AU vs VST (Differences, Which To Use & Why)

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  • What should I use on Mac – VST or AU?
  • Should I install VST2 or VST3?
  • What format is better to use on PC?
  • Also, check out our guide to AAX plugins, and our guide to RTAS plugins.

Plug-ins are more or less essential for modern music production, and as producers we all have favorites that we use religiously.

Regardless of what DAW you use, be it Ableton Live, Logic Pro X, Pro Tools, Reaper, or Cubase, there’s a good chance that plugins are very important to you as a producer.

When caught up in all of this plugin passion, it is worth noting the relationship between these utilities and their compatibility with different operating systems.

In this article, we will be discussing audio plugin formats, specifically the concept of Audio Unit vs VST plugins in the modern production workspace.

VST vs AU Plugins – What’s The Difference?

AU plugins are “Mac-only” as the format is designed by Apple. AU plugins work best with Logic and Garageband and most popular DAWs.

VST plugins are more universal and are not tied to a specific operating system.

What Are Audio Plugins?

Audio plugins are modules used in Digital Audio Workstations (DAWs) to perform the functions of instruments, effects, and sequencers. There are three common plugin formats: VST, AU, and AAX.

For decades, music production existed in an entirely analog world. Engineers and producers would utilize the services of beautiful analog consoles, tape machines, and racks of outboard gear to hone their craft and bring their productions forth into the world.

Over time, as digital technology became more prominent, it made more sense to have computers perform these tasks. First we saw digital rack gear, but in the 90s the power of home computers had improved to the point where we could have this same processing power in our own PCs.

These days, a single computer takes up far less space than all the gear it can emulate. Of course, there will always be arguments about whether digital emulations of analog equipment sound as good as the real thing.

What Is VST?

VST stands for Virtual Studio Technology and was developed by Steinberg Media Technologies (now owned by Yamaha).

Like AU plugins, VST plugins can be either audio effects, instruments, or MIDI processors.

The majority of VST format plugins are designed for use within Digital Audio Workstations and tend to be more associated with PC than Mac.

It is worth noting that both VST2 and VST3 plugins exist. VST3 is the latest version and is becoming more common. The main difference is that VST3 format plugins are better at shutting off to save CPU when not in use.

On the other hand, VST and VST2 format plugins are constantly processing, regardless of whether the audio signal is present or not.

VST plugins are commonly supported by Ableton, Sonar, Cubase, and more.

What Are AU plugins?

AU “Audio Unit” is a plugin format developed by Apple for Mac OSX and iOS systems.

In the discussion of Audio Unit vs VST format plugins, one could simply conceptualize that AU is Apple’s native equivalent to VST. This is partly true.

Despite Apple developing the AU format for use within music production on Mac OSX systems, it is worth mentioning that you can use VST plugins on Mac systems…just not in Logic or Garageband (two popular music making apps owned by Apple).

For this reason, it is OK to forgo VST plugins on a Mac setup and just rely on AU plugins, assuming your DAW supports them.

It is worth noting that AU plugins are compatible with Ableton, with the only major DAWs on Mac not supporting AU being Pro Tools and Cubase.

VST vs AU Plugins – Summing Up

Simply put, AU is a plugin format made by Apple that is specific to Mac computers. Not all DAWs support AU plugins but many major ones do.

VST (Virtual Studio Technology) is an OS-independent plugin format, but is mostly popular on Windows computers.

At its core, the format of an audio plugin is merely a shell encasing code, however, it is what you do with these amazing tools within your productions that truly counts!

Use what is available to you to its utmost potential, and you will continue to see your productions reach new heights!

(We take a look at the best free synth plugins ever made in 9 Of The Best Free Synth VSTs In Existence.)