Now that Macs run Intel processors, what was once unimaginable is suddenly possible. There’s certainly no shortage of plug-ins available on Mac OS, but users may still have Windows plug-ins they miss. Released as beta today from SM Pro Audio, VFX is an app that lets you host your PC plug-ins on your Mac:

VFX Mac Beta

The requirements are modest — a lowly Mac mini should work just fine, and you don’t even need 10.5. But some of the specifics get a little weird. You have to run VFX as its own host. And you actually can’t use Mac plug-ins on the VFX, which means there’s not much advantage here versus just running on a cheap PC. (Especially given that you can build a pretty decent PC for under $300 these days.) And there are various stability and reliability issues introduced, as well.

We saw the V-Machine from the same creator — a small hardware box running plug-ins on Linux — at the end of last year. But in this case, it appears you can may be able to the software minus the hardware, which would make sense. (Otherwise, the hardware becomes a rather large dongle.)
V-Machine: Dedicated Hardware for VSTs, for US$599?

Basically, what VFX is is a nicely-packaged rendition of a Windows host running inside the open source, multi-platform WINE translation layer. WINE is actually a ground-up “translation” of Win32 — it’s not emulation or a virtual machine; it actually runs Windows apps as if they were native. (Thank Microsoft for keeping its APIs relatively open, even if the OS itself is closed as Mac OS is.) The discussion of whether or not this could work has come up before, as recently in a thread on KVR. VFX is proof that it can work, and I could imagine it’s even good news for some people. You can read the manual addendum at the link above and decide if it’s for you.

Here’s the irony: Mac users arguably don’t have it as good as even Linux users, let alone people just running Windows (and, one might add, on cheaper PCs).

On Linux, there’s the superb dssi-vst, which also uses WINE but allows you to run 32-bit Windows plug-ins inside the host of your choice. Add the fact that Linux can take advantage of extreme low-latency performance using a low-latency kernel, a handful of rock-solid open-source audio drivers, and sophisticated inter-application routing of MIDI, audio, and sync that isn’t even possible on the Mac, and you have a pretty potent combination. See also solutions like the Muse Receptor, whose users use it as a hardware solution to run primarily Windows-native plug-ins. (Major advantage of the Receptor: it eschews a GUI, which is the major source of compatibility and stability problems.)

dssi-vst isn’t perfect, either: sync doesn’t work (oops), for one. And in all of these solutions, you can run into issues with copy protection schemes. (If you want to use the plug-ins legally and they use software authorization, it’s usually not such a big deal — though you do have to burn through one authorization.)

Bad as this may sound, I have to admit, when I have run some of these solutions, I’ve been really impressed. Kore and Reaktor, for instance, both run beautifully inside Linux. If you didn’t see the standard title bar, you’d think you were on XP — except that, under the right setup, you can sometimes get better performance. Plus, if you’re running the host under WINE, the sync problem is erased.

Bottom line? Native always wins. But there are nonetheless interesting times ahead. I’d love to get more compatibility reports, which is more than I could take on alone. If you’re interested in contributing on Linux or Mac, I’d be glad to hear it. And if, on the other hand, you’re perfectly happy on Windows running natively, more power to you. (There’s certainly nothing wrong with the easiest solution to this problem.)

Disclaimer: I still need to try out VFX, and the compatibility picture in general is complex and technically involved – in other words, your mileage may vary. But then, part of why I write this site is to get corrected on stuff and learn, so please, those of you with some WINE experience, we’d love to hear from you!

  • Silverfish

    So does this mean it's possible to run this side by side with Ableton Live, and use the IAC to get my PC plug-ins sounding in Live?

  • http://www.createdigitalmusic.com Peter Kirn

    IAC is for MIDI, but theoretically you could use some sort of inter-app audio routing, too — Soundflower / JACK.

  • sursiks

    Yes!!!

    I can finally use Glitch VST! Although whether my computer will be able to handle the soundflower audio routing into Live could be an issue, especially when many of my projects take up insane amounts of cpu to begin with.

    Overall, sounds like a nice short-term solution, but the potential processing drains might outweigh the benefits.

  • Silverfish

    LOL. Thanks, Peter. I kinda thought of that AFTER I posted. To be honest, I've never used IAC or Soundflower/JACK. Until now, I've never had a reason to. I may try setting this up and seeing if it's easier than using Wormhole between my Mac and PC.

