X

Best VST

If you’re in the music business, and you would like to do some studio-style production or you are a DJ who would like to play your music in public, then there are a few things that you will need. Of course, you will need the usual equipment, and if you’re a DJ you’ll probably want to have some sort of drum machine or MIDI controller on hand, but you’ll also need a computer program to put it all together with. That program is called a DAW and the virtual instrument you use inside of it is called a VST.

VSTs (virtual studio technology programs) have been in use for decades, but thanks to the widespread dissemination of technology, they are now something that you can use in your home or on the go to produce music. But because of this widespread growth, it is becoming harder and harder to find the right one for you and for what you need to do. Luckily, that’s just what this post is looking to do, to help you to find the best VST for your needs in the music world.

Best VST – Comparison Table

There are a myriad of such programs out there, and that means that it may be in our best interest to take a general look at them in order to get a feel for which one might meet your needs. Let’s take a quick look at the way that they stack up against each other. Here are our top picks for the best VST of 2018.

NameOS CompatibilityFormat Compatibility
Cakewalk SonarWindowsAVI, MPEG, WMV, MOV, as well as most common formats
Ableton LiveWindows and OS XMIDI
AudacityWindows, OS X, Linux, UnixWAV, AIFF, MP3, OGG, FLAC, WMA, AAC, AMR, AC3, any format support by Libsndfile
FL Studio Fruity Edition (formerly Frooty Loops)Android, iOS,  OS X, WindowsWAV, MP3, OGG, MIDI, ZIP, and native FLP
Sony Sound ForgeWindows and OS XSupports most common formats including AIF, MPEG, MP3, OGG, VOX, FRG, WMA, WMV, and more
WavePad Audio EditorWindows, OS X, Android, iOSSupports most common formats
DeckadanceWindows and OS XSupports most common formats
Logic ProOS XSupports most common formats

This is just a basic overview of the VST that you can get a hold of that are still in common use today, of course. There are plenty of VST out there that haven’t been used in a couple of years, but these are the best of the ones in common use today. Now, let’s take a bit more of an in-depth look at each of these and what they can offer you for your VST dollar, and how they can help you to make the best music that you possibly can.

1

Cakewalk Sonar – The Trusted Name

Cakewalk has been around in the music synthesizing and studio game for decades. To put this into perspective, the original Cakewalk MIDI synthesizer was run on MS-DOS, in the days when attempting to search for a program on your computer meant that you had to understand how to use commands like ‘CD/’ or ‘dir|more’, or how to change the drive that you were using in order to search for the .EXE file or to find the floppy disk that you put into the A:/ drive. Obviously, as the image above shows, we’ve come a long way since those archaic times.

But Cakewalk has been making VSTs and similar programs for the music industry for 29 years for a reason; they’re a trusted name that consistently turns out a good product which they continue to provide support and updates for, and the Cakewalk Sonar is no different.

It can be run on Microsoft Windows only, so if you’re a member of the Macintosh computing faithful, then you may not want to spend your money on this program. As with pretty much every program that Cakewalk has ever made, it allows you to record and manipulate MIDI data. It can also add DirectX special effects, which are basically things like reverberation or delay (if you can do it with a basic guitar pedal, you can do it with DirectX, as a general rule). Cakewalk Sonar allows you to use virtual instruments to create sounds, such as various synthesizers, samplers, and drum machines, in order to get the beat and sound that you would like for your music. It also automates the process of mixing audio, which is always a great thing.

For those who are looking to use this for video applications (or to combine a video with their live show experience), Sonar Cakewalk does, in fact, offer a limited range of facilities for such, and supports AVI, MPEG, WMV, and MOV video types. If you’re looking for a decently priced option without a terrible learning curve and with a name that is well-known and trusted, Cakewalk Sonar is a good choice for you.

PROS
  • A name that has been around for quite some time and can be trusted
  • One of the best MIDI programs
  • Wide variety of format compatibility for music files
CONS
  • Limited video facilities
2

Ableton Live – The Live Performer Model

While it may not be as beautiful as its Cakewalk competition up above, the Ableton Live is quite an able VST program for those who need one and aren’t afraid of something that looks a little bit ugly. The current release is Ableton Live 9 (9.7, to be precise, which has been out since October of 2016), and it provides some of the best VST effects that are currently available.

