Using VST Plug-Ins in Digidesign Pro Tools

Steinberg’s Virtual Studio Technology has been around since 1996 and VST plug-ins make up a majority of the plug-in selection out there. Especially, where freebies are concerned. So, why not start taking advantage of VST in your Pro Tools sessions?

Quick VST and RTAS History Lesson

Kudos to Steinberg

Back in 1996, Steinberg, the German software developer behind hugely successful music programs like Cubase, Nuendo, and Wavelab, developed a technology called VST. VST stands for Virtual Studio Technology.

The first thing Steinberg did with this technology was to incorporate it into their flagship music software, Cubase VST.

Using VST Plug Ins in Digidesign Pro Toolsvst logo

All of us who are producing music in our home studios, in one way or another, owe respect to Steinberg. Cubase VST was the very first music application that offered real-time host-based plug-in processing. It offered a then-powerful and affordable way to produce music “in the box”, using only the software and a decent computer.

Pro Tools in 1996

At the time when VST came out, Digidesign Pro Tools did not have a host-based, real-time plug-in format of their own. So, if you wanted to run Pro Tools with real-time plug-ins, you would have to use Pro Tools TDM, with it’s proprietary hardware DSP cards. Unfortunately for home studio enthusiasts, the typical Pro Tools TDM system in 1996 cost between $10k and $20k.

Using VST Plug Ins in Digidesign Pro Toolspro tools 24 mix card small

Digidesign Introduce RTAS in 1999

In September 1999, Digidesign announced their own host-based real-time plug-in format called RTAS. With RTAS, Pro Tools users could now have real-time, host-based plug-in processing in an affordable Pro Tools home version, Pro Tools LE.

Using VST Plug Ins in Digidesign Pro Toolsrtas logo

VST and RTAS today

So, here we are today. Cubase and Nuendo users have VST. Pro Tools users have RTAS. Everyone’s happy. So, why even talk about using VST plug-ins in Pro Tools?

There are tons of amazing VST plug-ins.

Steinberg made the Software Development Kit for VST freely available to anyone who wants it. Therefore, any experienced developer can create a processor or virtual instrument and make it into a VST plug-in. As a result, there are thousands of VST plug-ins out there, including free, low-cost, and/or commercially available ones.

The sheer quantity of VST developers and plug-ins out there means that finding great VST plug-ins for free requires some time and effort. But in spite of that, it’s worth it. There are still more than enough well-coded and stellar sounding free VST products – not to mention, first rate commercial VST plug-ins – on the market to make it worthwhile looking at VST plug-in options.

RTAS Software Development
Instead of putting their ‘code’ out there for anyone to use, Digidesign require developers to fill out an application if they want to make RTAS plug-ins. If accepted, not only will the developer have access to the RTAS SDK, but they’ll get development support – for free – from Digidesign. While some may grumble about this, I believe this approach ensures a higher overall quality standard for RTAS plug-ins.

The FXpansion VST to RTAS Wrapper

FXpansion have developed a utility application that you can buy and download for $99.00 from their website, www.fxpansion.com It enables Pro Tools to use VST plug-ins. It does this by taking the VST plug-in and wrapping it in a RTAS “shell”. The result of using the wrapper is that you have a seamless integration of VST plug-ins into your Pro Tools mixing environment as well as access to some very cool VST-only virtual instruments.

Using VST Plug Ins in Digidesign Pro Toolsadapt

Tutorial: Using the FXpansion VST-RTAS Wrapper

Tutorial Prerequisites

This tutorial requires that you have a legal downloaded version of the FXpansion VST-to-RTAS V2 software and that you have experience installing software on your computer

Step 1: Get the Wrapper

If you don’t already have it, get the VST-RTAS Wrapper at the FXpansion store. It’s $99.00.

Step 2: Get a free SSL VST plug-in

Go to the SSL website here, fill out their ten second registration form and then download the LMC-1 plug-in.

The LMC-1 alone is reason enough to want to use the VST-RTAS Wrapper. It’s a plug-in that emulates the SSL Console signal path that Peter Gabriel, Phil Collins and many others have used to create a very classic drum sound.

Using VST Plug Ins in Digidesign Pro Toolsssl lmc1

Note: Make sure you read the compatibility details at the site.

