You have just downloaded a plugin, but don’t know where to install it to use it in your favorite sequencer? Whether it’s a VST, Audio-Unit, AAX plugin, and whether you are on Mac or Windows. Let’s see where to install your instruments and effects.
On Windows 10, VST plugins are usually installed in the ‘C:\Program Files\Common Files\VST3\‘ and ‘C:\Program Files (x86)\Common Files\VST3\‘ but can also be found in other folders depending on the default paths used by the plugin installers or the VST version used. On Mac OSX, the VSTs will be found in the folders ‘/Library/Audio/Plug-ins/VST/‘ and ‘/Library/Audio/Plug-ins/VST3/‘ or their equivalent in the‘Users‘ folder
Plugins can be installed manually by placing them in a specific folder or by using the provided installer. Depending on the type of plugins and versions used, you will have to install them in different folders.
Why do some plugins need an installer?
Plugins using sample banks usually use an installer, because the samples are not in the plugin file (VST or other) and must be installed separately. Some editors use anti-copy programs to protect their software against piracy, so they have to install protection measures in addition to the plugin file. 🏴☠️
It is also possible that the publisher has chosen to use a plugin installer for all their software (like Native Instruments with ‘Native Access’ for example), allowing them to combine protection and a download platform, making it easier to access and install their products.
On the other hand, when you download free plugins, you probably don’t need to install them through an installer. These plugins are usually in the form of a file to be placed in the corresponding folder and do not have a copy protection system.
But where are these folders located?
Let’s have a look at the list of the main paths used by default by the plugin installers.
And… let’s face it, it all could have been a bit more tidy. 🤔
How to install plugins in Windows?
The questions that often come up the first time you download a VST plugin are“Where do I put the file?” or“Why is it a .DLL file?“. Here we will see why there are two types of VST files and what their differences are.
You should know that they are the same VST file formats for instruments (VSTi) as for effects (VSTfx) or even MIDI effects.
Tip 👌🏻 : You can install your plugins in subfolders of your VST folder in order to arrange them by type (Instruments, effects or effect subfolders). You don't need to add each folder in the VST folder settings of your sequencer, just the main folder. Your sequencer will scan all the subfolders in it.
How to install VST2 plugins on Windows?
The VST2 plugin format (32 bits) has the file extension ‘.DLL’. It is the old standard of Steinberg (editor of Cubase) in terms of plugin. It has been supplanted by the 64bits VST version, the VST3, which allows to use more RAM memory (which can be important for plugins using large sample banks).
According to the Steinberg documentation, here are the default paths used when installing VST2 plugins on Windows:
- C:\Program Files\VSTPlugins\
- C:\Program Files\Steinberg\VSTPlugins\
- C:\Program Files\VST2\
- C:\Program Files\Common Files\Steinberg\VST2\
And on a Windows 64bits system such as Windows 10 for example:
- C:\Program Files (x86)\Steinberg\VSTPlugins\
How to install VST3 plugins under Windows ?
The VST3 plugins (mostly 64 bits) are in the ‘.VST3’ format and can be found in this folder :
- C:\Program Files\Common Files\VST3\
For 32-bit VST3 plug-ins on 64-bit Windows(Windows 10), here is the default folder path:
- C:\Program Files (x86)\Common Files\VST3\
How to install AAX plugins under Windows ?
Files in AAX format (for “Avid Audio eXtension”) are plugins specifically developed for the ProTools sequencer. The AAX format has replaced the RTAS (Real Time Audio Suite) format.
There are two versions of AAX plugins, the so-called“Native” and“DSP” plugins. The native ones have the advantage of being compatible with all versions of ProTools whereas the DSP versions are not and need AVID compatible hardware to be used.
You must install them in this folder:
- C:\Program Files\Common Files\Avid\Audio\Plug-ins\
Note that unlike VSTs, the folder path cannot be changed! unless…
These shortcuts are not the same as simple Windows shortcuts, because they simulate the presence of the targeted file at the desired location, which does not cause an error in the plugin.
When installing your plugins, it is important to note their locations or even better, install them in a single folder! Because in case you want to uninstall them, you might not be able to find their locations easily if it is a single file (the others can be uninstalled from the Windows uninstall tool).
