Guide to VST Instruments


Imagine having a whole Orchestra at your fingertips, having the power to creating your own movie scores using nothing but a VSTi Sample Library and your MIDI Keyboard. Imagine mixing an album on world-class audio equipment worth hundreds of thousands of pounds without ever going to a studio. Well, you can. We live in an exciting time where VST Plugins and VST Instruments sound so convincing that it's extremely hard to distinguish between what's real and what's "fake". Audio Developers dedicate thousands of hours and millions of pounds in research & development to create amazing products for everyone to use.

What is a VST? 

Virtual Studio Technology or VST is a piece of software that integrates audio samplers, synths and effects with your DAW. Typically they are broken down into two categories; VST Plug-ins (VST) and VST Instruments (VSTi). To put it simply Virtual Studio Technology takes real world hardware and musical instruments such as outboard; EQs, Compressors, Mixing Consoles, Drums, Pianos, Guitars etc... then re-creates them as usable software to work within a Digital Audio Workstation (DAW). All VST plugins and instruments have a graphical user interface (GUI) which display the controls, features and functions of the software allowing the user to do a number of different things depending on what the VST is designed for. Today we will be focusing on VST Instruments and leave VST Plugins out for a separate tutorial.

Generally speaking, VST instruments fall into one of two categories, Samplers or Synthesisers.  A Sampler generates audio by using sound recordings (samples) which are triggered by MIDI from the DAW sequencer or by playing notes on a MIDI Keyboard. Synthesisers do not use samples to generate audio, they emulate hardware synthesisers using a range of different methods such as; Subtractive Synthesis, FM Synthesis, Additive Synthesis, Physical Modeling, Phase Distortion, Granular Synthesis, Wavetable Synthesis, Sample-based Synthesis and Subharmonic Synthesis.

Sample Based VST Instrument Example;

Native Instruments - Action Strings

Synth Based VST Instrument Example;

Native Instruments - Monark

What VST instruments will I need?

There are many different third-party developers out there who create amazing VST Instruments. Each developer has a different take on how a VST Instrument is created, what it should sound like and what kind of features it should offer. You'll find that many developers have similar products to each other, like Drum Kits or Pianos and you might ask what makes them different? Sound quality, features, playability and price. When it comes to choosing a VSTi you'll eventually find yourself cherry picking the libraries that suit your needs best, mixing libraries together to get the sound you want. 

Typical Scenarios When Choosing a VST Instrument;

  • Developer A. has a Violin VST Instrument which is fairly priced and sounds amazing but isn't very good at handling fast playing notes.
  • Developer B. has a Violin VST Instrument which is cheap and sounds ok. However, it can handle fast playing notes much better than Developer A.
  • Developer C. has a Violin VST Instrument which is fairly priced, sounds good and can handle fast playing notes almost as good as Developer B.
  • Developer D. has a Violin VST Instrument which is expensive, however, it sounds the best and can handle fast playing notes better than the others.

So now you understand the basics lets move on and get straight into the good stuff. In this next section, I'm going to break down and list all of the best developers for working with different styles of music, saving you days, weeks and maybe years of searching the internet. You can thank me later! 

VST Instruments for Orchestral / Cinematic / Trailer Music

In this section, we'll be talking about VST Libraries for creating orchestral and cinematic music. VST Instrument libraries can be summarised in two different ways. Some libraries are designed for speed and simplicity, allowing you to create "finished" sounding blockbuster scores in a matter of minutes, while others libraries are designed to give you more creative control over each instrument. A good example of a "quick scoring" library would be Symphobia 2 by ProjectSam while libraries like Hollywood Orchestra by East West are designed to give composers more control over each instrument allowing them to create much more complex scores.

 Developer Percussion Libraies String Libries Brass Libraries  Woodwind Libries Choir Librires Piano Libries Sound Design Libries Quick Scoring Libraries / All-in-One Libraries
Audio Bro YES YES NO NO NO NO NO NO
Audio Imperia YES NO NO NO NO YES YES NO
CineSamples YES YES YES YES YES YES YES NO
Cinematic Studio Series TBA YES TBA TBA NO YES NO NO
East West YES YES YES YES YES YES YES YES
Heavyocity YES YES YES NO NO NO YES NO
Keep Forest YES YES NO NO NO YES YES NO
Impact Soundworks YES YES YES NO YES YES YES YES
Native Instruments YES YES YES YES NO YES YES YES
Orchestral Tools YES YES YES YES NO NO YES YES
ProjectSam YES NO YES NO NO NO NO YES
Spitfire Audio YES YES YES YES YES YES YES YES
Soundiron YES YES YES YES YES YES YES NO
Sample Modeling NO YES YES YES NO NO NO NO
VSL YES YES YES YES YES YES NO NO
8DIO YES YES YES YES YES YES YES YES

 

Part 2 (Coming Soon)