What is a VST?

What is a VST?

VST means ‘Virtual Studio Technology’, and is run inside a music producing software program or DAW (digital audio workstation).

The history of VST technology

Remember the name Steinberg? In the year 1996, the VST interface specification as well as the SDK was released by him.

It was released at the same time as that of Steinberg Cubase 3.02 DAW.

Steinberg Cubase 3.02 was known to include the very first VST plugins: Choirus, Auto-Panner, Espacial as well as Stereo-Echo.

In the year 1999, Steinberg was successful in updating the VST interface specification to the next version i.e. 2.0.

The one major update was that the plugins were able to receive MIDI data. This led to the support of the introduction of the VSTi format plugins. It’s no secret that VST can simply standalone as samplers, or software synthesizers as well as drum machines.

a DAW is shown editing a .WAV file

The reason an edm artist or producer want’s to use a VST is to further expand their computer library of digital synthesizers.

Essentially this means just loading more sounds inside the computer. These are typically refereed to as ‘synth’s’, or vst’s in slang terminology. Other producers will say, ‘hey i just got this new synth check it out’ this means they just downloaded a new vst or digital synthesizer software and have unlocked new electronic sounds.

Virtual Studio Technology (VST)

An alternative name for a vst is also a audio plugin. An audio plug-in software simply integrates or loads the software effects and synthesizer in the digital audio workstation on the computer.

This means the sounds exist entirely inside the computer only.

Above a producer is making music with a VST/audio plugin on a computer.

This is different from a physical hardware synthesizer like the Yamaha DX7, shown below.

How do VST’s produce sound? This depends on the type of synthesizer, we will get to that later.

In order to stimulate the traditional studio recording hardware in software, digital signal processing is utilized by the VST as well as similar technologies. A huge number of plugins exist. Additionally, a huge number of audio applications are known to support VST under a specific license issued by the creator Steinberg.

Now that we have taken a little sneak peek at what exactly a VST is, let’s take an overview and try to understand it in brief.

Most of the VST plugins are either effects or instruments. However, a few different categories such as various meters or spectrum analyzers are known to exist as well.

VST plugins are known to provide a custom GUI that simply displays controls which are the same as knobs and physical switches on the audio hardware. However, some of the plugins are known to rely simply on the host application for the user interface.

First VST Instrument

Do you know which was the first available VST instrument? It was “Neon.”

A 2-oscillator, 16-voice virtual analog synthesizer. The next update rolled out in the year 2006. The changes made in the update included the ability of processing audio with a 64-bit precision.

It was the year 2008 when VST 3.0 came out. The changes included in this update were:

  • Various MIDI inputs/outputs.
  • VSTi Audio Inputs
  • SKI Integration (Totally Optional)

In the year 2011, it was finally time that VST 3.5 was released. The thing about this year was that different updates were released during the course of the entire year. In October of 2011, PreSonus and Celemony Software released ARA which was an audio plug-in interface extension. In the year 2013, maintenance for VST 2 SDK was discontinued.

Finally, in March 2017, VST 3.6.7 rolled out. This version included a preview of VST3 for the Linux Platform.

Since then, many more various versions have came out., and various versions flourished. In the end, we now have the vst’s we know of today, And the market is flooded with many different vst manufacturers. This is great for consumers as it makes vst’s cheaper, or even some that are free.

VST Plugins

Music production at night with a computer, DAW and VST’s.

There are three different types of VST Plugins, We have listed all three below.

  1. VST instruments
  2. VST effects
  3. VST MIDI effects

Let’s take a look at each of them one at a time.

VST Instruments
What do they do? They generate audio. They are either virtual samplers or virtual synthesizers. Many of them are successful in recreating the sound and the look of famous hardware synthesizers. Some of the famous VST instruments are known to include reFX Nexus, Massive, Sylenth1, FM8, Omnisphere, Reaktor, Absynth, Serum, Gladiator as well as Vanguard.

VST effects
VST effects are simple that, just extra effects that go ontop of a sound to alter it more and change the sound. Rather than generating audio, VST effects process an existing sound and change it. They perform similar functions as hardware audio processors like phasers and reverbs. Different monitoring effects are known to provide visual feedback of the entire input signal without even processing the audio. Most of the hosts allow various effects to be chained. Meters and spectrum analyzers are known to visually represent audio characteristics such as amplitude, frequency distribution, etc.

VST MIDI Effects
MIDI messages are processed by VST MIDI effects. They are known to route the MIDI data to different VST instruments or other hardware devices.

VST Hosts (DAW’s)

A VST host is considered to be a hardware device or software application like a (DAW) that helps the VST plugin’s run.

Various VST hosts are available out of which we are naming some of them:

VST Presets

As mentioned above, a digital vst can make and save presets.

Presets can be purchased online for a few dollars, or thousands of dollars for people looking for thew newest upcoming sound.

Many artists like deadmau5 have just made their own, thus is a big reason why they are famous as they keep all the music production and creativity in their control.

In the picture above with the VST Sylenth 1, inside the red box is where an edm artist can easily save new presets, load, or change the preset.

highlighted In the green box is where an edm artist can alter the sound of that preset with effects and audio plugins.


The lines between analog and digital are eaisly blurred, so it does take a bit of investigation into the instruction manual and technical guides to see exactly how each synth works.

With the advancements in technology, VST technology has gradually improved over the years and is just getting started.

Some synths are just a custom computer inside a box with piano keys and some hardware controls. Some synths are digital and some are true analog-modular with no piano keys like the A-100 made by Doepfer below.