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VST vs. VST3: A Comprehensive Comparison Guide

You’ll often hear about VST and VST3 plugins when diving into digital audio. These virtual tools help musicians and producers spice up their work in digital audio workstations or DAWs.

As tech grows, it’s important to know the differences between VST vs. VST3 plugins. This helps you make smart choices when setting up your DAW and picking plugins for your projects.

VST stands for Virtual Studio Technology. It’s a popular standard created by Steinberg, and this lets developers make virtual instruments and effects that work in DAWs.

Over time, VST has changed, adding new features and improvements. VST3 is the latest version.

It has perks like better CPU efficiency, improved automation, and support for multi-channel audio in surround sound setups.

In short, this article explains the key differences between VST and VST3 plugins. This will help you choose the best ones for your audio production needs.

Key Takeaways:

  • VST and VST3 are plugins used in digital audio workstations (DAWs) to integrate virtual instruments, audio effects, and signal processors into music production workflows.
  • VST3 is the latest version of the VST standard, offering improved performance and functionality, including better CPU efficiency, improved automation, and support for multi-channel audio in surround sound setups.
  • When choosing between VST and VST3, it’s essential to consider compatibility with your DAW, workflow requirements, and available plugins. VST3 offers several advantages over VST, but the older standard remains relevant for some users and applications.

VST VS. VST3: A Brief Overview

Music production software. VST vs. VST3 plugins.

Virtual Studio Technology (VST)

Steinberg introduced Virtual Studio Technology (VST) in 1996 as a standard for audio plugins in digital audio workstations (DAWs).

VST plugins allow producers and musicians to integrate various virtual instruments, audio effects, and signal processors into their production workflows.

Over the years, VST has become the industry standard for plugin formats, with most DAWs supporting it.

VST plugins come in two types: VST instruments (VSTi) and VST effects. VST instruments generate sound, while VST effects process audio signals.

VST3: The Latest Version

VST3 is the latest version of the VST standard, which builds upon the previous version, VST2, by introducing new features and improvements.

Some of the critical advancements in VST3 include:

  • Improved performance through better resource management.
  • Enhanced automation capabilities, enabling finer control over plugin parameters.
  • Resizable plugin windows for better workflow integration.
  • Improved bypass handling for smoother transitions when enabling or disabling plugins.
  • MIDI control enhancements, allowing for more expressive performances and better integration with MIDI controllers.
  • Polyphonic support for creating more complex playback and processing scenarios.

While VST3 offers several advantages over VST2, it’s worth noting that many plugins are still available in both formats.

Producers and musicians can choose between VST2 and VST3 versions based on their compatibility with their DAWs and personal preferences.

Key Differences Between VST and VST3

Performance and Efficiency

VST3 plugins often consume fewer resources compared to VST plugins. This is because VST3 plugins are only active when in use, while VST plugins are “always on,” consuming CPU resources continuously.

Thus, VST3 plugins enable you to have a more extensive range of plugins installed without heavily impacting your computer’s performance (CrumplePop).

Plugin Integration and Routing

VST and VST3 plugins differ when it comes to plugin integration and routing, particularly when it comes to MIDI inputs and outputs. VST3 plugins offer more flexible and complex routing options due to their support for multiple MIDI inputs and outputs, while VST plugins are limited in this capacity. (InMusician).

Parameter Control and Automation

VST3 plugins offer improved parameter control and automation capabilities compared to VST plugins. This is because VST3 plugins can work exclusively in a 64-bit format, which allows for more precise control over plugin parameters (MusConv).

Compatibility

VST has been around since 1996, and throughout its history, it has seen several updates, including VST1.0, VST 2.0, VST 2.4, and now VST3 (Higher Hz). While VST3 offers increased performance and enhanced features, it is crucial to consider compatibility, as not all DAWs fully support VST3 plugins.

Ensure that your DAW supports the version of the plugin you plan to use to avoid any compatibility issues.

Pros and Cons of Using VST and VST3

Advantages of VST

One of the main advantages of using VST plugins is their long-established technology. They have been around longer and are widely supported by most Digital Audio Workstations (DAWs) and software applications.

Many plugin developers are still developing and maintaining VST2.4 plugins, which means a wide variety of plugins are available in this format. As such, users can rely on numerous VST plugins to fulfill their music production requirements.

