The Difference Between VST and VST3 Plugins (VST vs VST3)

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There is a difference between VST and VST3 that every music producer should know. In this article, we’ll explore the key distinctions between these two essential tools for music production.

For those unfamiliar with the audio world, VST (Virtual Studio Technology) and VST3 are types of audio plugin formats used to add effects and enhancements to audio recordings. 

First and foremost, VST is the OG of the audio plug-in world. It’s been around since 1996 and has become the industry standard for adding effects to audio recordings. But as with all things, change is inevitable. VST3 is the newer, more advanced version of VST.

However, what makes them different from each other?

Is it worth switching from VST to VST3?

There are a number of differences between VST and VST3 plugins that you should know before you decide.

Let’s talk about them.

The Difference Between VST and VST3(VST vs VST3)

Basically, VST3 is the latest version of VST. This is an update to the existing VST code, adding a lot of new features.

Since VST has worked well for so long, plugin developers and users are doubtful to scrap it entirely.

Steinberg stopped supporting and licensing VST. Developers are now providing VST3 versions of their plugins.

Here is a list of some of the most notable features in VST3.

Processing Efficiency (The Main Difference Between VST and VST3)

the biggest difference between VST and VST3 is CPU usage
The Biggest Difference Between VST and VST3 is CPU usage

The biggest difference between VST and VST3 is CPU usage.

If you’re a music producer, you know that processing efficiency is key. After all, you don’t want your computer to crash in the middle of a recording session.

CPU performance is crucial for music production. You don’t want VSTs that use a lot of CPU.

VST keeps processing even when there’s no audio. While VST3 is designed to only process audio when there is a signal. As a result, CPU resources don’t get wasted during silences. This means that VST3 can save a lot of CPU power, which can be used for other tasks.

With VST3, you can use more plugins without overloading your system. This allows you to mix, master, create sounds, and make beats more freely.

VST3 also has a better audio quality than VST. This is because VST3 plugins can process audio at a higher bit depth and sample rate.

So, in the VST vs VST3 debate, VST3 plugins come out on top when it comes to processing efficiency. If you’re looking to optimize your workflow and minimize the risk of computer crashes, VST3 plugins are the way to go.

Supports Multiple MIDI Inputs and Outputs

Supports Multiple Inputs and Outputs
Supports Multiple Inputs and Outputs

One of the key differences between VST and VST3 plugins is their support for multiple MIDI inputs and outputs.

VST3 plugins are able to support multiple MIDI inputs and outputs, which means you can route MIDI data to and from the plugin in a more flexible and complex way. This can be useful if you’re working with a lot of virtual instruments or want to route MIDI data between different plugins in your production.

For example, let’s say you have a virtual piano plugin and a virtual drums plugin. With VST3 plugins, you can use multiple MIDI inputs and outputs to route the MIDI data from your virtual piano to the virtual drums, allowing you to play the drums with the piano’s keys.

For those who perform Live acts, this is perfect. 

On the other hand, VST plugins are generally limited to a single MIDI input and output. This means you have less flexibility when it comes to routing MIDI data and may have to use workarounds or additional software to achieve more complex MIDI setups.

So, if you’re looking for more flexibility and control over your MIDI data, VST3 plugins are the way to go. They offer greater support for multiple MIDI inputs and outputs, making them a better choice for complex MIDI setups.

Keep in mind, however, that not all VST3 plugins will necessarily support multiple MIDI inputs and outputs. It’s always a good idea to check the plugin’s documentation or try it out in your DAW to see if it offers this feature.

Audio Inputs for VSTs

VST3 allows you to route audio to plugins
Audio Signal Can Now be Input Into a Synth Plugin

This is one of the most interesting features of VST3 plugins.

VST instruments are usually associated with MIDI input. But VST3 allows you to route audio to plugins, so you have a greater range of creative options. 

An audio signal can now be input into a synth plugin that includes a vocoder, as well as MIDI data. Your VST Instrument can be used as a filter or LFO.

VST plugins, on the other hand, are limited to processing MIDI data only. This means they cannot be used to process audio signals, and are typically used with virtual instruments or other MIDI-based plugins.

So, if you’re looking for a plugin that can process audio signals as well as MIDI data, a VST3 plugin would be the way to go. However, if you only need to work with MIDI data, a VST plugin would suffice.

Surround/Multi-Channel Capabilities

Multichannel and Surround 5.1 Outputs

This feature is time saving.

The difference in surround/multi-channel capabilities between VST and VST3 plugins is an important one to consider, especially if you’re working in a surround sound environment.

