What are VST Plugins and How to Use Them

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VST is a type of virtual studio. Virtual Studio Technology or VSTs make it possible to integrate synthesizers with DAWs. There are a lot of terms that are specific to music production so it might be useful if you learn more about the industry. Names like “track” and “fader” might be easy to understand, but then you have things like “NLE” and “VST,” which might cause confusion.

Most VST plugins work within a DAW environment, although there are standalone plugin hosts, and these can also be used to take advantage of VST plugins. Most plugins are instruments or effects, but there are different types of VSTs which we will be talking about later.

Once installed (we’ll also offer some tips on this later), VST plugins can be applied to individual tracks and the master within your DAW environment. Different DAWs may have some differences, but there are plenty of options to choose from. Ultimately it depends on how you work, how much cash you want to spend, and what features are important.

But in some DAWs, you can directly drag and drop VSTs onto tracks and in others, you may be able to find the right plugins via a drop-down list. Or with right-clicking in specific sections of your interface.

When you want to play a part on the controller or within an interface, VST instruments would do the trick. This is a great opportunity because it can help you add instruments to your studio or find contacts who have the particular instrument that you need.

For example, you might have a song that needs a cello line, but can’t afford to hire one or know anyone who can play it. Here’s a few methods you can use to get a realistic-sounding cello in your track. Simply download & install a VST from the likes of SooperLooper, then layer in your cello sample. Finally, break the sound up into sections, apply some reverb and panning then play about with some EQing until it sounds realistic!

When you want to use VST effects, they will not affect the track unless you select it beforehand (or after) with a voice or instrument recorded on the track. That said, VST effects can be applied to MIDI tracks as well. Let’s say you have a guitar track, and you want to apply some reverb to it. So, you’d take your favourite reverb VST and apply it to that clip. The next step would be adjusting the settings until it sounds good :).

That’s something I have yet to mention. Each VST typically has its own custom GUI. Many of them have been made to look like their hardware counterpart, or like a hardware unit you would find in a studio.

It’s quite normal to find buttons that look like knobs, switches and sliders.

Unlike many other DAWs, each VST has its own interface. However, there are in-built standards that can make plugins from multiple developers look similar. This means it may take you a while to feel comfortable with all your VST plugins. Most DAWs have built-in VSTs which are usually loaded as soon as the application starts. This means that they have an interface which goes well with the aesthetics and user experience of the DAW itself.

Plugin Formats

Reaper comes with a built-in plugin suite out of the gate, but all other plugins will come in different formats.

We’ve focused on VSTs, but you should also know about different formats.

Here you will find a list of the most used plugin formats and the popular DAWs that are compatible.

  • VST – Virtual Studio Technology, developed by Steinberg (variations like VST2, VST3 – newest and popular, VSTi are also used).

Cubase, Ableton Live, FL Studio, Reaper, Studio One, Reason.

  • AU – Audio Units, developed by Apple.

Logic Pro, Ableton Live, Studio One, Reaper.

  • AAX – Avid Audio eXtension, developed by Avid.

Pro Tools 10 and newer.

  • RTAS – Real-Time Audio Suite, developed by Digidesign.

Pro Tools 10 and older.

MacOS or Windows

The native macOS plugin format for AU is not compatible with VST/VST3, AAX/RTAS, or other formats.

VST is the native Windows plugin format. However, it can run compatible AAX/RTAS plugs in Pro Tools.

Some formats may be compatible with different operating system (macOS, Windows and Linux, for example), so make sure to download the appropriate file.

Although it sounds obvious, this is a common mistake with plugins. Paid plugins usually bundle all OS installation files in the download. Then you simply need to run the correct installer.

You will often be asked what plugin formats you would like to install when installing. It is wise to check all of them.

Many people have multiple DAWs. If you leave all formats checked, your plugin will work with all compatible DAWs.

Even if you don’t use more than one DAW in the future you might. De-selecting unwanted formats will not save you any space or CPU.

32-bit or 64-bit

There might be a slight difference in quality, but it’s basically the same.

64-bit plugins can access more memory and have some computer architecture differences. But we won’t be getting into those as it’s not really relevant here.

All that matters here is compatibility. When downloading 32/64-bit plugins for Reaper, download the version that matches the version of Reaper you’re currently running.

Benefits Of VSTs

VST plugins can be a great way to save time, space and money.

It takes time to set up instruments in a studio. You would have to adjust the placement of your microphones until you are satisfied. Instead, you can select the plugin to start recording your MIDI track.

VST plugins save space. If you were to purchase every instrument in the world, your studio would be quite crowded.

VST plugins are a great way to save money on the cost of hiring session musicians. Some VSTs have an initial cost.