Step 3: Install the Wrapper

Please refer to Page 2 of the VST-to-RTAS V2 Wrapper PDF manual that was part of the purchased download – it has step-by-step installation instructions for both OSX and Windows systems.

Step 4: Install the SSL LMC-1 Plug-In

Install the plug-in by double clicking on the Installer that you downloaded and follow the prompts.

Depending on your system, the Installer will put the plug-in in one or more VST Plug-Ins folders on your hard drive.

In Mac OSX, it will put it in the Library → Audio → Plug-Ins → VST folder.

Using VST Plug Ins in Digidesign Pro Toolsvst plugins folder

Step 5: Launch the VST-RTAS Config application

This is the control panel for the VST-RTAS Wrapper. We’ll use this to “wrap” the LMC-1 VST plug-in in a RTAS shell so Pro Tools can use it.

Using VST Plug Ins in Digidesign Pro Toolsvst rtas logo

Step 6: Enter the Serial Number and Proceed

The first time you launch the Wrapper Config application, you’ll be asked to enter the Serial number that you got when you bought it. After doing so, you’ll be presented with the Config Application window, like so:

Using VST Plug Ins in Digidesign Pro Toolsvst to rtas configuration software 1

Step 7A: Detect ALL VST plug-ins

You might not want to wrap all the VST plug-ins on your system. Please read through Step 7A and Step 7B before completing this step.

In the top left-hand corner of the Wrapper Config application window, you’ll see a list of locations where VST plug-ins may reside on your particular computer.

You may want the Wrapper to detect any and all VST plug-ins on your system. If that’s the case, leave all the VST folders in the list and press the Detect and Wrap VST plug-ins button.

The Wrapper will scan each of the folders in the list and wrap as many VST plug-ins as it can.

Using VST Plug Ins in Digidesign Pro Toolsdetect and wrap 1

Step 7B: Detect hand-picked VST plug-ins

If you’re like me, you might just want to hand-pick the plug-ins that are wrapped from among the VST plug-ins on your system. This takes a few extra steps.

Step 7B-1: Copying the VST plug-ins to the correct location

Before you wrap your hand-picked selection of VST plug-ins, you’ll need to copy the plug-ins you want – in this case the SSL LMC-1 – into the Applications → “VST to RTAS Wrapper” → “vstplugins” folder:

  • On the Mac, go to the LMC-1 plug-in at this Location: Library → Audio → Plug-Ins → VST folder.
  • Right-Click on the plug-in to reveal a contextual menu.
  • Select “Copy SSL LMC-1.vst”

Using VST Plug Ins in Digidesign Pro Toolscopy plugin

  • Navigate to: Mac → Applications → “Vst to Rtas Wrapper” → “vstplugins” folder.
  • Right-Click inside the folder area and Select “Paste Item” from the contextual menu.

Using VST Plug Ins in Digidesign Pro Toolspaste itemUsing VST Plug Ins in Digidesign Pro Toolspasted item

Step 7B-2: Customizing the VST folders list

In the Wrapper Config application, click to select the folders you DONT want to use and remove them from the list by clicking the minus sign

Using VST Plug Ins in Digidesign Pro Toolsremoving list item

Step 7B-3: Click on Detect and Wrap plug-ins button

Using VST Plug Ins in Digidesign Pro Toolsdetect and wrap 2

Step 8: The Messages Window

As the Wrapper is detecting and wrapping the SSL plug-in, the Messages window will update in real-time, showing you what’s happening.

Using VST Plug Ins in Digidesign Pro Toolsmessages
Step 9: Wrapping Options and Information

The bottom half of the Wrapper Config application is called the “Wrapping Options and Information” window. This is where you can find the current status of the plug-ins that the Wrapper has detected.

Using VST Plug Ins in Digidesign Pro Toolsoptions and infoUsing VST Plug Ins in Digidesign Pro Toolsoptions and info2

Step 10: Launch Pro Tools

It’s time to start using the VST plug-in within Pro Tools. You won’t be needing the wrapper config application any more for this tutorial, so feel free to Quit it, if you like.

