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AU vs VST: The Art of Picking the Perfect Audio Plugin (2024)

AUs and VSTs are two of the most pivotal tools in a modern music producer’s arsenal.


These digital wonders can elevate a production from mundane to magnificent in mere moments.


Yet, if you’re unaware of the vital differences between these formats, it can be like navigating a maze blindfolded.


But fear not…


By the end of this comprehensive guide, not only will you be well-acquainted with these audio powerhouses, but you’ll also be using them like a seasoned pro.


In today’s article, we’ll be breaking down:


  • Importance of audio plugin formats ✓
  • AU vs VST formats & plugins ✓
  • The origin & impact of VST ✓
  • The rise of Audio Units (AU) ✓
  • Compatibility intricacies between VST and AU ✓
  • CPU efficiency considerations ✓
  • Sound quality comparison ✓
  • Latest versions and updates
  • Insights for both Windows & Mac users ✓


By the time you reach the end, you’ll be distinguishing between AU and VST like an expert.


As well as making informed decisions that can reshape the whole vibe of your music production journey.


So, let’s dive in…


The Importance of Audio Plugin Formats in Music Production


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If you’ve delved into digital music production, whether it’s r&b, hip-hop, or anything in between, you’ll quickly understand the significance of audio plugin formats.


As a seasoned music producer, I’ve seen the evolution and impact they have on modern music production.


Digital audio workstations (DAWs) provide the playground 一 but it’s the audio plugins that arm producers with the tools to shape and innovate sounds.


Between the two major audio plugin formats (AU and VST) there’s a universe of:


  • Discussions
  • Preferences
  • Technical details


But don’t worry, we’ll be breaking down each and every one for you today.


Virtual Studio Technology (VST)


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Let’s start out by diving deep into the world of Virtual Studio Technology and its revolutionary impact on music production.


VST stands for Virtual Studio Technology, and was introduced by Steinberg in 1996.


A game-changer, VST allowed for the integration of third-party effects into digital audio workstations.


This, of course, is a concept that would soon become industry standard.


Imagine the scene back then…


Digital music production was just gaining momentum, and producers were restricted by the native effects their DAWs offered.


But VST transformed this 一 opening a door to infinite sonic possibilities.


The importance of VST can’t be overstated. This technology paved the way for you to:


  • Simulate instruments
  • Synthesize sounds
  • Incorporate unique audio effects into your tracks


Needless to say, this revolutionize music production, which we’ll break down in the following section.


How VST Plugins Revolutionized The Game




Before VST plugins entered the scene, you often needed expensive hardware for specific sounds.


The introduction of VST plugins meant:



Especially in hip-hop, where sampling and unique sound textures are key, VST plugins provided the tools to produce unique beats.


Remember the heavy basslines or the surreal atmospheric sounds in some tracks?


Yep, that’s the magic of VST plugins at play.


Plus, with an ever-growing community of developers, the range and quality of VST plugins exploded.


From emulating vintage synths to creating entirely new audio experiences 一 the revolution was unstoppable.


If you’re searching for the best free VST plugins of 2023, look no further.


Audio Units (AU)


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Now that we’ve covered VSTs, let’s delve into the universe of Audio Units 一 Apple’s answer to the plugin format.


As VSTs gained traction, Apple wasn’t going to sit on the sidelines…


Enter: The Audio Unit (AU).


Audio units are Apple’s proprietary audio plugin format specifically designed for Mac OSX.


The inception of the audio unit format showcased Apple’s plugin format for their operating system, that was:


  • Streamlined
  • Efficient
  • Highly optimized 


And, as with everything Apple does, they prioritized audio units to be stable and perform professionally.


For the Mac user who loves producing, the AU format is no stranger.


Integrated seamlessly with Mac’s Core Audio Engine, audio units promised reduced CPU usage, ensuring smoother sessions (especially for heavy projects).


VST’s Compatibility With Both Windows and Mac


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VST’s universal appeal lies in its broad compatibility.


Whether you’re a Windows user working on Ableton Live or a Mac enthusiast using Cubase, VST plugins got you covered.


This cross-platform functionality gives VST an edge 一 especially for artists, DJs, or producers who switch between operating systems.


Plus, it’s easier for developers, as they can cater to a broader audience with a single VST plugin.


As discussed earlier, AU was birthed for Mac OSX.


This was a strategic move by Apple to offer an optimized audio plugin experience specifically for Mac users.


However, this exclusivity means if you’re working on a collaborative project where your partner uses a different DAW or OS, compatibility issues might arise.


It emphasizes the importance of understanding both formats, especially in collaborative modern music production settings.


Since we mentioned Ableton Live, if you’re looking to learn everything about Ableton Live, we’ve got you covered.


Pro Tools & AAX Plugins: Where Does it Fit?


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We can’t talk about plugins without touching on Pro Tools and its proprietary AAX format.


As another big-time heavyweight in the DAW world, Pro Tools opted for AAX.


Meaning, it distanced itself from the VST vs AU battle completely.


Avid Audio eXtension (AAX) plugins (specifically designed for Pro Tools) offer robust audio processing capabilities.


NOTE: For those deep in the AU vs VST debate, it’s essential to understand that Pro Tools offers VST to AAX adaptability.


This ensures that you’re not entirely left out.


AU vs VST: Which One is More Efficient?


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Efficiency debates between AU vs VST have been a focal point for many producers, yes even professional producers and professional artists.


