Most soundtracks you are listening to, actually depend from Steinberg VST. Such technology is at the heart of digital sound creation (the VST instruments) and sound processing (the VST effects). From a diyAudio perspective, it is worth knowing a few VST basics, especially when experimenting with Synthmaker or Flowstone.
Here follows a neutral compilation of covering most important VST aspects. Worth visiting, is the Steinberg website, where it shows how VST has deeply penetrated all compartments of the sound industry.
Steinberg is currently promoting the The Art & Science Of Sound Recording video tutorial series on music production, presented by multi-platinum producer Alan Parsons. In more than 10 hours of footage, more than 40 fellow professionals join Alan Parsons in this guide to modern recording, including Erykah Badu, Jimmy Douglass, Jack Joseph Puig and Simon Phillips. This 10-hour DVD set applies classic, old-school recording experience to the modern recording scene and will be a standard work on the subject for years to come.
The Virtual Studio Technology (VST) interface is nothing short of a revolution in digital audio. Developed by Steinberg and first launched in 1996, VST creates a full, professional studio environment on your PC or Mac computer.
VST allows the integration of virtual effect processors and instruments into your digital audio environment. These can be software recreations of hardware effect units and instruments or new creative effect components in your VST system. All are integrated seamlessly into the host application. From the PPG wavetable synthesizer to Steinberg’s HALion sampler: all are routed directly to the VST mixer in Cubase or Nuendo. Because these connections are virtual, there is no need for messy audio or MIDI cabling. These VST modules have the sound quality of the best hardware units, yet are far more flexible. All functions of a VST effect processor or instrument are directly controllable and automatable, either with a mouse or with an external hardware controller such as Steinberg’s Houston. VST also allows easy integration of external equipment, allowing you to put together a system tailor-made to your needs. Being an open standard, the possibilities offered by VST are steadily growing. New virtual effect processors and virtual instruments are constantly being developed by Steinberg and other companies. Leading VST instrument creators include renowned software companies such as Waldorf and Native instruments. Companies such as Spectral Design and TL Audio have contributed virtual effect processors.
The Audio Stream Input/Output (ASIO) architecture forms the backbone of VST. ASIO addresses any needs a professional audio recording solution might have. It does this by supporting variable bit depths and sample rates, multi-channel operation and synchronization. As a result, the user gets low latency, high performance, easy set up and stable audio recording within VST. The entire system becomes controllable and offers complete and immediate access to the audio system’s capabilities. Since its introduction, ASIO has become a supported standard by many leading audio hardware manufacturers – for good reason
The VST interface specification and SDK was released in 1996. Coinciding was the release of Steinberg Cubase 3.02. Included with Cubase were the first available VST format plugins. Espacial, Choirus, Stereo Echo and Auto-Panner. The VST interface specification was updated to version 2.0 in 1999. One of the additions was the ability for plugins to receive MIDI data. This allowed for the introduction of VSTi (Virtual Studio Technology Instrument) format plugins. VST Instruments can act as standalone software synthesizers, samplers or drum machines. Neon was the first available VST Instrument (included with Cubase VST 3.7). It was a 16-voice, 2-oscillator virtual analog synthesizer. The VST interface specification was updated to version 2.4 in 2006. Changes included the ability to process audio using 64 bit precision. The VST interface specification was updated to version 3.0 in 2008. Changes included:
- Audio Inputs for VST Instruments
- Multiple MIDI inputs/outputs
- Optional SKI (Steinberg Kernel Interface) integration
The VST interface specification was updated to version 3.5 in February, 2011. Changes included, among others, Note Expression where “each individual note (event) in a polyphonic arrangement can contain extensive articulation information, which creates unparalleled flexibility and a much more natural feel of playing.
Steinberg’s VST SDK is a set of C++ classes based around an underlying C API. The SDK can be downloaded from their website. There are several ports available, such as a Delphi version by Frederic Vanmol, a Java version from the jVSTwRapper project at sourceforge.net, and a .NET version – Noise. Another .NET implementation is VST.NET. This open source project also includes a framework which makes creating VST plugins easier and result in more structured code. VST.NET also provides support for writing managed host applications with a managed class that allows loading an unmanaged Plugin. A notable language supporting VST is Faust considering that it is especially made for making signal processing plugins, often producing code faster than hand-written C++. In addition, Steinberg have developed the VST GUI, which is another set of C++ classes, which can be used to build a graphical interface. There are classes for buttons, sliders and displays etc. Note that these are low level C++ classes and the look and feel still have to be created by the plugin manufacturer. A large number of commercial and open-source VSTs are written using the Juce C++ framework instead of direct calls to the VST SDK, because this allows multi-format (VST, AudioUnitand Real Time AudioSuite) binaries to be built from a single codebase.
A VST host is a software application or hardware device that allows VST plugins to be loaded and controlled. The host application is responsible for handling the routing of digital audioand MIDI to and from the VST plugins. There are also stand-alone “dedicated hosts” whose sole purpose is to serve as a host for the VST plugins rather than as an extension of their sequencing or audio capabilities. These are usually optimized for live performance use, with features like fast song configuration switching.
VST plugins can be hosted in incompatible environments using a translation layer, or shim. For example, FL Studio fundamentally supports only its own internal plugin architecture, but a native “wrapper” plugin exists that can, in turn, load VST plugins, among others. As another example, FXpansion offers a VST to RTAS (Real Time AudioSuite) wrapper (allowing VST plugins to be hosted in the popular Pro Tools digital audio workstation), and a VST to Audio Units wrapper (allowing VST plugins to be hosted in Apple Logic Pro Digital Audio Workstation).