Bitwig vs Ableton: Which DAW is Best for Your Needs?

bitwig vs ableton

In today’s feature, we’re going to be taking an in-depth look into two of the most exciting digital audio workstations (DAWs) currently available to producers and composers. These come in the form of Ableton and Bitwig. But which one should you get?

Ableton has been one of the most widely used DAWs for the last decade. It was one of the original forms of music production software to also allow for live performances through integration with loop pedals and beat pads.

The latest iteration, Ableton Live 10, features all of the functionality that made previous generations so popular but with a whole host of added extras.

If you’re thinking of getting Ableton you can also use it with their own MIDI controller, the Ableton Push. This has been a bit of a game-changer for many bedroom producers as it gives greater flexibility and control over projects at a fraction of the cost of more traditional production hardware.

On the other hand, we have Bitwig. They’re somewhat of a newcomer to the DAW scene having been launched in 2014 by a former Ableton Employee. There’s been quite a buzz around Bitwig as they’ve brought some fresh thinking to an industry that has been ruled by one brand for so long.

Things like improved workflow, allowing users to have multiple project tabs open at once, as well as a great modulation engine with hundreds of features means that Bitwig has become a real contender to the mighty Ableton’s throne.

Both of these DAWs offer similar things. They both allow musicians to produce music in both linear and modular views, as well as supporting live performances and working simultaneously with the vast majority of production hardware.

But which will sound better through your computer’s speakers? What are the key differences that set them apart? And why would anyone not just go with the industry leader? Let’s dive in and find out.

Main Differences Between Bitwig vs Ableton

The main differences between the two Bitwig vs Ableton are:

  • Bitwig was launched in 2014, whereas Ableton has been around since 2001
  • Bitwig has many users and a growing community, however not to the same as Ableton, whereas Ableton has millions of users around the world and a well-established community.
  • Bitwig is significantly cheaper, whereas Ableton is more expensive
  • Bitwig has a small audio FX library, whereas Ableton has a much larger audio FX library

Despite these differences, there are plenty of similarities between the two. For example, both allow for both linear and modular composition, one of Ableton’s groundbreaking features when first rolled out.

They also cater to live performances, allowing musicians to plug MIDI controllers and other instruments in to play.

Key Specifications

Ableton  Bitwig
Type DAW DAW
Live Performance Support? Yes Yes
Compatibility MAC, Windows MAC, Windows, Linux
Built-in Instruments 17 13
MIDI Controller Support? Yes Yes
Price Bracket $$$ $$
Latest Price Check here for latest price Check here for latest price

What are the Main Features of Ableton and Bitwig?

Here are the main features for both DAWs, Ableton, and Bitwig.

Bitwig

Bitwig is effectively the new kid on the block when it comes to professional DAWs. The software was launched in 2014 and is the brainchild of former Ableton employee, Placidus Schelbert.

Bitwig has taken the successes of Ableton and attempted to put their own spin on things like the creative process and user interface. After playing around with the software ourselves we found that although we still love Ableton, there were definitely some aspects to Bitwig that were really impressive.

Despite quite clearly ‘borrowing’ many elements from Ableton, we think Bitwig possesses enough new features to provide a real challenge to Live 10’s superiority. But will the majority of producers and performers agree with us?

The software itself comes in two different packages, Bitwig Studio 16 Track and Bitwig Studio. Let’s take a closer look at the features of each.

Bitwig Studio 16 Track

  • High-performance software with full multicore & multiprocessor support
  • Core Audio, JACK support, and ASIO across all platforms
  • 32-bit floating-point audio processing plus up to 192kHz sample rate
  • Scalable vector-based graphical user interface
  • 16 audio, instrument, or hybrid tracks
  • Two effect tracks
  • Eight scenes
  • Unlimited plugins (VST)
  • 16-bit audio export
  • File support for; WAV, MP3, FLAC, OGG, AIFF, AAC, WMA, Vorbis, MIDI
  • 4/8 audio I/O busses
  • Three algorithms for time-stretching
  • Plug & play MIDI support
  • Ableton LINK
  • Eleven built-in instruments
  • Thirty built-in audio effects
  • Seventeen modulators

Bitwig Studio

  • High-performance software with full multicore & multiprocessor support
  • Core Audio, JACK support, and ASIO across all platforms
  • 32-bit floating-point audio processing plus up to 192kHz sample rate
  • Scalable vector-based graphical user interface
  • Unlimited audio, instrument, or hybrid tracks
  • Unlimited effect tracks
  • Unlimited scenes
  • Unlimited plugins (VST)
  • VST plug-in multi-out & side-chain support
  • 16, 24 & 32-bit audio export
  • File support for; WAV, MP3, FLAC, OGG, AIFF, AAC, WMA, Vorbis, MIDI
  • Unlimited audio I/O busses
  • Eight algorithms for time-stretching
  • Slice to multisample & slice to a drum machine
  • Layered editing
  • Bounce & bounce in place
  • Multiple projects
  • Plug & play MIDI support
  • Ableton LINK
  • Thirteen built-in instruments
  • Forty-one built-in audio effects
  • Thirty-six modulators

Design and User Interface

Bitwig

This is one of Bitwig’s big talking points. They took the original Ableton design and have clearly put their own twist on it and in many places improved on it. One example of Bitwig’s innovative design is the clips section where users can work on their tracks in ‘arrange’ or ‘mix’ views.

