[2023] What’s the Difference Between a VST and a DAW?

Virtual Studio Technology (VST) and Digital Audio Workstations (DAWs) are two essential components in modern music production. While they are often used together, they serve different purposes. In this article, we will explore the differences between VST and DAW, their functionalities, and how they work together to create music.

Table of Contents

Quick Answer

A VST is an audio plug-in software interface that integrates software synthesizers and effects units into DAWs. VST plugins generally run within a DAW to provide additional functionality. While a DAW is a complete software package that allows recording, editing, and mixing of audio and MIDI tracks. In simple terms, a VST is a plugin that runs inside a DAW, enhancing its capabilities.

Quick Tips and Facts:

  • VST stands for Virtual Studio Technology.
  • DAW stands for Digital Audio Workstation.
  • VST plugins add virtual instruments and effects to a DAW.
  • DAWs provide a complete environment for music production.


Before we dive into the differences between VST and DAW, let’s take a brief look at their background and history.

VST was created by Steinberg, a German music software and equipment company, in the late 1990s. It was developed as an open standard to allow third-party developers to create plugins that could be used within a DAW. Today, VST is widely supported by various DAWs and has become the industry standard for audio plugins.

DAWs, on the other hand, have been around since the early days of digital music production. They started as simple MIDI sequencers and evolved into powerful software packages that can handle recording, editing, mixing, and mastering of audio and MIDI tracks. Popular DAWs include Ableton Live, Logic Pro, Pro Tools, and FL Studio.


Now let’s explore the main differences between VST and DAW:

Function A VST is a plugin that adds virtual instruments and effects to a DAW.
Usage VST plugins are used within a DAW to enhance its capabilities.
Integration VST plugins run inside a DAW and can be controlled and automated using the DAW’s interface.
Variety There are thousands of VST plugins available, ranging from virtual instruments to effects and processors.
Compatibility VST plugins are compatible with most major DAWs, including Ableton Live, Logic Pro, Pro Tools, and FL Studio.
Customization VST plugins often provide a custom GUI that resembles physical audio hardware, with knobs, sliders, and buttons.

VST Instruments

VST instruments, also known as VSTi, are virtual synthesizers, samplers, and other software-based instruments that can be controlled and played using MIDI data. They are designed to emulate the sounds and functionalities of traditional hardware synthesizers and samplers.

Some popular VST instruments include:

  • Native Instruments Massive
  • Spectrasonics Omnisphere
  • Arturia V Collection
  • Serum by Xfer Records

These VST instruments receive MIDI data from a MIDI controller or a MIDI track in the DAW and generate digital audio as output. They allow musicians and producers to create a wide range of sounds, from realistic acoustic instruments to futuristic electronic sounds.

Example User Review: “I love using Serum as my go-to synth in my productions. It has a wide range of sounds and the interface is intuitive. Highly recommended!” – John, Music Producer

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VST Effects

VST effects, also known as VSTfx, are audio processing plugins that can be used to modify and enhance the sound of audio tracks. They can be applied to individual tracks, groups of tracks, or the master output of the DAW.

Some popular VST effects include:

  • Waves SSL E-Channel
  • FabFilter Pro-Q3
  • Soundtoys Decapitator
  • Valhalla VintageVerb

These VST effects allow producers and engineers to shape the sound of their recordings, add creative effects, and achieve professional-quality mixes.

Example User Review: “The FabFilter Pro-Q3 is an essential tool in my mixing process. It has a clean and intuitive interface, and the EQ algorithms sound transparent and musical. I can highly recommend it!” – Sarah, Audio Engineer

SEE PRICE on: Amazon | Plugin Boutique | zZounds | Loopmasters

VST MIDI Effects

VST MIDI effects are plugins that process MIDI messages and can be used to manipulate and route MIDI data within a DAW. They can be used to create complex MIDI sequences, arpeggios, chord progressions, and more.

Some popular VST MIDI effects include:

  • Cthulhu by Xfer Records
  • MIDI Guitar by Jam Origin
  • Scaler by Plugin Boutique
  • Captain Chords by Mixed In Key

These VST MIDI effects provide creative tools for composers and producers to generate musical ideas and explore new possibilities with MIDI.

