Plug-ins in audio production


During the coming weeks we will be talking a lot about various effects that we can process our audio with. If we choose to work in an entirely digital environment this will be achieved by using plug-ins. A plug-in (sometimes spelled plugin) is sort of an application that works inside your other application. Like an extension, or an add-on if you will, to your main application. When working with audio, and mixing specifically, plug-ins is a big deal. They let you do things that your application normally won’t.

Unfortunately, because the big companies never can agree on anything, there are a lot of different plug-in formats available for the different applications, which has lead to that you can’t get it all unless you run almost every application.

The major plug-in formats

VST: Developed by Steinberg, the creators of the audio applications Cubase and Nuendo. This is an open format so anyone can code VST plug-ins. This has had two major consequences: 1) There are a lot of VST plug-ins on the market 2) There are a lot of poorly written VST plug-ins on the market. The VST format is used by a lot of applications running on both Mac and PC.

AU (audio units): Apple-based format and thus only available for Mac users. It’s used by Apple Logic Pro and Logic Express for instance, as well as a couple of other applications running on Mac, like Ableton Live.

RTAS: This is the native format (I.E. running of the computers CPU) used by Digidesign Pro Tools, the industry standard in audio production. It’s a closed format and companies need to be certified developers to make plug-ins for Pro Tools. This is almost the opposite of VST, so the consequences here are therefore: 1) There aren’t as many plug-ins available in RTAS format and 2) they are generally of good quality (in my opinion).

TDM: This is also a Pro Tools format but unlike RTAS it doesn’t run off native processing but off DSP hardware cards manufactured by Digidesign.

DX (direct x): Windows only format.

MAS: A format used by the Mac application MOTU Digital Performer.

LADSPA: Linux format plug-in, used by Linux applications such as Ardour among others.

It might seem like a hassle to remember what is what, but don’t worry, just look for what format your application uses, keep it in mind and and forget about the rest.


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