Can Pro Tools Use VST Plugins? – The Definitive Guide

Understanding VST and AAX Plugins in Pro Tools

Pro Tools is one of the most widely used digital audio workstations (DAW) among music producers. It has a wide range of built-in plugins and effects, including Avid's proprietary Audio Suite format, which allows for editing and processing tracks within the software. However, many users may be wondering if they can use VST plugins in their Pro Tools workflow.

The answer is yes! While Pro Tools only supports Avid's own plugin format, AAX, there are several ways to incorporate VST and AU plugins into your Pro Tools sessions.

The Differences Between VST, AU, and AAX Plugins

VST stands for Virtual Studio Technology and is a plugin format developed by Steinberg that allows third-party developers to create virtual instruments or effects processors that can be used within a DAW. Similarly, AU (Audio Unit) is Apple's equivalent format for macOS users.

AAX (Avid Audio eXtension) is a proprietary plugin format created by Avid specifically for use with Pro Tools. It offers tighter integration with the software than other formats but limits users to using only those plugins that have been developed in this particular format.

It's important to note that not all plugin developers create their products in every available format. Some may choose not to make an AAX version of their plugin due to the cost or time constraints involved in development. This means that non-AAX options like VSTs may be necessary if you want access to specific tools for your productions.

Using Wrapper Plugins to Host VSTs in Pro Tools

If you're looking for ways to incorporate third-party plugins into your workflow while still using Pro Tools as your primary DAW, there are two main methods to consider. The first is to use a wrapper plugin that can host VST and AU plugins within Pro Tools.

Exploring Blue Cat's PatchWork as a Solution for VSTs in Pro Tools

Blue Cat's PatchWork is one such wrapper plugin that allows users to load and use VST and AU plugins in their Pro Tools sessions. It has an intuitive interface that makes it easy to browse your plugin library, adjust settings, and create custom chains of effects or instruments.

To use Patchwork, simply insert it onto a track or bus in your Pro Tools session. From there, you can add any VST or AU plugins you want to use into the Patchwork interface, adjust settings as desired, and start using those plugins within your mix.

Utilizing Plogue Bidule as an Alternative Wrapper Plugin

An alternative option for hosting non-AAX plugins within Pro Tools is Plogue Bidule. This modular software application allows users to build custom signal processing chains by connecting various modules together via virtual cables.

Bidule acts like a host environment for VSTs and AUs, allowing them to be used seamlessly alongside AAX plugins within your Pro Tools session. It also offers advanced MIDI routing capabilities, making it useful for complex productions that require multiple layers of automation or control.

Integrating Reaper via ReWire for Hosting VSTs Within Pro Tools

If you're not interested in using wrapper plugins but still want access to the vast world of third-party VSTs available on the market, another solution is integrating Reaper as a host application via ReWire.

Reaper is another popular DAW among music producers that supports both AAX and VST formats out-of-the-box. By running Reaper alongside your main Pro Tools session via the ReWire protocol, you can use any VST plugins you want within Reaper and then route those outputs back into your Pro Tools mix.

How to Use VST in Pro Tools 12

To set up this workflow, first, launch both Pro Tools and Reaper. In Pro Tools, create a new stereo audio track and insert a ReWire plugin onto it from the Avid folder. In Reaper, open up your Preferences menu and select ‘ReWire' under Audio settings.

From there, click ‘Enable ReWire slave mode', which will allow Reaper to receive audio signals from Pro Tools. Next, add your desired VST plugins as effects onto tracks within your Reaper session. Finally, arm the appropriate tracks for recording or playback in each DAW as needed.

Vienna Ensemble Pro 5: Another Option for Utilizing VSTS in Pro Tools

Another option available to users looking to incorporate non-AAX plugins into their workflow is Vienna Ensemble Pro 5 (VEP5). This application acts as a host environment specifically designed for virtual instruments (VIs).

With VEP5 installed on your system alongside Pro Tools, you can open AU and VST plugins directly within its window and use them seamlessly alongside AAX plugins in your sessions. It offers advanced features like multi-core support for improved performance when using many plugins simultaneously.

Weighing the Pros and Cons of Using Non-AAX Plugins in Your Workflow

While using wrapper plugins or integrations like ReWire or VEP5 can be an effective way to expand your plugin library beyond what's available natively within Pro Tools, it's important to consider some of the potential downsides that come with using non-AAX formats.

The first consideration is stability. Because non-AAX plugins are being run through an additional layer of software, there is a higher likelihood of crashes or instability compared to using only AAX plugins within Pro Tools. This can lead to frustration and wasted time during production.

Another potential issue is compatibility. While many VSTs and AUs will work flawlessly within wrapper plugins like Patchwork or Bidule, some may not function as intended due to differences in how each format interacts with various DAWs.

Alternative Options for Expanding Your Plugin Library Beyond Avid's AAX Format

If you're looking for alternative options beyond using VSTs in Pro Tools, there are other formats that may be worth considering. For example, Native Instruments' Kontakt player offers a vast library of high-quality virtual instruments that can be used directly within Pro Tools via the company's proprietary plugin format (Kontakt Player).

Additionally, many developers create their own proprietary plugin formats that may offer tighter integration with specific DAWs. It's important to research your options thoroughly before investing in any new plugins or workflows so you can make informed choices about what tools best suit your needs.

In conclusion, while it's true that Pro Tools doesn't natively support VST plugins out-of-the-box, there are several effective solutions available for incorporating these powerful tools into your workflow. From wrapper plugins like Blue Cat's Patchwork and Plogue Bidule to ReWire integrations with Reaper and Vienna Ensemble Pro 5, users have numerous options at their disposal when it comes to expanding their plugin libraries beyond what's available natively within Pro Tools.

While there may be some downsides such as stability issues or compatibility concerns associated with using non-AAX formats, the benefits of having access to a wider range of third-party effects processors and virtual instruments often outweigh these potential drawbacks. Ultimately the choice is yours, and with proper research and experimentation, you can find the best workflow for your specific needs.

About Author

Arielle P

Arielle P

Songwriter | Music Producer | Engineer.

With a background in music production and a strong passion for education, Arielle is dedicated to helping emerging artists navigate the music industry. She has worked with a diverse range of artists, from indie rock bands to well-known hip-hop and grime artists. Arielle's unique approach to teaching focuses on empowering artists to take control of their brand, ensuring they retain creative ownership throughout their journey. In her free time, she enjoys experimenting with new sounds in her home studio and sharing her insights through music production tutorials and workshops.

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