With VSTs, RTAS, AU, AAX, ABCs, and 123s, many producers find themselves overwhelmed by the choices and just want to get their plugins open and functioning without all the confusion.
Essentially, we live in a time where ever-evolving technologies make simple things like downloading a plugin more complex than they need to be.
If you’re interested in sorting out all of the confusion, this article will clear things up and help you understand the different plugin formats and how RTAS plugins differentiate themselves from the rest.
There are many different plugin formats used in modern DAWs. RTAS plugins are the flagship format developed by Avid Technologies for exclusive use in Pro Tools.
However, since 2013, RTAS plugins have been replaced by AAX plugins and are only available for use on Pro Tools versions 10.38 or before.
What are RTAS Plugins?
The name “Real-Time AudioSuite” provides a clue as to the function of the plug-in.
RTAS plugins are audio plugins that run in real-time, essentially mimicking hardware inserts on traditional mixing consoles. These plugins can only be used in Pro Tools.
Much like learning a musical instrument Pro Tools takes time, but the rewards and sense of satisfaction you gain from it are huge. As the industry-standard software, learning Pro Tools puts you in good stead.
On Mac, the default location for your Pro Tools plugins folder can be found here:
Macintosh HD > Library > Application Support > Digidesign > Plug-Ins (RTAS & TDM 32-bit)
Macintosh HD > Library > Application Support > Avid > Audio > Plug-Ins (AAX 64-bit)
Where Are Pro Tools Plugins Stored on PC?
On Windows, the default location for your Pro Tools plugins folder can be found here:
C:\Program Files\Common Files\Avid\Audio\Plug-Ins
Can Pro Tools Use VST?
Unfortunately, unlike most DAWs, Avid Technologies does not allow VST plugins within Pro Tools.
All of their plugins have to be approved with a license fee involved. 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.
What is the Difference Between RTAS and AAX Plugins?
RTAS only supports 32-bit files while AAX supports 64-bit files.
Prior to the release of Pro Tools 11, Avid Technologies DAW supported both RTAS and TDM formats, but they combined the best of both worlds of each format into one format, AAX(Avid Audio eXtension).
The advantage of this format is its ability to share sessions between DSP-powered and native-based Pro Tools systems, giving you more room to work with.
What is the Difference Between RTAS and TDM Plugins?
The main difference between these two is that RTAS plugins utilize the processing of the computer while TDM plugins use only the power of DSP processors, making them much faster, and freeing up the computer to do other work.
In 2013, the support for these formats was ended and they were replaced with a more modern AAX format, which is compatible with both TDM and RTAS plugins.
What is the Difference Between RTAS and VST Plugins?
VST (Virtual Studio Technology) is the most popular plugin format that is compatible with most DAWs outside of Apple’s Logic Pro X, Garageband, and other affiliated Apple products, while RTAS can only be used in Pro Tools 10.38 and prior.
RTAS plugins are also 32-bit while VST plugins offer both 32-bit and 64-bit.
What is the Difference Between RTAS and AU Plugins?
Audio Units (AU) plugins are only able to be run on Apple’s products. However, this includes a wider range of products than one would assume.
AU is used by Apple applications such as GarageBand, Soundtrack Pro, Logic Pro X, and Final Cut Pro, as well as third-party audio software developed for macOS such as Ableton Live, DaVinci Resolve, REAPER, and Studio One.
Do RTAS Plugins Work in Other DAWs?
Users of DAWs other than Pro Tools often ask if RTAS plugins are able to be used in their own systems. Unfortunately, this is not possible, and likely will never be possible.
FXpansion, the software company known for developing VST-to-AU wrappers among others, has said that the development of an RTAS-to-VST wrapper is a near impossibility.
According to the company, this is due to technical as well as legal reasons.
Not all RTAS plugins are guaranteed to work in Pro Tools, despite the fact that it is an Avid product. Many avid plugins have alternative versions in many other formats, though.
Are Pro Tools Plugins The Same As Other Plugins?
Just like many video game companies make the same game for Xbox and Playstation, many third-party plugin manufacturers make the same plugin for different DAWs.
Unlike most DAWs, Pro Tools plugins must have their own plugin format (RTAS, TDM, AAX).
Avid technology also makes avid plugins that are called “factory plugins,” where some are free upon purchase of the DAW, and some cost extra.
Is There Any Difference in the Sound of Different Plugin Formats?
The plugin formats use the same algorithm when it comes to sound, however, the layouts and design of each plugin format(AAX, VST, AU) will differ slightly.
The main reason behind the different plugin formats is simply companies seeking to make their software plugins only compatible with their DAWs.
Which is The Best Plugin Format?
There is no best plugin format, really. The differences are so slight that it’s hard to tell which plugin format is different from the other.
Plus, depending on the DAW you use, you are likely going to be forced into using the plugin format that is suitable for your DAW.
RTAS plugins have gotten mixed into the whole jargon of 2-4 letter acronyms for plugin formats.
But the key thing to note is that they’ve turned into AAX plugins since 2013 (after Pro Tools version 10.38) and that many of the different plugin formats’ only difference is their compatibility with certain DAWs.