (for transforming incoming notes to desired pitch shapes).

  • Reverb. Time-based processors that operate on their incoming audio signals.

    Examples include the eponymous Reverb device.

  • Routing. Devices that divert a track's signal path, allowing signals to exit and/or reenter the track.

    Examples include Audio Receiver (for bringing in audio signal from other track or input) and Note Receiver (which does the same for note messages).

  • Synth. Synthesizer instruments that either generate their audio from rudimentary source material or use audio samples. Incoming note messages are used to synthesize audio.

    Examples include Polysynth, FM-4, and Sampler.

  • The Grid. Devices utilizing The Grid, Bitwig's modular sound-design environment (see chapter 16: Welcome to The Grid).

    Examples include FX Grid and Poly Grid.

  • Utility. An assortment of devices sporting various, basic functionality.

    Examples include simple signal generators (such as Test Tone) and processors (such as Tool).

So while devices aren't always necessary, they can make things a whole lot more interesting and open up possibilities that you may not have previously thought of.

Accessing Devices

There are three ways to load devices into your Bitwig Studio project: by loading a preset from the Browser Panel, by loading a device from the Browser Panel, or by loading a device from the Pop-up Browser window.

Presets from the Browser Panel

The Presets tab of the Browser Panel provides a direct route to device presets. This is a good way to browse for sounds themselves.

To recap from chapter 4: Arranger Clips and the Browser Panel, the Presets tab (see Presets Tab) uses the navigation pane to display both the device categories and the devices themselves. Once selections are made in that top pane, the selection pane below displays all corresponding presets. Or if you want to work directly with devices and skip the available presets, you can similarly use the Devices tab (see Devices Tab).

For example, after selecting the Instrument option from the Device Type area and selecting Bitwig from the Device area, the selection pane shows all the standard presets that use a Bitwig Studio instrument device. This is the simplest way to browse for a particular sound.

[Note]Note

By default, not all filter options (such as Device Type, Device, etc.) are visible in the navigation pane of the Browser Panel. For information on enabling various filter options, see The Browser Panel.

You could also select presets from the top-level Bitwig header under the Device category, but this will include presets from every device type. Targeted searching is most easily accomplished by browsing presets within a specific Device Type.

To insert a preset and device onto an existing track: click and drag the preset from the Browser Panel to the appropriate track.

This can be achieved in any of the editing panels, including the device section of the Inspector Panel when the target track is selected.

To insert a preset and device onto a new track: click and drag the preset from the Browser Panel to the space between existing tracks.

This requires either the Arranger Timeline Panel or the Mixer Panel, as these panels are made to display the entire project at one time.

Devices from the Browser Panel

Using the Browser Panel and the Presets tab again, you can select a particular device to work with.

Now that a single device is selected, only presets made with that device are listed in the selection pane. You can now either import one of the selected device's presets as described a moment ago, or you can import the device itself with its default settings.

To insert a device onto an existing track: click and drag the device from the top of the Browser Panel to the appropriate track.

In this case, the device was dragged into the Device Panel, which was focused on the appropriate track.

To insert a device onto a new track: click and drag the device from the Browser Panel to the space between existing tracks.

The Pop-up Browser

Outside of the Browser Panel, there is another way to load and replace devices and presets (and also for trading out the multisamples, samples, or music file loaded into a Sampler device). The Pop-up Browser is a floating window that is available in a few different places throughout Bitwig Studio. We have already seen it in the device sections of both the Mixer Panel and the Inspector Panel when a track is selected.

The Pop-up Browser is also available in both the Device Panel and the Arranger Timeline Panel by clicking on the Add Device button (the + icon). You can also access the Pop-up Browser by double-clicking the blank space between devices in the Device Panel or by double-clicking the blank space that comes before the effect and master track headers in the Arranger Timeline Panel.

There is a lot going on in this window. At the top right of the window, we see the five available categories that we can browse for. We will keep this in Device browsing mode for now.

And while the list section in the middle of this window may look dense, the top of each list pretty well describes its subject. We will start with these several scrollable lists in the middle of the Pop-up Browser, the first six of which are filters:

  • At top left, the list that begins with Everything allows you to view various collections. By default, you are viewing all available devices, but you can pare back and view only special categories of devices, such as those you have generally marked as Favorites or unique collections that you have created.

  • Also at far left, the list that begins with Any Device Type allows you to view either devices of all kinds, or to view only selected types of devices. These broad categories are:

    • An Audio Effect is a device whose primary input/output scheme is audio signal in, audio signal out. Audio effect devices most typically manipulate incoming audio signals before passing them onward.