The GUI (graphic user interface) is broken down into two views, as seen above; the arrangement view and the session view. You would use the session view mostly to organize and trigger sets of MIDI and audio, which the Ableton Live program refers to as ‘clips’. These ‘clips’ can be arranged into ‘scenes’, which are then triggered as one unit. For example, if you’ve got two guitars and a bass track, they might make up a single scene, and then you may trigger the next scene, which could be drums and a synthesized score.

The arrangement view, on the other hand, is used mostly to record the tracks you put together in the session view, and then further work on the arrangement and the effects. It’s also the view you’ll be using for manual MIDI sequencing.

Another great thing about the Ableton Live system is that you are going to be able to use a wide variety of third party VST instruments or external VST hardware. In fact, Akai Professional makes the APC40 and the smaller APC20, which are dedicated external VST hardware for the Ableton Live program. Novation also has a dedicated pad device, the ‘Launchpad’, which is designed for use with Ableton Live. Ableton has even made their very own dedicated device, a MIDI controller known as the ‘Push’, which is the first pad-based controller that allows you to manipulate scales and melody.

Ableton Live comes with Impulse, Simpler, and Drum Rack built-in. Impulse is your basic drum triggering instrument, of course. Simpler is a fairly simple and streamlined sampling instrument. Drum rack is a sampler for drums. If you decide you need more, you can get a few plugins direct from Ableton, or you can just purchase the Ableton Suite and get an assortment of synthesizers, samplers, and other tools for producing your very own music. It sports some of the best VST plugins for hip hop, or even for rock music or orchestral pieces.

Ableton is a great piece of technology if you want to make sure that you have control over your production, and definitely something to look into.

PROS
  • A wide variety of plugins for sale
  • Fairly simple to use
  • Wide assortment of available support, and it is so popular it even has dedicated controllers made by well-known brands like Akai Professional
CONS
  • Not the best GUI
3

Audacity – The Free Open Source Solution

For a lot of people, the phrase ‘open source’ is one that comes with some consternation. Open source basically means that the source code for the program is available for free use, and that you can (if you have the knowledge, of course) program your very own plugins or even use the source code to make your own version of Audacity that is built specifically for your needs. The problem is that when you have a free open source program, there’s not as much ‘official’ customer service, so if you have questions or problems, you end up having to go to forums dedicated to Audacity.

But if you’re someone with experience with computing who is looking for the ultimate in customizable VST software, or just someone who needs basic VST software and doesn’t have much of a budget to get it up and running with, Audacity can be a great option for you!

Audacity has a vibrant community base and over 76 million downloads at this point, and that means that there are plenty of people out there customizing it and releasing new plugins and add-ons for this VST at all times. That’s not to say that the basic model you can download is any sort of slouch, however; it works on almost every operating system you could think of, too, so even if you’re running a custom Unix-based OS, you’re covered.

Using Audacity, you can import and export files in almost any common file type and quite a few of the uncommon ones as well. The only thing that limits Audacity is your understanding of computers, and your willingness to find the plugins and software and add-ons that you desire. It also cannot run, sadly, VSTi instruments. That being said, it is a great learning platform, and if you’re looking to get into the world of VSTs, there are few better methods to do so. It also makes for a great free hip hop VST.

PROS
  • Immense amount of customizability
  • Free to download and use
  • Can utilize an immense amount of file formats
CONS
  • Cannot utilize VSTi (at least not without immense amount of work and programming).
4

FL Studio Fruity Edition (Formerly Frooty Loops) – The Epic Rap Battles Model

One of the most popular ‘educational’ music channels on YouTube is called ‘Epic Rap Battles of History’, and they have utilized, since their inception, FL Studio to make their beats. If you’d like to hear what you can do with this software, checking them out on YouTube will be a great way to get an example.

Fruity Loops wasn’t always this complex and useful piece of software. In fact, in the beginning, it was just a four-channel drum machine, before undergoing a long series of improvements and upgrades.

One of the great things about FL Studio is that you can take it with you on the run. It works not just on Windows and Macintosh computers, but will function on iPads and iPods, as well as on most modern cell phones running Android operating systems.

The Fruity Edition of FL Studio allows you to utilize a few tools that are very useful; namely, the playlist, piano roll, and event automation features. These are used for complex and lengthy arrangements and sequencing, which is important if you’re looking to put on a show or produce a song of any real length or a loop of real length.

It also includes VST/ReWire support, which basically means that the VST FL Studio Edition can be used as an instrument in another host like Cubase, Logic, or other software. FL Studio Edition also includes a few synthesizers and a great graphics user interface.

