VST vs AAX (Key Differences & Which To Use)

Disclosure: We may receive commissions when you click our links and make purchases. Read our full affiliate disclosure here.
  • What is the difference between AAX and VST?
  • Is VST compatible with any DAW?
  • Can you use both VST and AAX format plugins? 

These days, the market is saturated with music software. This is mainly thanks to DAWs such as Logic, Pro Tools, Ableton Live, and the plethora of audio plugins available.

There have been many plugin formats over the years, but right now, only a few are worth paying attention to.

I have previously done a brief dive into the subject of AU vs VST plugins, and in this second foray into the world of plugin formats, we will be looking at the AAX format and how it compares to VST.

So let’s get into it!

What Are VST Plugins?

Before diving into AAX plugins vs VST we will briefly run over each plugin format.

VST is an acronym for Virtual Studio Technology and was initially developed by Steinberg in 1996.

Virtual Studio Technology is one of the most popular audio plugin formats due to its strong association with PC operating systems and wide international availability within its user base.

VST plugins are compatible with almost every major DAW, with one notable exception being Apple’s Logic Pro.

However, they will not work with Pro Tools rigs without a workaround, such as ReWire.

This will enable two different software applications to work in unison in scenarios in which they would otherwise be incompatible. That said, ReWire has been discontinued as of 2020.

For many years VST format plugins were kept exclusively for PC users. In more recent times, VST format plugins have been made compatible with Mac OSX systems.

On Mac systems, it is still preferable to use Apple’s own AU plugin format due to its superior optimization for use on these systems.

What Are AAX Plugins?

AAX is an acronym for AVID Audio Extension. It was developed by AVID, the creators of the world-famous Pro Tools.

Avid developed AAX to replace the previous RTAS plugin format found on all versions of Pro Tools systems before the birth of Pro Tools 10.

AAX comes in two variants: AAX DSP and AAX Native.

With AAX, you can immediately share projects between DSP Technology enhanced Pro Tools Systems and Native Pro Tools systems without inherited DSP Technology.

As mentioned, AAX exists entirely for use within Avid Pro Tools. The use of this plugin format in other DAWs is not possible without the use of software such as Rewire.

AAX was created when Avid created a 64-bit version of Pro Tools, rendering the previous RTAS format obsolete.


So now you may be wondering, which format is superior to the other?

But the truth of the AAX vs VST discussion is that the answer to the question is not so clear-cut.

Firstly, your operating system and DAW alone will immediately determine which format you can use.

Even though there are workarounds to break down the barriers, in most scenarios, it is best to stick to the best-optimized configuration for your system.

First, ask yourself, are you using Pro Tools? Do you intend on using Pro Tools? If so, AAX is for you.

Otherwise, VST plugins are widely supported, so you’ll have no trouble finding software that can host VST plugins.

It’s also worth considering that some plugins are unavailable in AAX format, which may be a deciding factor for you.

Luckily, many plugin developers such as Waves, Brainworks, UA, and Fabfilter issue their plugins in multiple formats, making them accessible to users of all operating systems and DAWs.

A notable strength of the AAX plugin format is that is better optimized for CPU efficiency, and the two types of AAX offer added flexibility with hardware DSP setups.

AAX plugins are optimized well for Pro Tools setups, and you may notice better performance than VST plugins in other DAWs.

The fact that AAX plugins are designed to work in Pro Tools, and Pro Tools is a huge plus for performance and CPU usage.

Does AAX Sound Better Than VST?

Simply put, there’s no reason why an AAX plugin should sound any different from a VST plugin.

At the end of the day, all plugins perform the same calculations as far as processing goes.

This is true for all modern plugin formats. When it comes to AU, VST, and AAX plugins, the debate is not around which format sounds better, but rather which one is compatible with your setup.

For more on this topic, check out our article AU vs VST (Differences, Which To Use & Why).

Wrapping Up…

As we’ve seen, and as you probably expected, both formats have their inherent strengths and weaknesses. When it comes to which format is suitable for you, there’s not much to it. Here’s the rule of them:

  • Do you currently use or do you plan on using Pro Tools? If the answer is yes, you are stuck with AAX.
  • If you use pretty much any DAW (aside from Logic), you can use VST plugins.

VST plugins are more widely supported than AAX plugins, but AAX plugins have some performance benefits, especially if you’re using DSP hardware to handle your processing.