Whilst this is similar to the session view featured on Ableton, with Bitwig you can view it as a pop-out window rather than an entire modal screen on its own. This in turn enables producers to move audio and note clips around freely and easily.

This clip launcher element was one of the cornerstones of Bitwig’s marketing approach when they first launched in part due to Ableton’s well-documented inability to provide both views at once. There are now functions in Live that give users the ability to do so but back in 2014 this was a big win for Bitwig and helped establish them as a serious contender.

Other positive points of the user interface for Bitwig include native OS X full-screen support, large meters in mix view, and the overall feel of the software. Ableton’s full-screen support for

Mac generates a new window that then sits on top of your open applications, not good if you’re running a high CPU. The large meters when viewing your music in the mix view are also a nice touch as they cater to those who prefer not to use the clip launcher at all. When it comes to the overall look and feel of Bitwig we slightly preferred it compared to Ableton, but maybe that’s just because we’re so used to seeing the greys of Live 10!

Instruments and Effects

Bitwig also includes a great range of built-in instruments and effects. Much like with Ableton Live, the specifics of which ones you have access to depends on which product you purchase. Here’s a list of the main instruments you can expect to get your hands on when producing using Bitwig. For a fully comprehensive list of effects head over to the Bitwig website.

Bitwig Studio 16 Track

  • E-Clap
  • E-Cowbell
  • E-Hat
  • E-Kick
  • E-Snare
  • E-Tom
  • FM-4
  • Organ
  • Polymer
  • Polysynth
  • Single Channel Sampler

Bitwig Studio

All of the instruments included with Bitwig Studio 16-Bit plus the following;

  • Phase 4
  • Polygrid
  • Multichannel Sampler

External Instruments and Controllers

A really important point to highlight before we get into external instruments and controllers is that right now Bitwig is the only professional-grade DAW that runs on Linux. All the other major DAWs, Ableton included, are limited purely to MAC and Windows. If you’re looking to run your production software on Linux then that pretty much settles it for you.

Controller compatibility is just as good as it is with Ableton, although at the time of writing Bitwig has not released anything similar to the Push. Both are fully compatible with MIDI controllers as you would expect, with Ableton shipping featuring a larger variety of templates. Creating your own, however, is a pretty straightforward process.

Ableton

Ableton

Ableton Live is now in its 10th iteration. Live 10 was released in 2017, five years after the last major update, Live 9. With each update comes new features, interface upgrades, and workflow tweaks to help Ableton to stay ahead of the game.

This wait time between updates has led to the industry leader looking a little dated by the time the latest one is released.

What Ableton has done so well for so many years is it has allowed musicians to not only create music but perform live as well. Although this doesn’t suit all types of artists or genres of music, Ableton found particular popularity among electronic music producers.

The popularity, along with the emergence of live sets using beat pads and other MIDI controllers helped Ableton secure that position at the top.

Ableton comes in three editions: Live 10 Intro, Live 10 Standard and Live 10 Suite. Each of these editions has different feature sets and is aimed at different people. Here’s the full list of what you can expect to hear through your headphones with each one.

Live 10 Intro

  • Sixteen audio & MIDI tracks
  • Sixteen scenes
  • Two send & return tracks
  • Eight mono audio input channels
  • Eight mono audio output channels
  • MIDI Capture
  • Complex warp modes

Coming Soon in Live 11

  • Comping
  • Polyphonic MIDI Expression
  • Note & Velocity Chance
  • Tempo Following

Live 10 Standard

  • Unlimited Audio & MIDI tracks
  • Unlimited Scenes
  • 12 Send & Return tracks
  • 256 audio mono input channels
  • 256 audio mono output channels
  • MIDI Capture
  • Complex warp modes
  • Audio-slicing
  • Audio to MIDI

Coming Soon in Live 11

  • Comping
  • Linked-track edits
  • Polyphonic MIDI Expression
  • Note & Velocity Chance
  • Tempo Follow

Live 10 Suite

  • Unlimited Audio & MIDI tracks
  • Unlimited Scenes
  • 12 Send & Return tracks
  • 256 audio mono input channels
  • 256 audio mono output channels
  • MIDI Capture
  • Complex warping
  • Audio-slicing
  • Audio to MIDI
  • Max for Live

Coming Soon to Live 11

  • Comping
  • Linked-track edits
  • Polyphonic MIDI Expression
  • Note & Velocity Chance
  • Tempo Follow

Design and User Interface

Ableton

The overall design of Ableton is quite striking. When it was first released it gained a reputation as being sleek and easy to use. This was in part down to the aesthetics of the program which are mainly greys and blacks with reds and other brighter colors representing notes and waveforms.