VSTs are software emulations for hardware synthesizers and samplers. They may appear, feel and even sound just like the real thing. However, you can lose some tonality or authenticity.

JSFX plugins

JSFX files are simple text-based plugins that take the form of fully-featured plugins when loaded into Reaper.

These plugins are available as a download in source code, which means you can edit them to suit your needs or create you’re own JSFX plugins from scratch.

Reaper comes with several JSFX plugins that you can install with ease, but there are hundreds on the Reaper forum created by other Reapers.

Using Reaper plugins in another DAW

If you’ve found yourself here but aren’t already using Reaper (or if you don’t use it anymore), then there are some Reaper plugins that may suit your needs.

Reaper is a very powerful program, but it doesn’t support the most popular DAWs. Fortunately you can use their plugins in another DAW thanks to their VST plugin format.

Be aware that this list doesn’t include all of Reaper’s best plugins.

Here’s How to Add a New VST Synth/Plugin to Reaper in 5 Easy Steps

Reaper is a DAW that has been around since 2006. Musicians, producers and engineers have fallen in love with the platform. 16 years later, it has gained a lot of followers.

Ardent Reaper fans stick with it because it’s easy to tweak and offers in-depth routing options.

In this guide, we will teach you step-by-step how to add a new VST synth/plugin to Reaper.

Step 1

Once you’ve opened Reaper, you’re going to want to head over to the Preferences screen. This is a new option too, so click on Options from the menu bar and then on Preferences.

Alternatively, you can also use these shortcuts.

Step 2

Near the bottom of your Preferences, you’ll see Plug-ins.

Under Plug-ins, you’ll want to click VST.

Step 3

Open Reaper and drag the VST plugin over.

To do this, start by clicking the Add button at the top-right corner of the Preferences panel.

Now open up the folder and click ‘Open’.

The default macOS and Windows paths are as follows.

  • Windows: C:\Program Files\VSTPlugins or C:\Program Files\Common Files\VST2 or C:\Program Files\VST3
  • macOS: Library/Audio/Plug-ins/VST

It’s common for VST, VST2, and VST3 plugins to have a separate folder.

Note: Some plugins will look to install to a custom folder but if you don’t change it before the installation, Reaper must be directed there.

Step 4

Click the Re-Scan button, and Reaper will scan the selected directory for new VST plugins.

After that it searches for VST plugins on your computer and automatically adds them to the list.

Step 5

If you have a synth or instrument plugged in, go to the Insert section of your menu bar and select “Insert Virtual Instrument on New Track”

From the pop-up menu, choose either VST or Instrument, and select your new item from the list from the menu.

If you want to change the instrument on an existing track, find the FX button on the desired track and click it.

Next, choose “VST” from the pop-up menu, then select your new instrument from the list.

That’s all you need to know to add your new VST plugin to Reaper. Here are 3 bits of advice:

  • Reaper can search multiple directories for new plugins, which means you don’t have to spend hours on the internet looking for more.
  • Reaper automatically scans for new plugins when it loads, so you don’t have to repeat the process every time.
  • Reaper will scan all plugins at once. So you won’t need to scan one plugin at a time.

How do I Install VSTs

This will depend at most a little on the DAW interface.

This tutorial will show you how to install VSTs on Tracktion DAW. Tracktion is a bit outdated now (their current DAW Waveform). You may need to modify the steps depending on which DAW software you are using.

First, I need to download the VST. It is quite simple.

Most VSTs are available in a ZIP file. Some VSTs include an executable (.exe), file/installer. The installation process is fairly straightforward, as it will guide you through each step. We’ll be focusing on the ZIP file scenario.

The ZIP file must be unpacked. Most OS platforms let you unpack archives (ZIP, RAR, etc.) You don’t need any additional software to unpack archives (ZIP, RAR, etc.) on most OS platforms.

Next, put the contents of the ZIP folder you haven’t unpacked in a location that you can easily access. If you don’t have one, it might be worth creating one. Your DAW may already have created a folder called VST for you so that you can save your files there.

You can create folders that are based on the type of plugin (EQ, reverb and bass synths). ).

Unpacked folders can contain text files or other similar items. These files aren’t usually critical, and only contain developer information or instructions for installation (which you can refer back to if needed). Although the plugin may have a DLL extension or.dll extension sometimes, it is not always necessary. This file is the most important.

After you have saved the files in a location you can remember, open your DAW software to navigate to plugins. It is likely to be in the “settings” or nested menus of your DAW.

Last, you need to scan your DAW for any new plugins.

Your DAW should install it if it succeeds.

