The German software publisher Steinberg developed VST in the mid 1990s to provide a way to incorporate DSP effects processing into their Cubase family of MIDI sequencing/audio recording software. Steinberg made the VST software code available to software developers worldwide. This generated lots of interest, enthusiasm for the format and, ultimately, a growing list of third party developers who began producing VST-compatible effects and virtual instruments. Emagic incorporated VST hosting into Logic Audio software, as did Opcode in Vision for the Macintosh.
VST 1.0 had limitations; effects and instruments had to operate as separate applications running alongside the host software. This could cause system instability and computer crashes. Further, you had to redirect MIDI and audio between applications using additional applications – so-called virtual cables such as the Mac’s IAC Bus or Hubi’s Loopback on the PC.
In 1999 Steinberg released the VST 2.0 plug-in specification. It addressed the previous version’s shortcomings in a BIG way. First and perhaps most important, VST 2.0 plug-ins gained a MIDI port. With VST 2.0 you could send any MIDI data to a plug-in. Similarly, the plug-in could generate MIDI data itself and send it back to the host application. This helped truly “plug in” plug-ins. With the ability to coordinate audio processing with other musical tasks directly within the host software, there was no need for virtual instruments to run as separate, standalone applications. VST 2.0 also introduced support for 24-bit/96kHz sampling rates and sample-accurate editing.
Second, VST 2.0 offered software developers a user interface library, making it easy to design graphic interfaces for plug-ins (previously plug-ins were generically handled by the host application, or they provided their own interface mechanism). With this easy entry into design, plug-in developers really took off. By 2004 there were an estimated 1000-plus VST effects and instruments on the market or available online.
It’s important to note that, although Steinberg calls VST 2.0 a “specification,” it isn’t a true specification in the sense that, for example, the AES/EBU audio spec is. Such a spec is approved by international scientific organizations that promote the standardization of technological properties. The VST 2.0 specification only requires plug-ins to operate with Cubase VST. Consequently, using VST instruments in other programs can sometimes be problematic. When you run VST plug-ins in hosts other than Cubase, especially using wrapper or shell software you might find that some features and functions are disabled.