Whilst this look created an instant impression Ableton has worked hard over the last number of years to give their interface a bit of an overhaul.

What was at one point looking a little tired and dated has been given a new lease of life under the most recent update with some subtle tweaks and changes resulting in a much more up-to-date look.

Away from the aesthetics of Ableton usability has always been a strong point. The ability to view and compose music in multiple views was revolutionary when it came out. ‘Session view’ is now standard across the majority of DAWs (including Bitwig) thanks to the original Ableton design.

Instruments and Effects

Another major strong point as far as Ableton is concerned is the myriad of musical choices available to the user. The total number of effects and instruments available depends on which version you are using. Here is a full list of the instruments you can get your hands on – for a full list of effects head to the Ableton website;

Live 10 Intro

  • Drum Rack
  • Simpler
  • Impulse
  • Instrument Rack

Live 10 Standard

  • Drum Rack
  • Impulse
  • External Instrument
  • Instrument Rack
  • Simpler
  • Drum Synths

Live 10 Suite

  • Drum Rack
  • Impulse
  • Instrument Rack
  • Simpler
  • CV Instrument
  • CV Triggers
  • Electric
  • Operator
  • External Instrument
  • Drum Synths
  • Analog
  • Bass
  • Collision
  • Poli
  • Sampler
  • Tension
  • Wavetable

External Instruments and Controllers

Another key part of the Ableton experience for producers is the ability to plug in external instruments and MIDI controllers. Allowing this kind of usability gives users greater control over their projects and adds to the live capabilities of the software.

Ableton even released their own hugely popular controller the Ableton Push. The design of this controller was pretty game-changing when it came out in 2013. By building a piece of hardware that was specifically designed to aid the creative process within Ableton that process for producers was sped up and made easier.

The touch-sensitive encoders and multitude of programming options also meant that for the first time Ableton could be used as a stand-alone performance tool. The Push also paved the way for beat pads and a new generation of touch-sensitive samplers that have become so popular today.

Bitwig vs Ableton: The Pros and Cons

Bitwig

Bitwig

Pros

  • Very compatible
  • Runs on Linux
  • Cheaper than other DAWs
  • Dual sequencer
  • Very modular
  • Easy to use grid system
  • Supports touch screens
  • Supports various MIDI inputs on single tracks
  • Ableton LINK support

Cons

  • Can be unreliable when working on multiple tracks
  • VSTs have the tendency to crash
  • No LV2 support

Ableton

Pros

  • Excellent creative workflow
  • Advanced automation
  • Feature, instrument, and effects packed
  • Industry-standard
  • Huge support community
  • Optimized for playing live
  • Advanced content browser
  • Minimum skeuomorphism
  • Ability to download and change themes
  • Ableton is a very stable program

Cons

  • Price
  • Can’t save keyboard shortcuts
  • Requires high CPU
  • No LV2 support
  • Can be slow

Are There Any Alternatives?

Logic Pro X

Logic Pro X 10.5

Logic is another titan of music production and has been around almost as long as Ableton. This is the preferred software for many musicians, however, don’t expect too much live support with Logic as it is designed primarily for production. It’s worth remembering that Logic is an Apple product so is only available on Mac.

FL Studio

FL Studio

FL Studio, or ‘Fruitloops’ to many, is a slightly more simplified piece of production software. Hugely popular with EDM and hip hop producers, FL Studio is a great option if you’re looking to get into production but want a professional-grade product. If you think this sounds like you be sure to read our in-depth FL Studio guide.

Frequently Asked Questions

Question: What are the system requirements for Ableton Live 10?

Answer: The system requirements for Ableton Live 10 are:

Mac

• macOS High Sierra 10.13 to Catalina 10.15.7
• Intel Core i5 processor
• 8GB of RAM
• 1280×800 screen resolution
• Core Audio compliant audio interface

Windows

• Windows 10
• Intel Core i5 processor or AMD multi-core processor
• 8GB of RAM
• 1366×768 screen resolution
• ASIO compatible audio hardware for Link support

Linux

• Ubuntu 18.04 or newer
• 64-bit dual core or better x86 CPU with SSE4.1
• 1280×768 screen resolution
• 4GB RAM
• 12GB free disk space

Our Verdict: Which DAW is Best for You?

We really enjoyed our time spent getting hands-on with Bitwig. It provides a great alternative to Ableton and is well worth at least demoing if you’re not entirely happy with Live 10 or if you’re looking at getting into production for the first time.

The thing with all DAWs is that it’s so much down to personal preference. They both essentially offer the same thing – a professional way to produce songs and play them live. It is down to you the user to decide which features, processes and extras suit your production style.

That said, we’d definitely recommend Bitwig as a more than worthy option and will have you playing your own creations through your speakers in no time.

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