What is a plugin Daw

What are plugins? Differences and application

Anyone who has ever worked with a DAW or a music-making program will certainly have heard the term “plug-in”. Audio plugins are very small programs and can be loaded into DAWs (Digital Audio Workstation), audio editors and other programs for making music. With audio plugins you can expand your software with virtual effects and software instruments.

Information about plugins, their use and benefits:

  • What is the difference between an instrument and an effect plug-in?
  • Which plugin formats are there?
  • How do you use plugins?
  • What are the advantages and disadvantages of using plugins?

The market for audio plugins is very extensive, so you will find the right software for many issues and styles of music. And you can even download the so-called freeware plugins for free. What plugins are available, how to get them into the DAW and what you can do with them, let's take a look at the following:

What is the difference between instrument and effect plugins?

There are two types of audio plug-ins: effect plug-ins and instrument plug-ins. Almost all DAWs have many virtual effects and instruments on board as standard. But sometimes you thirst for more variety. With plugins you can add effects and sound suppliers to your music software.

Effects come in a wide variety of variants and for different applications. There are equalizers and compressors to beautify and mix your recordings, and delays and reverb effects to spice it up. There are also many replicas of high-end studio equipment that were only available as expensive hardware in the 70s and 80s.

The same applies to the instrument plugins: With these you can get other sound suppliers on board. There are countless sound libraries for sample players like Native Instruments KONTAKT, i.e. sound extensions for all types of music. So you can freshen up your songs with fresh sounds without having to "tweak" a lot yourself.

Which plugin formats are there?

Plugins are available in different file formats. Before you buy, you should definitely find out which variants your DAW can handle. The most widely used format is the Steinberg VST. VST was developed for the DAW Steinberg Cubase, but is now supported by almost all music making programs.

The AU (Audio Units) format was originally developed for the DAW Logic by Apple, but is now also supported by other DAWs such as Ableton Live, Bitwig Studio and Co. - but only on the Mac.

There are also AAX plug-ins that are only compatible with Avid Pro Tools. Of course there are a few more exotic products on the market. But they have no real relevance. Rule of thumb for PC users: If there is a VST variant, it will also work 99.9 percent of the time with your DAW.

How do you use plugins?

In order to “load plugins”, they must first be purchased (of course not with freeware) and downloaded or copied from a data carrier to your computer and then installed. For most plugins there are normal installation routines in which the corresponding plugin folder of the computer is already given and you just have to click your way through the installation.

In rare, older cases, the files are manually moved to the appropriate folder, which nowadays only happens with free plugins. If this is the case, take the DLL (Windows) or VST or Components file (macOS) and move it to the folder on the hard drive.

Unless you have changed them yourself, they can be found by default under the following paths:


Macintosh HD / Library / Audio / Plugins /


C: \ Program Files \ VSTPlugins (64-bit VST2)

C: \ Program Files \ Common Files \ VST3 (64-bit VST3)

C: \ Program Files (x86) \ VSTPlugins (32-bit)

After the installation, you start your DAW, whereupon some software automatically performs a plug-in scan when it is started. If this is not the case, you will find a corresponding section in the settings of the DAW to browse the plug-in folder so that the plug-in is finally imported into your music program.

Advantages and disadvantages of plugins

Some producers still swear by analog technology and don't really love plugins. On the one hand, plugins still have the reputation of not sounding so warm and classy compared to analog technology. On the other hand, a plugin lacks the feel (and thus the fiddling fun). However, you only pay a fraction for a plugin.

With current replicas and concepts, the advantage of plugins predominates, which is why professional studios work equally with hardware and software plugins. Plugins can also be used multiple times in a project without having to buy additional licenses.

Best of all, all the settings you make on the plug-in are saved in the DAW project and will be called up again the next time you open the song. A somewhat annoying disadvantage of plugins is that - like any software - they have to be maintained in the form of updates. The more plugins you have, the more updates are imminent. Good hardware, on the other hand, rarely needs to be repaired.

Quick check: What are the advantages and disadvantages of plugins?


  • Settings can be saved easily (Total Recall)
  • Any number of instances can be used at the same time
  • Inexpensive compared to original hardware
  • Signal flow can be implemented easily


  • Need computing power
  • Updates and maintenance necessary
  • Lack of haptics, operation mostly only with the mouse

Tags: DAW plugins, effects plugin, home studio, instrument plugin, recording, studio