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VST Vs AU: Audio Plugin Formats Compared

February 17, 2024 
VST Vs AU Plugins
Last Updated on February 17, 2024

Ever wondered how producers add those cool effects to their songs? It's all thanks to audio plugins! But there are different types of plugins, kind of like having different screwdrivers for different jobs. Today, we're diving into the world of VST Vs AU plugins, two popular formats that help define the sound of today! Let's dig in.

What Are VST And AU plugins?

VST plugins revolution

Imagine having a toolbox filled with special tools that can transform your voice, add crazy sound effects, or even replicate instruments like pianos and synthesizers. That's exactly what audio plugins do! They're like mini software programs that work inside your music editing software (called a DAW) to create, enhance, and fix sound.

VST Vs AU Overview

Now, there are different types of audio plugin formats, and two of the most popular ones are called VST and AU.

  • VST stands for Virtual Studio Technology. It's like the universal language of plugins, working on both Windows and Mac computers. Think of it like a common plug that fits into most outlets.
  • AU stands for Audio Units. These are specifically designed for Mac computers and work seamlessly with Apple's music software. For example, Apple Logic Pro only supports AU plugins.

VST Plugin History: A Brief Journey

VST plugins, with their versatility and cross-platform compatibility, have become a cornerstone of modern music production. But how did this technology come to be? Let's take a quick trip down memory lane:

1996: The year it all began! Steinberg, the company behind the popular DAW Cubase, introduces Virtual Studio Technology (VST) to the world. Initially, only a few basic effects plugins were available, but the potential was clear.

1999: VST takes a leap forward with the release of VST 2.0. This update introduces crucial features like MIDI support, paving the way for the birth of VST instruments (VSTi), allowing musicians to control virtual synthesizers, samplers, and drum machines directly within their DAWs.

2006: VST 2.4 further refines the format, addressing stability and performance issues.

2008: Steinberg unveils VST 3.0, a significant upgrade boasting improved plugin communication, better integration with DAWs, and enhanced audio processing capabilities.

AU Plugin History: A Mac-Centric Evolution

While VST plugins dominate the cross-platform scene, AU (Audio Units) hold a special place in the hearts of Mac-using musicians. Here's a glimpse into their history:

1996: Apple introduces Core Audio, a framework for handling audio on Mac computers. Embedded within Core Audio lies the foundation for Audio Units. Initially, they primarily focused on system-level audio processing tasks.

2002: AU version 2 emerges, offering a dedicated API for developing audio plugins specifically for music production. This marks the birth of AU plugins as we know them today.

2003: Apple releases Logic Pro 7, the first DAW to fully embrace AU plugins, solidifying their position within the Mac music production landscape.

2004: AU gains further traction with the introduction of GarageBand, making audio plugins accessible to a wider range of Mac users, including hobbyists and students.

2011: AU version 3 arrives, bringing improvements in stability, performance, and memory management.

Key Differences: VST Vs AU

VST Vs AU plugins with headphones and musical notes in the background.

While both VST and AU plugins bring the magic to your music, there are a few key differences to consider:

1. Compatibility

  • VST: The big winner here is cross-platform compatibility. VST plugins work on both Windows and Mac computers, offering greater flexibility for musicians using different operating systems.
  • AU: These plugins are exclusive to Mac, meaning they won't work on Windows machines. This might limit your options if you switch between operating systems.

2. Performance

  • VST: While potentially less optimized for Mac, VST plugins generally perform well and shouldn't be a major concern unless you're dealing with very demanding projects or experiencing performance issues.
  • AU: Being built specifically for Mac, AU plugins might offer slightly better performance on Apple computers due to optimized code. However, this difference is often negligible and depends heavily on the specific plugin and your computer's overall performance.

3. Features

When it comes to features, both plugin formats are equally great. The only advantage here would be for VST plugins, because they have a larger catalog to select from.

Keep in mind, these are just general points, and individual plugins within each format can vary significantly.

Choosing The Right Plugin Format

Mac and Windows logos representing how VST plugins are cross-compatible.

So, which format is right for you: VST or AU? The answer, like most things in life, depends. Here are some factors to consider:

  • Operating System: If you're a Windows user, VST is your only option. Mac users can choose between VST and AU.
  • DAW Compatibility: Check which formats your Digital Audio Workstation supports. Popular DAWs like Ableton Live and FL Studio favor VST, while Logic Pro works best with AU.
  • Personal Preference: If your setup supports both formats then experiment! See which one performs better. Some musicians even use a combination of both depending on their specific needs.

This table below shows which plugin formats are compatible with which daws.

DAWSupported Plugin Formats
Ableton LiveVST, AU (Mac only)
Logic Pro XAU
Pro ToolsAAX
FL StudioVST, FL Native

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

Can I use AU plugins on Windows?

No, AU plugins are designed specifically for macOS and iOS and cannot be used on Windows.

Is there a difference in sound quality between VST and AU plugins?

The audio processing quality of VST and AU plugins is generally considered to be the same. Differences in sound quality would depend on the plugin's design and the algorithms used by the developers, not the format itself.

Is CPU efficiency different when using VST vs AU plugins?

CPU efficiency can vary depending on how the plugin is coded and optimized for a specific format. AU plugins are optimized for Mac's Core Audio Engine and can sometimes be more CPU efficient on that platform, while the VST format has made strides in efficiency with VST3, which improves CPU usage by only processing audio when necessary.

Do I need different licenses for VST and AU versions of the same plugin?

Licensing policies vary by developer. Some developers provide a single license for both VST and AU versions of their plugin, while others may require separate licenses. Always check the licensing agreement of the plugin.

Can I convert a VST plugin to AU or vice versa?

Direct conversion between VST and AU formats is not straightforward because of the differences in how they are implemented and integrated into DAWs. However, there are third-party wrappers and hosts that can enable the use of VST plugins in DAWs that typically support only AU, and vice versa.

Final Thoughts

So, there you have it! VST and AU plugins are the weapon of choice for producers, letting them add awesome effects, cool sounds, and even replicas of famous instruments in their music. Whether you're a Windows or Mac user, there's a plugin format out there waiting to help you bring your musical ideas to life.

Remember, the best format comes down to a personal choice. Whatever you choose, just make sure it is compatible with your DAW and setup. But, don't get too caught up in the technical details – just have fun exploring and experimenting! Who knows, you might just create the next chart-topping hit with the help of your trusty audio plugins!

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