AU plugins (being exclusive to the Mac ecosystem) 一 Tend to be more optimized for Mac OS.


Therefore, it possibly runs smoother and more efficiently on Mac systems.


VSTs (while universal) 一 Sometimes might not be as streamlined on a Mac as an AU plugin.


However, the actual performance can vary depending on the:


  1. Specific plugin
  2. Developer behind it
  3. DAW in use


It’s essential to test plugins individually to determine which one offers the best efficiency for your needs.


  • Tips for Optimizing Your Computer’s Processing Power in Your DAW


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To maximize the efficiency of your DAW and plugins, first, ensure that your computer’s drivers, OS, and DAW are up-to-date.


Outdated software can often be less efficient and more CPU-intensive.


Additionally, consider using a buffer size that’s appropriate for your current task.


  • For recording A lower buffer size is preferable to reduce latency.
  • For mixing A higher buffer size can be more efficient and reduce CPU load.


Also, occasionally freeze or bounce tracks that use heavy plugins, thereby freeing up CPU resources.


Delving Into Audio Effects Present in VST and AU Plugins


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Both VST and AU plugins offer a plethora of audio effects, from reverbs and delays to intricate modulation effects.


These tools have become essential for shaping and crafting distinctive hip-hop sounds.


While both formats deliver high-quality effects, the difference often lies in the developer’s vision and design rather than the format itself.


Producers should choose based on the sonic character they aim to achieve 一 often after trial and experimentation.


NOTE: When it comes to sound quality, many professionals claim there’s no difference between the two formats.


Therefore, always trust your ears and go with what feels right to you.


  • The Role of Your Digital Audio Workstation & How it Can Influence Audio Quality


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While plugins play a pivotal role, the DAW itself is crucial in shaping the sound.


All popular DAWs have:



All of these factora can influence the final audio outcome, so be aware of that.


For hip-hop producers, this might mean that a beat sounds slightly different when played in Ableton compared to Logic Pro or Pro Tools.


It’s crucial to know your DAW inside-out 一 leveraging its strengths and understanding its nuances to achieve the best sound quality.


Since we mentioned Logic Pro, we just wanted to make you aware that we broke down absolutely everything you need to know about Logic Pro to produce killer tracks.


  • Versions & Updates: Keeping Up With VST, VST3 & The Latest Versions Available


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As with most tech, audio plugins evolve.


VST, for instance, has seen multiple versions, with VST3 being the latest iteration as of my last update.


VST3 brings:



Remember, staying updated is not just recommended, it’s vital!


Not only do you benefit from the latest features, but newer versions often come with bug fixes 一 ensuring smoother operation.


NOTE: Some DAWs might not support the latest plugin versions immediately upon release, so make sure it’s compatible with your music software.


For the hip-hop community, these updates can be a double-edged sword.


While they offer improved features, they can sometimes alter the character of a beloved effect or instrument.


It’s a balance between embracing the new and preserving the character of the old.


Windows Users: AU vs VST


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For Windows users, VST reigns supreme, hands down.


DAWs like Ableton Live heavily favor VST due to its universal compatibility.


With Windows being unable to support AU plugins, VST naturally becomes the go-to format.


Ableton Live, with its intuitive workflow, combined with the vast array of available VST plug ins, offers Windows users an expansive playground for sonic creativity.


Pro Tools on Windows adopts the AAX plugin format.


However, given the popularity of VST, many third-party solutions allow for VST to AAX conversion (and vice versa).


This ensures that Windows users aren’t missing out on their favorite plugins.


The AAX format, while robust, does mean an added layer of complexity for those wanting to use VST plug ins.


For Mac Users: AU vs VST


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Logic Pro’s commitment to AU plugins is unyielding.


With Apple’s ownership, it’s no surprise that Logic Pro is optimized for the AU format, which offeers Mac users an integrated and seamless experience.


Hip-hop producers using Logic on Mac computers often find that AU plugins run efficiently (with fewer crashes or issues).


The synergy between Logic and AU plugins is evident 一 making it a preferred choice for many Mac-based producers.


Ableton Live, while popular among Windows users, has a significant user base on Mac as well.


On Mac, Ableton gives users the flexibility to use both AU and VST plug ins, making it a versatile choice.


This dual compatibility allows Mac users to pick the best of both worlds.


While some might prefer the optimization of AU plugins, others might lean towards certain VST plug ins unavailable in the AU format.


So, when it comes to the AU vs VST debate, it’s important to find the perfect match for you and your unique workflow.


AU vs VST: Final Thoughts


Navigating the expansive world of music production, especially the intricacies of “AU vs VST,” can initially seem like an overwhelming endeavor.


With every new piece of knowledge, however, comes an added layer of confidence and clarity.


Understanding the nuances and applications of “AU vs VST” allows you to harness the fullest potential of your DAWs and, more importantly, your creative vision.


But knowledge alone isn’t the endgame.


Applying what you’ve learned in a practical setting is where the real magic happens.


Here’s where resources like the free Famous Beatmaker Template Essentials come into play.


With templates structured around hit tracks in Ableton, FL Studio, and Logic Pro, this pack will aid in streamlining your production process.


As well as offer a professional platform to apply and experiment with your newfound understanding of “AU vs VST” plugins.


As you delve into your next project, consider the distinctions between “AU vs VST”, leverage the strengths of each, and use resources like the free templates pack to skyrocket your tracks.


Let every beat, melody, and mix you craft be a testament to the expertise you’ve gained.


Until next time…



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