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An In-Depth Look at the audio plugin’s format

Écrit par MixCorner le 18 mars 2016, dans - Audio - Plugins. | 3089 visites pour cet article.

Depending of the DAW you use (Logic Pro, Pro Tools, Cubase, Digital Performer…) the nature of the plugins will be under different formats. This means that a plugin developed and dedicated to Pro Tools platform i.e. will not work under Cubase and conversely. For the time being, only Steinberg developed plugins under the VST format will work with different DAW.

For example, Studio One, by Presonus, uses also a VST format plugin. This explains why editors conceive plugins under many formats so that they will be functional in different DAW both on Mac or PC Platforms. This can be often see on the installation window.

Let’s have a look at the plugins’ format, DAWs and the files extensions associated.


Files created by Word display the extension .docx and the MP3 files the .mp3 extension. Some audio plugins formats can be easily notified accordingly with the platform for which they have been developed. However, this is not always the case. Let’s make a summary of the situation.

  • VST/VST3 Format
    Used by Cubase, Nuendo and WaveLab, plugins with VST format display extensions .vst, .vst3. This is water clear.
  • RTAS Format
    Previously used by Protools until the 10.3.8 version, RTAS plugins display .dpm extensions ! This may be confusing.
  • AAX Format
    The AAX format have been developed by Avid to replace the RTAS one. Their extension file is .aaxplugin.
  • AU Format (Audio Unit)
    The AU format (Audio Unit) is developed by Apple for Mac OSX only. It is used in Logic Pro and Garage Band. Their extension file is as follow : .component.
  • MAS (MOTU Audio System) Format
    The MAS (MOTU Audio System) format has been developed by MOTU for its own DAW Digital Performer which is probably the less used. Their extension file is .bundle.


Each plugin format is stored into a specifically dedicated folder, however, those folders are not necessarily located at the same place.

Fortunately, most of them are located into the folder :
Mac HD/Library/Audio/Plug-Ins/

In the screenshot below, you’ll find the folders of interest : « Component », « MAS », « VST » and « VST3 ».
There are 2 separate folders regarding the VST formats. This is due to the fact that Steinberg improves the VST format on a regular basis which explains that several versions can be found. It should be noticed that those folders include the entire amont of plugins that your DAW uses and displays in their menus.

To confirm what has been described, as an example, I’ve installed all IK Multimedia plugins that are displayed in the window below.

The others are located into another folder. Indeed, Avid which is in fact the the former company Digidesign decided to locate their plugins in the following folder :
Mac HD/Library/Application Support/Digidesign/Plug-Ins/

Moreover, the location has also been moved when they have switched to AAX format :
Mac HD/Library/Application Support/Avid/Audio/Plug-Ins/


Sometimes, it might be necessary to clean up the folders containing some expired « trial » version either because when not in function anymore it may alter the stability of the DAW or to make some free space. We strongly recommend to perform such operation from times to times.
As a proof, take a look at the size of the folder mentioned below that only includes Component », « MAS », « VST » et « VST3 ».

While the size of the folder mentioned above is quite large, it doesn’t include the folders RTAS et AAX ! Would it be the case, the size would have reached 7.3 Gb in the peculiar situation that prevails on my Mac.
In summary, the reader would have understood that because of an increased use of SSD hard disk in computers, we highly recommend that any potential additional free space would be useful.
However, during the installation process, a very common habit is not to select only the appropriate plugin format but rather …to instal all !
Since they are useless, it would be recommended to either « uncheck » the inappropriate ones when installing or delete those installed but not in use by your DAW.

For a complete cleaning process, check the following folders

Mac HD/Library/Audio/Plug-Ins/Component/
Mac HD/Library/Audio/Plug-Ins/MAS/
Mac HD/Library/Audio/Plug-Ins/VST/
Mac HD/Library/Audio/Plug-Ins/VST3/
Mac HD/Library/Application Support/Digidesign/Plug-Ins/
Mac HD/Library/Application Support/Avid/Audio/Plug-Ins/

And delete any unnecessary plugins in your system. It may appears tedious but, actually, this is the only way to do it.


As always, there is always one ... For the time being, the winner is Waves. Their plugins (which have the extension .bundle as well as the MAS plugins) don’t belong to the folders mentioned above ...
However, you’ll find them anyway at the location :
Mac HD/Applications/Waves/Plug-Ins V9/

At least they also provide an uninstaller that can make the job and delete all concerned plugins.


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