In 1996, the acronym ‘VST’ was introduced by Steinberg Media Technologies as a way of adding real time audio effects to audio tracks recorded on a computer. At the time, it was pretty unheard of. Nowadays, they’re a staple-point of any musician working digitally. VST plug-ins are generally either instruments (VSTi) or effects (VSTx).
What Does VST Mean?
VST is short for Virtual Studio Technology. A VST plug-in is a piece of digital software that allows you to use virtual instruments and audio effects in a DAW (digital audio workstation, or music software). They’re used by amateurs and professional recording engineers to enhance their audio projects. whether you’re in a huge professional studio or simply on a laptop in your room.
VST is an audio plug-in software that combines software synthesizers and effects units into audio workstations. A software synthesizer is a computer program or plug-in that creates digital audio for music. An effects unit or effects pedal is an electronic device that changes the sound of a musical instrument or other audio source. In this article we are going to talk about the different types of VST and their use, more specifically FX since it gets so advanced and intricate.
How Does a VST Work?
VST plug-ins are designed to work within DAW applications (Digital Audio Workstation) to provide additional functionality that can be used to make music at home or in a professional studio setting. A Virtual Studio Technology, instead of working on its own, is plugged into something else like an effect unit. A VST plug-in processes audio or MIDI in a DAW and either makes audio effects or creates MIDI notes sounding like real musical instruments. VST plug-ins are compatible with almost all DAWs
What are the Different Types of VST Effects?
There are mainly two different types of VST plug-ins with thousands of different varieties. The two main types are VST instruments and effects. Today we’ll be getting super detailed into VST effects (also known as VSTx).
- Harmonic Exciters
- Substractive Synths
- Vocal Processors
- Spectral Analysis
These plug-ins are used to process audio instead of producing it. You can say that VST effects are the software version of hardware audio processors, like reverbs, compressors or phasers. VST effects plug-ins receive digital audio and process it through their outputs. There are an extremely large amount of different types of audio effects plug-ins. Some of the important types we’ll explain below.
EQ plug-ins: An equalizer, also known as EQ is a plug-in that either boosts, removes, increases or decreases the frequencies of an audio file. An EQ usually has different controls and they are:
- Frequency: The frequency adjusts the center frequency range for a specific frequency band.
- Q: Q is another control that widens or narrows the frequency band curve.
- Gain: The gain increases or decreases the volume of each frequency band.
The most important types of EQ plug-ins are:
- Parametric EQ: This is the most commonly used EQ in music production. A parametric EQ has controls specific to different ranges of frequencies. It has a setting, called the Q that was explained earlier. It also has a filter slope that sets how steep the slope of the low or high pass filter will be.
- Dynamic EQ: A dynamic EQ is like the parametric EQ, except the Dynamic EQ has the added feature of compression, expansion, or both.
- Graphic EQ: This boosts or reduces fixed frequencies. These are not good for mixing if the user needs to do precision types of EQing.
Compressor plug-in: A compressor plug-in is used to compress a sound’s dynamic range. In other words, to make the louder and quieter parts of the sound’s performance closer to each other in level. They are necessary to reduce the dynamics of vocals or instruments, so that each element of the track in the mix is exactly where it needs to in terms of volume and frequency. There are different types of compressor plug-ins and they are:
- Sidechain compressor: Sidechaining means using the output of one track, like a kick drum for example, to change the compression on another track, like a bassline. The kick will trigger when the compression should begin and end in the bassline.
- Parallel Compressor: A parallel compressor is a compression technique used in sound recording and mixing. In this process, instead of bringing down the highest peaks for the purpose of dynamic range reduction, it reduces the dynamic range by bringing up the softest sounds.
Compressors have controls and features and some of these are:
- Attack: Attack determines how quickly the compressor starts working after an audio signal above the level is detected.
- Release: Release determines how quickly the compressor stops or reduces its effect on the audio signal.
- Threshold: Threshold is a level that an audio signal needs threshold to rise above in order to get the compressor start.
- Knee: Knee determines how aggressively the compressor starts once it reaches or surpasses the threshold.
- Ratio: Ratio controls how much dynamics decrease is applied once the audio signal reaches or surpasses the threshold.