VST3 plugins offer support for multi-channel audio, which means you can use them to process audio in a surround sound setup, such as 5.1 or 7.1. This can be useful if you’re working on music for film or video, or if you simply want to create a more immersive listening experience for your music.

With VST3 plugins, you can easily route audio to different channels within the plugin, allowing you to apply effects and processing to specific channels within a surround sound mix. You no longer have to tweak settings when moving a plugin from a stereo track to a surround track with six outputs. It also works for multiple-bus routings, such as samplers.

On the other hand, VST plugins do not offer support for multi-channel audio. They are limited to stereo audio processing only. This means that if you want to work with surround sound using VST plugins, you’ll have to use multiple instances of the plugin, one for each channel in your surround sound setup. This can be more time-consuming and may not offer as much flexibility as using VST3 plugins.

So, when it comes to VST vs VST3, VST3 plugins offer the advantage of multi-channel audio support, making them a better choice for those working in surround sound environments. Whether you’re creating music for film, video, or simply want to create a more immersive listening experience, VST3 plugins can help you achieve your goals.

MIDI Handling is Enhanced

Advanced Control of MIDI at a Note Level is now Supported
Advanced Control of MIDI at a Note Level is now Supported

One of the differences between VST and VST3 plugins is their support for advanced MIDI features.

VST3 plugins are able to support features such as MPE (MIDI Polyphonic Expression) and MIDI 2.0, which allows for more expressive and dynamic control over virtual instruments.

MPE (MIDI Polyphonic Expression) is a protocol that allows for independent control of individual voices within a polyphonic synthesizer. This means you can control the pitch, timbre, and other parameters of each voice independently, allowing for more expressive and dynamic performances.

MIDI 2.0 is the latest version of the MIDI protocol and offers several enhancements over previous versions. It allows for higher resolution and precision in MIDI data, as well as support for new features such as expression curves, improved timing accuracy, and support for MPE.

VST3 plugins are able to take advantage of these advanced MIDI features, which can greatly enhance the expressive capabilities of your virtual instruments.

On the other hand, VST plugins do not offer support for these advanced MIDI features, so you may be limited in terms of the expressiveness and dynamic control you can achieve.

Window Resizing

VST3 Plugins Windows Resizing
It is Possible to Scale VST3 Plugins to Fit Your Needs

We all use different monitors to work, whether it’s a laptop, a big widescreen monitor, or even a TV. Plugins with small windows make it difficult to read the text.

VST 3 makes it easy for developers to include window resizing in their plugins.

It’s important to note that not all VST 3 plugins and instruments will have this feature by default. It is up to developers to decide if they want to include it in their software. Developers might simply port their existing VSTs to VST 3 format without adding that function.

Parameters for Automation are More Organized

Automation parameters can now be categorized in VST3
Automation parameters can now be categorized in VST3

Scrolling through hundreds of parameters in a VST plugin can be annoying. You can now search automation parameters within VST3 by categorizing them in the plugin.

For example:

The ‘Filter’ category can be used for filter-related parameters, rhythmic parameters can be categorized separately, and so on. It simplifies the automation process and keeps projects organized.

VST3 plugins allow you to name and organize your automation data for easier reference. This can be especially useful if you’re working on a complex project with lots of automation data, as it can help you keep track of what each automation lane is doing.

In contrast, VST plugins do not offer as much organization for automation parameters. You may have to manually search for the parameters you want to automate, or you may have to rely on the plugin’s documentation to find out which parameters can be automated.

If you’re looking to optimize your workflow and take advantage of the latest technology, VST3 plugins may be the way to go.

Keep in mind, however, that VST and VST3 plugins can both be used effectively in a music production workflow, and the right choice will depend on your specific needs and preferences. So, when it comes to VST vs VST3 in terms of automation parameters, VST3 offers a more organized and intuitive system.

Sample-Accurate Automation

Sample-accurate automation
High resolution automation data is supported by the VST3

Sample-accurate automation refers to the ability to automate audio parameters with precise timing down to the sample level. Using VST3, you can get specific down to the individual sample, which is the smallest unit in which audio is recorded.

Sample-accurate automation is a feature that is exclusive to VST3 plugins. It can be extremely useful for fine-tuning the timing of your automation data and achieving precise control over your sound. For example, if you’re using automation to adjust the volume of a track and want it to fade in or out at a specific point in time, sample-accurate automation can help you achieve this with precise timing.

