Plugin formats explained (VST, AU, AAX, etc)

These multiple plugin formats are a result of ongoing efforts in the industry to create standards that utilise the capabilities of either Digital Audio Workstations (or DAWs – the host platforms for plugins) or hardware.

The most common plugin formats that you'll find on Plugin Boutique are:

  • Native PC Platforms - this means all plugin formats supported by Windows-based music platforms. This primarily includes VST, but also can include AAX/RTAS plugins which are used in Pro Tools software.
  • Native OS X Platforms - This covers all plugin formats supported by Mac OSX-based music platforms. This includes VST, Audio Units and AAX/RTAS.

By 'Native' we mean an interface technology whereby all DSP Processing is done by the host computer's CPU, as opposed to outboard gear. 

Plugin Formats

VST (Virtual Studio Technology)


Introduced by Steinberg in 1996 in Cubase ver. 3.02. It is the most known interface type for effects and instruments. As of today VST has evolved into its 3rd version and is commonly referred to as VST3VST is the most widely implemented format in the industry and is supported by DAWs such as Ableton, Cubase, Sonar and more.

AU (AudioUnits)


Apple’s proprietary audio technology, part of the Core Audio provided by Mac X OS. It is part of the operating system so it provides low latency and system-level support for the interface. Most DAWs developed for Mac OS X support the Audio Units interface due to its stability and system-level solutions (which also means faster processing). Apple Logic only utilizes Audio Unit format plugins, but other DAWs such as Ableton can also use these.

AAX (Avid Audio eXtension)


AAX is a unified plugin format which comes in 2 variations: AAX DSP, AAX Native. AAX was introduced as Avid created a 64-bit version of Pro Tools, and this meant that a plugin format with 64-bit processing was required. With AAX, you can share sessions between DSP-accelerated Pro Tools systems and native-based Pro Tools systems and continue using the same plug-ins.

RTAS (Real-Time Audio Suite)


The RTAS plugin format was implemented in the Pro Tools series by Digidesign up to Pro Tools 10. Many plugin manufacturers developed RTAS versions of their plugins for the sake of compatibility with the Pro Tools series of DAWs. RTAS plugins can only be used within Pro Tools (up to version 10 only).

TDM (Time-division Multiplexing)


A version of Pro Tools plugins which are installed on outboard hardware such as dedicated DSP Processors for ultra-high precision and quality. TDM Plugins are usually installed in high-quality studio setups equipped with dedicated chips that process the audio signal – as opposed to having all processing done by the computer’s CPU.

We also offer Standalone products at Plugin Boutique. These versions may be included within Native downloads (if available), or will be listed as a standalone product within your account.




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