For something that can be downloaded for free, Audacity is a very capable recording and editing tool for podcast producers. Out of the box, it comes with some solid features to get you started. However, it’s inevitable that you will come across situations which require the use of addition plugins to achieve a specific result. In this guide, you’ll be walked through the plugin installation process so you can start your search for your next plugin to fix that niggling audio issue or simply to enhance the overall production of your podcast.
To install VST plugins in Audacity, add them to the Plug-Ins folder in the Audacity installation folder. On Windows, the installation folder will be in Program Files/Program Files (x86) and on MacOS, the Applications folder. They must then be enabled.
Plugins will generally come with an installer package meaning you don’t have to dig through the file system manually which makes things nice and simple. It’s just a case of selecting the correct installation location as you’re going through the setup process. In the example below on MacOS, even that’s not necessary, it’s just a case of installing the plugin as it comes. As we’ll see though, that’s slightly different when installing the same plugin on Windows.
Although Audacity can handle different types of plugins, we’ll be focussing on the installation of VST plugins in this article. VST plugins are probably the most popular and most plugins will be available in this format. Let’s look at this in more detail and run through how to install them on both the Windows and MacOS versions of Audacity.
Find your plugin
In a future article, we’ll cover our favourite free VST plugins for Audacity but for the purposes of demonstration, we’ll be using Acon Digital’s Multiply, a free plugin available for both Windows and Mac.
How to Install a VST Plugin in Audacity for Mac
Step 1 – download the correct version for your computer
We’ll cover the Mac installation first so simply click on the MacOS version to start the download.
Step 2 – install the plugin
Click on the downloaded file to unzip it and then double click the extracted .pkg file to launch the installer, it’s then just a case of selecting the options you want.
For use with Audacity, I chose to only install the standard VST version.
Follow the installation process to the end.
Step 3 – activate the plugin inside Audacity
After the installation process has completed, you won’t find a program to launch. Instead, you need to use it inside of Audacity, but first it needs to be activated.
Launch Audacity and head to Effect in the main menu, then click Add / Remove Plug-ins… as shown below.
Once the window opens, click ‘New’ in the top right-hand corner, and find the plugin you’re looking to activate.
Select it and click enable.
Step 4 – find it and start editing!
The plugin can now be access via the Effect menu:
How to Install a VST Plugin in Audacity for Windows
Now let’s have a look at installing a plugin on Windows. There are a couple more considerations here. Firstly, you need to use 32-bit plugins with Audacity (at the time of writing, Audacity doesn’t support 64-bit plugins) so make sure you download the correct version. If you try to activate a 64-bit plugin, Audacity will likely show you an error saying that the plugin can’t be registered.
Step 1 – download the correct version of the plugin
Based on the fact that we need the 32-bit version to play nicely with Audacity, that’s the one we’ll download for this installation.
Step 2 – install the plugin
Go through the installation process but only to the point where it asks you to specify the installation folder. The reason for this will become clear shortly.
Again, for use with Audacity we only need the standard VST version.
Step 3 – select the correct installation folder
This is where the Windows installation process differs from that of MacOS. When installing on Mac, we just followed the setup wizard and used the default installation location. This didn’t present any issues when we came to activate the plugin inside Audacity. For the Windows installation though, you must install plugins inside of the Audacity Plug-Ins folder in order to activate them successfully.
When going through the setup process, this is the default installation directory the wizard displayed:
Click Browse and locate the Audacity Plug-Ins folder.
Click OK and you’ll see that the directory path has been updated.
Continue the installation to the end.
Step 4 – activation
Now that the setup process is complete, navigate to Effect > Add / Remove Plus-ins…
Click ‘New’ in the top right-hand corner, find the plugin you wish to activate and click ‘Enable’.
Step 5 – find and use the plugin!
Under the Effect menu, you’ll now see the plugin you’ve just enabled.
Over time, your plugin depositary will build as you come up against different audio issues you need to fix and/or effects you want to add. Although there are many plugins out there which can give you some great sounding audio, it’s easy to go overboard and use too many unnecessarily. When editing voice, a simple compressor, normalizer, parametric EQ and noise reducer is normally all you need if your recording setup is optimal. However, when the audio quality is less than ideal, plugins can be a real lifeline.
Why does Audacity say plugin failed to register? As mentioned above, at the time of writing Audacity only supports 32-bit plugins. If you try to enable a 64-bit plugin, you’ll see this message. You may also get this message if you try to enable a plugin type which Audacity doesn’t support.
Where can I download Audacity plugins? In the majority of cases, plugin creators will make the downloads available via their website. We’d always recommend sticking with well known and trusted plugin developers to avoid any virus issues. When the need for a specific plugin crops up, do your research and see what plugins other podcasters/audio professionals are recommending online.
What type of plugins does Audacity support? According to the official documentation, it supports LADSPA, LV2, Nyquist, VAMP, VST and Audio Unit plugins.