FL Studio hip hop plugins free download access is pretty wide, and in fact, there are a lot of plugins that you can utilize with FL Studio Edition. For example, you can use anything that is DirectX based.

If you’re looking for a good VST that is easy to use and that is commonly used in the professional world, FL Studio Edition (or really, any program derived from Frooty Loops) is a great way to go. And it even has Macintosh compatibility since 2015!

PROS
  • Wide plugin support
  • Well-designed user interface
  • VSTi/ReWire support means it can be a VST instrument
CONS
  • No cons to report on this one
5

Sony Sound Forge – The Big Name

Everyone knows who Sony is, so we won’t dwell on their history. What we will say is that Sony Sound Forge is not for beginners (as that image above makes pretty clear, I would think), but rather for semi-pro and professional users. I would also like to point out that in Q3 of 2016, Sony said that they would be selling their Sound Forge assets to Magix GmbH & Co., so if you’re reading this and it is no longer called ‘Sony’ Sound Forge, that doesn’t mean that it’s not still basically the same program owned and operated by another business.

To begin with, this VST is fantastic if you’re in the business of syncing up video to audio. Combine this with access to some of the best VST plugins for vocals, and you basically have the perfect setup for producing your own music videos with professional quality. It also has DirectX and VST plugin support, which gives you more control and more options when producing music or video with music attached.

If you’re looking to make the aforementioned music videos, you will find that Sound Forge is compatible with most common formats for video, namely AVI, WMV, and MPEG-1 and 2. It supports a wide variety of sound/audio file formats, too. If you’re the kind of person who likes to use records for sampling, it also includes a vinyl restoration feature, which is really cool for the people trying to get that vinyl feel or to sample music that has not made the jump to a digital format of some sort.

If you’re a professional who needs VST software, or if you’re looking to make some music videos, this is going to be a great choice for you.

PROS
  • Video compatibility
  • Wide compatibility with audio file types
  • Fantastic and made for professional use
CONS
  • Could be a bit simpler to use, but if you’re a professional you should already know what you’re doing when working with a VST
6

WavePad Audio Editor – The Educational Model

WavePad Audio Editor has been used by 18 million people (or so the owners of the product claim, but who knows how accurate that claims is?), and is a good basic VST for any user. It is primarily used for the simpler things, such as sound editing functions like cut, copy, paste, auto-trim and deletion. It also can be used for things like audio effects and batch processing, which are important when trying to apply effects to a large amount of audio.

WavePad Audio Editor also hosts audio restoration tools, which can remove imperfections in audio caused by various issues like lost data or a poor recording medium (this is common with vinyl, for example, especially well-used vinyl). You can also use WavePad to remove vocals from music tracks, which, honestly, is a great feature if you’re trying to master a song that you’d like to cover at some point, or if you want to sample just the music without having the lyrics. Another interesting feature is that WavePad is able to create ready to use ringtones for cell phones, though this doesn’t have much use for most users.

WavePad Audio Editor’s free trialware version has commonly been cited as being more than appropriate for those looking to get some experience with a VST, whether you’re learning to use the VST in some sort of class or on your own at home. It is a good basic VST with plugin support and that can help you learn the ropes before moving on to something more professional.

PROS
  • Free trialware version is great for learning
  • Good basic setup
  • Easy to use
CONS
  • The GUI could look a bit better and more comfortable for users
7

Deckadance – The DJ Model

Deckadance, much like Ableton Live, can be used as a standalone application or as a VST plugin inside other host programs that support VST software. It was originally created as a DJ mixing application, which may be why it looks so similar to the design of a lot of the DJ equipment that you see them using on stage, but in a GUI form. In 2008, they opened it up to being compatible with Mac OS X, which means that at this point, most common computers can operate it.

The user interface looks a lot like that of FL Studio, and it boasts six changeable skins to customize your look. It has iTunes integration, which is nice for anyone looking to sample (in accordance with applicable Fair Use law, of course), it will allow you to time-code your own CDs, it has beat detection, and it even hosts a two-channel mixer with 3-band EQ.

As for functionality, it has VST options, obviously, and as a VST, it can be controlled with MIDI files, making Deckadance into an 8 track music sampler if you wish. It also has eight integrated sampler banks that can save 1, 2, 4, or 8 beat pattern loops from the decks. These samples can be automatically synced to the tempo with the help of the beat detection software, thankfully, making it easier to use. Finally, it also has a ReLooper, which slices and re-arranges and includes effects.

