How to Install VST Plugins in Pro Tools
By Scott Shpak
Updated September 22, 2017
Avid Technology's Pro Tools digital audio workstation software is so prominent that "pro tooling" has become a generic term for audio editing, much as "photoshopping" describes any digital image manipulation, regardless of the program used. As with most DAWs, Pro Tools uses plug-ins to add effects and virtual instruments, in either the Real Time AudioSuite or Avid Audio Extension format. Virtual Studio Technology plug-ins have never been directly supported by Pro Tools, though there are some ways to incorporate VST-compatible products.
Virtual Instruments and MIDI
While not a truly "installed in Pro Tools" method, a VSTi virtual instrument that has a standalone version or that is running in a host utility, such as Cantabile Lite, MiniHost or SaviHost, may be able to accept a MIDI track created in Pro Tools, with the audio output of the instrument then returned to Pro Tools as an audio track. This additional processing may cause latency delay on the resulting audio track, but it can be corrected by dragging the audio into place or entering a time offset.
The ReWire Solution
ReWire is a system for transferring audio between applications, developed by Propellerhead Software. ReWire itself doesn't host VST plug-ins, but it allows programs that support both VST and ReWire to share audio with versions of Pro Tools that support ReWire. An application that supports ReWire can be loaded into an audio track in Pro Tools using an insert slot through the multi-channel plug-in selection from the insert menu. The ReWire application now runs in sync with Pro Tools. Indirectly, VST plug-ins in the other application are now working with Pro Tools.
Using a Wrapper
The previous solutions are, at best, work-arounds with the Pro Tools program itself. VST to RTAS Adapter 2.1, from FXpansion, allows seamless VST integration into Pro Tools. Requiring very little in the way of CPU resources, plug-ins used with this adapter appear as RTAS plug-ins when you're working in Pro Tools. Some VST plug-ins using VST version 2.4 may not work with the FXpansion adapter and Pro Tools. This is a problem with the plug-in itself, so contact the vendor of the plug-in to see about solutions.
The Future of Plug-In Support
As with many contemporary DAWs, Avid is constantly refining and updating the performance and features of its Pro Tools software. The move to 64-bit processing engines is rendering many 32-bit plug-ins obsolete across every platform. Even the RTAS format is falling victim to progress and it will not be supported in Pro Tools 11, the current release at time of publication. VST to RTAS Adapter 2.1 will work only with Pro Tools versions 7 through 10. Since MIDI solutions work outside of Pro Tools, compatibility depends on the MIDI host. While ReWire applications have a detection bug within ProTools, there is a workaround and ReWire continues to be supported in Pro Tools 11.
A full-time content creation freelancer for over 12 years, Scott Shpak is a writer, photographer and musician, with a past career in business with Kodak.