AAX, short for Avid Audio eXtension, is the plug-in format for current versions of Pro Tools. It was first introduced back in Pro Tools 10 as a 32-bit plug-in as part of the transition process to Pro Tools 11 as a full 64 bit plug-in format, at which point, RTAS and TDM, the former Pro Tools plug-in formats, were retired from service. AAX is a unique plug-in type compared to other popular plug-in formats such as AU and VST as it comes in two different flavours:
AAX Native: Used for native based Pro Tools systems (non HDX). The majority of Pro Tools users use AAX Native plug-ins in their sessions.
AAX DSP: Used for DSP-accelerated Pro Tools HDX systems. An HDX card takes the load of the plug-in processing away from the host’s computer processor running Pro Tools. Pro Tools HDX users can use AAX DSP versions of plug-ins to make full use of the HDX DSP power.
These days new AAX DSP plug-in releases are fairly few and far between. We ran a poll a few years ago asking the Pro Tools Expert Community if they felt Pro Tools AAX DSP plug-in development was dead or not…
Nearly 80% of those who voted in this poll felt as though AAX DSP plug-in development was as good as over. However, there are developers that over the years have continued to support the format since the release of the Pro Tools HDX cards. In more good news for Pro Tools HDX users, there are also quite a few smaller and less well known developers releasing new plug-ins that also support AAX DSP, showing that AAX DSP isn’t completely forgotten or unloved.
In this article we wanted to highlight a number of third party plug-in developers, big and small, who are still supporting AAX DSP. We were quite surprised at the sheer number of plug-in available in AAX DSP produced by third parties, the list is quite sizeable. Please be aware that this article doesn’t include AAX DSP plug-ins by Avid, and you can find a complete searchable list of all the plug-ins that support AAX DSP, including Avid, in our full AAX Plug-in database. Note that you can filter so you can see just the plug-ins that support the AAX DSP plug-in format.
Cargo Cult produce a range of well designed plug-ins geared more for post production applications and provides two AAX DSP plug-ins. Stemcell is a multichannel stem filter with an independent LPF and HPF for each channel in a surround stem which can be used as a cleanup filter for your stem bus and as a bass management tool for speaker outputs. Spanner redefines workflows in sound design, editing and mixing in surround sound. It is a panner on steroids!
Crane Song provide three unique AAX DSP plug-ins which are very popular in the audio production industry as they quickly enhance the sound of any mix by imparting a sense of analogue character. Phoenix II is the go-to solution for Tape - Analogue emulation providing five flavours of emulation of analogue tape machines, which are all great at smoothing out harsh digital artefacts. RA is a flexible plug-in used by many to modify harmonic content and apply soft clipping. It’s a very cool plug-in for bringing out detail in a mix. Last but by no means least is Peacock which provides vinyl characteristic which is typically used to fatten the low end of mixes.
EQuality by DMG Audio is a very popular EQ plug-in in the post community. Out of all the DMG Audio’s plug-ins, of which there are a great many, EQuality is the only plug-in that provides an AAX DSP version.
Empirical Labs, the makers of the renowned Distressor hardware compressor, provides a plug-in emulation of their Distressor called The Arousor available in all the popular plug-in formats including AAX DSP. The Distressor is well known for being a versatile, super fast sounding compressor with it’s applications best suited for drum mixing. If you can’t afford the hardware then consider the plug-in made by the creators of the original compressor.
The Flux Full Pack 2.2 plug-in bundles features 11 of Flux’s most popular mixing and mastering plug-ins, 10 of which are AAX DSP. Flux’s Pure Compressor and Pure Limiter plug-ins are outstanding tools that once you’ve tried you may find it near impossible to use any other dynamics style plug-in.
Massenburg Design Works
George Massenburg, the inventor of the world’s first parametric equalizer and all round audio engineering genius provides the MDW Parametric EQ 5 plug-ins for both AAX native and DSP under the name Massenburg Design Works. The MDW EQ 5 promises to deliver “unprecedented clarity, unmatched smoothness, and excellent high-frequency response to help you achieve optimal definition in your mixes”.
McDSP fully supported the previous Pro Tools HD platform for years and continues in today’s AAX DSP plug-in world for Pro Tools HDX. McDSP plug-ins are regarded as some of the best in the industry, just spend five minutes with one or two of their channel strips, EQs and compressors and you’ll see why so many mixers adore McDSP plug-ins.
