VST2 and VST3 Plugins don’t differ TOO MUCH for the normal user.. but, I want to give a little background and history of VST so you can be up to speed on the differences between VST3 and VST2 plugins.

In short, VST3 must be installed in Common Files folder, and the GUI can be resized!

Difference Between VST2 and VST3 (Video Overview)

Noticeable Differences of VST2 to VST3

  • Sometimes the VST3 plugin window is resizable
  • Within FL Studio, you can often Right-Click in a VST3 Plugin
  • Sometimes there are small performance benefits

Now, for clarification, VSTs and VSTi plugins live within the VST2 or VST3 format. (VST is an effect, and VSTi is an instrument).

“VST” stands for Virtual Studio Technology which was developed by Steinberg (makers of Cubase), which these VST effects and VSTi instruments live under a VST version, such as VST2.4, or VST3. Within VST2 or VST3, there are standards and specifications that allow plugin developers to interact with DAWs.

VST2 was the most popular standard for many years. And we are now starting to see VST3 become much more common place in the music production industry. This is GREAT news, because even VST2 itself went through some weird times, but they were quite stable and reliable.

VST2 [32-Bit vs. 64-Bit]

When I first started beatmaking around 2009, VST2 32-Bit was most common, but 64-Bit was starting to gain in popularity.

There was a painful period of converting your VST2 32-Bit plugins to 64-Bit versions. I never noticed any bugs from switching to 32-Bit to 64-Bit, so that was nice, but in the early stages of VST3, often plugins would be incompatible.. like a knob wouldn’t work, or it’d freeze your DAW. (This was around the 2011 period).

Now 64-Bit allows much greater access to RAM on your computer, where 32-Bit only allowed 4GB! Yes, only 4GB of ram was allowed to be used in a 32-Bit Windows environment..

Within music production RAM is VERY important for heavy sample-based Virtual Instruments.

VST2 was the popular standard for many years, and was quite a robust solution to a cross compatible format on most operating systems and DAWs we’d work in. Almost ANY program that requires audio editing allows for VST2 plugin compatibility, like video editors, in addition to our DAWs.

That’s why I say get a set of good VST mixing plugins, as you can use them for making music, as well as if you make videos!

Moving on from VST2 to VST3

Without getting into the technicalities of it, VST3 is aimed at allowing easier access for developers to create creativily.

You can see all the VST3 changelogs by Steinberg.. (a bit overwhelming)..

My suggestion to you is to use VST3 plugins where you can to keep on top of the latest updates and improvements, which will allow your new projects to remain fresh for longer.

VST2 is still the currently standard in terms of wide-spread usage, but the music production world is often one step ahead of what’s currently in for standards, so be thankful for that!

One of the main reasons I like a VST3 vs. VST2 version in FL Studio is you can often right-click on VST3 plugins, and use the plugin as if it were a stock native FL Studio plugin. If you don’t use a VST3 version on a third-party plugin, you usually have to access VST parameters through Tools – > Last tweaked parameters from FL Studio’s top menu:

This video of the M-Audio Oxygen Pro will show you how to map VST parameters to a MIDI Keyboard knob or slider. (If using a VST2 version of a plugin, this is often what we’d have to do. VST3 Plugins often allow you to right-click for normal usage).

Where is VST2 and VST3 Installation Location

So, here’s where it’s important if you want to stay organized as a music producer.

When you install a VST2 version of the plugin, the installation process will usually ask you if you want to install:

  • 32-Bit VST2
  • 64-Bit VST2
  • VST3
  • RTAS
  • AAX
  • AU
  • …… the list can go on….

Make sure to read what is a VST to understand that..

But, 64-Bit VST2 or VST3 is what we want as music producers. (You may need to install both if you use your DAW and video editing program, as your DAW will use VST3, as music production is usually one step ahead on technologies, and your video editor will use the dated 64-Bit VST2 version).

When we install a VST2 file, it creates a .dll file. When we search the FL Studio Plugin database, it’s looking for these .dll files for VST2 versions.

VST2 developers usually by default install the files into this location:

C:\Program Files\VstPlugins
C:\Program Files(x86)\VstPlugins

But when you install a VST3 file, it has changed to the Common Files folder, and is no longer under the .dll file exention, but the .vst3 extension:

C:\Program Files\Common Files\VST3

The downside to VST3 is for some reason it HAS to live in the Common Files folder. FL Studio will not read them if you put them somewhere else!

Keeping Yourself Backed Up Properly..

I always tell you guys about how I organize my music folder in FL Studio. I’ll break it down quickly here so you can keep your music backed up for the long-term.

I create a music folder for all of my music.

This includes my VSTs and Drum Kits. (This post is talking about VSTs, though).

I’d break it down similar to this:

    • VSTs
    • Drum Kits

You can see within SOUNDS, I have a separate folder for Drum Kits and VSTs, as they are much different.

A VST may need a license to be used, they usually install with an .exe file, and may contain multiple folders.. depending on the company you go with, it can get a little messy if you don’t plan it out.

Because of this, each VST gets its own folder inside VSTs..

    • VSTs
      • Company 1
        • Their Product 1
        • Their Product 2
      • Company 2
        • Their Product 1

What I want to get across to you is when you select good VST Plugins, you’ll want to make sure you back up the .exe file (executable), and keep the license in a .txt file in each of the Their Product folders.

You’ll see how amazing this is to get back up and running if you ever reformat, or purchase a music production computer.

Alright, so I hope that helps you understand the difference between VST2 and VST3 plugins. In short, VST3 is newer, and allows developers more freedom with development. Most DAWs nowadays support VST3 well, so use that. Back in the day it was an issue, as all companies had to keep up with the new changes, but VST3 has now become a mainstream product, which allows us beatmakers to benefit from these audio plugin developers and their inventions!