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What is VST in audio? [Beginner’s Guide]

by Stuart Charles Black
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Hey there friend, and Welcome aboard!!

What is VST in audio? That’s a great question!

Before we get into it, grab a snack, sit back, and relax because…

You’ve come to the right place!

What I will bring you in this article

  1. Blast from the Past
  2. What is VST?
  3. MIDI
  4. Hooking Up Your Controller
  5. Sampling
  6. Final Word

Now without further ado, let’s get rolling!!

Blast from the Past

An Old Reel-To-Reel Tape Recorder

Way back when, making music and recording sounds, in general, was a lot different than it is today.

Before multi-track recording was possible, every musician of a band had to be in the same room at the same time in order to record a track.

They basically had to perform the song until it was either perfect or close to perfect.

Wow! Not sure I could even thrive in a time period like that. LOL.

Let’s take a look at some of the very first recording devices.


This is one of the earliest tape recorders and used magnetic tape developed in Germany in 1928.

It required you to load a reel of tape onto a machine and thread it through a bunch of rollers and guides.

Proved to be much more complex than simply playing back Vinyl, but was utilized for things like radio station commercials and spot announcements.

It was held on a reel rather than being secured inside of a cassette.

Only one company to this day (Mechlabor) still manufactures Reel-to-reel tape recorders.

The Endless Loop Cartridge.

Just as the name implies, this one used magnetic tape and played back its contents infinitely.


Based on the Endless Loop, this 2-Track recorder also used magnetic tape and was utilized in radio broadcasting, commercials, jingles, station identifications, and music.

The pinch roller in a 2-Track was integrated into the player rather than the cartridge, as with an 8-Track.

It would instead swing into place to support the tape against the capstan.


This was first used by Les Paul after he contacted Ampex, asking them to build him a 3 Track so he could record various takes and overdubs, as well as play multiple different parts of the same song.

Multi-track recording (4 Track).

Developed in 1955, this enabled engineers and musicians to record instruments and vocals separately using different tracks, which could be deleted or re-recorded without affecting the other track.

Bands like The Beach Boys and The Beatles were pioneers of the 4 Track, which allowed them to be highly experimental and creative during the music-making process.

8-track tape. 

Developed in 1964 by Bill Lear, it just continued off of the concept of the 4 Track, becoming the new standard around the late 1960s.

During the 80s and 90s, the digitization of recording and production is what actually revolutionized the way we approach and create music today.

No longer is it even necessary to obtain expensive gear or use ancient recording devices for the purposes of laying down a track.

We now have VSTs, DAWs, and MIDI for all that!! But what are they?

What is VST?

VST stands for Virtual Studio Technology.

It is a way for musicians, beatmakers, and producers like myself to utilize sound from instruments without having to pay expensive price tags for it.

It’s done through what is known as audio plug-in software in a Digital Audio Workstation (DAW).

These DAWs utilize software synthesizers by emulating or simulating hardware synthesizers.

It becomes more convenient for the average person who just wants to make great music without the hassle of buying a bunch of separate gear.

Some common DAWs include:

  • Image Line’s FL Studio
  • Propellerhead’s Reason
  • Steinberg’s Cubase
  • Apple’s Logic Pro
  • Ableton Live
  • Garage Band
  • Pro Tools

and many more.

I personally have been using FL Studio and Reason since I started back in 2007, and don’t see a reason to switch.

Even though the above programs are DAWs, a Digital Audio Workstation actually comprises 3 things:

  • Your Computer/PC
  • Your Audio Interface
  • Your Sequencer

The Sequencer is the actual name for a DAW, and it’s what’s used to lay down the track.

The Audio Interface on the other hand is a multi-purpose tool that can do a few different things:

It’s a DAC (Digital to Analog Converter) meaning it converts the digital 1’s and 0’s that your PC understands into analog that you can understand (music).

An interface also acts as an ADC converter (Analog to Digital) when you’re screaming obscenities into the microphone and calling it “Rap.” Lmao.

It can be a Headphone Amplifier depending on if it has a headphone jack on the front.

Most of them do. So I can plug in my headphones and simply use the interface as an amp if I want.

It can connect to Studio Monitors via RCA/Analog Outs, Balanced Line Outputs, or something similar.

Which is used depends on preference and the available jacks.