You should be notified if it fails. Some plugins may not work with your DAW. You should check whether the VST is 32-bit- or 64-bit based on the OS running on your machine.

How do I Figure Out Which VST Plugins to Buy or Download

I believe that plugins are the best place to begin for most users. You can play around with the plugins in your DAW before you start to download or add more plugins.

Although the default plugins might not sound the best, they should give you an idea of what each effect or instrument does and how to use it.

Once you have had an opportunity to play with the built-in plugins in your DAW, it’s time to look into free VSTs.

It can be overwhelming to consider all the options available. It’s best to search for specific items – there may not be any effects or instruments that your DAW has. Perhaps you are looking for a choir track to add to your song, but your DAW does not have one.

The pressure of searching for something specific relieves you from having to look through so many options. It also bypasses the questions such as “What does this one do?”

Don’t worry. You will continue to learn and discover more about music production and the VST effects that you need to make your music sound great.

We also have premium VSTs. You can do a lot with free plugins. And, it’s not a lie that many professional engineers and producers use free plugins as part of their software suite. If you are a composer or need top-quality instruments and effects (quality strings, piano, choir, etc.), then you should consider purchasing premium plugins. The premium is your best choice.

Premium plugins can cost hundreds to even thousands of dollars. This is something you should be aware of when shopping. It’s almost inevitable that you’ll be lured by alluring plugins. That’s how it feels to be a producer. Just don’t go into debt!

Keep in mind that you can find tons of tutorials, videos, demos and reviews online about VSTs. You can even find a guide on free VST plugins for guitars.

You don’t have to search through endless options. You can search for recommendations and even listen to the VSTs to find out which ones produce the best results based on your goals.

What Types of VST Plugins Are There

There are basically three types of VST plugins, as outlined below:

VST Instruments

These plugins produce audio and fall under the general umbrella of virtual synthesizers, samplers, or virtual synthesizers. Many plugins emulate the sounds of real hardware counterparts.

Many keyboards and synths gained some fame over the years. Each of these keyboards can cost several thousand dollars. You can see how VST counterparts might be more cost-effective.

Some of the most well-known VST synths are Nexus, Omnisphere and Discovery.

VST Effects

VST effects differ from VST instruments because they process audio instead of creating it.

They are similar to effects units in the studio and serve the same purpose as the audio processors (EQ, reverb etc.). you’re using.

VSTs can be used to monitor visual feedback, such as input signals. In this case, they don’t process audio. These plugins are useful for mastering and mixing. They can also guide you in making decisions about panning, EQ and levels.

You can combine multiple effects onto one track in most DAWs. This is common with hardware units. Vocals get a lot of treatment in the studio (effects chain), so if your DAW doesn’t allow this, you might want to continue looking.

VST MIDI Effects

One more thing to note about VSTs is that they can also be used for MIDI effects. They process MIDI data and send it on to other instruments or hardware units, which makes things pretty versatile.

Are There Other Audio Plugin Formats

Yes, there are different formats like VST, AU and AAX. However they all allow you to simulate hardware used in recording studios.

Studio hardware is still in high demand, but some prefer the flexibility of digital. Analog vs. digital is a topic that’s debated for hours on end-especially when it comes to things like preamps, compression and limiters-but this depends on your own personal preference as well as the genre you’re focusing on.

That said, my studio engineer buddies use a mixture of both hardware and software to get the most accurate sound.

Anyway, let’s get back to plugin formats.

  • VST (or Virtual Studio Technology) is one of the most popular plugin formats. This format was developed by German company Steinberg in 1996. Over time, it has evolved and is now on its third version – VST3.
  • Virtual Studio Technology (VST) plugins are often used on Windows PCs and can be supported by a number of DAWs and computer editing systems.
  • The Audio Unit is a VST equivalent, developed by Apple and compatible only with Apple systems. This is one of the reasons that AU is mainly found on Mac OS platforms.
  • AAX (or Avid Audio eXtension) is a file format for plugins developed by Avid, the developers of Pro Tools. AAX files work with Pro Tools and Media Composer.

There are thousands! Some are just for personal use, but there are commercial ones with a fee. Native Instruments, Spitfire Audio, and iZotope are some of the most well-known developers of high-quality plug ins. They sometimes offer their products as freeware too. But independent developers are everywhere, and some of them make excellent free plugins. You can find a lot of their work on sites like reddit or twitter.

Beginners Guide to VST

Over the past 20 years, it has been easier and more affordable to produce your own music. To produce a decent-sounding tape, you used to require a complete recording studio and hardware equipment that cost hundreds of thousands of money.

Recording used to take a long time and required complicated cable running. It took many years of training to master all aspects of the recording process.

