Sample Code

Incorporating Audio Effects and Instruments

Add custom audio processing and MIDI instruments to your app by hosting Audio Unit (AU) plug-ins.



This sample app shows you how to use AU plug-ins in your iOS and macOS apps. You find and instantiate plug-ins, incorporate their user interfaces into your app’s interface, and work with their presets.

The sample app has targets for iOS and macOS. Both versions have three primary classes.

Sample App Architecture

  • HostViewController and its associated Storyboard provide the user interface.

  • AudioUnitManager manages the interactions with the effect and instrument plug-ins.

  • SimplePlayEngine uses AVAudioEngine to play back audio samples and MIDI data.

Find Audio Units

You find Audio Units that are registered with the host system by creating an AudioComponentDescription defining your search criteria. The sample app searches for component types, either audio effects (kAudioUnitType_Effect) or MIDI instruments (kAudioUnitType_MusicDevice). You can also pass values for the other fields of AudioComponentDescription or pass 0 as a wildcard matching all values. Get the shared instance of AVAudioUnitComponentManager and call its components(matching:) method to find the components matching your search criteria.

let componentType = type == .effect ? kAudioUnitType_Effect : kAudioUnitType_MusicDevice

 // Make a component description matching any Audio Unit of the selected component type.
let description = AudioComponentDescription(componentType: componentType,
                                            componentSubType: 0,
                                            componentManufacturer: 0,
                                            componentFlags: 0,
                                            componentFlagsMask: 0)

let components = AVAudioUnitComponentManager.shared().components(matching: description)

This method returns an array of AVAudioUnitComponent objects matching the component description, or an empty array if it found no matches. You can access a component’s properties to determine its capabilities and find identifying values, such as its name and manufacturer, for display in your user interface.

Instantiate Audio Units

When the user selects an Audio Unit in the user interface, your app needs to find the component and instantiate it.

iOS supports third-party plug-ins built using the latest Audio Unit standard (AUv3), which is based on the App Extensions model. Like all App Extensions in iOS, AUv3 plug-ins run out-of-process, which means they run in a dedicated process outside your app, and communication with the extension is done over interprocess communication (IPC).

You instantiate an AU by calling the instantiate(with:options:completionHandler:) method, passing it the component description. This method asynchronously returns the instantiated AVAudioUnit or an Error if the process failed. You must avoid blocking your application’s main thread when instantiating an Audio Unit.

// Instantiate the Audio Unit
AVAudioUnit.instantiate(with: description) { avAudioUnit, error in
   // Use Audio Unit or handle error

In macOS, AUv3 plug-ins also default to running out-of-process. Running an Audio Unit this way is safer and more secure, because a misbehaving plug-in can’t corrupt or crash your app. However, the interprocess communication required of this model adds some small but potentially significant overhead. This can be problematic in professional audio environments where multiple Audio Units are used, especially when rendering at small audio I/O buffer sizes. To resolve this problem, AU authors can package their plug-ins to be run in-process. In macOS only, you can load an appropriately packaged plug-in in-process by passing that instantiation option to the instantiate method, as shown below.

let options: AudioComponentInstantiationOptions = .loadInProcess

// Instantiate the Audio Unit
AVAudioUnit.instantiate(with: description, options: options) { avAudioUnit, error in
   // Use Audio Unit or handle error

Present an Audio Unit’s Custom View

A plug-in can provide a custom user interface to control its parameters. You get the custom view by asking the plug-in for its view controller, which returns an instance of AUViewController, or nil if it doesn’t provide a custom view. You add the view controller’s view to your user interface using the appropriate approach for your platform.

func loadAudioUnitViewController(completion: @escaping (ViewController?) -> Void) {
    if let audioUnit = audioUnit {
        audioUnit.requestViewController { viewController in
            DispatchQueue.main.async {
    } else {

Select Alternative View Configurations

All AU plug-ins can provide a custom user interface, but AUv3 plug-ins may also provide alternative views. A host app can support multiple view configurations. For example, an iOS app may provide compact and expanded views and switch between them depending on the device size or orientation. You define one or more supported view configurations using the AUAudioUnitViewConfiguration class.

private var currentViewConfigurationIndex = 1

/// View configurations supported by the host app
private var viewConfigurations: [AUAudioUnitViewConfiguration] = {
    let compact = AUAudioUnitViewConfiguration(width: 400, height: 100, hostHasController: false)
    let expanded = AUAudioUnitViewConfiguration(width: 800, height: 500, hostHasController: false)
    return [compact, expanded]

The host can ask the plug-in which, if any, custom view configurations it supports.

let supportedConfigurations = audioUnit.supportedViewConfigurations(viewConfigurations)

When the host switches between its supported configurations, it can ask the Audio Unit to do the same. The sample app defines two configurations and attempts to toggle between them.

/// Toggles the current view mode (compact or expanded)
func toggleViewMode() {
    guard let audioUnit = audioUnit else { return }
    currentViewConfigurationIndex = currentViewConfigurationIndex == 0 ? 1 : 0[currentViewConfigurationIndex])

Load Factory Presets

A plug-in author can optionally provide one or more presets that define specific configurations of the plug-in’s parameter values. You access an AUAudioUnit object’s presets through its factoryPresets property, which returns an array of AUAudioUnitPreset instances, or an empty array if it defines none.

/// Gets the audio unit's factory presets.
public var factoryPresets: [Preset] {
    guard let presets = audioUnit?.factoryPresets else { return [] }
    return { Preset(preset: $0) }

The sample app uses a simple wrapper type called Preset to pass to the user interface tier. The view controller uses these objects to build the app’s preset selection interface.

Manage User Presets

A plug-in may also support user presets, which are user-configured parameter settings. You query the Audio Unit’s supportsUserPresets property to determine if it supports saving user presets.

var supportsUserPresets: Bool {
    return audioUnit?.supportsUserPresets ?? false

If a plug-in supports user presets, you can get the currently saved presets by querying its userPresets property.

/// Gets the audio unit's user presets.
public var userPresets: [Preset] {
    guard let presets = audioUnit?.userPresets else { return [] }
    return { Preset(preset: $0) }.reversed()

To be notified of changes to the Audio Unit’s user presets, you add a key-value observer to the userPresets property. By observing changes to this property, you’ll get callbacks as presets are added or deleted.

// Add key-value observer to the userPresets property.
observation = audioUnit?.observe(\.userPresets) { _, _ in
    // User presets changed. Update the user interface.

To create a new user preset, first create an instance of AUAudioUnitPreset and give it a user-defined name and a negative number value (user presets require a negative value for this property). Then call the saveUserPreset(_:) method, which persists the parameter state so the Audio Unit can recall it later.

let preset = AUAudioUnitPreset() = “A Custom Preset”
preset.number = -1

// Save the preset’s parameter state.
do {
    try audioUnit.saveUserPreset(preset)
} catch {
    // Handle the error.

If the user decides to delete this or another user preset, you call deleteUserPreset(_:) to remove it.

Select Factory and User Presets

To select a factory or user preset, set it as the Audio Unit’s currentPreset property. This restores the plug-in’s parameter state to the values stored with the specified preset.

/// Get or set the audio unit's current preset.
public var currentPreset: Preset? {
    get {
        guard let preset = audioUnit?.currentPreset else { return nil }
        return Preset(preset: preset)
    set {
        audioUnit?.currentPreset = newValue?.audioUnitPreset

See Also

Getting Started

Creating Custom Audio Effects

Add custom audio effect processing to apps like Logic Pro X and GarageBand by creating Audio Unit (AU) plug-ins.