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.

Originally posted on June 24, 2010 @ 6:33 am

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