Example User Review: “Cthulhu is a game-changer for my music production. It helps me come up with unique chord progressions and arpeggios effortlessly. It’s a must-have tool for any producer!” – Mike, Composer

SEE PRICE on: Amazon | Plugin Boutique | zZounds | Loopmasters

VST Hosts

VST hosts are software applications or hardware devices that run VST plugins. They provide the environment for VST plugins to operate and integrate with the user interface of the host application.

Some popular VST hosts include:

  • Ableton Live
  • Logic Pro
  • Pro Tools
  • FL Studio

These DAWs serve as VST hosts and allow users to load and control VST plugins within their interface. They provide the necessary routing, automation, and mixing capabilities to incorporate VST plugins into the music production workflow.

Competing Technologies

While VST is the most widely used plugin format, there are other competing technologies available:

  • Audio Units (AU): Developed by Apple, Audio Units are a plugin format specifically designed for macOS and iOS. They are supported by DAWs such as Logic Pro and GarageBand.

  • Real-Time AudioSuite (RTAS): Developed by Digidesign (now Avid), RTAS is a plugin format used in Pro Tools. It allows for real-time processing of audio within the Pro Tools environment.

  • Linux Audio Developer’s Simple Plugin API (LADSPA): LADSPA is a plugin format for Linux-based systems. It provides a standard interface for audio plugins and is supported by various Linux audio applications.

While these technologies offer alternatives to VST, VST remains the most widely supported and versatile plugin format in the industry.

Programming Languages

The VST plugin standard is based on a C API (Application Programming Interface) and provides a set of C++ classes for plugin development. However, there are several ports and wrappers available that allow developers to create VST plugins using other programming languages, such as:

  • JUCE: JUCE is a C++ framework that provides a high-level API for developing cross-platform audio applications and plugins, including VST.

  • Python: Python is a popular programming language used for various applications, including audio programming. There are libraries and frameworks available, such as PyAudio and PyDub, that allow developers to create VST plugins using Python.

  • Max/MSP: Max/MSP is a visual programming language for music and multimedia. It provides a graphical interface for creating interactive audio and MIDI applications, including VST plugins.

Developers can choose the programming language that best suits their needs and preferences when creating VST plugins.


VST plugins often come with a wide range of presets, which are pre-configured settings that produce specific sounds or effects. Presets allow users to quickly access different sounds without having to manually adjust all the parameters of the plugin.

Presets can be stored in various file formats, such as FXP (preset files) or FXB (bank files). These files can be shared and loaded into compatible VST plugins, allowing users to exchange and use presets created by others.


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Do I need a DAW for VST?

Yes, a DAW is required to use VST plugins. VST plugins run within a DAW and provide additional functionality, such as virtual instruments and effects.

Read more about “Do I need a DAW for VST?”

Do VSTs work on any DAW?

Most VST plugins are compatible with major DAWs, including Ableton Live, Logic Pro, Pro Tools, and FL Studio. However, it’s always recommended to check the compatibility of specific plugins with your chosen DAW.

Read more about “What Does VST Mean? …”

Do VSTs sound different in different DAWs?

VST plugins should sound the same regardless of the DAW they are used in. However, the sound can be influenced by various factors, such as the quality of the audio interface, the processing power of the computer, and the settings within the plugin and DAW.

Read more about “What is a VST for DAW? …”

What do you use VST for?

VST plugins are used for various purposes in music production, including:

  • Adding virtual instruments to create realistic or synthesized sounds.
  • Applying effects and processors to shape the sound of audio tracks.
  • Processing MIDI data to create complex sequences and arpeggios.
  • Enhancing the capabilities of a DAW with additional functionality.

Read more about “What is the Purpose of Virtual Instrumentation? …”


In conclusion, VST and DAW are two essential components in modern music production. While a DAW provides a complete software package for recording, editing, and mixing audio and MIDI tracks, VST plugins enhance the capabilities of a DAW by adding virtual instruments, effects, and MIDI processing.

By understanding the differences between VST and DAW, you can make informed decisions when choosing the right tools for your music production needs.

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