Building AudioUnits with modern Mac OSX


AudioUnits! That’s Apple’s shiny and awesome plugin format which is super easy to work with and great with all things pro-audio, right? No messy SDK downloads like with VST, and all with great examples and documentation?

But enough with the sarcasm. :) And forgive me in advance for more to follow in this article.

Although AudioUnits always had some degree of pain, particularly for VST programmers who grew up in a “push-based” world, they had their good points as well. However, it pains me to say that many of these advantages, namely the development environment and platform, have fallen into disregard by Apple. I’m not really sure what the situation is over there (is anyone ever sure?), but regardless, newcomers to AudioUnit programming are sure to find themselves in a confusing world of hurt when trying to support this plugin platform.

This guide is intented to get you up and running with the most basic AudioUnit possible. Preferably, you already have some AudioUnit source code which you are merely trying to build it after updating to OSX 10.7/8. At any rate, this guide was written for OSX 10.8.2 and Xcode 4.5.2.

Also, some of the problems addressed in this article have been fixed by others; please see the Lecagy components for Xcode script for one such example.

Getting the AudioUnit SDK installed

The first pain in dealing with AudioUnits on a modern Mac is that Apple no longer ships the AudioUnit SDK with Xcode. You’ll need to download it from Apple’s developer website with Safari (seriously, you’ll get weird session timeout errors by using Chrome).

Specifically, you need to search for “Audio” on that page and download the DMG from February 2012. The later versions do not contain the actual SDK source code. Mount the DMG, and then pop open a terminal window and run the following command:

sudo cp -r -v "/Volumes/Audio Tools/CoreAudio" /Applications/

And then:

sudo find /Applications/ -type f -exec chmod 666 {} \;

Patching the AudioUnit SDK

As of Mac OS X 10.7 and above the AudioUnit SDK does not compile out of the box with Xcode 4.5. You will need to alter some of the source code manually in order to get things working again. You’ll need to edit AUMIDIEffectBase.cpp at line 154 to:

result = ((AUMIDIBase*)This)->MIDIEvent(inStatus, inData1, inData2, inOffsetSampleFrame);

Furthermore, you may need to change the compiler for your project from Apple’s LLVM to LLVM GCC 4.2. Otherwise, you’ll have to change AUCarbonViewBase.cpp at line 257 to:

HISize originalSize = { (CGFloat)mBottomRight.h, (CGFloat)mBottomRight.v };

However, using Apple’s LLVM compiler will also give you problems while building the VST SDK, which is a pain if you intend for your plugin to support both. In addition to the fix above, you’ll also need to edit audioeffect.cpp at line 512 to be:

char temp[2] = {(char)(digit + 0x60), '\0'};

Additionally, you may need to patch CADebugMacros.h if you want to use C++11 features in your code. The offending line is 138, and should be changed to:

#define DebugMessage(msg) DebugPrintfRtn(DebugPrintfFileComma "%s" DebugPrintfLineEnding, msg) FlushRtn

Amusingly enough, Xcode does have a quick fix for this problem and will offer to insert a space after the “%s”, however it will always fail in doing so because it is not able to unlock the file for writing in spite of asking you if you would like to unlock the file. Oh well, it doesn’t really matter because you’ll probably already need o terminal window open with sudo + vim to do the rest of the above patching.

Making a new AudioUnit

Another annoyance is that Apple has removed the project templates for making AudioUnit projects. I’m in the process of updating my plugin templates, but Mojo Lama has also blogged about how to restore the missing templates.