A VST can be a Virtual Instrument (VSTi) or an Effect (VST).

VSTs are audio plugin software which add more functionality to a DAW.

VST is created by Steinberg (creators of Cubase), which has been the most adopted “software interface” to be used as an audio plugin. (VSTs can be used to make music, or even in video editing software!)

What is a VST? (Video Overview)

A VST is like an all-in-one instrument on your computer, other known as a VST Plugin.

Now, it’s confusing, as there are different forms of VSTs like VSTi, VST2, VST3, and even other types of formats like RTAS and AU (Audio Units).

To add to the confusion, back in the day, there were 32-Bit and 64-Bit of these VST plugins, but now modern computers operate on 64-Bit for best performance, and that’s a BIG relief as it’s just easier now.

Around here, I keep music production simple. I just use the FL Studio DAW, and some really good plugins.

You can also checkout my Music Production Made Simple podcast!

What Does VST Stand For?

So first, the VST meaning in the music world stands for Virtual Studio Technology.

The VST technology is created by Steinberg (creators of the Cubase DAW), and if it wasn’t for Steinberg, the powerful VST format which can be used on both Windows and Mac, there may have never been an awesome cross-compatible operating system music production plugin format… (Thank-you Steinberg!)

But, to clear up some terminology for you.. as mentioned, there is VST, VSTi, VST2, and VST3 formats. If you see other formats like RTAS or AU, these are DAW or operating system specific (only can be used in certain programs like Pro Tools, or AU [Audio Units] can only be used on Mac for example).

It’s best to use the VST format in your music for best long-term compatibility for backup, as well as collaborating in the industry.

VST vs. VSTi Plugin Format

It’s REALLY complicated when you first start, so let’s make understanding VST plugins more simple.

First, there are EFFECT VSTs. These are VST.

Second, there are INSTRUMENT VSTis. These are VSTi.

Also a heads up.. inside FL Studio, if you use their “stock plugins”, this is in their own “native format”.. so technically you’re using a plugin, but it isn’t “VST”.

VST Effect Example:

A VST effect is something like an EQ, a Delay, or a Reverb plugin:

FabFilter-Pro-Q-3 - The BEST EQ for FL Studio
FabFilter Pro-Q 3.. View best FabFilter plugins to buy. This is an example of an EQ VST plugin to adjust frequencies of the sound you’re working on.
Fruity Reeverb 2 FL Studio Sstock Reverb Plugin
Fruity Reeverb 2 is a “native FL Studio plugin” (doesn’t technically use “VST” format, but it is a plugin). Reverb is a mixing effect that you will use A LOT.. oh yes, this one is FREE inside FL Studio! 🙂

VSTi Example:

A VSTi is a software instrument, and can include pianos, guitars, basslines, or any type of instrument you can imagine! They produce sound for us to make our melodies, and are also known as a Generator because they generate sound through MIDI.

Image-Line FLEX VSTi ROMpler Plugin
FLEX by Image-Line (makers of FL Studio). This type of VSTi is known as a ROMpler. It is not meant as much for sound design, but simply selecting a high-quality sound to make beats. (Again, not technically a “VST” as it is a “native plugin” that comes stock with FL Studio).
Pigments 3 VST by Arturia
Pigments 3 by Arturia is a great VSTi synthesizer that allows you to create a very WIDE range of sound design. It features 3 different styles of synthesis, and is a great purchase because of its versatility.

Before moving on, you may find my favorite VSTs useful:

So What Actually is a VST?

It’s a piece of software that you install on your computer, which you load into your DAW, other known as a plugin.

Once installed, you will see the file extension as .dll for VST2 plugins, and .vst3 for VST3 plugins. Companies will most often install VST2 files in your Program Files under a VstPlugins folder. VST3 plugins install in your commons folder.

It’s most important to keep the .exe file (executable) backed up when installing a VST to be able to re-open projects over the years if you ever reformat or purchase a new computer. (I also advise saving your license key in a .txt file to save yourself A LOT of time when re-installing.)

Now, if you are brand-new.. make sure you choose good VST plugins wisely.

If you are very new, please be careful when using too many plugins. Since we can easily find these plugins online, you may get carried away, and really make a disaster to your music production organization.

Learn how to select VST plugins as a producer

There’s MANY great paid and free plugins out there.

Consider how well the company is planning to maintain those plugins, as if a bug happens, you may not be able to use the plugin, and good support is tremendously important for long-term compatibility.

Keep Learning About VSTs..

You may want to learn about VST2 vs. VST3 plugins: