What Are AAX Plugins? (And Do You Need Them?)

Last updated:
Disclosure: We may receive commissions when you click our links and make purchases. Read our full affiliate disclosure here.
  • What are AAX plugins?
  • What’s the difference between AAX, AU, and VST plugins?
  • Can Pro Tools use VST plugins?
  • Also check out our guide to VST vs AU plugins

Plugin format acronyms can generally be confusing, with the most common being VST, AU, and AAX.

AAX is Avid’s own audio plugin format and is a successor to their previous “Real Time AudioSuite” (RTAS) plugin standard. If you’re a Pro Tools user, you are probably already using these plugins without realizing. 

In this article, we’ll explain what AAX plugins are and what makes them different to other plugin formats like VST and AU.

AAX Plugins Explained

What Is AAX?

AAX (Avid Audio eXtension) is a plug-in format developed by Avid technologies in 2011, the company behind Pro Tools.

AAX is Avid’s own plugin format for use in Pro Tools and other Avid media software. AAX plugins can be instruments or effects, just like AU or VST plugins.

However, these plugins can run on DSP acceleration hardware as well as natively on your computer (but not always both, it depends on the plugin).

The AAX format combines the best of both worlds from Avid’s prior plug-in formats: RTAS and TDM.

If you’re not a Pro Tools user, you do not need to worry about AAX plugins.

How Do I Use AAX Plugins?

The only thing that matters is that AAX plugins only work in Pro Tools.

For many, this is a real pain. Thankfully, Pro Tools lovers are used to pain and most dedicated users will not care. Because Pro Tools remains the industry standard for digital audio recording and mixing, most major plugin manufacturers offer AAX versions of their products.

To be fair to Avid, Apple also has an “exclusive plugin format” in the form of Audio Units (or AU plugins). But AU plugins are not exclusive to Apple’s DAWs, just their operating system. However, AAX plugins work on Windows and Mac.

Why Was AAX Created?

The reason for the development of AAX was explained by developer Paul Neyrinck and Avid’s Dave Tremblay in 2013.

According to Paul, AAX was born out of the need for a plug-in format that worked with both native and DSP systems (like an external DSP processor). 

Dave stated that AU–being a Mac-only format left Windows users with no option but to use VSTs, creating the need for a format that wasn’t limited to native applications.

He also stated that VSTs don’t work as well with very large sessions, due to the way they handle automation. Plus, being able to design your own plugin format for your own DAW has obvious performance benefits.

Is Pro Tools AAX Or VST? 

Pro Tools uses AAX plugins exclusively. Unfortunately, Avid Technologies make it so you cannot use VST plugins with Pro Tools. There are some workarounds, but native support is not provided.

All of their plugins have to be approved, and a license fee must be paid for AAX plugins “in certain cases.” If you have VST plugins that don’t have AAX versions (after 2013/Pro Tools 10.38), or RTAS/TDM versions(before 2013), you can’t use them in Pro Tools

FAQ

How Do I Open Pro Tools Without Plugins? 

With no active plugins, Pro Tools loads much faster than a DAW with active plug-ins, especially with larger sessions. 

To load a session with plug-ins inactive, go to the Open Session command (or hit command+O [Mac]/control+O [Windows]).

Select the session you want to open, then hold the shift key while clicking the Open button.

You can also hold the shift key while double-clicking on the session you’d like to open, or select the desired session, then hold the shift key while hitting the return key to select Open.

If a dialogue box opens asking about whether to save an open session or not, continue to hold the shift key while closing out the dialogue.

Can Pro Tools 10 Run 64-bit Plugins?

No, Pro Tools 10 only runs 32-bit plugins and uses the previous plugin-format RTAS or TDM. 

Pro Tools versions after 10.38(which was released in 2013) use exclusively 64-bit plugins in AAX format. 

What Is The Difference Between AAX And VST? 

AAX and VST are simply two different plugin formats that work with different DAWs.

They both sound the same, and the design of the plugin windows is just about the same, but VST works in a wider variety of DAWs including Ableton, FL Studio, Cubase, and more. But AAX only works in Pro Tools versions after 10.38. (2013) 

What Are The Two Different Versions of AAX? 

There are two versions of AAX: AAX Native and AAX DSP. The difference between them is that Native is compatible with every version of Pro Tools, while DSP specifically requires Avid HDX hardware.

Adding the DSP hardware allows you to do much more processing, and larger sessions become easier to manage as a result.

What Is The Difference Between AAX And RTAS? 

Before AAX, Pro Tools used both RTAS and TDM formats, with RTAS plugins utilizing the processing of the computer while TDM plugins use only the power of DSP processors.

From 2013 on, the support for these formats was terminated, and they were replaced with the more modern AAX format.

AAX is a 64-bit plugin format and RTAS is a 32-bit plugin format. 

Does AAX Sound Different Than Other Plugin Formats? 

No, all plugin formats sound identical, the only differences are slight changes in design and compatibility with host DAWs. 

Where Are Pro Tools Plugins Located? 

To find your Pro Tools plugins folder location on macOS, try these locations:

  1. Macintosh HD > Library > Application Support > Digidesign > Plug-Ins (RTAS & TDM)
  2. Macintosh HD > Library > Application Support > Avid > Audio > Plug-Ins (AAX)

To find your Pro Tools plugins folder location on Windows, look for this folder:

    • C:\Program Files\Common Files\Avid\Audio\Plug-Ins

Can You Use AAX In Other DAWs?

No, unfortunately, you cannot use AAX in any other DAW than Pro Tools versions later than 10.38. It is made exclusively for Pro Tools by Avid Technologies. 

How Do I Uninstall AAX Plugins? 

Windows

  1. Open Settings from the Start menu
  2. Click Apps
  3. Uninstall any plugins you want to remove
  4. If applicable, delete any associated folders in C:\Program Files\Common Files\Avid\Audio\Plug-Ins

Mac

With macOS, you can simply drag apps into the Trash to uninstall them.

So you can do this with your plugins, but if this doesn’t work or you just want to delete everything to make sure, try these simple steps…

  1. Open Finder
  2. Navigate to /Library/Application Support/Avid/Audio/Plug-Ins 
  3. Delete plugin files

Wrapping Up

In this article, we’ve unpacked what the AAX plugin format is, and talked about what makes it unique in the music production world.

The key thing to note is that it was created because Pro Tools moved to 64-bit in 2013 and AAX combined the best of both worlds from the two 32-bit formats prior to its release: RTAS and TDM. 

If you’re not a Pro Tools user, you do not need to worry about AAX plugins. It’s a format exclusively for Avid media software, and AAX plugins will not work anywhere else.