  • Martin

    Are you sure the info you have is correct about this host software? From reading through some of the PDF manual it looks like the V-Machine hardware is required for this to run…

    BTW, I've just tried installing Glitch and although it imports OK, it just freezes and crashes when you try to open it.

  • JonO

    It would be great if they eventually were to either create a plugin or integrate ReWire into it. Having a standalone with Soundflower, etc. is a good first step, but I think the trick for adoption would be to make it easy to integrate into your workflow.

  • mattrixx

    Mmm… just tried with dblue Glitch and CRASH… then tried another .dll intrument… CRASH!!! Not a great start to be honest!

  • gbsr

    ofcourse it crashed, its not called glitch for nothing, is it?

  • Thomas Cermak

    "its not called glitch for nothing, is it?"

    haha

  • Ray

    Using this with jack/soundflower would definitely be resource heavy and sketchy at best but if you don't mind a little macgyverisim i guess it can work.

    Rewire would definitely be a better alternative, or a VST/AU host plugin.

  • Julien

    I was able to run Max MSP 4.6 (runtime) under wine and use it with my monome. I only tested midi capabilities though.
    http://post.monome.org/?PostBackAction=Download&a

    This worked pretty easily.

  • http://jackit.sf.net/ Paul Davis

    Ray – why do you believe that JACK would be any more "resource heavy" than Rewire?

  • http://jackit.sf.net/ Paul Davis

    I guess I should mention 3 things here:

    1) http://ladspavst.linuxaudio.org/

    2) FST – this is a JACK host for linux which hosts a VST (or VSTi, to which it will deliver MIDI). Recently upgraded to support for VST plugins, but still not officially released. Written by Torben Hohn and myself.

    3) Ardour, which uses the same technology as FST to support VST plugins internally. Recently switched away from using the Steinberg SDK which caused licensing problems, and so version 2.8 (out by the end of the week) should be distributable as a binary with VST support.

    All this technology (Receptor included) relies on Wine, and as a result can be affected by changes in Wine. We've had several users of Ardour/VST report drastic changes in which VST plugins will run and which will crash simply by moving back and forth between a couple of versions of Wine. We are working on attempting to fix these issues with FST (and thus Ardour/VST).

  • http://jackit.sf.net/ Paul Davis

    Sorry for spamming, but I should clarify one thing. Although Ardour runs on OS X, the VST support we offer is strictly for Linux. We don't see the point in offering a potentially buggy implementation of win32/x86 VST plugin support when most of the good plugins exist as AU plugins too, which we support natively. This is based on years of dealing with Wine-based support for win32/x86 VST plugins. When it works, its fantastic. When it doesn't work, its a real nuisance. And neither the developer of the host, nor the developers of Wine, can do that much about it (though the Receptor guys do appear to have fed back quite a lot of their improvements to the main Wine source code).

  • http://www.yellowwoodmusic.com Adam YW

    i'm hoping that this all means I could run pianoteq on a linux based netbook for live shows. The actual v-machine is too slow from everything I can find online.

  • graham

    i installed it all but for some reason the GUI's even for the prepackaged v machine vst plugs wont show up…i get sound though…

    anyone know why?

  • Y_K

    Hi Graham,

    Try turning on VST Editor from Window menu. If it's on, check X11 which should be available on the dock then.

    By the way, I'm struggling to use Glitch VST on Mac. But it doesn't work on VFS since Glitch VST is a VSTe not a VSTi.

    Can anybody tell me a solution?

  • graham

    thanks so much that solved my problem!!!

    hells yeah!

  • Aaron Urbanski

    Although you claim Kore runs "beautifully" inside Linux, isn't this slightly misleading since there are no Linux drivers for the Kore hardware interface, one of the main draws (for me and many of us using it) in the first place? Unless there is some open source alternative that I'm not aware of, or WINE compatibility at the driver level?

  • http://www.createdigitalmusic.com Peter Kirn

    No, you're right, Aaron. I should say, the software runs beautifully. The hardware runs not at all, which is indeed a problem. Oddly, though, the Audio Kontrol 1 has native, open source drivers in ALSA.

  • http://jackit.sf.net/ Paul Davis

    @Adam YW: you might want to read:

    http://ladspavst.linuxaudio.org/node/2284

  • http://www.yellowwoodmusic.com Adam YW

    @PaulDavis THANK YOU. The hunt continues. I THINK this means I can buy a good controller + linux netbook + pianoteq and have a great on stage standalone piano setup for less money than any other option of comparable quality.

  • sk-ethum

    Hi,

    what is the minimoog emulation that we can see in the picture ?