Audio Plugin Formats: VST, AU, AAX, RTAS and TDM

Audio Plugin means a tool to process digital signal (digital signal processing) in your track while it is recording such as send fx effect (send) or channel (channel). Common plugins that are often used usually consist of an equalizer, compressor, reverb, and delay. All of them can be an important part of the mixing process in multi-track recording. That means you can easily and relatively cheaply get it.

This article will discuss the plugins that cover their role in the music mixing process and how to use them. For this reason, the type of plugin is also an inseparable part of you want to know and understand plugins. While a review of the differences between native and third-party plugins is discussed in the hope that this information can be used as a guide in finding official sites where plugins are sold.

In simple terms, plugins are useful for processing instrument sounds in various ways. Sbats can do things from providing reverb or delay effects to tricks like increasing the overall volume of a track (normalize) or even changing the tone of an instrument.

Audio Plugin Formats

There are two ways that can be done when using a plugin, namely real-time and offline. Real-time processing means it is used while the song is playing. This technique in principle makes the computer feel heavier. Therefore it will affect the number of plugins used simultaneously. Often this real-time technique is used when mixing songs. The second way is Offline, using a plugin offline means the opposite, namely processing audio when the song is not playing. Offline techniques are fairly common for doing jobs like normalization, quantization, transpose, and other audio processing approaches.

Types of plugins are quite diverse and consist of several formats. This relates to the events when audio recording software programs were first developed, each manufacturer using their own format for their plugins. Initially, there were no plugins made by third-party manufacturers, but as recording programs became popular, third-party plugins became available.

The Most Popular Audio Plugin Formats

Audio Units

The first audio plugin format is Audio Units (AU). It is a format developed by Apple for OS X. It is used in programs running on Mac OS X, such as Logic and Digital Performer.

DirectX (DX)

Direct X (DX) is a format developed by Microsoft for Windows systems (sorry Mac users, you cannot use this plug-in) and is used in programs such as SONAR and other Cakewalk products. The DX-format is one of the most common plug-in formats,


The next audio plugin format is MAS. The MAS format was developed by MOTU for Digital Performers. This plug-in format is not as common as the others, and Digital Performer now uses Audio Units in its programs.


Real-Time Audio Suite is Digidesign’s proprietary plug-in format used in Pro Tools LE (and sometimes Pro Tools TDM) software. There are many RTAS plug-ins available in the market.


The next audio plugin format is TDM. The TDM Plug-in is a Digidesign DSP-based plugin for the Pro Tools TDM system. (Digital Sound Processing) stands for digital signal processing.) These plug-ins are host-based plugins, which means they run the DSP chip for Pro Tools, not from the processor in the computer. This has several advantages: The system is not pressured by this plugin. This is less of a problem today than it was a few years ago, as the processing power of computers has increased tremendously.

The maker is insured against piracy. Since these plugins require a computer chip to run, they cannot be copied. This has resulted in some very advanced plugins being developed in this format.

The problem is that you need a Pro Tools TDM system (which is expensive), and these plug-ins are a lot more expensive than their non-host-based counterparts.

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Developed by Steinberg (the makers of Cubase and Nuendo, among other programs), the VST plug-in is used on Mac and Windows computers. This is the most popular plug-in format and because of that, you find a huge range of options.

This difference in format is ultimately a loss for us because we have to use a plugin that matches the format of the recording program used. But you don’t have to worry because you can find special adapters known as wrappers that help you to use one plugin format in programs that run on another. For example, many people used Logic or Digital Performer before OS X.

That’s why I collected a lot of VST or MAS audio plugins. However, when switching to OS X, this plugin suddenly became useless at least until the FXpansion VST to AU wrapper was introduced. So basically you just have to install the wrapper and you can immediately run the VST plug-in in programs that require the AU plugin. This relatively inexpensive option saves a lot of people from having to throw away their old collection of audio plugins.