    • An Instrument is a device whose primary input/output scheme is note messages in, audio signal out. Instrument devices most typically use incoming note messages to synthesize audio.

    • A Note Detector is a device whose primary input/output scheme is note messages in, note messages out. Beyond this, the function of a note detector device is generally undetermined until the user takes further action.

    • A Note Effect is a device whose primary input/output scheme is note messages in, audio signal out. Note effect devices most typically manipulate incoming note messages before passing them onward.

    [Note]Note

    The Pop-up Browser is aware of its surroundings, assessing where it was called up within the track's signal flow and then giving you the most common device type for that particular situation. For example, clicking the add device button immediately before an instrument will automatically suggest Note Effect devices.

  • The next list begins with All Device Locations, allowing you to specify the location of devices to be selected from. Options include those that are native to Bitwig or any defined plug-in folder location, including contained subfolders.

  • The list below begins with Any File Type, allowing you to specify the kind of devices to be selected from. Options include those that are native Bitwig Devices or any particular format of plug-in (namely, VST Plug-in), including subcategories by computing bit depth (for example, VST Plug-in (64-bit)).

  • The following list begins with the option Any Category, and accordingly, this list presents all the categories of device as filter options. (For more on these device categories, revisit the beginning of this chapter or see Devices, Modulators, and Other Signal Achievements.)

  • The next list begins with the option Any Creator, allowing you to filter the available devices by the manufacturers who created them.

  • The final list on the far right is effectively your available device selections based on previous filters that you have set. (By clicking the star icons at the far right of a device name, you can mark any device as a favorite.)

    [Note]Note

    Similar to the Browser Panel (see Devices Tab), the bottom of the devices list may show a notification and clickable toggle for showing redundant plug-ins. The settings for which plug-in formats should be considered redundant are found in the Dashboard (see Other Settings).

While these list options allows a thorough "browse" of the available options, you can also "search" by typing in the search field directly above the list options. And by clicking the up and down arrows in the bottom row of the Pop-up Browser, you can easily step to the previous and next available options.

To create a "smart collection" from the currently chosen filters: right-click in any blank area of the window and then select Create New Smart Collection… from the context menu.

By naming and saving this smart collection, you will be able to restore your current filter and search settings from the favorites filter menu in the top left of the Pop-up Browser. The "smart" designation indicates that the collection is dynamic, automatically including any new content that is part of your library in the future.

To create your own static collection: right-click in any blank area of the window and then select Create New Collection… from the context menu. When this collection is selected from the favorites filter menu, any item that you star will be added to this custom collection.

To audition a device within your project: click one of the available selections in the rightmost column of the Pop-up Browser.

In this example, the E-Hat instrument has been selected from the available choices. As indicated by the connected blue border between the Pop-up Browser and the E-Hat device, this instrument is immediately available for auditioning. Incoming note messages will trigger this instrument, and the parameters within the Device Panel can even be adjusted and heard immediately. (If the Pop-up Browser window is blocking the device parameters from view, you can click the typographical carrot icon [^] in the bottom row to minimize the browser's window. Afterward, clicking the transformed icon [>] will expand the window back to its normal size.)

[Note]Note

To turn off the instant audition function of the Pop-up Browser, disable the speaker icon in the bottom row of the browser's window.

To commit the selected device to your project: click the Ok button at the bottom right of the Pop-up Browser.

To escape without making any changes to your project: click the Cancel button at the bottom right of the Pop-up Browser.

To replace the preset being used by a device: click the folder icon within the device. The Pop-up Browser will now appear, already set to browse for Presets of the Bitwig Device Preset filetype that match the device you were already using.

This is greatly similar to browsing for devices, with addition of a Devices list in the middle of the other filter lists and a Tags list to the right of all other filter menus. And the remaining three modes (Multisamples, Samples, and Music) all offer similar, decipherable filter menus of their own.

A couple final points worth noting about the Pop-up Browser:

  • Within each filter list, you are free to engage multiple options. To add or subtract from a list's selection, CTRL-click (CMD-click on Mac) on each item you wish to toggle, or SHIFT-click to make a contiguous selection (or deselection).

  • You are free to switch between the five modes in the top right corner at any time. This will possibly replace your targeted device with one that is appropriate for the context or your eventual content selection. For example, selecting the Multisamples, Samples, or Music modes of the Pop-up Browser will replace the current device with a Sampler (or, if you are targeting a Sampler, will replace its contents).

  • Within the Browser Panel (see The Browser Panel), these same filter categories are available by right-clicking within the panel and making selections from the Filter Sections portion of the context menu.

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