We got a press release from Avid last week suggesting that AAX plug-ins had now exceeded 600 plug-ins. We do hope the counting did not include the somewhat odd claim that Avid made on their Facebook page of UVI now having over 40 plug-ins, as this actually meant the UVI Workstation engine that powers 40 libraries. If this is the case then you would have to count every Kontakt library in the same way, if everyone did that kind of counting then their plug-ins would now be in the thousands! The actual AAX count for UVI is 2 plug-ins, Workstation and Spark.
However this article is not to take apart the Avid quoted numbers, however the 600 AAX plug-in number was arrived at. It can be hard to get a sense of how successful the AAX adoption has been. We could make a comparison with VST3, the most recent other format (as we did in an earlier verson of this article) but as many will point out that is not really a fair comparison, no one has to buy VST3 plug-ins to carry on using VST. We could also make comparisons to previous new formats for Pro Tools, such as RTAS, TDM etc. for which our contacts tell us was slower.
Blue Cat owner Guillaume Jeulin suggests this ”AAX and VST3 are so different that I don’t think they should be compared. The reason why AAX is not compatible with RTAS is to support new HDX hardware and 64-bit (a radical change compared to RTAS/TDM). Avid had no choice but break compatibility. The reason for VST3 to exist is not clear, technically speaking, as it could have been done as a VST 2.5 or whatever compatible format. That’s why developers are not migrating: not worth the trouble. Why support the cost of an entirely new format for no additional customer benefit?”
There is of course the fact that Pro Tools users have no choice but to move to AAX 64 bit if they wish to use Pro Tools 11 and above, whereas other formats such as VST and AU plug-ins continue to work in most versions of your favourite DAW, unless of course that DAW happens to be Pro Tools.
Making users switch to a new format so they can use the latest version of your DAW is a brave strategy, what if developers don’t support you, what if users resist it, then you are screwed. However developers have supported AAX and the speed at which new AAX plug-ins arrive is accelerating every week - it is perhaps time for the AAX naysayers to find something else to predict failure for, I have no doubt they will.
A second factor why developers may be throwing their development money at AAX is that the security is built right into the AAX plug-ins using PACE technologies. Love or hate software protection if you are a developer it’s important to do all you can to protect your income stream from crackers. We are not sure if other formats offer the same level of protection. A cursory Google of AAX cracks and the list is almost empty. That will appeal to developers, even the most liberally minded ones.
What some people fail to appreciate is that developers are not simply sitting on their hands waiting to port to new plug-ins formats, they have other competing priorities such as the other formats and of course new product R&D, their daily shedule is not simply AAX. So setting aside the question mark over the AAX numbers, it’s no mean feat to get a plug-in format from a standing start to the kind of numbers we see for AAX. For Avid to have AAX done this is a seriously big achievement. Discuss.