What is a VST Plugin? A Beginner’s Guide to Virtual Studio Technologies

Unleash sonic creativity with VST plugins! Enhance your music production with realistic instruments, powerful effects, and limitless sonic possibilities.

Are you a music producer, DJ, or audio engineer? Do you want to add some extra dimension to your sound with effects? If so, you’ll want to know about VST plugins! Understanding what VST plugins are and their role within the music production industry provides you with the knowledge to identify the most effective tools for your music production outfit. But what exactly are VST plugins?

What is a VST plugin? Virtual Studio Technology, or VST, is a plugin audio interface that may be used with many different DAWs to add additional instruments, effects, and synthesizers. Virtual Studio Technology (VST) and related technologies employ digital signal processing to create software simulations of classic recording studio gear.

What are VST plugins?

VST (Virtual Studio Technology) plugins are software instruments or effects that can be used within digital audio workstations (DAWs) to enhance your music production process. Steinberg Media Technologies created VST in 1996. These nifty little plugins open up a whole new world of sonic possibilities, offering virtual versions of synthesizers, samplers, drum machines, effects processors, and more.

Image of someone sitting in front of a computer and a midi controller with a plugin. Source: tima miroshnichenko, pexels
Image of someone sitting in front of a computer and a midi controller with a plugin. Source: tima miroshnichenko, pexels

Think of VST plugins as your creative arsenal. They allow you to expand your sonic palette by adding virtual instruments and effects to your DAW. Need a realistic piano sound? Load up a VST piano plugin. Craving some vintage analog synth vibes? You got it! There’s a plethora of VST synthesizer plugins you can use

Effects like reverb and chorus may be used to create a feeling of depth in an audio recording, while delay can be used to create an echo. These effects used to require expensive and space-consuming equipment, but now they can be achieved with VST plugins.

To get the same results as more costly instruments, synthesizers, and effects hardware, VST plugins may be used instead.

Virtual studio technology has replaced or added to traditional studio setups. To get the same results as more costly instruments, synthesizers, and effects hardware, VST plugins may be used instead. In fact, with the help of VST plugins and your preferred digital audio workstation, you may compose a whole song from scratch without ever touching a real instrument.

My favorite MIDI keyboard (at the moment):

AKAI Professional MPK Mini MK3

What is a vst plugin? A beginner's guide to virtual studio technologies | 717qmgla7zl. Ac sl1500 | audio apartment
My favorite MIDI keyboard (at the moment):

AKAI Professional MPK Mini MK3

I’m loving the AKAI MPK Mini MK3 for its compact design and the range of controls. It’s one of my essential tools. The velocity-sensitive keys and MPC-style pads are great for making beats, while the thumbstick and knobs give me precise control.

Is a Plugin the same as a VST?

Plugins can be anything from a compressor to an equalizer to a soft synth to a virtual emulation of a real effect or sound source. They can be used with your DAW (digital audio workstation).

Before VST, sound effects were often implemented in a hardware setting by using “Inserts” on a mixing desk, which redirected the audio signal to an effect box and then back to the mixer. Software digital audio workstations would have a virtual mixing board with insert buttons that could be used to add a VST effect right away.

So, the word “plugin” was made up to describe these software audio effects because they could be “plugged in” into an audio channel. This also applies to DAWs that employ proprietary effect formats that are incompatible with VST. The terms “plugin” and “VST plugin” refer to the same thing, and the two terms are sometimes used interchangeably. However, the terms “VST effect” and “plugin effect” may also be used.

With VST plugins, the sonic palette available to musicians is virtually limitless.

Benefits of VST:

The adoption of VST plugins has brought about several significant benefits for music creators:

  1. Affordability: Acquiring physical instruments, synthesizers, and effects processors can be prohibitively expensive. VST plugins offer a cost-effective alternative, allowing musicians to access a wide range of virtual instruments and effects at a fraction of the cost.
  2. Space Efficiency: Setting up a traditional recording studio with a multitude of physical instruments and hardware equipment requires significant space. VST plugins eliminate the need for extensive physical setups, enabling musicians to create professional-quality music with just a computer and a DAW.
  3. Unlimited Sound Possibilities: With VST plugins, the sonic palette available to musicians is virtually limitless. You have the ability to experiment with different instruments, effects, and processing techniques empowers artists to explore new genres, styles, and soundscapes without constraints.

What are the different types of VST plugins?

