8. 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 and know how to load them (see chapter 4: Browsers in Bitwig Studio). 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.


More "advanced" device concepts are covered in chapter 16: Modulators, Device Nesting, and More, 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 19: 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 and Spectrum, which both have mini views and Expanded Device View options.

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

    Examples include Blur, Freq Shifter, Ring-Mod, and Treemonster.

  • Clap. Clap drum element instruments that use incoming note signals to synthesize audio.

    Examples include the electronic drum emulator, E-Clap.

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

    Examples include Instrument Layer (for stacks), Instrument Selector (for cycling notes [via Round-robin, Keyswitches, etc.] to various instruments), 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).

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

    Examples include Amp, Bit-8 (a signal degrader) and Saturator.

  • Drum Kit. Drum kit-oriented devices that work with other instruments.

    Examples include the container-style Drum Machine (for separate chains trigger by each note pitch that comes in).

  • Dynamics. 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+ and EQ-DJ).

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

    Examples include Filter+ (for combining one of ten filter modules with any of 14 waveshapers), his performance-friendly companion Sweep (with two filter slots and clever macro controls), a layered Resonator Bank, and an endlessly configurable Vocoder.

  • 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.

  • Hi-hat. Hi-hat drum element instruments that use incoming note signals to synthesize audio.

    Examples include the electronic drum emulator, E-Hat.

  • Kick. Kick drum element instruments that use incoming note signals to synthesize audio.

    Examples include the electronic drum emulator, E-Kick.

  • 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.

  • Modulation. Processors that manipulate incoming audio signals with an LFO, etc., influencing their function.

    Examples include the high-level Chorus+, Flanger, and Phaser+-type processors, as well as moving Rotary and Tremolo effects.

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

    Examples include Arpeggiator (for animating held notes), Multi-note (for using single notes to trigger multiple notes), and Note Repeats (for repeating held notes at a timing interval, with optional chance, accents, Euclidean rhythmic pattern, and more).

  • Organ. Yes, organ emulators that use incoming note signals to synthesize audio.

    Examples include the drawbar-based Organ.

  • Percussion. Percussion instruments that use incoming note signals to synthesize audio.

    Examples include the electronic drum emulator, E-Cowbell.

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

    Examples include the eponymous Reverb device and the open-ended Convolution.

  • 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 signals).

  • Snare. Snare drum element instruments that use incoming note signals to synthesize audio.

    Examples include the electronic drum emulator, E-Snare.

  • Spectral. Devices that operate in the frequency domain, working with hundreds of individual frequency bands.

    Examples include Transient Split (for separating the percussive, noisy parts of a sound from the tones [see Transient Split]), Loud Split (for adjusting the quiet, mid, and loud parts of any individual moment [see Loud Split]), and Harmonic Split (for taking odd harmonics, even harmonics, and non-harmonics into three different signal paths [see Harmonic Split]).

  • Synth. Synthesizer instruments that either generate their audio from rudimentary source material or use audio samples. Incoming note signals 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 17: Welcome to The Grid).

    Examples include FX Grid (for building audio effects, etc.), Note Grid (for creating note processors or even note generators) and Poly Grid.

  • Tom. Tom drum element instruments that use incoming note signals to synthesize audio.

    Examples include the electronic drum emulator, E-Tom.

  • Utility. An assortment of devices sporting various generating, processing, and time-shifting functionality.

    Examples include signal generators (such as Test Tone), processors (such as Tool), and the unique Time Shift device, for moving audio and notes signals either later or (relatively) earlier in time.

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.

The Device Panel

As we've seen with the browsers in Bitwig Studio (see chapter 4: Browsers in Bitwig Studio), presets and devices can be found and searched in several ways. Whether we load our devices from other panels or not, the Device Panel is where all direct interaction with devices will occur. So once we are ready to work with devices, we must explore the Device Panel and see what it has to offer.

The Panel Itself

Let's take a simple example of a track that contains two devices: one instrument and one audio FX.

Note that the above image shows the instrument on the left and the audio FX on the right. In the Device Panel, signal always flows from left (input) to right (output). While you could swap the position of these devices, you probably would not get the desired outcome.

Starting with the outer rounded rectangle, we find on its left edge an abbreviated, vertical track header. Included here are the familiar track color stripe and track name.

Other than the group (including project) and track headers, all space in the Device Panel is reserved for devices. But before the first device (and after every device) comes a vertical column containing three items:

  • The note indicators light up when at least one note signal is active at that stage. (This is similar to a MIDI "note on" message that has not yet been followed by a corresponding "note off.")