So, if you are looking to get a good bit of software to run your DJ shows with, or just to put together your own music in a studio, Deckadance is a solution that you should give serious consideration to.

PROS
  • A good GUI
  • Can be used as a host, or as its own VST in another program
  • A lot of features that make DJ’ing a much simpler process
CONS
  • Feels a bit like it was ripped off of Frooty Loops/FL Studio
8

Logic Pro- The Apple Professional Model

Before we get too far into talk about what this VST software can do for you, or if it has the best VST plugins for trap beats or the best VST plugins for mastering, we first need to be aware of something; Logic Pro is currently an Apple-only program, available through the Apple App Store. If you do NOT own a Macintosh computer of some sort, this is not a device that you want to buy. Also, don’t confuse it with Dolby Pro Logic, which is something entirely different.

A great thing about Logic Pro is that it supports Apple Loops, which is a library of royalty-free instrument loops recorded by professionals. This means that you have loops that you can use without having to worry about being sued for royalties, which is always a good thing.

Logic Pro can handle multichannel surround sound, as well as 255 audio tracks (computer permitting), and can also work with MIDI keyboards and synthesizers for input, processing, and MIDI output. It also supports guitar tablature and chord abbreviations, which is great if you’re a guitarist looking to utilize it as a digital audio workstation. Logic Pro also brings along a slew of software instruments that you can utilize.

Something interesting that Logic Pro has is distributed processing, which functions via LAN. This allows for one machine to run the Pro Logic app, while others run the Logic node app. Then Pro Logic offloads the effects and synth processing to the node machines, allowing you to combine the power of multiple Mac computers.

If you’re an Apple user looking for a professional grade VST software, this is the way to go. It also hosts some of the best VST plugins for rap beats.

PROS
  • Distributed processing is a great tool if you’re using a lot of tracks at once in particular
  • It supports most common file formats
  • Has a wide variety of included software instruments
CONS
  • Mac OS X only
  • The price is a bit steep compared to others on this list

Buying Guide To Select Best VST For You

If you’re looking to pick up a new VST for professional uses, or if you’re just looking to learn a bit about music production, there is a VST program out there for you. These are just a few of the greats, but before you go out and buy one, here are a few things you should know.

Can I Customize It With New Plugins?

One of the great things about buying the less-expensive and basic versions of this software is that it comes with only what you need, and then you can customize it as you will. For example,  if you buy the FL Studio Edition, you get a lot of the bells and whistles, but if you were to find the FL basic package and buy that instead, you could slowly pick and choose the plugins that you want and pay for them on your own.

Of course, if you’re really interested in getting the utmost in customizability, you would want to go with the open source ‘Audacity’, which is not only a good basic (and free) VST program, but one that has customizability options that are only limited by your knowledge of programming and your willingness to figure out how to best customize it to your desires.

Which Is Right For Me?

Honestly, this is one of those questions that are hard to answer. If you’re looking, for example, for something that is Macintosh-only, then you would be happy with the Logic Pro. If you’re looking for something that gives you the utmost of control, or something that you can use on a Linux or Unix-based machine, then you would be better off working with Audacity. Choosing the right VST for you means that you need to carefully examine your needs, your level of expertise, and how much money you are willing to spend, and then decide. If you’re a professional, you’re not going to want to use Audacity, and if you’re new to the VST world, you’re not going to want to get something like Sony Sound Forge. Choose carefully and consider your needs first and foremost.

Conclusion


So, these are the best VST programs that are currently available on the market. If you’re looking to get into VSTs for production or creating loops or DJ’ing, this is a good list of products that are likely to meet your needs. Finally, it comes time to talk about the real winners in this list.

To start with, the best value is the Audacity VST. It is free, open source, and it even has a huge community of users who have designed plugins and other customization for it. It is a great bang for your buck, and it is a good beginner.

Next, the best VST for DJ’ing goes to Deckadance. This should be no surprise, due to the fact that it is basically built around the practice of DJ’ing.

And finally, the best of all that we reviewed goes to the Sony Sound Forge. Sony’s Sound Forge comes with not just the equipment needed to manipulate the audio tracks, but also to sync them up with video, and if you are looking to do anything, be it making music videos or songs, it has the tools you’ll need.

Good luck, and may your songs all be chart-toppers that will sell millions.

View Comments

  • The program is the DAW (digital audio workstation)... A vst is a virtual instrument you use inside of the daw.