What is a VST?


When you enter the world of music production one of the things you’ll find really quick is a lot of terms thrown at you, terms that you may never even heard before. In this post we’ll go through all of them starting with a VST.

VST is short for “Virtual Studio Technology” they are a format of plugins for music production software (DAWs). For example, someone making a song in Ableton may want to add a plugin of a synth they found on the web, the plugin is in format VST and since Ableton is able to read VSTs once it’s installed, it works.

What does that mean?

Plugins are software that enhances the capabilities of a program, you can think of them as apps on a phone, extensions for your web browser, or programs on your computer.

Software is instructions for a computer, software usually comes in the shape of apps, programs, add-ons, and in this case the program you use to make music and the plugins you can install on it.

What is a DAW?

It’s short for “Digital Audio Workstation”, they are the programs you use to make songs. For example, Logic, Cubase, Ableton Live, Studio One, Pro Tools, FL Studio, etc.

Depending on the specific DAW, you may be able to install plugins or not and some DAWs allow only specific types of formats for those plugins.

VST Types and other formats

VST is the most common format for plugins, technically it has 3 versions (vst1, vst2, and vst3) with vst3 being the newest.

If your program can read vsts and it’s up to date it should be able to read all types of vsts and if you can choose between vst1, 2, and 3 we recommend choosing 3 because it uses less computer power and has the least risk of stopping being compatible in the long run.

AUv3 is another format you can find, it means “Audio Unit Extension version 3” and it’s only for Apple products (iPhones, iPods, MAC, etc) so some of the DAWs can run them is Garageband or Steinberg Cubasis among others.

RTAS means “Real-Time Audio Suite” and it was used in Pro Tools, but it was replaced since version 10 with AAX (Avid Audio eXtension).

Which format do I use?

AUAbleton Live, Amadeus Pro, Ardour, Audio Hijack, DaVinci, Digital Performer,  Final Cut Pro, GarageBand, Gig Performer, Logic Express, Logic Pro X, MainStage, Reaper, Resolve, Soundtrack Pro, Studio One
AAXPro Tools 11 and above
VSTAbleton, Bitwig, Cubase, Digital Performer, FL Studio, Maschine, Nuendo, Reaper, Reason, Cakewalk, Studio One, Wavelab

If you could only choose one, we recommend VST since it works with most programs both on Windows and Mac, so if you’re on windows and collaborate with someone on MAC, you can do it no problem.

VST is also the most common format, which means that you have more options for plugins making it easier for you to find exactly what you want.

Where do I get the plugins?

Online, you’ll usually find stores specialized in plugins with large catalogs, some of the names you’ll find include Audio Deluxe, Plugin Boutique, JRR Shop, Reverb, KVR Marketplace, Propellerhead, etc.

Types of plugins

Now, what do the plugins do? What is the functionality they add? Effects and sounds, effects like compression, reverb, distortion, filters, vibrato, modulation, or a collection of a lot of them in bundles and sounds in the shape of real physical instruments, synths, voices, and samples of all types.

You may find some effects or instruments that you already have on the base version of your DAW, but that’s is no problem, you can choose to use the one you like the most, some plugins are meant for beginners, some for certain music genres, some sound just slightly better or have that extra option that you didn’t have before, you have control.

Samples, Sample Packs, Sample Libraries, Soundsets

Some other terms that you may hear or read while you search for a plugin are samples or sounds. Samples are a collection of audio files, the sample is one audio, sample packs are a lot of audios, libraries usually can only be read on some sample players.

Sample players can be inside a DAW or on their own, sample formats are read in SFZ, UVI workstation and Best Service Engine 2, the most common is Kontakt.

Finally, Sound Sets are extensions for specific synths like (for example) Serum, so in a certain way, your plugins can have their own plugins.

How to install a VST?

Now that you found the plugin you wanted, you need to download it and install it. There is only a couple of things that you need to know.

32 and 64 bit 

If you’re on a PC you’re most likely running Windows, on MAC you’re running macOS, on an iPhone iPad (even iWatch) you’re running IOS, and on the rest of phones most likely Android. 

That’s easy, now for Windows and macOS, you need to know if you’re running on 32 bits or 64. For windows go to ThisPC > Properties / System Properties > On the line that says system it will say either 32 or 64.

For MacOs go to About this Mac > More Info > Processor Name.

Conclusion

Now that you know how to get a plugin in the format that you want it, remember that technology is always updating, so it’s necessary to be checking every now and then to avoid problems like compatibility or missing new functionalities.

References

  1. Computer Hope
  2. Britannica
  3. The little red light
  4. Sonic Plug
  5. Wikipedia

Luis Gerardo

Musician as a hobby for +6 years, documenting every instrument in simple words for this website.

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A computer, keyboard and speakers to represent a VST