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How To Install Plugins In Ableton Live (Windows & Mac)

Are you looking for a straightforward method to install your VST plugins in Ableton Live on Windows or Mac? Then you've come to the right place. In this article, we'll show you how to install external VST plugins to take full advantage of free and paid synths, effects, and instruments in Ableton Live 9 and 10.

What is a VST plugin?

Virtual Studio Technology (VST) is an audio-plugin that integrates a software synthesizer or effect with, most commonly, a digital audio workstation like Ableton. External plugins can increase the functionality of your DAW by allowing you to use new or different instruments, effects, or meters than what your DAW offers.

Today, there are thousands of VST plugins out there, for all kinds of sounds and purposes, both free and paid. Many websites offer free plugins for downloads, and the most popular one to date is KVRaudio.

See Also: Top 30 Free VST Plugins

Paid VST plugins are also in abundance online, both as instruments and as effects. Popular options for electronic music include Serum, Diva, Pigments, and the mixing/mastering plugins from Waves and iZotope.

What's the difference between 32-bit and 64-bit?

When you purchase or download a free VST, you will see mentions of 32-bit and 64-bit.

Simply put, the difference between the two is how much computer memory the plugin can utilize. While a 32-bit version of a plugin (and a DAW) can only access 4GB of computer memory, a 64-bit version can access 1 exabyte – or in other words, 1 000 000 000 gigabytes of computer memory.

What does this mean for you? 

Well, 4GB of memory isn't much when working on CPU and memory hungry projects and live sets. And once you reach that limit, Ableton crashes.

64-bit, on the other hand, can load an almost unlimited number of tracks, plugins, and effects (within the limits of your computer, of course.) As a result, you get fewer crashes and more stable experience.

The good news is that Ableton has discontinued its older 32-bit version, leaving only the new, improved 64-bit version: Live 10 (and above.) 

Ableton and bits:

  • Live 9.7.7 and below are 32-bit and can only run 32-bit VST plugins.
  • Live 10 and above (11 and 12 included) are 64-bit and can only run 64-bit VST plugins.

So if you're running an older version of Live, your VST-plugins must be in 32-bits to run. And if you're running Live 10 and above – you need 64-bit plugins.

- Can you run 32-bit plugins in Ableton Live 10 and above? No.

- Can you run 64-bit plugins in Ableton 9.7.7 and below? Nope, sorry.

So make sure your VST plugins are in the right bit format and match your current DAW.


How To Install Plugins In Ableton Live 10

Installing VST plugins in Ableton for the first time might not be as straightforward as you would think. When you're starting fresh and enter the world of music production, even the term "VST" is foreign, let alone the mentions of bits and dedicated plugin folders.

But don't worry, just follow the guide below, and you'll know how to install your VST plugins in no time.

Step 1: Start The Plugin Installer

Whether it's a free or paid VST plugin, it will usually come with an installer in an executable format. Follow the instructions and click through the installer until you reach the step where you choose the install destination path. Then move on to the next step.

Note: If your plugin doesn't have an installer and comes as a zip-folder with a ".dll" file, unzip, or place that .dll file inside your 64-bit plugin folder (as seen in step two.)

Step 2: Choose Your Install Folder

When you've reached the install destination path stage in the plugin installer, it's time to select your install folders. These folders can be anywhere, but Ableton generally looks for these in set folder paths. For simplicity, we will go with the folders they recommend.

Ableton recommends using these folders for VST plugin installation:


C:\Program Files\VSTPlugins - 64-bit VST2 plug-ins.
C:\Program Files\Common Files\VST3 - 64-bit VST3 plug-ins. (Live 10.1 and later).
C:\Program Files (x86)\VSTPlugins - 32-bit plug-ins.


System-Level VST Folders:
/Library/Audio/Plug-Ins/VST - 64-bit & 32-bit VST2 plug-ins.
/Library/Audio/Plug-Ins/VST3 - 64-bit VST3 plug-ins.
/Library/Audio/Plug-ins/Components - 32-bit & 64-bit AU (Audio Unit) plug-ins.