In general, there are three types of VST plugins:

  • VST instruments: Various virtual instruments may be played inside DAWs with the help of VST instrument plugins (often abbreviated as VSTi plugins). For far less than the price of the real thing, you can get a VSTi that can mimic practically any instrument. VSTi plugins are useful because they enable you to produce original music that mimics the sound of instruments like the piano, saxophone, or synthesizer.
  • VST effects: VST effects plugins can change the existing sound, unlike VSTi plugins, which make new sounds. Moreover, similar to how many Virtual Studio Technology (VST) plugins are designed to mimic the sound of actual instruments and synthesizers, these plugins are often based on genuine, physical effects devices.
  • VST midi effects: Like effects plugins, VST MIDI plugins work with MIDI data. These plugins are versatile because they can either handle MIDI data or change it before sending it to other plugins to be processed further. Even though this technology is very useful, a trained ear may be able to tell when a MIDI composition based on a chart has a fake sound. With the right VST plugin, you may be able to improve the sound of MIDI inputs and make other changes to them.

Using VST Plugins:

Integrating VST plugins into your music production workflow is a straightforward process. Here’s a general guide to get you started:

  1. Find a VST plugin that suits your requirements and download it.
  2. If the plugin is compressed in a ZIP file, extract its contents to a folder where you can easily locate them.
  3. If the VST plugin comes with an installer, run the executable file to initiate the installation process. Follow the on-screen instructions and select the desired installation folder.
  4. Launch your preferred DAW and scan for new VST plugins. Most DAWs have an automatic scanning feature that detects newly installed plugins.
  5. Create a new project within your DAW and add the VST instruments as desired or apply VST effects to individual tracks or the master channel.
Image of someone's hand using a midi device. Source: layla yehia, pexels
Image of someone’s hand using a midi device. Source: layla yehia, pexels

VST Limitations

In the world of audio production, both hardware and software come with their own set of limitations. Hardware faces constraints in terms of available mixer channels and external effects boxes within a studio. On the other hand, software is limited by the power of the CPU. As more plugins are loaded, the CPU’s processing power is gradually consumed, leading to potential sound glitches and dropouts.

However, there are methods to minimize these limitations. One approach is to utilize “Sends,” where multiple channels are routed to a single plugin. This is particularly useful for effects like reverb, creating a consistent sonic environment for the entire mix. Another technique involves bouncing a mix with applied effects, permanently integrating them into the audio, and subsequently unloading the plugins to free up CPU resources.

Modern computers empower users to overcome hardware limitations by facilitating projects with a multitude of tracks, individual compression and EQ plugins, as well as various creative effects. By employing techniques such as utilizing send channels with complex reverbs and applying a multi-band compressor to the master output, a computer-based setup can emulate the capabilities of a traditional hardware studio.

If you want even more tips and insights, watch this video called “10 VST Plugins you NEED for Music Production 2022” from the Sanjay C YouTube channel.

A video called “10 VST Plugins you NEED for Music Production 2022” from the Sanjay C YouTube channel.

Frequently asked questions (FAQ)

Do you still have questions? Below are some of the most commonly asked questions about VST plugins. 

Are VST plugins free?

There are many free VST plugins available on the internet that can provide a wide range of effects and virtual instruments. These free options can be a great way for beginners or those on a budget to start experimenting with different sounds and effects in their digital audio workstations (DAW). However, paid VST plugins often offer more advanced features, higher audio quality, and better support and updates from the developers.

What are VST plugins used for?

A vst plugin is used to add effects and virtual instrument sounds to your mix. They are typically used with a DAW (digital workstation). All producers and engineers use some sort of VST plugin for mixing. Compressors, limiters, and equalizers play an important role in dynamics processing, which is why they are used in audio mixing.

Do I need a DAW for VST?

A VST plugin can function without DAW. The most convenient method is to use a virtual instrument host or VST host. The virtual instrument format (VST) requires a ” host ” program to load and run the VST. However, I strongly recommend just using s DAW.


I hope this article helped you understand VST plugins and why music producers use them so often. So, do you prefer to use VST plugins for your DAWs? And did I cover everything you wanted to know? Let me know in the comments section below. I read and reply to every comment. If you found this article helpful, share it with a friend, and check out my full blog for more tips and tricks on music production. Thanks for reading, and never stop making music.

Key takeaways

This article covered what VST effects are, what plugins are, and what VST plugins are. Here are some key takeaways:

  • VST plugins are simulated studio-grade hardware effects for audio productions.
  • Effects like compression and reverb used to depend on physical instruments and hardware.
  • If you want to use a VST plugin, you first need to download and install a DAW like Ableton Live FL Studio or Sonar.
  • Thousands of plugins exist, both commercial and freeware.
  • VST plugins can be used within a digital audio workstation in programs like pro tools and Logic.

Helpful resources

Image Andrew Ash
Written by Andrew Ash, Staff Writer

Hey there! My name is Andrew, and I'm relatively new to music production, but I've been learning a ton, and documenting my journey along the way. That's why I started this blog. If you want to improve your home studio setup and learn more along with me, this is the place for you!

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