- Output gain: The output gain allows you to make up for any volume reduction caused by the compressor.
The different types of Compressor plug-ins are:
- VCA compressors: VCA compressors have a fast response with which they control peaks on rhythmic tracks that have a lot of transients. Depending on the settings the user has on them, VCA compressors either will keep original tone or not.
- FET compressors: These have even faster reaction than the VCA. FET compressors don’t have a threshold setting, but instead, they have an input and an output gain. Having no limit on the threshold and no ratio, the audio signal is compressed based on how loud the input is.
- Optical compressors: Optical compressors process audio smoothly and transparently. These are good for vocals and for adding warmth to guitars. They are not ideal for transient-heavy tracks as they are smooth and slower.
- Tube compressors: Compared to other types of compressors, tube compressors have a slower attack and release, giving them a warmer, vintage sound.
- Multiband compressors: These are compressors dedicated to different frequencies on a track. They split the sound into several frequency bands and let you compress them individually. This type of compressor is ideal for de-essing and gluing a mix together. De-essing is a process of reducing harsh high frequency sounds that come from dialogue or vocals using the letters S, F, X, SH and soft Cs. This is usually a necessary process in mixing audio.
Limiter plug-in: Like a compressor plug-in, a limiter controls dynamics. Limiters are designed to sound good while compressing a very hard signal. This is used to add some nice characteristics to the track, specially the good plug-ins. It prevents clipping and distortion; it can also be used to increase the volume of a track. Limiter plug-ins have pretty much the same controls as the compressors.
Reverb plug-in: This is an audio effect plug-in that makes audio sound like it was created in a certain space. Some of the controls and features of reverbs are:
- Pre-delay: Pre-delay is the amount of time the sound takes to leave its source and make its reflection off an object.
- Time: Time is the total amount of time that the reverb lasts from start to finish.
- Dry/Wet: Dry/wet allows you to choose the amount of audio signal without reverb to be mixed with the audio signal with the reverb.
- Decay: Decay is the amount of time it takes for the reverb to completely go away.
- Early reflections: An early reflection is the first set of echoes or reverberations that are created when sound waves hit an object.
- Damping: Damping is a feature that allows you to make the reverb sound less sharp or high pitched.
- Shape: In this context, shape refers to the space that is being imitated and how many walls it has.
- Size: Size refers to the size of space being imitated.
- Diffusion: Diffusion controls the density of the amount of reverberations and echoes.
The main types of reverb plug-ins are:
- Room reverb: A room reverb gives liveliness and natural coloration, one that doesn’t hide imperfection.
- Hall reverb: A hall reverb is designed to produce minimal echoes and sound balanced in tone.
- Chamber reverb: A chamber reverb has a lot of texture and adds energy and color.
- Plate reverb: A plate reverb gives a smooth sound and works best for vocals and other reverbs.
- Ambience reverb: Rather than imitating a specific space, an ambience reverb gives more of an atmospheric feel.
Delay plug-in: Delay records the audio signal going into the plug-in and repeats it back delayed over a duration of time of your choice. This is used to make a mix sound fuller and richer. Some of the controls and features of delay plug-ins are:
- Delay time: Delay time is the length of time in between each delay.
- Rate: The amount of time it takes for the audio signal to bounce between the right and left stereo channel while using the “ping pong delay”.
- Feedback: The amount of time that delays will take to fade away.
- Delay mode: The delay mode changes the type of delay.
- Dry/wet mix: With this feature, you can choose how much of the original signal will be mixed with the processed sound.
The different types of delay plug-ins are:
- Stereo delay: This is the most common type of delay plug-in. A Stereo delay produces a wide delay that shows itself on each side of the stereo field at the same time.
- Mono delay: A mono delay creates a narrower and focused type of delay.
- Ping pong delay: Bounces back and forth between the right and left sides of the stereo field.
- Slapback delay: This is a very short delay that creates a very quick and bouncy doubling type of effect.
