iLok - The Good, the Bad and the Ugly


So far, I’ve totally resisted iLok in the same manner one would resist nuclear fallout!
However, there is an increasing number of plugins and VSTis I’m particularly interested in that run iLok.
Who here is using it (the physical dongle)? Have you ever had trouble? Does it impact system performance or stability for you in any way?
Who here has used it in the past and dumped it?
Please share your experiences with it both positive and negative.


I use it for a few of my plugins, and haven’t really had any problems with it. There was some concern that it wasn’t fully supported with Windows 10, and I heard of some people having difficulties there, but it all worked fine for me. No noticeable performance or stability issues.

The only concern I have is if the iLok device gets damaged or lost while I’m away on tour. I have a spare unused iLok that I take around with me, and pay for “iLok Zero Downtime”, which means if I have a problem I can transfer my licences to the spare iLok. It hasn’t happened yet, thankfully.

All in all it seems to work ok. I’ve actually had more problems with Arturia’s licensing system, where it failed to understand that I had two identical machines (one as a backup), and wouldn’t allow me to do updates on one. I somehow managed to get it working, but I was left with an uncertain feeling about it.



I have an iLok key, and it has never given me any trouble at all.
Many plugin makers now allow the “software iLok” but enough important ones do not that I had to get a key. They had some issues when Windows 10 first came out two years ago, but nothing since. They are always updating it (every couple of months), so that is nice to see it is actively developed.



This is all very encouraging so far guys. Thanks heaps for the feedback.
The one product that is pushing me to make the jump is XILS4. I’ve had a fascination with EMS synths now for many years but not the budget to purchase one.


I just bought that also (Xils-4) - it was my first synth at college. I wore that thing out working on it every day! (Never owned one, but have the next best – or really, better – thing now!)

Xils does support the software “soft”-iLok now, though. You do not need a key for that.

Ones that do require a key that I own are those by Lexicon, iZotope, and Exponential Audio.

Most permit the computer-based authorizations now, for which one only needs a free iLok account. That is pseudo-portable in that you can remove an authorization from a machine (you need to do that from that machine) and add it to a different computer. The key makes them all completely portable.



I have an original ilok 1, have used for ivory, uvi, soundtoys, eventide … no problems in 10 years.
I agree with Neil that a backup key is a good idea but I haven’t explored that option and do it with “no net”.



I do have some protection dongles in place in my studio setup (Steinberg eLicenser, iLok, plus an USB drive for my Waves licenses), but for live use, I refuse any software that requires a dongle. Just too easy for the little beast to break or get stolen; don’t want to ruin a gig just because someone thought pulling the dongle was funny…

Yes, that reduces the set of usable live plugins a bit, but I’ve always found non-dongle alternatives good enough for live use…




Thanks heaps again guys. This feedback is all very encouraging for me.
My use will be almost exclusively in my recording studio so the concerns with the iLok dongle getting lost are very minor for me. The iLok will remain plugged into my studio rig or my laptop (again, in the studio).


I currently don’t have a dongle in my live rig, but for some synths (like Korg KLC) if I wish to use them live then I will have to. If that happens, the dongle will be deep inside the gig rack, so it cannot get damaged or misplaced.


I did not know you could use a dongle with the Korg Legacy Collection items. I’ve always simply authorized/de-authorized the computer. I need to look into that!
[EDIT - apparently, they stopped supporting eLicencer when they moved to 64-bit.]



That’s worth knowing. I wonder if I can move onto that and avoid the dongle then. I purchased my KLC in 2006…


I have the exact same set up as Torsten. I use the dongles live, however. It is a love/hate thing. The dongles allow me to install software on multiple computers without having to transfer licenses to respective computers. I have 3 systems I use. 1 is my studio, the second is my performance laptop, and the third is my laptop I take to other artists to share ideas/work etc.Dongles work in those situations. However, at gigs, I worry about them. Waves has the best setup. My Waves “dongle” is a low profile sandisk thumb drive. Wish all would unify under this type of user control. Oh well.


