Most VST plugins (especially paid ones) are released for both Mac OS X and Windows systems; however there’s still a group of decent Windows-only VST instruments/effects Mac users may miss. Hybrid synthesizer Sytrus from Image Line is a good example; however personally I missed the most Majken’s Chimera, a free, noise-driven synth well suited for ambient pads, etc.
There are several approaches approaches to overcome this limitation, both software (like Mac VFX) and hardware ones, but in case of the latter, unless you are a professional producer, better start worrying about your credit card limit right now.
I make my music in a Renoise, an excellent DAW with a tracker-like user interface, however the setup I will describe may be probably applied to Logic, Reaper or other digital audio workstation as well (but don’t ask me how to do it). Please also be noticed this solution has limitations and may not be considered 100% reliable.
My first approach was to make use of already mentioned Mac VFX. It’s a Wine-based VST loader. The setup involved installation of Wine (I used Homebrew build), XQuartz and command line developer tools as Wine’s requirement (Homebrew suggested the Wine may be miscompiled otherwise). After all that hassle I gave up on VFX very quickly: the second plugin I tried had problems with both installation and loading (crashing loader 100% times).
The Wine is not very stable environment. Let’s be honest — the only stable environment for running Windows VSTs is Windows itself. Hey! That’s the idea I came up with: why not let the plugins run in their native environment and only pass the in/out signals to them instead?
In order to achieve this you will need:
- a Mac virtual machine of some kind (I used Parallels 8)
- a Windows copy (I tested on Windows 7 64-bit installed on the bootcamp partition)
- both Windows and Mac OS X versions of Renoise (both copies were 32-bit in my case)
- a Wormhole2 VST plugin (free)
- rtpMIDI driver (free)
Here are the steps:
- Setup Windows to run on the virtual machine, making sure there’s a network connectivity between host and guest OS. I chose “Shared network” option in Parallels VM’s config.
- Download and install Wormhole2 VST plugin on both Windows and Mac OS X (follow the installation instructions on their page). If you succeeded, it will appear in Renoise as a track effect:
- In guest OS only, download and install rtpMIDI driver. You may be also required to install a Bonjour for Windows prior to rtpMIDI installation — do it (if you have Safari or iTunes installed on Windows, there’s a high chance you already have Bonjour).
Now it’s time to setup a Wormhole, which is responsible for passing the audio signal between guest and host OS over the network:
- Run Renoise in Windows and load a VST plugin you wish to use on Mac. Instantiate the Wormhole on a track you wish to route sound from and configure the Wormhole as the start point:
In this example, I used “argasek” as the name the Wormhole channel. Now, if you try to play any note on this channel you won’t hear any sound, but the audio in led should blink yellow (if you wish to hear the sound, check the play through checkbox, but remember to uncheck it before we continue).
- Run Renoise on Mac and place an instance of Wormhole on the track you wish to hear the plugin sound on; then configure the Wormhole as the end point:
In order to do so, select the right channel from the chooser. Don’t alter any other options yet (especially don’t enable sync option).
- Now switch again to Windows VM; if you set up everything correctly, you should be able to hear notes played in guest Renoise on your host Renoise 🙂
OK, we have the audio routing set up; now we need to take care of passing the notes played on the host channel to the guest instrument:
- Close both instances of Renoise. You may wish to save changes to .xrns files in order to not repeat earlier steps later.
- On Windows, run the rtpMIDI and create the session and check the Enabled option. I called mine “Illea Windows” (don’t mind the “Illea Mac” on the screenshot below yet):
- Switch to Mac OS X, and use Spotlight to run the Audio MIDI Setup. From the Window menu, choose MIDI devices. You will get window similar to this one:
- Double click on Network. A window very similar to rtpMIDI’s will open:
You should see your rtpMIDI’s session listed in the Directory. Create and enable a session the same way as in rtpMIDI (I will call this a master MIDI from now on; I named it “Illea Mac”). Select the session (Illea Windows in my case) and click Connect button. When the connection is established, the slave session from Windows will be listed in Participants window.
- Now run both instances of Renoise again and load the .xrnx files you saved previously. On the Windows one, go to the VST instrument setup and assign MIDI input device like this:
- Switch to Mac OS X Renoise, create a new instrument and select Ext. MIDI. Then choose your master MIDI session in the Device field from the list:
- Try to play the notes on the track you previously attached the Wormhole2 end channel.
Further setup may involve adjusting the latency (see the screenshot above). To make it low enough, please try to decrease the buffer size in the Wormhole2 config to the smallest possible value not causing a sound to skip/crackle.
Now it’s time to create a new, kick-ass track using your Windows VST plugin(s). Enjoy!