How to Find and Install Realtime Effects in Audacity

Since 2022 it has been possible to use realtime effects in Audacity, making this famously free audio editor even better. Sadly, you won’t find any readily installed, so to get your hands on some great realtime effects you will have to look elsewhere.


We’re going to show you the best places to find realtime effects for Audacity, as well as how to install and add them. With the support of VST3 plugins, plus a host of other plugin formats, adding a few realtime effects will allow you to do even more within Audacity.


What Are Realtime Effects in Audacity?

Realtime effects are plugins that you can use on your tracks as you listen to them. While playing back the audio, you can change the effect settings, and anytime that you want to remove the effect, simply delete the plugin and the original audio will remain intact.

Before the release of Audacity 3.2, applying effects took a really long time. You would have to add an effect, change the settings, then render the effect to hear the change. And if you decided that you don’t like it later on, the only way to reverse the change was to click undo until you got back to the original audio.

By comparison, realtime effects are far more efficient, giving you the flexibility to tweak things over and over without destroying the audio. This function brings Audacity closer to a fully-fledged digital audio workstation (DAW) like FL Studio, or Logic. You can take a look at our comparison of Audacity vs. FL Studio to see what the main differences are.

Besides being a really practical function, realtime effects make mixing a lot more fun!

Plugin Support in Audacity

Audacity supports a range of plugin formats, and oftentimes, the plugins are created by other companies, or community members, to use alongside Audacity. These plugins extend what Audacity is capable of, so it’s highly worth finding a few that can boost your workflow.

There are plenty of websites to download free VST plugins and other plugin formats, just make sure to look for one of the following types:

  • LV2
  • VST Effects (not Instruments)
  • VST3
  • LADSPA
  • Audio Unit (macOS only)

Where to Find Realtime Effects for Audacity

The support for realtime effects was introduced in 2022, so it’s likely some plugins still only work using the render method. To find realtime effects that are known to work with Audacity, head to the Audacity Plugins page.

You can also access the plugins page through Audacity. Click on the Effects button in the track header section, then click Add effect > Get more effects. From the sidebar, you can click on any of the effects under the heading Realtime Effects to download an effect that works in real time.

If you don’t know where to start, navigate to the Plugin Suite heading on the Audacity Plugins page to download packages containing a range of effects by the same creator. If you have a Mac computer then you are lucky to have a huge selection of Audio Unit plugins already installed, they should show up automatically in Audacity.

There’s no doubt that over time, more plugins will become available to use as realtime effects. If you’re new to this software, make sure to check out our guide to making music at home with Audacity.

How to Install Realtime Effects

Installing plugins in Audacity isn’t difficult, but it does require manually copying files into a dedicated plugins folder. In some cases, this process is automated with an installer that comes with the download folder.

In other cases, you may need to install the files yourself. Except for Nyquist plugins, follow these steps:

  1. Download the plugin of your choice.
  2. Find the download file on your computer.
  3. Unzip and open the folder.
  4. If you see an installer program, click on it and follow the prompts to install the plugins.

If you don’t see an installer, look for the plugin with the appropriate plugin format like .vst, and copy the file to one of the following locations:

macOS

  • Audio Unit: /Library/Audio/Plug-Ins/Components/
  • VST2 and VST3: /Library/Audio/Plug-Ins/VST/
  • V2: ~/.lv2 or /Library/Audio/Plug-Ins/LV2

Linux

  • VST2: ~/.vst or /usr/local/lib/vst
  • Note: Many VST effects are Windows-only
  • VST3: ~/.vst3 or /usr/local/lib/vst3
  • LV2: ~/.lv2, /usr/local/lib/lv2 (for 32-bit) or /usr/local/lib64/lv2 (for 64-bit)
  • LADSPA: ~/.ladspa or /usr/local/lib/ladspa

Windows

  • VST2: C:\Program Files\Common Files\VST2 or C:\Program Files\Steinberg\VSTPlugins
  • VST3: C:\Program Files\Common Files\VST3
  • LV2: C:\Program Files\Common Files\LV2
  • LADSPA: C:\Users<username>\Appdata\Roaming\audacity\Plug-ins\

Adding Realtime Effects in Audacity

Once you have installed the plugin it should show up the next time you open Audacity. Adding an effect to a track is easy after that, simply follow these steps:

  1. Create a new track from the menu bar by selecting Tracks > Add New > Stereo Track.
  2. In the track header area, click the Effects button, then the Add effect button.
  3. Select the plugin you want from the list.

Improve Your Audacity Workflow With Realtime Effects

There are plenty of plugins that you can get for Audacity to use as realtime effects. Once you’ve installed the plugin and restarted Audacity, all you need to do is select the Effects button on the track to pick which realtime effect you want to use.

The old way of adding effects in Audacity was time-consuming, which could limit your creative flow. But with realtime effects, you can preview audio effects as you listen back, making changes on the fly. If you’re a long-time Audacity user, make sure to check out this fun and efficient way to add effects.

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