I have two machines which share the dongle (the main recording/performance machine and an editing/mastering room machine that actually sits right next to the main one) (using long video cables and wireless keyboards and trackballs/pads!), and the downstairs machine where I work on stuff sometimes.

I use the software activations mostly for the downstairs one (as most of the plugins I have allow at least two activations - one of which is used on the dongle and the other of which I give to the downstairs machine) and just swap the dongle over to the neighboring machine from the recording unit when I’m editing/mastering.



I totally agree Torsten.


Whenever the subject of iLok comes up, a wide range of opinions will follow, ranging from “Hate it” to “Tolerate it”.

Truth is, the majority of users have never had a problem with it. Pace wouldn’t still be in business if that weren’t the case. They have, however, come close to destroying themselves in the past with driver bugs that brought down every user who updated.

For most users, that meant an annoying inconvenience for a few days. But that’s only because most users don’t rely on any particular plugin to do their day-to-day jobs.

For the minority who face deadlines, though, it was a major headache. And there is no deadline more unmovable than “you start playing tonight at 9:00”.

Of course, it’s not that hard to protect your dongle from damage and to avoid software updates until they’ve been vetted by others. But why bother, when it simply isn’t necessary? There isn’t any iLok-encumbered synth or effect out there that doesn’t have a suitable non-iLok replacement.


That’s been my stance up until now. The one big exception for me is Xils 4. I’ve used a number of other software versions of the VCS3 but all except Xils Labs have left me underwhelmed.


Actually, in the days when iLok was very undependable, the people that suffered the most were studio owners/engineers that depended on their DAWs, i.e. Pro Tools, Cubase, Nuendo on an hourly basis. There were no other studio quality DAWs on the scene. They didn’t have time to waste on project shut downs because of the problematic iLok. It sometimes took weeks to get running again, and the loss of that time meant loss of big money. The truth REALLY is that the hatred of the dongle came from the studios over Pro Tools when it was the studio standard. Also, most people DID have huge problems, and there were very few, if any, similar plugs to go to. The “annoying inconvenience” was usually more than a few days and even if it was a gig, it still was a major deal if your rig depended on it. Pace nearly did go out of business because the software developers were under tremendous pressure from their consumers, and many developers went to other forms of protection. iLok was, and still is, one of the reasons why many people refuse to go to soft synths.

iLok is much better now, but I still don’t like it, and still do not trust it. When I gig, I want MY sound. If iLok fails during a gig, it will be a huge inconvenience to try to replicate in two minutes, especially if that sound drives the song. Imagine the pressure on tour people who depended on iLok software for the show, only to have it fail. So understand, iLok has a very shady past, and many of us remember the hair pulling moments that destroyed shows, studio moments, and particularly the overall mood of performance.


The Ugly


Once again, I repeat:
The vast majority of soft synths that use iLok today DO NOT require you to own or use a dongle.

They can be activated per-computer, and that lasts as long as the computer lasts! The licences can be removed from a computer (using the activated computer) and easily transferred to a different computer.

Ones that do require a key that I own are those by Lexicon, iZotope, and Exponential Audio. I would never rely upon any of those for a gig. Those are studio items.

So, times have changed quite a bit, what with so many manufacturers allowing soft-iLok authentications now. (Including Xils-Labs for all of their items.)


EDIT - on my machine, Eventide, Sonivox, UVI, Soundtoys, Xils-Lab, and AIR plugins all support computer-based iLok activations.



Yes, I was aware of that, as I am using UVI. Just throwing a little history of iLok in on the discussion, and why it is so disliked. The computer activation was a struggle at first also. I remember iLok frantically getting it to work properly as well. I have known several people to have iLok de-activate after a shutdown as recent as a year ago. I started using it,reluctantly, a year ago when I purchased B5. It was a little struggle to make it activate, but it has been mostly stable for me. Still not going to make it part of my live rig yet, but I am going to try B5v2 live this weekend on a couple of songs.



Ah - I came to the iLok party at the perfect time, then - that explains it! :wink:

I’m remarkably new to VST’s, and the Lexicon reverbs and effects bundle was the first time I used iLok by necessity.