An introduction to VST plugins

An introduction to VST

Wednesday, May 23, 2007 
By Stephane Brault

VST is the acronym for Steinberg's Virtual Studio Technology interface standard for connecting audio synthesizer and effects plugins to audio editors (such as Cubase and Cakewalk Sonar). For easier manipulation, VST has a graphical user interface (GUI). Some of these GUI have the same look as their physical hardware equivalent. Thousands of VST plugins exist, some are free and some are commercials.


As I've just said before, VST plugins usually have a visual representation of the regular front plate from a hardware synthesizer or audio effect. You can interact with these interface by using the computer mouse to press the buttons, turn the knobs and adjust other controls just as you would do in real life.

Many well-known hardware synthesizer devices and sampler devices have been emulated as a VST plugin in terms of both visual aspect and audio characteristics. There are also some VSTi that do not exist and real life and have been created for some other purposes.

A Digital Audio Workstation or DAW can use any VST software in order to add functionnality that wasn't provided originally by the manufacturer. There are also some VST softwares that can run in stand alone mode. Most host can record the movement of different controls, in addition to audio recording, in order to automate the mixing process.

VST Plugins

VST Instrument (VSTi)

A VST Instrument is a plugin used to play-back sampled audio or synthesized sound. Below is a screenshot of a mellotron VSTi.

Mellotron VST Instrument Plugin

VST Effects

Instead of playing sound or sampled audio, VST Effects are used to process audio. Effects among others include reverb, echo and delay. Below is a screenshot of a classic reverb VST effect.

VST Effect - Classic reverb

VST Hosts

In order to use a VST plugin, you will need a host. A host can be a software or a hardware device that supports VST plugins.


Here are a few examples of software applications that can make use of VST plugins :

  • Steinberg Cubase
  • Steinberg Nuendo
  • Steinberg WaveLab
  • Cakewalk Sonar
  • Ableton Live

You can also download this standalone VST Host.


An example of a hardware host device that supports VST plugins is Muse. This hardware can make use of VST plugins without the need of a computer.



Also look forward to some articles on using VST plugins with both Cakewalk Sonar and Steinberg Cubase.

Come back soon!

Copyright © 2007

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