spectral madness

Yesterday Sugar Bytes announced a cool granular effect called Graindad, which seems to have several tricks up its sleeve that the likes of Clouds or Beads or Melotus Versio don’t. Some of it is an overcooked modulation system, but still the rest of it seems like it’s full of potential, with buffers that can be automatically separated by transients. I’d planned on checking it out today, but something else dropped that stole my attention.

Bitwig announced their first add-on, Spectral Suite. It’s a set of Bitwig devices — kind of like plugins but specific to Bitwig — which split audio into multiple chains (which can host other effects, be rerouted elsewhere, or simply be used to adjust level or panning) and merge them back together. There’s:

  • Transient split: separates audio into transients (e.g. initial attack, sudden changes in level) and tonal sounds.
  • Freq split: subdivides frequency bins into some number of groups (1 to 1024) and then round-robin distributes them among 4 chains. This can sound great when panning each chain a little differently, or putting delays of different lengths on them, and you can rotate/change the grouping to get cool phaser-like sounds.
  • Loud split: categorizes each frequency bin as loud, medium or quiet depending on some settings, and then separates them into their categories. This is an incredible tool; I’ve experimented with much less sophisticated versions before (including writing my own slow, lo-fi mess). This would pretty much be worth the price of admission on its own.
  • Harmonic split: analyzes the sound to identify the harmonics, then separates them into fundamental/other/inharmonic, odd/even/inharmonic, or Nth/other/inharmonic. Incredibly cool for distortion or reverb or just all kinds of things.

These are all great effects, blowing away all competitors and at a price lower than many of them. But people are soooo angry!

Bitwig’s upgrade plan is weird and controversial. It works like this:

  • When you buy the software, you get 1 year of free updates.
  • When that year runs out, you can still use the software but can’t download new versions (except point release bug fixes).
  • At any time, you can buy a license to get another year of updates. You can do that while it’s on sale and then not activate it until later, if you want. A lot of people wait until there’s a major update with features they want before they activate those licenses.

From a user perspective, it’s obviously not as good as “free updates forever” like with FL Studio. It’s better than a regular subscription where you can’t use the software until you pay more. But… it’s kind of like gambling. When you activate the update license you don’t know what you’re going to get in the next 12 months. Maybe two days after it expires a big exciting update will drop. So people don’t like it, and Bitwig might be better off charging for every version update as some companies do.

I think their system does have advantages. They roll out cool new features in point releases pretty frequently and things get improved steadily by user feedback. If they went to a system where they charged for major point releases, I kind of think the pace of development would be slowed some.

The release of Spectral Suite complicates things by not being included as an “update”, but considered an “add-on.” A lot of people are (dramatically of course) saying they feel betrayed, that this is fraud, that Bitwig are greedy, that they’re going to go look for some other DAW even though they think Bitwig is the best, and so on.

If this suite had been released by literally any other company, those angry people would be celebrating how awesome it is and how the price is more than fair. Maybe Bitwig should have created a fake new brand, give them credit for developing the tools, and then “partner” with Brand X to sell it on the Bitwig website. That’s literally being dishonest and yet people might have accepted it better.

Personally, I’m not mad — I’m very happy with the huge boatload of new potential that just sailed in to port. But I’m tired of arguing with people about it online.

Maybe another day I’ll check out Graindad. It seems pretty good too 🙂

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.