We have access to the most advanced recording technology right from our computers. Although recording a track takes some time, anyone can now record it with a laptop or a smartphone.

Virtual studio technology, or VST, is one of the tools that has made this accessibility possible.

How to Utilize Sends

The CPU and RAM of any computer are limited. Some VST plugins can take up a lot of that CPU and RAM.

It is important to learn how to get the most from what you have and to take advantage of auxiliary sends.

This is a reflection of the way engineers used to work in the studio. They didn’t need a separate reverb device on every channel. They would only have the reverb on one channel (or two, depending on whether you want stereo). Then they would route the audio to another channel.

This is a different process for every DAW. You will be placing your effect, such as a delay or reverb, onto one channel. The master channel receives its output.

You will then split the audio output from another channel with the desired effect. This allows you to control how much of the dry signal goes directly to the master and how many are sent out by the effect send.

This reduces the amount of effects you need to complete your project. You don’t have to place a reverb on each vocal sample, which you probably use from the Aaron Richards sweet vocal pack. Instead, you can send one reverb to every vocal.


There are many tons VSTs available. You could spend thousands on effects and instruments to build up your collection.

If you are a beginner looking to get the most important tools, the list is narrowed down. These VSTs don’t require you to spend a lot of money, but we recommend them to anyone who is looking to build their toolkit.

Compressor: Many DAWs come with their stock plugin effects. A compressor is likely to be included in this folder. You can also use a free compressor.

You will notice a significant difference in your audio quality when you use a high-quality compressor. Low-quality compressors can have sensitive thresholds that will amplify your audio if you push them too hard.

High-end compressors can mold your dynamics in the way you like while still maintaining the audio quality. Make sure you understand what you are doing before you begin compressing.

Reverb: Stock plugins can work in a pinch but a well-crafted and custom-made reverb is a big step up. There are many reverb options available. You can play with the character and tone of the reverb until you find the right one for you.

Multi-Instruments: If you are a beginner producer, it is a good idea to start looking for decent instruments. Trust us, the stock piano plugin won’t sound exactly how you want it to.

Multi-instruments are a great option if you want to get the best value for your money. Instead of locking in to one instrument that you may use occasionally, these VSTs include multiple emulators. This VST allows you to experiment and expand your sound library.

Retro Synth Emulators: If your synth plugins were cheap or free, you will recognize the artificial tone they often come with. You might be wondering why your tracks sound different from the pop-hits you hear on the radio. It’s because your synthesizers are high-quality.

A decent VST is worth the money if synths are something that interests you.

FAQ for What are VST Plugins Guide

What are VST plugins?

VST plugins are software or plug-ins that allow you to use your computer’s audio processing capabilities to create new sounds. They typically come with an interface that allows the user to define parameters for the plugin and then have it produce a sound.

VST plugins are available for a variety of platforms and DAWs, including Windows, macOS, Linux, iOS, and Android. They can be used in any DAW that supports VST plugins.

VST plugins allow users to use the power of digital signal processing (DSP) techniques to create audio effects for their music or sound design projects.

What are VST plugins for?

VST plugins are used for a variety of purposes, such as:

  • Creating musical instruments and effects
  • Making audio recordings
  • Mixing sounds and creating mixes
  • Creating beats and loops
  • Generating sound effects
  • Automating tasks
  • Enhancing audio quality.

VST plugins are a powerful tool for music production, but they also have a lot of use outside of music. VST plugins can be used to create sound effects, vocal effects, and even entire scores.

VST plugins are the most popular and widely used audio plugins in the market. They are used by professional producers, engineers, and home users to create music, sound effects, and voiceovers.

The most popular VST plugins include:

  • Valhalla DSP
  • Waves
  • Steinberg
  • Izotope
  • FabFilter
  • Avid Pro Tools

How much do VST plugins cost?

VST plugins are quite expensive.

But with the help of these plugins, you can make your work easier and more efficient.

There are a lot of free VST plugins available online which you can use for free.

Some of them come with in-built presets that will help you to start creating sounds right away.

VST plugins are a popular tool for music producers. They allow users to create and manipulate sound in a way that would otherwise be impossible.

There are many different types of VST plugins that can be used for different genres of music. Some popular examples include:

  • Reverb
  • Pitch Shifter
  • Delay
  • Compressor
  • EQ

How to choose the right VST plugin for your music production?

A VST plugin is software that helps in the production of electronic music. They are used by DJs and musicians to create sounds, melodies and beats.

A good VST plugin should have the following features:

  • Good sound quality
  • Easy-to-use interface
  • Low latency (less than 16ms)
  • Audio inputs/outputs for multiple sound sources
  • A good interface for editing sounds
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