Distortion and saturation plug-ins: Both distortion and saturation plug-ins add sound. While distortion adds more extreme sound, saturation is a subtle form of distortion that adds a pleasant-sounding harmonics, warm tone to a sound. A saturation will add a bit more grit than a limiter which adds a certain kind of saturation. Sometimes distortion can make things sound fuzzy and other times it can make it sound completely unrecognizable. On the other hand, saturation adds a pleasant static.
Some of the controls and features are:
- Drive: Drive increases the amount of distortion or saturation.
- Character or color: Character or color allows the user to switch in between certain colors and tones of saturation.
- High and low frequencies: The high and low frequencies allow the user to adjust the frequency band within the brown, pink or white noise.
- Tone: Gives the user more tools to work with the frequency spectrum of the distortion and saturation.
A type of distortion is:
- Multiband Distortion: This lets you design your distortion. Multiband distortion is good on vocals where a more controlled saturation is needed.
Harmonic Exciter plug-in: A harmonic exciter adds synthesized harmonics and band compression to a sound. This is good for dull sounding tracks. Most harmonic exciters have a high and low frequency exciter, where the high frequencies tend to be used the most. Low frequency harmonic exciters are good for cinematic rumbles or voices where the added boom is desired. Good harmonic exciters should have the following features:
- High and low control: This controls the high and low frequencies.
- Bypass: Very useful in the sense that sometimes exciting can be overdone very easily. With this, you can easily bypass the effect.
Subtractive Synth plug-in: These are most people’s go-to plug-ins. Subtractive synths is a method of sound synthesis in which part of an audio signal is reduced by a filter to change the character or quality of the sound. Good Subtractive Synths should have the following features:
- Good selection of oscillators: These are the sound generators which play when someone hits a note. The more flexible the oscillator, the more complex the sound can be.
- Good filters: Good filters subtract the frequencies which you don’t want them to shape the sound.
- Modulation Potential: This helps change parameters like volume and filter cutoffs
- Good Presets: Presets make it easier for you to see the effects of each parameter on a sound that is already made.
Vocal processor plug-in: This is a plug-in that directly transforms vocals by pitch or turns vocals into synthesizers or something else. They are used for vocal pitch correction, controlling volume imitating a synthesizer or instrument, doubling a vocal or transforming it in another creative way. Some of the controls and features are:
- Song key: A song key determines the key the user will be singing in.
- Scale: Scale determines the scale the user will be singing in.
- Vocal register input type: With this feature, the autotune plug-in will process vocals differently based on the input setting.
- Correction/retune speed: The correction/retune speed determines how slowly or quickly off-key notes ae corrected.
- Humanize: Humanize controls how natural the processed voice will sound.
- Natural vibrato: Natural vibrato controls how much natural vibrato is created.
- Dry/wet mix: Dry/wet mix controls how much processed and unprocessed audio signal is blended together.
Spectral analysis plug-ins: These are helpful in the mixing process. A spectral analysis plug-in shows a graph of a spectrum of information. They can show collision in frequency and how wide a track or instrument is. Some of the features are:
- Graph window: The graph window is an area where the information being analyzed is shown in a graph form.
- Graph display controls: The graph display controls are for looking at different elements of the graph.
Sampler plug-in: This will help you combine samples from a bunch and make beats from them. A good sampler has the following features:
- Loads multiple sounds: A good sampler should let you load sounds at once. This will help you in assigning different notes or drum samples into different keys.
- Loads SFZ files: SFZ is short for Sforzando, which means subito forzando and is translated to, “sudden with force”. SFZ is a sign of a strong, sudden accent on a note or a chord. SFZ files automatically assign themselves, saving you assigning individual notes to each key.
Music analysis plug-in: Music analysis don’t have an effect on the sound of your track, they are good for finding problem areas and viewing data such as dynamic range and problem resources.
Concluding VST Effect Types and Differences
VST effects plugins are the software representation of their original equipment with their sonic characteristics. Although it is probably always better to use the original instruments, but VST plug-in developers try to create the sound as closely as possible to the original one. Instead of buying so many individual musical instruments and spending a lot of money, VST plugins lets musicians and recording engineers use virtual versions of the real instruments or devices. VST instruments and VST effects can only be used with a software application or a hardware device.
There are thousands of plug-ins available; some are free, but not so good sounding and some are available for purchase with a wonderful sound.