  • The Add Device button calls up the Pop-up Browser window.

  • The audio meters indicate the presence and level of audio signal being received and transmitted by each device.

The Add Device button is present in all these locations so that you can insert additional devices at any point within the device chain. The note indicators and audio meters are present at every device handoff to visually inform you of signals that are changing as the signal flow progresses. As relevant texts and your own experimentation will teach you, the order in which devices are connected is critical to the outcome.

Each device has its own vertical header on its left edge. Common elements in device headers are:

  • Device Enable button: Toggles the device between on (engaged) or bypass mode (temporarily disabled).

  • Device Name: The official name of the device, or a substitute name that you have selected (see Devices in the Inspector Panel).

  • Remote Controls button: Toggles to reveal the Remote Controls pane for the device (see The Remote Controls Pane).

  • Modulators button: Toggles to reveal the Modulators pane for this device.

Finally, the body of each device contains its own various parameters. They can take the form of knobs, sliders, numerics, text and graphical lists, buttons, curve controls, clickable graphic interfaces, and more. All parameters can be set with the mouse by simply clicking and dragging.

Player Mode

Some instruments and other devices are limited to specific versions of Bitwig Studio. But even so, your license may include presets that make use of these devices. In this case, the preset will be loaded in a player mode, with the preset's remote controls available as the way to manipulate the sound.

As with this Poly Grid patch from Bitwig's Essentials package, notes can be sequenced, remote control automation draw and edited, audio bounced, etc.

Additionally, this makes it possible to collaborate with any Bitwig Studio user because project files work in a similar way — giving you can access to remotes and free sequence editing for devices that are not part of your license. You can then do work, save your changes, and send the project back and forth.

Track Headers in the Device Panel

The Device Panel also contains headers for each level from this track up to the master track. This will usually just include one project header and one for the track, allowing remote controls and modulators to be added at either level.

If group tracks are involved, you will also get a header for each level within the hierarchy.

To show the Inspector Panel for any track in the Device Panel: select that track's device header. Since the track inspector includes the track's meter and mixer controls, this can be a very helpful short for viewing the master output level, or focusing on any other track.

To show/hide the higher-level track headers from the Device Panel: right-click on any device header to expose the Show group headers in Device Panel option.

When disabled, every Device Panel will simply start at the local track level.

The Expanded Device View

Certain devices have an optional Expanded Device View. This list currently includes several instruments (FM-4, Phase-4, Polysynth, and Sampler) and some audio effects or analyzers (EQ+, EQ-5, Resonator Bank, as well as Oscilloscope and Spectrum Analyzer), and all devices that give access to The Grid (Poly Grid, FX Grid, and Note Grid), as well as devices that are Grid-powered (including the Polymer synth, and the audio FXs Filter+ and Sweep). Each of these devices has an Expanded Device View button in its device header.

Clicking the Expanded Device View button covers the central panel area with additional controls and visualizations for the device.

The Expanded Device View can also be loaded as a separate floating window by clicking the undocking button (the box with an arrow ascending out of it) in the top right.

Once floating, the Expanded Device View will remain visible regardless of what track is selected. You can always close the window or click the re-docking button (the box with an arrow, propelling the window back to Earth) to rejoin the view within the main window.


This behavior can be changed with Floating windows follow current track setting. This preference can be found in the Dashboard under the Settings tab on the Behavior page in the Device category. Enabling this setting will hide any floating Expanded Device View windows when a different track is selected and restore them when you select their track again.

Additionally, this setting provides a thumbtack toggle at the top right of the window, allowing you to make some floating windows persistent while the others only appear when their track is selected.

These views can also be accessed via mixer and Inspector Panel interfaces in Bitwig (see Devices Section).

FX Tracks and Send Amounts

FX tracks have one unique feature in the track header of the Device Panel.

When the effects sends button is enabled, the effect sends pane is visible within the track header area. This resizeable pane shows a list of all instrument, audio, hybrid, and nested group tracks in your current project. Each track is listed along with a meter showing its current output level and a control for the send amount targeting this FX track.

Essentially, this is a "mixer" view of the buss that feeds the FX track. And tracks that have track fold buttons on the mixer (see Track Headers) have a similar fold button here.

Additionally, clicking on the name of any send toggles whether it is active or not, saving processing when unneeded or allowing for a 'bypass' while keeping your level setting.

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