A simple trick is to create a custom location for your plugins (only valid for VST).
To do this, create a folder at the root of your main hard disk (easier to find) and name it ‘VST’ (which will give you ‘C:VST’) and install all your plugins, VST3 and VST2, in it.
This way, you won’t get lost in your hard disk and the different paths if you feel like cleaning up your plugins. This will also allow you to differentiate between the plugins installed by default by your sequencer(s) and those that you have installed yourself.
Of course, you will then have to specify the location of your VST folder in your sequencer and run a plugin scan to list them. This is usually done from the software preferences.
Important ❗ : In some cases, plugins cannot be moved after they are installed and must be installed in the desired location from the start. Moving them could make them unusable! This is usually the case if the plugin needs to be installed via an installer, but not for plugins that exist directly as a '.DLL' or '.VST' file and have not been installed via an installer. If you are in doubt, uninstall the plugin concerned and reinstall it in the desired location. If you have already installed a lot of plugins (to test them for example), explore your hard disk to see if your certain plugins are not installed or duplicated. This is to avoid using disk space unnecessarily or having the same plugin listed several times in your sequencer. You can also rename your VST plugins to list them better in your sequencer, but this is not recommended, as some plugins are interdependent and this could cause errors. Do this only on plugins that are installed via a simple VST file (without installer)
Tip 👌🏻 : If you use a lot of sample banks, it is better to use another disk than your system disk and SSD to store your samples (especially if you use large sample banks) and install your VST plugins on your system disk. Otherwise, you risk saturating your working disk, but also slowing down your system if it is used a lot simultaneously by your operating system and your sequencer.
How to install plugins on the Mac?
On the Apple system, the rules are the same and you will have to install your plugins in specific folders. But just like on Windows, you can use another folder as long as you add it to your sequencer’s VST folder list.
If you have several sequencers and softwares using your VSTs, you can also use symbolic links (SymLinks) to avoid having to add your scanner folder in each sequencer and software. To do this, you can follow this tutorial or a small freeware called SymbolicLinker or
How to install VST2 plugins on Mac?
When installing plugins on Mac, the default paths used for VST2 plugins are these:
For each type of plugins (VST and Audio Unit) there are two folders. A folder common to all users and a folder accessible only to one session.
If several of you use your plugins on the same computer using different sessions, be sure to install your plugins in the common subfolders(/Library/Audio/Plug-ins/).
Otherwise, the plugin will only appear in the folder of the user where the plugin was installed.
(Warning: The folders named USERNAME describe the session name of YOUR user account)
How to install VST3 plugins on Mac?
For VST3 plugins, the path can be found here:
How to install AU (Audio-Unit) plugins on Mac?
Finally, for AU plugins, the plugins can be found in this folder:
How to install AAX plugins on Mac?
- /Library/Application Support/Avid/Audio/Plug-Ins/
It is likely that you cannot access these folders directly (some folders are hidden). To open them, open the Finder and in the menu, click on“Go“, then on“Go to folder…” finally, make a Copy/Paste of the path and validate.
How to install Linux plugins ?
Most UNIX systems (including MacOSX) can be quite temperamental if you are not careful 🙄. This is because paths (so folder and file names) are case sensitive, meaning that an uppercase letter will not be the same as a lowercase letter (example: ‘/usr/lib/‘ and ‘/USR/lib/‘). Double check if you type the path name manually during an installation.
How to install VST plugins under Linux?
On Linux, you will have to install your VST plugins in this folder and not change their place. You can always create a SymLink to make a symbolic link if you want to place them elsewhere.
To create a symbolic link, you can follow the instructions in this video (for advanced users):
It is not always easy to locate the plugins folders, especially when it comes to VST plugins on Windows. This can sometimes be a problem when your sequencer scans VST folders and can become somewhat frustrating if it can’t find the plugins you just installed 😒.
Try to get into a good habit from the start by installing all your plugins in one folder (if you have the possibility). And uninstalling plugins you don’t use or that are no longer compatible with your sequencer.
A better organized and optimized workspace means more productivity and more fluidity, you won’t be held back by old plugins you don’t use anymore or by useless duplicates during your music sessions. Now, to your sequencers 😎!