Audio Interface

Do You Need An Audio Interface For VST? (Fast Guide)

VST plugins have changed the recording industry for novices and professionals. It has made the process more space friendly and affordable, cutting out the need for most equipment, but do you need an audio interface for VST?

In most cases, you do not need an audio interface to run a VST plugin. VST plugins work primarily with data and digital instruments, not physical audio recordings.

You will, however, need an audio interface if you plan to run plugins without a DAW. Cutting out a DAW requires a VST host application, which will run through your audio interface.

If you’re planning to create the next chart-topping MIDI track, you don’t need an audio interface! In the rest of this article, we’ll go over the pros and cons of having an audio interface for VST plugins and when you may or may not need one.

Let’s dive right in. 

Do You Need an Audio Interface for VST?

Do You Need an Audio Interface for VST

VST, or Virtual Studio Technology, plugins allow you to create an entire song from scratch without touching a physical instrument. 

Generally speaking, you do not need an audio interface for VST plugins. Audio interfaces are mostly for recording audio with physical instruments with a microphone or guitar. 

You would only truly need an audio interface for VST plugins when you create music without a DAW.

Different Types of VST

There are three main types of VST plugins:

  • MIDI VST plugins
  • Instrument VST plugins
  • Effects VST plugins

MIDI VST plugins do not create audio but affect how MIDI data sounds.

They process and modify the data.

You’ll be able to arpeggiate, transpose, and more.

The main problem with MIDI music is that it sounds incredibly artificial- but with the right VST plugins, you can alter it and make it sound more natural. 

Instrument VST plugins imitate physical instruments.

This plugin lets you make music from scratch that sounds like a real instrument, such as a drum set, piano, or violin. It even emulates synth sounds.

The main appeal of this plugin is that it takes up significantly less space than physical synthesizers and instruments would. 

The effects VST plugin lets you alter audio in a variety of ways.

Most DAWs have built-in effects, but a VST effect plugin takes it to the next level.

Recording Audio vs. Recording MIDI with VST

Recording with an audio interface means that you are physically recording audio.

Your editing abilities are limited.

Music producer concentrating in the studio

You can still introduce effects and edit your audio, but not as much as you can edit a MIDI track. 

VST plugins are not inherently for MIDI recording.

Using an effects VST plugin while recording audio with your audio interface can improve the quality of that track.

For example, you could introduce reverb or echo effects into your audio. 

However, most people consider VST in tandem with MIDI because of the MIDI and instrument VST plugins.

The standard DAW effects may be enough to help audio recordings sound great, but VST is important to take MIDI tracks to the next level. If you want a fuller, more natural sound to your MIDI, you’ll want a VST plugin.

Perks to Having an Audio Interface for VST Plugins

While having an audio interface when working with VST plugins is not necessary, there are some minor perks. 

Here are a couple of reasons why it might be worth having an audio interface even if you only plan to run VST plugins:

  • Audio interfaces reduce latency.
  • Audio interfaces monitor audio. 
  • You plan to use VST without a DAW.

Latency is the time delay between the recorded track and the playback.

Excessive latency degrades audio quality.

Sometimes you want that degradation, but often you don’t. An audio interface helps you significantly reduce latency.

However, a good sound card driver, like ASIO, will also help.

Audio interfaces act as inputs and outputs.

Whether you are recording a physical instrument, the audio you hear will run through the interface. Sometimes it is nice to physically control the audio output with the knobs on your audio interface. 

Lastly, you may not need an audio interface to run VST plugins in a DAW, but that changes if you want to work outside a DAW. 

What You Need to Use VST

You can run a VST plugin without an audio interface, especially if you plan to use MIDI or instrument plugins in a DAW. 

As previously mentioned, an audio interface can decrease latency in your tracks.

You can combat latency in other ways, such as with a good sound card driver protocol: many musicians and audio producers like using ASIO4ALL or other ASIO formats for low latency. 

You’ll also, obviously, need a VST. You can download third-party VSTs from plugin websites. 

Lastly, you may or may not need a DAW. On top of working without an audio interface, VST plugins can work without DAWs. 

Some VSTs download with a standalone version. You can download a VST host to run through your computer without a DAW if there is no standalone version of your desired plugin.

However, if you use VST plugins without a DAW, you will need an audio interface and a VST host, like Apple’s MainStage.

How to Open a VST Plugin in Apple’s MainStage

MainStage is an application utilized for live performances. It turns your computer into a multi-instrument and effects processor, giving you the power to control your sound live from your fingertips. 

Here are the steps to follow in Apple’s MainStage to open a VST instrument plugin:

  1. Open the application and create a new patch.
  2. Locate the panel strip.
  3. Under the instrument drop-down, scroll past Apple’s pre-downloaded sounds to the AU instruments to find your 3rd party plugins.
  4. Choose the one you want.

Follow these steps to insert VST effects into MainStage:

  1. Click on the Audio FX drop-down on the panel strip. 
  2. Scroll past the Apple pre-downloaded options to the Audio Units option. 
  3. Choose your desired plugin effects. 

After setting up your third-party instruments and desired effects, you can use VST plugins in a live performance.

Final Thoughts

Do you need an audio interface for VST? The answer is no, since you can run VSTs through midi and DAW.

But if you don’t use an audio interface, there can be some latency issues.

Some VST plugins also come with a stand-alone version.

What is your experience with using VST plugins and audio interfaces?

Drop a comment below!


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