These two anacronyms are pretty common in the world of music and music technology. In many ways, the first one (VST), is almost as much a regular term as MIDI that appears on instruments, interfaces, and cables.
But the realms of terminology and technology can be overwhelming as it develops and envelops the musical world. Let’s take a short pause and spend some time investigating the two important ones in the title.
VST Vs VSTI
VST means ‘Virtual Studio Technology’. In practice, it means a digital method of integrating fabulous effects into your computer workstation or as many prefer to say: DAW. What I’m mentioning here are ‘effects’ like reverb, compression, delay, and EQ that used to be available only as hardware; large often cumbersome pieces of kit that line the walls of recording studios.
What has happened over the twenty years is that as the potential and power of the home computer increased, the demand for plug-ins or VST’s became ever greater.
After all, why bother with a studio full to the ceiling with every possible effect available when you can enjoy having the same, or at least very similar, the technology available at your fingertips on your computer?
Computer software such as Logic and Cubase were amongst the first to make use of technology that allowed the sequencing programme and thereby the VSTs to receive midi data.
Steinberg (makers of Cubase Software) were truly the first to take the leap around 1999.
This gave rise to a significant revolution in the capabilities of DAWs. It meant that not only could you have access to high-quality effects (VST), but also to a whole new gamut of drum machines, keyboards, and synth patches (sounds) that came to be known as VSTis (Virtual Studio Technology Instruments). Here is the prime distinction between these two terms.
Today, the technology has advanced to the point where there are so many possibilities it is almost overwhelming to know where to start when selecting VSTs or VSTis. Now multiple midi outs and ins are possible, 64-bit processing, audio inputs alongside a host of amazing options.
Thousands of VSTs are on the market and range from developers who are creating new resources from their modest studios to leading giants in the VST world. Equally, the price tag for any given VST (or VSTi), can vary enormously choosing for you in some cases.
One of the leading makers of VSTs is iZotope.
These guys create industry-leading VSTs that are used by some of the biggest names in the business. The VSTs are not always the simplest to use but are worth the time to learn as they will give your music a genuinely professional finish.
iZotope Ozone 9 for instance is probably the best plug-in for mixing and mastering tracks. Where it is extremely clever is in that it allows the user to compare your song against an external track.
Ozone 9, to illustrate the advances in technology, is considered to be an AI-powered audio production tool.
Universal Audio are makers of both audio interfaces and plug-ins. They set the bar extremely high and, in many ways, have cornered the market on high-end plug-ins.
UAD offers the discerning professional musician a vast array of possibilities and the claim that these electronic products are indistinguishable from their hardware equivalents.
You need to have some experience of the authentic sound captured in these VSTs perhaps to hear what UAD are talking about, but if the tonal qualities they produce on a track, or in a mix, are almost immediately audible.
Legendary names like ‘Neve’ and ‘Manley’ are included in the UAD catalogue. Classic plug-ins like the Neve 1081 and 31102 EQs or the Manley Passive EQ and Limiter/Compressor are a fine addition to any studio set-up.
The ‘Waves’ collection may also be a series of VST’s you might wish to explore. Similar to the UAD selection, Waves present a fabulous catalogue of electronic plug-ins, offered now as a monthly or annual subscription package.
The Silver, Gold, and Platinum collections include plug-ins that will satisfy the ambitions of nearly every musician. They include powerful and intelligent EQs, limiters, compressors, reverbs, delays, de-essers, and a variety of guitar amps beautifully detailed in their modelling.
Each VST aims to capture the characteristics of the original hardware units in their appearance and tonal qualities.
Moving on to what can broadly be classed as VSTis the range and breadth of possibilities is amazing. One approach to working out what you may wish to include in your collection is thinking about the type of music you are working with.
Certain VSTis may not be of interest to you if you are composing only hip-hop or purely orchestral music. There are many free virtual instruments available and I feel that the growing selection from Spitfire Audio’s Lab catalogue is a great starting place.
The instruments on offer here range from evocative synth pads to bass guitars and pianos. Explore the full Spitfire range if you are interested in beautifully created orchestral instruments.
On another side of the same coin, Omnisphere (2) by Spectronics is an industry-leading synthesizer. The possibilities for the creative composer that this VSTi presents are breathtaking.
You can use it straight out of the box, with over 9,000 patches and over 5,000 sound sources, or you can go deeper and program and number of variables and variations within each existing patch.
The number of sounds is not a compromise on overall quality. Each patch is brilliantly programmed and instantly impressive.
Finally, it would be foolish to overlook the phenomenal East West Quantum Leap range of VSTis and VSTs. This producer of ‘Hollywood-style’ patches and effects offers instruments that span the world.
They have ‘Hollywood Choirs’, ‘Pop Brass & Backing Singers’, ‘Voices of The Empire’, ‘Symphonic Orchestras and Choirs’ together with a mesmerising selection of percussion libraries.
They are used by some of the big names in the movie world and have recently included a major upgrade to the ‘Opus Edition’ Hollywood Orchestra which is attracting some stunning reviews.
The world of VSTs and VSTis is a fascinating one and one that any aspiring musician/composer needs to dive into.
The creative possibilities on offer are advancing by the month and truly stunning to the point that many big scores are never recorded with ‘live’ performers anymore as the electronic alternative is almost indistinguishable from the real thing and much cheaper.