McDSP AAX DSP plug-ins are referred to as HD plug-ins in their web store, which do cost a premium over their native versions. Currently McDSP provides nearly 25 plug-ins in AAX DSP.
Metric Halo offers a wide range of plug-ins that are very capable for a variety of mixing and mastering applications. Their Production Bundle v2 represents the best bang for buck if you are in the market for a plug-in bundle of AAX DSP plug-ins as 7 out of the 8 plug-ins in this suite are AAX DSP.
With over 50 products from developers such as Maag, SPL and Brainworx, Plugin Alliance boast the largest third party collection of AAX DSP plug-in for Pro Tools. Their catalogue ranges a massive selection of different style processors from vintage styles EQs, console emulations, dynamic processors, saturators, guitar amps and more. If you are in the market for AAX DSP plug-ins then Plugin Alliance could very well be a one-stop-shop for you especially considering their recent new Mega Bundle plug-in subscription service which includes all their AAX DSP plug-ins for an annual fee of $249.99. That’s not bad value for money considering that AAX DSP plug-ins typically cost more than their native counterparts from other plug-in developers.
Sknote mainly provides plug-ins that reproduce the sounds of certain guitar stomp boxes as well as a vast selection of cool sounding vintage style channel strips, compressors, EQs and reverbs. Out of their extensive plug-in catalogue there are few that are available as AAX DSP, it’s not that easy to find their AAX DSP plug-ins either on their website. From what we can tell their CH5 channel strip and a handful of their effects are AAX DSP with no recent releases supporting AAX DSP.
Back when AAX DSP was released Softube were one of only a few third party plug-in developers quick out of the gates providing a range of plug-ins supporting AAX DSP. As the years have passed Softube appear to have stopped producing AAX DSP plug-ins preferring to concentrate just on AAX native, which is a bit of shame, though many of their fabulous plug-ins still provide AAX DSP support. Softube states at the bottom of some of their product pages that “AAX DSP is not in active development, but older products still support AAX DSP.”
Softube’s Tube-Tech Mk1 series of plug-ins initially supported AAX DSP. The updated MKII TubeTech plug-ins, which were released last year sadly didn’t offer AAX DSP compatibility anymore, which is worth bearing in mind if currently you use the MK1 suite on a Pro Tools HDX system and are tempted on taking advantage of a cross grade deal. Softube’s TubeTech Mk1 plug-in collection is also not available to purchase anymore.
Softube state a full list of AAX DSP plug-ins on their site - Which Softube plug-ins support AAX DSP?
Sonnox has maintained a strong portfolio of AAX DSP plug-in since the launch of Pro Tools HDX. Previous to HDX, Sonnox supported the previous Pro Tools TDM system with a range of very powerful plug-ins that many regard as some of the best in the industry. Sonnox do charge you more for the AAX DSP privilege, roughly 70% extra on top of the price of native versions of their plug-ins but to be fair, Sonnox are not the only plug-in developers out there charging a premium for AAX DSP versions of their plug-ins.
Townsend Labs recently announced AAX DSP support in version 1.3 of the Sphere plug-in, the software component of the Sphere L22 microphone modelling system. With the addition of AAX DSP support in Sphere 1.3 owners of Pro Tools HDX systems can now enjoy perfect integration of the Sphere microphone in their existing DSP-based workflow and monitor the over 20 included microphone models with near-zero latency while recording. The Sphere plug-in is free of charge and available for download on Townsend Labs’ website. The Sphere L22 microphone can be purchased from most pro audio dealers worldwide
Wave Arts provide a small selection of AAX DSP plug-ins in their catalogue. These are difficult to find on their webpage as each of their product pages do not clearly state what plug-in formats are supported. We have looked through the manuals of each of their plug-ins to find that three Waves Arts plug-ins support AAX DSP being FinalPlug (a peak limiter), TrackPlug (a fully loaded channel strip) and MultiDynamics (a multi-band dynamics processor).
Wilkinson Audio is plug-in developer you probably haven’t heard of yet? They offer a small range of sample libraries and impulse responses as well as a cool plug-in that can quickly reduce bleed in multitrack drum recordings called DeBleed, available in all plug-in formats including AAX DSP.
If we have missed any AAX DSP plug-ins that you use in your Pro Tools HDX rig and can recommend to the Pro Tools Expert community then do let us know in the comments below as we intend to keep this article up to date.