I like to use balanced cables because they eliminate noise and interference by utilizing reverse polarity.

Provides Microphone Power.

It can raise the line level output of your condenser microphone via 48v phantom power, which in essence increases the volume of your recorded voice to a listenable level.

So you can quickly see that the Audio Interface is just about the most important part of your studio outside of the computer itself!

Let’s backtrack a sec…

What’s cool about VSTs is that they aren’t required to download, although you’ll probably want to add some later on down the road.

If you are just starting out, the Sequencer (or DAW if you’re a nerd) that you buy may come with preloaded synthesizer sounds and various effects, drum kits, and other virtual instruments like guitars, violins, harps, etc.


Let’s say for instance I was getting tired of the stock drum sounds that come with FL Studio.

I would simply search the internet for a cool drum pack, download it, and install it into FL Studio. BAM!

No more crappy drum kits.

You can do this with countless other things, but often times you’ll have to pay a little somethin’ somethin’.

It just depends on the pack and how cool the person is.

A lot of guys give away free downloadable kits that they’ve created and it’s always much appreciated.

When I first started out back in 2007, I used the factory sounds that came with Reason for a while.

I was able to create some interesting tracks out of just these kits.

A lot of the sounds that come with Reason are actually pretty cool!

The interface contains software racks that emulate the look and feel of an actual hardware synthesizer, effects rack, mixer, drum pad, sampler, etc.

Inside these software racks are sounds you can use to lay down tracks!

Pretty neat.

Instead of having to buy all that stuff separately, it’s provided for you digitally!

Essentially, VSTs come in 3 types:

  • VST Instruments. We touched on those above. Synthesizers, Samplers, etc.
  • VST Effects. Stuff like EQ, Reverb, Phasers, Compressors, Mastering, etc. This is for processing, mixing, and generally tweaking the sound of the mix.
  • VST MIDI Effects. These process MIDI data and send it to other VST instruments or hardware devices.

The only thing you need to really worry about is some type of hardware device to control those sounds and effects. That’s where MIDI comes in.


What is MIDI?

What is MIDI?

There are a couple of options you have when deciding:

A MIDI Controller.

This is just a box with nothing pre-loaded inside.

It’s a device used to play sounds, but it’s not an actual instrument itself.

Is Mayonnaise an Instrument?” Lol, I think I’ve put that line in every single one of my articles lately.

A MIDI controller is ideal for sample-based producers but you could also program sounds into it from something like Reason.

A MIDI Instrument (Keyboard).

This does come with sounds inside and also functions as a controller.

So it’s a cross between an instrument and a controller. You can hammer away on the keys, record, assign sounds to keys, etc.

Hooking It Up

In Reason

Once you buy the device, you would hook it up to your computer and sync it up to your DAW using the preferences panel.

Now you’re ready to lay down a track!

Each program is a bit different but for Reason, you would go to Edit > Preferences > Page > Keyboards & Control Surfaces.

From there Click Auto Detect.

If that doesn’t work, Click Add and fill in the Manufacturer and Model of your MIDI Controller/Keyboard.

If you can’t find the Model, just choose “Other” and that should work.

In FL Studio

Go to Options > MIDI Settings.

Your MIDI Controller should be recognized and will show up under the Input section as whatever it’s called.

In my case, it’s padKONTROL 1 MIDI IN.

  • Make sure that both 1 PORT A, 1 PORT B, and 1 MIDI IN are all active or you won’t hear anything.
  • After this is done click enable if it’s not already clicked Gold.

If for whatever reason nothing is showing up under Input, don’t panic.

Just go back to Options and scroll down until you see the MIDI Section. Make sure “MIDI Output” is checked.

Press a pad on your controller. You should hear it through your speakers or studio monitors.

You get the idea. Each program is slightly different in its method but the basics are the same.


In Reason

Sampling inside Reason is fairly straightforward. For sounds and such, we’ll use the NN-19 Digital Sampler.

Just click “Create” at the top of the menu, and choose the NN-19. Instead of using the folder to the left, we’ll use the folder in the middle towards the top. It’s highlighted in blue.

Find your sample from your computer and press “OK.” Make sure that your file is in WAV format.

Then press that little button to the right that says “Solo Sample.”

If this isn’t clicked you won’t be able to hear anything. It will turn Red after you’ve clicked it.


