When you’re looking to purchase or download plug-ins, one of the main things you want to know is whether they’ll be compatible with your DAW and operating system. There are a lot of different setups and tech combinations these days, and that creates a lot of different environments for musicians to create with. So, here’s the question: Are VST plug-ins cross-platform? Will that shiny new synth play well with your specific setup? Let’s take a look.
While some plug-ins are created to work cross-platform, others are only supported on specific operating systems and DAWs. To find out whether the plug-in you’re considering is compatible with multiple platforms, you’ll need to assess the plugin’s technical specifications to be sure.
Remember, VST plug-ins are still software. Whoever created the plug-in is responsible for making it available on different platforms if they wanted to.
Often, audio plug-ins come packaged in various formats supported on many different DAWs, but this is not always the case. Some VSTs, particularly free ones, are often tailored for a specific program, such as Ableton or Protools. This also goes for the operating system that you’re using. Some plug-ins will be compatible cross-platform, while others will only work on prescribed systems, such as Mac, Windows, or Linux.
Are VST Plug-ins Cross-Platform?
The simple answer is that often they are cross-platform, but only to a certain extent. VST plug-ins are compatible with the likes of Cubase, Ableton Live, Reaper, and Nuendo. This means that you can go from one DAW to another, and there shouldn’t be issues with how you use the plug-in.
There are other types of plug-ins too, such as Audio Units, and we’ll discuss these in further detail below. But, these formats are only really compatible with Ableton Live and Logic Pro. Some additional examples of plug-in formats would be AAX (Avid Audio eXtension), which was developed by Avid and is compatible with Protools 10 and later. Additionally, there is the RTAS (Real Time AudioSuite) format which works in Protools 10 and earlier. The main difference between these last two is that AAX is a 64bit plug-in, while RTAS is a 32bit plug-in.
VST Vs. AU
They (VST and AU) are two sides of the same coin when it comes down to it. They are each plug-in formats that are merely compatible with different operating systems and DAWs. AU is used for Macintosh systems, and this is the only format supported by Apple’s Garage Band and Logic. Now VST is what is utilized by Windows users. These two formats of plug-ins are both popular among users, and, at the end of the day, when it comes to creating the final product, they work pretty much the same. One bonus with VST2, in particular, is that it’s compatible with Mac as well.
Plug-in Formats Explained
Our primary workspace is the DAW (Digital Audio Workstation), and with this, we can record, edit, mix, and master music. Plug-ins are then utilized to apply an array of processes and/or effects to the given audio.
When you are looking to find your ideal plug-ins, you will come to learn that different formats are available. As we know, we need to acquire a plug-in that is compatible with our particular software. As you’ll see later on, plug-ins aren’t only DAW-dependent. The operating system in use must also be taken into account. So, it’s important that we unpack the differences between the various plug-ins that are most common.
As we’ve seen, there’s quite a variety of audio plug-in formats. Just to recap, here are some of the various types you may come across:
It must be noted that VST2 is typically considered the most widely used of the formats mentioned above, particularly because it’s one that can be used cross-platform. On Mac, the file extension is .vst, and for Windows, it’s .dll.
How widespread is VST2?
However, certain DAWs do not support VST2, and these are Garage Band, Protools, and Logic (among others). Although VST2 is still generally utilized by most, VST3 is the latest format compatible with both Mac and Windows. It is slightly different from VST2. It has new features that VST2 did not have, and it was specifically designed to work with feature-intensive plug-ins.
As mentioned before, AU is comparable to VST or VST2, and it comes in the .component file format. The main difference is that, unlike VST, AU is not cross-platform. It’s only compatible with Mac systems. Although they are similar, they differ in how they’ve been built and delivered. However, the end product is ultimately the same.
AAX is the plug-in format created by Avid, and it works in tandem with the highly popular Pro Tools DAW. AAX is what has come to replace the older plug-ins, namely TDM and RTAS.
When you download a VST plug-in, you need to make sure that the plug-in is able to support your operating system. Something worth noting is that the format of the VST may be cross-platform, but the plug-in itself may not be. As mentioned before, this is often the case with free plug-ins. Audio Units are different in that their format is only tailored for use on a Mac. So, they will be compatible with the programs designed for this operating system only.
Another matter to be mindful of is whether or not the plug-in is made for a 64-bit or 32-bit operating system. This has to do with your computer’s hardware and operating system. It does not refer to the bit depth of your digital audio, which may be 16-bit or 24-bit. It’s important to keep this in mind because 64-bit systems can only load 64-bit plug-ins. And, 32-bit systems can only work with 32-bit plug-ins. This is the case with most programs and software purchases, but make sure that you do not overlook this when downloading your VST.
So, are VST plugins cross-platform or not? Our conclusion.
So, as we’ve seen, certain VST plugins are cross-platform; however, there are other considerations to be aware of before simply assuming that a plug-in will work on your computer and DAW. The main thing to keep in mind is that your operating system will have a big influence on whether the plug-in will be compatible.
Some plug-ins also only work with certain DAWs, and you ought to consider this when you opt for a certain program. You don’t want to be in a position where you have a preferred plug-in format, but it isn’t supported by your DAW.
So, the best option is always to check carefully when purchasing or downloading new VST tools. And in terms of versatility, utilizing VST2 or VST3, is often a great way to go.