User-Level VST Folders:
(user) ~/Library/Audio/Plug-Ins/VST - 64-bit & 32-bit VST2 plug-ins.
(user) ~/Library/Audio/Plug-Ins/VST3 - 64-bit VST3 plug-ins.
(user) ~/Library/Audio/Plug-ins/Components - 32-bit & 64-bit AU (Audio Unit) plug-ins.


For Mac users, here are 4 tips for plugin management:

How to access the System-Level VST folder:

In Finder, click on "Go" in the menu bar while holding down the "Option" key. Select "Library" from the drop-down menu to access the user-level Library folder. Navigate to the "Audio" folder, and then look for the "Plug-Ins" subfolder.

What is the difference between the User-Level and System-Level VST folders?

The User-Level VST folder is specific to each user account on a macOS system, allowing individual users to have their own set of plugins. The System-Level VST folder is accessible to all user accounts and requires administrator privileges for installation, providing a centralized location for plugins shared across the entire system.

What are AU (Audio Unit files) and how do they differ from VST files?

AU (Audio Unit) is a plugin format specifically developed by Apple for macOS. It utilizes the .component file extension and is tightly integrated into the macOS ecosystem. AU plugins offer seamless integration with Apple's audio software like Logic Pro and GarageBand, but they can be used in plenty of other Mac DAWs, like Ableton Live and FL Studio.

Should you install AU or VST versions, or both?

The biggest difference is software compatibility: if you’re using Logic Pro or GarageBand, you need to install AU, and other DAWs usually support both VST and AU. Do you use another DAW and often share your project files with Windows users? Then it’s also better to stick with VST, as there is no way to read AU plugins on Windows. What would happen is that the shared project files would load on Windows without the correct plugins in place (as WIndows won’t recognize Audio Unit instances). The safest option then is to install both AU and VST versions and use whichever is best in your project.

Step 3: Launch Live

Ableton Live 10 Options

When you've installed and placed the correct version of your VST plugin in the right folder, launch your version of Live.

Then, on the top of the Live window, click Options and then Preferences.
You could also use the shortcuts to open Preferences:

Windows: [Ctrl] + [,]
Mac: [Cmd] + [,]

Step 4: Set Your Live Plugin Folders

Inside Preferences, the next step is to find your VST plugin folder selection. It's here you tell Ableton Live where it finds your plugins.

Plugin folders Ableton Live 10
  • Click Plug-Ins on the left side of the preferences window.
  • Make sure both "Use VST2 Plug-In Custom Folder" and "Use VST3 Plug-In Custom Folder" is set to "On."
  • Click the Browse button to the right of "VST2 Plug-In Custom Folder" and "VST3 Plug-In Custom Folder."
  • Choose your folder for both VST2 and VST3.
  • Click "Rescan" if necessary, to scan your folder and find your VST plugins.


    What To Do If A Plugin Doesn't Appear In Live

    Suppose you've installed a VST plugin and followed the step-by-step instructions above, but don't see the VST plugin in Live.

    Make sure you've installed the VST in the correct folder. You can do this by going to your selected folder and double-check. If it isn't there – try to re-install it. Also check your chosen folders in the Live preferences.

    You might also try re-scanning for new VSTs in Preferences or restarting your DAW - it should scan for new plugins on every launch.

    Are you using an older version of Ableton? In that case, the error might be down to an incompatibility between your Live version and your VST version. Live 10 and above can only access 64-bit VST versions, while Live 9 and below can only access 32-bit VST versions. Double-check the compatibility and get the correct version for your version of Live.

    Where To Find Your VST Plugins

    Now when you've followed the steps outlined in the article, and your VST plugins are successfully installed, you can close your Preferences window in Live.

    On the left side of your Live screen, you will now find your VST plugins under "Plug-Ins".

    Live 10 VST Plugins

    To use your plugin, insert a MIDI track into Live, and double-click your chosen VST plugin with your MIDI track selected.

    Thanks for reading!

    Pelle Sundin
    About the author
    Pelle Sundin is a Swedish music producer and writer, active with his chillout project PLMTRZ. He also produces psytrance. When he's not producing, he surfs, skates, and chugs coffee.



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