On the other hand, VST plugins do not offer sample-accurate automation. You may have to rely on approximate timing or manually edit the automation data to achieve the desired timing. This can be time-consuming and may not result in the precise control that sample-accurate automation provides.

Language Support that is Standardized

Language support that is standardized
Language support that is standardized

The GUI text in VST3 is in Unicode format. Therefore, plugins and synths can support nearly any language, depending on how the developer implements it.

The software can be encoded in just about any language if it supports Unicode.

A Brief History of VST Plugins (The Evolution from VST to VST3)

In 1996, Steinberg created the VST(Virtual Studio Technology) standard. Three years later, in 1999, VST 2.0 was released. There was a new feature that let plugins get MIDI data. As a result, Virtual Studio Technology Instruments (VSTi format) were introduced.

Over time, the VST standard has been upgraded a few times, with VST3 being the latest big update. 

“This is the most stable and reliable VST platform ever.”
Steinberg about VST3

With VST being an open standard, the possibilities are constantly expanding. There are always new virtual effect processors and virtual instruments being developed by Steinberg and other companies. 

It is worth mentioning that in 2013, Steinberg announced that the VST Plug-in format would no longer be supported. The VST format still works, but there are no updates with new features.

Frequently Asked Question about Difference Between VST and VST3

What is the difference between VST and VST3?

Compared to VST plugins, VST3 plugins consume less CPU power.

What are the benefits of using VST3 over VST?

A major advantage of VST3 is that it uses less CPU resources and only works when audio signals are detected, unlike VST, which is always active. Users will be able to use a larger number of plug-ins without overloading their computers.

Are there any drawbacks to using VST3? 

VST3 files are installed in the Common Files folder, so they no longer have the .dll extension but have the .vst3 extension. The downside to VST3 is that it must live in the Common Files directory.

How compatible are VST and VST3 plugins?

When your VST 32-Bit plugins were converted to 64-Bit versions, there was a painful period. I didn’t notice any bugs when I switched from 32-bit to 64-bit, but the early stages of VST3 had a lot of compatibility issues.

Which DAWs support VST3?

Cubase, Ableton Live, BandLab, Pro Tools, and Studio One are all DAWs that use plugins with the right encoding.

Should I use VST or VST3?

While VST will still be around for a while, Steinberg has officially stopped supporting it. Despite this, VST is certainly not obsolete just yet. The transition to VST3 will likely take a long time.
Despite Steinberg’s lack of official support, VST isn’t going away any time soon. However, you don’t need to rush to replace all your old plugins with VST3 versions just yet.
It is recommended to use the VST3 version unless you have a reason not to (e.g. a bug in the VST3 version).

Is VST3 better than VST?

Yes, in my opinion.
We can all benefit from VST3 technology.
Today, most plugins come with VST and VST3 versions. VST3 has the same features as VST.
In the early days of VST3, there were some concerns about the stability of plugins.
I think there are definitely advantages to using VST3 over the old VST. Developers are the ones who use these advantages.

Is VST3 64 bit?

All VST3 plugins are 64-bit compatible, have sidechaining options, and dynamically assignable outputs. There is no preset/patch or bank format (.fxp and .fxb), which makes patch transfers tricky between plugins.


Music production has been revolutionized by the VST standard since Steinberg introduced it in 1996.

In the VST3 standard, there are some useful enhancements, but the developer must implement these features appropriately in their plugin. The extra functionalities provided by VST3 may not be supported by all plugins.

Most major DAWs today support VST3 plugins. Except for Pro Tools by Avid. Pro Tools exclusively uses AAX software, similar to Logic by Apple, which uses Audio Unit, or AU, format. Ableton Live, FL Studio, and Cubase are all compatible with VST3 on Mac.

The rumor that VST3s are more buggy than their counterparts is untrue. Plugins and instruments that moved to VST 3 had some bugs back in 2008 when this file format was introduced.

Over the last 13 years, developers have fixed the vast majority of bugs. Generally, you don’t run into anything unusual.

William Menard

William Menerd has been producing music for almost 18 years. His acquired experience has led him to want to join InMusician, and he would like to allow others to benefit from his knowledge.

This Post Has 3 Comments

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  2. Peter Hewer

    Is it OK to save a copy of this article so to have info about VST formats.? This is for my personal use and knowledge to help better make beautiful songs. I write songs.

    1. William Menard

      You can, of course. Bookmark it and use it whenever you like. I just ask that you don’t copy and paste on another website. The informational content we make takes a lot of time and effort.

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