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Bitwig and u-he announce new CLAP plugin standard: is the writing on the wall for VST and AU?

For years, VST and AU have been the big two plugin standards that developers have adhered to, but now Bitwig and u-he could be about to shake things up with CLAP.

This ‘CLever Audio Plugin API’ is described as a new open standard for audio plugins and hosts, and promises modern features, innate stability and rapid support for developers. And, because it’s open-source, there are no barriers to entry for developers.

We’re told that CLAP offers several advantages in comparison to existing plugin standards, starting with better performance from modern CPUs. It promises to “take multi-thread management to a new level, with clear and efficient allocation of roles between plugin and host”. Preliminary tests are reported to show significant performance gains.

We’re also promised better and faster plugin organisation. CLAP hosts can read plugin metadata and retrieve information from them without waiting for them to initialise, so scans should be faster.

Bitwig and u-he are also working on an extension which will enable plugins to tell the host which files they need (samples, wavetables, etc), so that these can be consolidated into the project file. This should make transferring projects between systems simpler and more reliable.

There are also benefits for automation, modulation and expression. In accordance with the MIDI 2.0 spec, there’s per-note automation and modulation, while the non-destructive parameter modulation concept means that, as soon as modulation has finished, the target parameter will return to its original state.

What’s more, polyphonic plugins can have their per-voice parameters modulated for individual notes - something that Bitwig and u-he describe as “MPE on steroids”.

CLAP is designed to be future-proof; although it’s inspired by MPE and MIDI 2.0, it can adapt to any future MIDI standard. Companies can also develop their own proprietary extensions for specific features if they need to.

In short, this looks like a serious bid to disrupt the plugin landscape. CLAP 1.0 has been in development for several years, and it’s already being evaluated by the likes of Arturia, CableGuys, FabFilter, Image-Line, PreSonus, Valhalla DSP and Xfer Records.

This isn’t just a theoretical standard, either: CLAP is supported in the beta version of Bitwig Studio and the CLAP beta versions of u-he’s ACE, Diva, Hive 2 and MFM2.5.

For the latest updates, example code and information go to the CLAP Github (opens in new tab) page. More details are also available on the Bitwig (opens in new tab) website.

I’m the Group Content Manager for MusicRadar, specialising in all things tech. I previously spent eight years working on our sister magazine, Computer Music. I’ve been playing the piano, gigging in bands and failing to finish tracks at home for more than 30 years, 20 of which I’ve also spent writing about music technology. 

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