I'm wanting to get into digital music production and so I need to get a 'DAW' package. I don't want to get into a debate the pros and cons of different packages, but I'd narrowed down my selection to Cubase and Ableton Live and was favouring Live until I found out that it isn't 64bit. This apparently means it can't use 64bit VSTs.

My question is: Is this likely to be a limitation for me? In particular I'm thinking of VST instruments that include huge sample libraries like the EastWest stuff.


First, let make things clear.

  • 64-bit plug-in modules (DLL) only work with 64 bits applications hosts.
  • 32-bit plug-in modules (DLL) only work with 32 bits applications hosts.

64-bit plug-in modules (DLL) do not sound better than 32-bit plug-in modules. This has nothing to do with 64-bit audio processing.

The main difference between both is the amount of memory they can address. In some scenarios (I am thinking of a sampler), a plug-in may want to reference a large amount of samples (many gigabytes), and 32-bit has it's limitations.

Next, still today, many plug-ins don't exist in 64-bit flavor, but most exist in 32-bit flavor (especially old plug-ins), so in terms of compatibility, 32-bit is the winner.

Lots of sequencers and sampler are streaming audio from disk, so memory may not be issue with 32-bit hosts and plug-ins at short term. At long term, with the tendency of having very large samplers, the memory addressing issue may become a real issue.

To answer your question about EastWest plug-ins, 64-bit is likely to get you better performances as you will avoid streaming samples from disk and be able to sample the complete kit from memory.

Bridges: Some bridge applications exists (jBridge, and Steinbern VST bridge) and allow you to run 32 plug-ins in a separate process and bridge the audio inputs/outputs through a 64-bit host, allowing 64-bit hosts to run 32-bit plug-ins. This method has some performance disadvantages as the bridge has to copy the memory from one process to another and that serialization/deserialization process may take precious CPU cycles. It may also introduce compatibility issues, as a layer is added between the host and the plug-in.

More information about memory addressing here (a bit technical): http://msdn.microsoft.com/en-us/library/aa366778(v=vs.85).aspx#physical_memory_limits_windows_vista

  • 1
    good answer, except that it is worth pointing out that most x64 hosts provide some kind of bridging technology to allow you to load 32 bit VSTs.
    – Mark Heath
    May 31 '11 at 19:52
  • I did not know that. Thanks.
    – decasteljau
    May 31 '11 at 19:53

As decasteljau and Mark Heath said, 64-bit will likely perform better with huge sampled instruments, but you also need to like the software you are using.

If you only have a slight leaning toward Ableton, then it's probably better to go with the 64-bit version of Cubase. If you strongly prefer Ableton's interface over Cubase, you might prefer to limit your capabilities a bit to get a program you enjoy using.


A 64 bit process can only load 64 bit DLLs, and a 32 bit process can only load 32 bit DLLs. So if you run your DAW as a 64 bit process, it can't load 32 bit VST's without using some kind of "bridge" (which a lot of the 64 bit DAWs come with as standard, including Cubase).

What does this mean in practice? If your DAW is 32 bit, then you are right in thinking you can't load a 64 bit VST. However, on 64 bit Windows, a 32 bit DAW can use up to 4GB of RAM, which is plenty for all but the most memory hungry of sampled instruments. Even then most really huge sampled instruments provide options for streaming from disk, or unloading samples that it detects you are not using to save on RAM.

So if your machine has more than 4GB of RAM and you really want to load vast sample libraries, then a 64 bit DAW might make sense for you. But you can still get a lot done with a 32 bit DAW, especially if you have fast hard disks.


I think that Ableton started supporting 64-bit in Live version 8.4. If you're concerned about audio quality differences, I can advise you there are no significant drawbacks either way. You will need to use 32-bit DLLs with a 32-bit version of Live, and the same goes for 64-bit versions as well, just to make things play nice with each other. Even on the support page for the 64-bit version of Live, Ableton states "There are no differences in the CPU handling between the 32-bit and the 64-bit version". http://www.ableton.com/en/articles/64bit-myths-facts/

Check that page it would answer your question for sure.

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