Step 11: Create a New Pro Tools Session with a stereo Audio Track

Step 12: Selecting the LMC-1 from the Plug-ins Menu

Click on an Insert tab to show the plug-ins list drop-down menu. Navigate to MultiChannel Plug-Ins → Wrapped Plug-ins → VST Listen Mic Compressor (stereo)

Using VST Plug Ins in Digidesign Pro Toolswrapped plugins protools

Step 12: The SSL LMC-1 VST Plug-in in Pro Tools

Using VST Plug Ins in Digidesign Pro Toolsssl lmc1 in protools

Step 13: Start building your VST Plug-Ins Library

Hopefully you’ll take some time to play with the LMC-1. Try it on drums! But this is just the start. Now that you’re set up and you know how to wrap VST plug-ins, you can start making use of some of the many VST plug-ins out there.

Some Tips

Read the specs. Allot of free VST plug-ins are specific to a particular Operating System version

Expect some Hit and Miss. There’s tons of VST plug-ins out there. Not all of them are going to be professionally written. Be picky about what you take the time to download.

If you’re surfing for free VST plug-ins, don’t be disappointed when you get lame plug-ins. You’ll probably get at least ten lame ones for every good one.

Don’t forget about commercial VST plug-ins: There’s a number of plug-in developers out there, such as CamelAudio making VST (not RTAS) plug-ins that pro-users swear by. Now you can start using those, too!

Comments

  1. Check out this one: Camel Crusher. It’s a free ‘colouring’ multi-effect plugin. It offers two characteristically different distortion sounds which can be blended together to create a wide variety of tones and textures. Great for guitars, drums and plenty more!

  2. Hey Chris,

    Thanks for your very informative tutorial, I only just downloaded the Vst – Rtas wrapper and was trying to work it out, my partner did a Google search and found your site, came into my studio all glowing and said I know how it works, she has no idea how to use Protools, then again no knowledge can be a blessing.

    Now I’ve got it working, awesome.

    Take care

    Frank

  3. Frank ~ That is awesome! Thanks for sharing that!

  4. Felix Echeverria says:

    I tried to find my Pro Tools plugins by going to Library → Audio → Plug-Ins → VST folder. but it was only an empty folder. Why is that?

    • Felix ~ That’s because Pro Tools does not use VST plug-ins as it’s native format. Pro Tools uses RTAS as it’s native plug-in format. Unless you installed VST plug-ins intentionally into your VST folder, you should not expect to find any in there.

      Your Pro Tools RTAS plug-ins are located at /Application Support / Digidesign / Plug-Ins / {list of .dpm plug-in files}

      • Kinley Dorji says:

        Sir, I got M-Powerd Pro Tools 8 Essentials with M-Audio Fast Track Pro but when I install VST instruments and plugins it is not appearing in Pro Tools and found out that I need VST to RTAS converter. Is there easier way than this? How can I download that converter freely for Windows.

        • Chris Bryant says:

          Hi Kinley,

          The only other option is to double-check and see it a particular plugin you own is also available as a native RTAS plugin, too. Most major plugin developers provide plugins in the most common formats (RTAS, VST, AU,).

          There is no free way to get the VST-RTAS Wrapper. You can purchase from the developer (fxpansion) here.

  5. I got Protools 8 LE with my M-Audio MIDI keyboard and recently bought Fxpansion’s VST to RTAS for Windows so that I could work with VSTs at last. I used Fxpansion’s tool to detect and wrap *all* my VSTs plugins, rather than select ones. It seems to have succeeded.

    However, when trying to insert them in Protools LE 8, I don’t get to see any submenu under “MultiChannel Plug-Ins” called “Wrapped Plug-ins”. I only see the normal RTAS plugins included with Protools LE.

    Chris, do you (or anyone) happen to know if there is some special place that my VST Plugins folder should live in order for Pro Tools to detect the wrappers? Or should I put a shortcut to it inside the Protools folder that contains the .DPM files? Or is there a folder somewhere that Fxpansion creates containing the wrapped versions of my VSTs (except I can’t find such a thing)?

    In both the very clear Fxpansion manual and this helpful tutorial, this final detail seems to be the only thing that I’m sadly missing. Any ideas?

    Or is it that things work differently perhaps on Windows? When deciding on getting FXpansion’s VST to RTAS tool, I did check that it mentioned “Protools LE” as well, so I thought this wouldn’t be a problem. Any help would be much appreciated.