How to Install and Use Audio Plugins Within Ableton DAW Software


Ableton Live is a popular digital audio workstation (DAW) used by music producers, DJs, and performers. While Live comes with a variety of built-in instruments, effects, and sounds, installing third-party audio plugins expands its capabilities dramatically. This article provides a step-by-step guide to installing and using VST and AU plugins within Ableton Live on both Windows and Mac.

What Are Audio Plugins?

Audio plugins are software that integrate with DAWs like Ableton Live to provide additional functionality. The most common types of plugins are:

  • Instruments: Software synthesizers and samplers used to generate sounds. Popular examples include Native Instruments Massive, Xfer Serum, Arturia Pigments.
  • Effects: Tools that process audio, such as delays, reverbs, compressors, EQs. Common options include FabFilter Pro-Q 3 EQ and ValhallaRoom reverb.
  • MIDI Effects: Modify MIDI data before it triggers instrument sounds. Useful for arpeggiators, chord generators, etc.

Plugins are available in VST, AU, and AAX formats. Ableton Live supports VST and AU on both platforms and AAX on Windows only.

Installing Plugins on Windows

Follow these steps to install VST plugins within Ableton on Windows:

  1. Download the plugin installer from the developer’s website.
  2. Run the installer .exe file.
  3. Choose a location to install the plugin files to, such as C:\Program Files\VSTPlugins.
  4. Open Ableton Live’s Preferences > File Folder.
  5. Under “Plug-In Sources”, enable the option for “VST Plug-In Custom Folder” and select the folder location you installed plugins to.
  6. Rescan plugins in Live’s browser to refresh the new content.

VST3 plugins follow the same process but are installed to a separate folder like C:\Program Files\Common Files\VST3.

Installing Plugins on Mac (AU and VST)

On Mac, first decide whether you want to install the Audio Unit (AU) or VST version of a plugin. If available, VST3 is also an option.

To install an AU plugin:

  1. Open the AU plugin .component file after downloading. It will automatically install to the proper Library folders.
  2. Rescan in Live to refresh plugins.

To install a VST plugin on Mac:

  1. Locate the Plug-Ins folder within Library > Audio > Plug-Ins > VST folder.
  2. Copy or move the downloaded VST plugin files into this folder.
  3. Rescan plugins in Live to refresh.

Using Plugins in Ableton

Once plugins are installed, using them in Ableton Live is straightforward:

  • Instruments: Drag an instrument plugin to a new MIDI track. The plugin will load on that track automatically.
  • Effects: Drag an effect plugin to the Device View area of an existing audio track.
  • MIDI Effects: Insert a MIDI effect plugin in the device chain before the instrument on a MIDI track.

Tips for Using Plugins Effectively

When using audio plugins in Ableton, keep these tips in mind:

  • Learn what each plugin does and experiment with presets to understand their capabilities.
  • Use instrument and effect plugins sparingly when mixing to avoid muddying up the sound.
  • Beware of latency when using CPU-intensive plugins by increasing buffer size in Live’s preferences.
  • Reference tracks using similar plugins to match the sound in your productions.
  • Automate plugin parameters like filter cutoff and reverb size to create dynamic changes over time.


Installing and using third-party audio plugins greatly enhances what Ableton Live can do straight out of the box. With the steps above, you’ll be able to integrate instruments from software synths and samplers as well as harness professional mixing and mastering effects within your productions. Refer to Ableton’s documentation for additional technical details on using plugins in Live. Most importantly, don’t be afraid to experiment with all types of plugins across instruments, effects, and MIDI tools to spark new creative ideas.