Advantages of VST3

VST3 offers a convenient and powerful way to manage MIDI data. With support for multiple inputs and outputs, users can create intricate setups to route MIDI signals in more advanced ways. (source).

VST3 plugins significantly improve CPU usage, as they only work when an audio signal is detected.

In contrast, VST2 plugins always remain active, which can strain the system. This efficient resource management enables users to work with more plugins without overloading their systems (source).

Drawbacks of VST

A drawback of VST is its constant processing, which can lead to higher CPU usage and reduced performance compared to more efficient VST3 plugins, which only process audio signals when detected (source).

Another limitation of VST plugins is their lack of support for multiple MIDI inputs and outputs. This feature can restrict the flexibility and complexity of MIDI routing when working with these plugins (source).

Drawbacks of VST3

While the VST3 specification offers numerous improvements over its predecessor, its adoption rate has been relatively slow because VST2.4 has worked well for most users (source).

Consequently, some plugin developers have not yet embraced VST3, leading to the potentially limited availability of VST3 plugins compared to their VST counterparts.

Additionally, there might be a perception that VST3 plugins can be more prone to bugs, which can cause some users to stick with the more reliable and established VST2.4 format (source).

VST And VST3 Audio Handling

One of the key differences between VST and VST3 formats is their audio handling.

VST3 extends the capabilities of the original VST format by allowing for better audio processing and routing.

In VST3, it is now possible to route audio to plugins, opening up new possibilities for sound manipulation and effects processing. This feature is not present in the original VST format, where MIDI input was primarily used for control and sound generation (Musician Wave).

VST3 is also designed to be more resource-efficient regarding audio processing.

Unlike VST, VST3 can process audio data only when a signal is present. This means that VST3 plugins consume fewer resources than VST plugins, which continue to process audio even when there is no input signal (InMusician).

More efficient use of CPU resources can lead to users running more plugins simultaneously without overloading their machines.

Another improvement in VST3 over the VST format is the ability to handle multiple inputs and outputs for audio. This feature allows the project to route audio signals to and from various plugins more flexibly.

This is especially useful when working with complex signal chains or implementing surround sound in a mix. (Audio Modeling).

How to Choose Between VST and VST3

When deciding between VST and VST3 for your music production needs, it’s essential to consider the key differences between the two formats.

VST3 plugins offer improved performance and functionality compared to their VST counterparts. They support multiple MIDI inputs and outputs and only use CPU resources when audio is being processed, leading to reduced CPU usage (Gearspace).

Additionally, VST3 plugins provide a more flexible control for remote controllers and enable audio inputs for VST instruments, making it possible to route audio data into a VST3 tool (Audio Modeling).

However, not all audio software and hardware support VST3 format, so compatibility is essential.

To make an informed decision, follow these steps:

Check compatibilityVerify whether your digital audio workstation (DAW) or audio hardware supports the VST3 format. Most modern DAWs support both formats, but some older or specialized systems may only support VST.
Consider your workflowIf your projects require advanced MIDI routing, audio inputs for VST instruments, or more efficient CPU usage, VST3 may be the better choice.
Evaluate available pluginsSome plugin developers may only offer VST or VST3 versions of their products. If a specific plugin you rely on is unavailable in VST3 format, it may be best to continue using VST.
Test performanceIf your DAW supports both formats, install and test VST and VST3 versions of a plugin. This will allow you to compare performance and features and make an informed decision based on your system and workflow.

Conclusion

In the world of audio plugins, VST and VST3 have advantages and applications. While Steinberg has stopped developing VST and shifted its focus to VST3, the older VST standard remains widely used and popular. However, its usage will likely decrease as more developers and users transition to VST3.

VST3 offers several enhancements over its predecessor. One significant improvement is its resource efficiency, as it only processes audio when there’s a signal, saving CPU power for other tasks.

VST3 supports the 64-bit format, more audio inputs, better sound effects, and improved optimization for various equipment resources.

Ultimately, the choice between VST and VST3 depends on user needs and compatibility issues with their current software or hardware. Although VST3 offers technological advancements over VST, the older standard remains relevant for some users and applications.

As the industry continues to evolve, musicians and producers need to stay updated and make informed decisions about which plugin format best suits their requirements.

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