A “Sample” could be anything. This is why producing music this way is so much fun and so flexible.

Theoretically, you could record yourself playing a bunch of chords on the guitar and use your MIDI controller to trigger those sounds inside of Reason.

Then you would lay down a sweet loop, add some drums, bass, and whatever else tickles your fancy.

Because I’m not too great of an actual performer, making music in this way is truly invaluable.

You could also sample from Vinyl which is what I like to do.

One of my favorite past times is going to the Thrift Store and buying a bunch of records for 25 cents apiece.

Some of my best compositions came from old dusty records that people were willing to part with.

Here’s one such track. An added bonus is that they usually have a distinctly awesome scent to them. Don’t ask lol.

Yeah, I smell my records before purchase 😛

A third option (and something we touched on) is to scour the internet for sample packs that people are either selling or giving away.

I just found one today with some great melodic keys. You can download it here!

Finally, you could sample your own drum sounds from Vinyl and put them all in a zipped folder.

If you had a website you could give these away as freebies to your readers as a way of saying Thanks!

Each program also has its strengths and weaknesses.

For example, Reason is much better for laying down a quick loop, but FL Studio is better for actual sampling from Vinyl, etc.

It utilizes Edison, which is perfect for getting really precise razor blade cuts.

Learn more about how to sample in FL Studio using Edison! I will be updating that article also so hang tight!

If you need some guidance on where to start if you don’t already have something to use, check out my guide: How to Choose a MIDI Keyboard!

With that, what’s the final word here?

Final Word

When you think of a VST, just think Virtual Instrument. It’s sound that you can achieve from an instrument without actually having to buy that instrument.

Is the quality of the sound as good as it would be in real life? That really depends on who made the sample.

Some larger manufacturers provide incredibly life-like ones, but some you’ll come across are just bad.

You’ll have to really dig deep and do some discoveries of your own!!

With that said…

My Favorite DAW with which you can use VSTs is definitely FL Studio!


As for a MIDI Keyboard? I think my padKONTROL is a bit complicated for the average person, including myself.

I eventually got the hang of it but I wouldn’t recommend it for a beginner. I would go with something like the Novation Launch Key or Novation FL Key (designed for FL Studio)

Well that’s about it for today folks! What is VST in audio? I hope I’ve answered the question.

How did I do? What’s your favorite DAW? Your favorite MIDI Keyboard? Suggestions for improving this article? Do you need any further clarification on anything? Let me know!!

Questions? Comments? Requests? Did I miss the mark on something? Let me know in the comments below or Contact me!! I would love to hear from you..

Until then, all the best and God bless..





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Alex November 23, 2018 - 5:45 pm

Hey Stu,
FL studio is nice. I wish I could do more with it, but I just do not like the rendered wav file. The rendered wav sounds, I do not know, not satisfied. With Ableton I get a rendered wav ….. yeah that is satisfaction. Something is strange about the FL Studio rendered wav file on my computer. Also with Presonus I get a satisfied rendered wav file. So there is something about fl studio on my computer. My computer is clean, I use register cleaner, I use clean software….
But Ableton is also nice.

Stuart Charles Black November 23, 2018 - 5:51 pm

Hey man!

I have never had that issue with FL Studio which is strange. I always liked the rendered WAV that it exported. What specifically is the problem with the file?

Alex November 23, 2018 - 6:16 pm

Hey Stu,

Something with the separation of the instruments, I think. When I listen to a flac file downloaded from the internet or YouTube it sounds as we know: normal. Ableton rendered wav files sound normal like the downloaded flac and youtube. The FL Studio rendered wav file sounds different. The mixing of the instruments, here goes something wrong….I can not explain what.

Stuart Charles Black November 23, 2018 - 6:38 pm

Interesting. I’d have to compare files from various sources but I’ve never had an issue. I don’t have Ableton so I can’t exactly compare but I do have Reason. Have you ever used that program?

Alex November 23, 2018 - 7:43 pm

I have some experience with reason, but I never made a mixdown. With fl studio I did my first mixdown, the wav file was good but I knew there was something strange. Then I moved to ableton and I noticed a normal mixdown.

Stuart Charles Black November 23, 2018 - 8:47 pm

Is there any way you can describe what you heard in the file? Perhaps noise, crackling, low volume, distortion, etc. ??


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