This article will discuss the best VST host plugins for music in 2023, both paid and free.
A VST host, also known as a VST plugin host or VST instrument host, is software that serves as a platform for running and managing Virtual Studio Technology (VST) plugins, including software instruments and effects plugins.
VST is a widely used audio plugin format in the music production and audio recording industry. Similarly, there are hosts for other plugin formats, including AU (Audio Units), AAX (Avid Audio Extension), and more.
Here’s what a VST/AU/AAX host does and why it’s essential:
- Plugin Integration
Plugin hosts allow you to integrate third-party audio effects and virtual instruments into your digital audio workstation (DAW) or standalone software. This integration enables you to enhance your audio projects with various sound effects and virtual instruments.
- Real-time Processing
Plugins are used for real-time audio processing. A plugin host provides the environment where these plugins can be loaded and used in real-time during music production or live performances.
- Signal Routing
VST hosts enable you to route audio and MIDI signals between different VST plugins and other tracks in your DAW. This routing flexibility allows for complex signal chains and creative audio processing.
VST hosts are designed to be compatible with various VST plugins created by different developers. This compatibility ensures you can use a vast library of virtual instruments and effects to achieve your desired sound.
- MIDI Control
VST hosts often include features for MIDI control, allowing you to map MIDI controllers (such as hardware keyboards or controllers) to parameters within your VST plugins. This enhances the hands-on control of your music production.
- Stability and Performance
A good VST host should provide stable and efficient performance, as audio production demands low-latency processing without glitches or delays.
- Live Performance
In addition to studio use, VST hosts are crucial for live music performances. Musicians can use them to run virtual instruments, apply real-time effects, and create dynamic soundscapes during live shows.
Popular DAWs like Ableton Live, Logic Pro, Cubase, and Pro Tools have built-in VST hosting capabilities. Additionally, standalone VST hosts are available, allowing you to use VST plugins even if your DAW does not support them natively. While, by definition, all DAWs are also VST hosts, this article will discuss mostly plugins that you can use within your DAWs and take advantage of their specialized live performance features and stability & reliability.
9 Best VST Host Plugins For Live Performance 2023 (Paid/Free)
1. Topten Cantabile
Cantabile, a VST Host plugin, is specifically designed for on-stage and live musicians who require a reliable and versatile platform for hosting VST plugins, virtual instruments, and audio effects.
Different versions of Cantabile are available, including Cantabile Lite (free version), Cantabile Solo, and Cantabile Performer, offering various features and pricing options to cater to musicians with different requirements and budgets. It offers flexible MIDI routing, stable real-time audio processing, and seamless integration with other MIDI hardware.
- Flexible MIDI Routing
Cantabile allows you to route MIDI data in a flexible and customizable manner. This feature enables musicians to send MIDI signals from one device to another, creating complex MIDI setups for controlling various instruments and effects during live performances.
- Seamless Integration with MIDI Hardware
Cantabile integrates with other MIDI hardware, such as keyboards, controllers, and drum pads. This integration lets you control your virtual instruments and effects using physical MIDI devices, enhancing the performance experience and providing a more intuitive workflow.
- Customizable Interface
Cantabile allows you to customize the interface according to your preferences. You can create personalized layouts, assign shortcuts, and organize your workspace to streamline your workflow and optimize your live performance setup.
- MIDI Learn Functionality
Cantabile includes a MIDI learn functionality that lets you easily map MIDI controllers to various parameters within your virtual instruments and effects. This feature simplifies assigning physical controls to software parameters, making it easier for musicians to perform and manipulate their sounds.
- State Saving and Recall
Cantabile allows you to save different states of your performance setup, including instrument and effect settings, MIDI routing, and controller mappings. You can recall different configurations instantly, switching between songs, presets, or performance setups easier during live shows.
- Community and Support
Topten Software provides a dedicated community and support system for Cantabile users so you can connect with other users, share experiences, and seek assistance. Additionally, Topten Software offers comprehensive documentation, tutorials, and responsive customer support to ensure a smooth user experience.
- Stream Deck Integration
With Stream Deck integration, you can create custom buttons and macros to control various aspects of Cantabile, such as switching between plugins, changing presets, adjusting levels, and triggering effects. That enhances the workflow by providing a tactile and intuitive interface for live performances or studio recordings.
The Stream Deck’s visual feedback and programmable buttons make navigating Cantabile’s features easy and streamline the music production process. This integration is particularly beneficial for musicians who want a physical control surface for their virtual instruments and effects.
- Stable Real-Time Audio Processing
Cantabile is known for its stability in real-time audio processing. It ensures no audio glitches or dropouts during live performances, providing musicians a seamless and professional experience.
Topten Cantabile is available in multiple plugin formats, including VST, VST3, AU (Audio Units), and AAX. This wide range of formats ensures compatibility with various digital audio workstations (DAWs) and allows you to use Cantabile on your preferred plugins.
Cantabile allows you to seamlessly incorporate VST virtual instruments and effects into your live sets. You can effortlessly create reusable instrument and effect racks tailored to your preferences. Cantabile streamlines your performance by enabling instant song transitions, per-song keyboard splits, and real-time transposition.
It also allows you to spontaneously trigger audio and MIDI clips, granting precise control through MIDI inputs. Moreover, Cantabile assists in maintaining your performance flow with show notes and offers the convenience of automatic performance recording, ensuring that your live shows are dynamic and professionally documented.
2. Tone2 NanoHost (Free)
NanoHost provides a simple and intuitive interface, making it easy to load and control VST plugins.
It offers features like MIDI input, preset management, and audio routing options. With its low CPU usage and minimal system requirements, NanoHost is an ideal solution for musicians and producers looking for a lightweight host application for their VST plugins. It supports both VSTi (instrument) and VSTfx (effect) plugins, providing you with a wide range of creative possibilities.
NanoHost is not only free but also incredibly user-friendly. There’s no need for registration, and you’re encouraged to share it with friends hassle-free. What sets it apart is its portability, as it doesn’t require any installation. You can conveniently place it anywhere you like, running it directly from a USB stick or CD if you prefer.
- MIDI Input
NanoHost supports MIDI input, allowing you to control your hosted VST plugins using an external MIDI controller or your computer’s keyboard. This feature enables you to play virtual instruments, trigger effects, and record MIDI data directly into your software.
- Fast & Minimal
No time-consuming plugin scanning is necessary; you can load your plugins directly, no matter where they are stored on your hard drive. Thanks to its low-level code optimization, NanoHost delivers top-tier performance with minimal latency, outclassing traditional hosts.
- Preset Management
NanoHost provides efficient preset management, allowing you to save, load, and organize your plugin settings. This feature is handy when you want to recall your favorite presets or switch between different plugin configurations quickly.
- Audio Routing Options
The plugin offers flexible audio routing options, allowing you to route audio signals between different plugins and channels. You can create complex signal chains by connecting multiple plugins together, giving you extensive control over your sound.
- Low CPU and Memory Usage
One of the main advantages of NanoHost is its lightweight nature. It has low CPU and memory usage, ensuring that it runs smoothly even on less powerful computers or in resource-intensive projects. This efficiency makes it ideal for live performances or working on systems with limited resources.
- Real-time parameter automation
NanoHost enables you to automate various plugin parameters in real time, allowing for dynamic and evolving soundscapes and performances.
- Customizable interface
You can personalize the appearance of the NanoHost interface by adjusting colors, layout, and other visual elements to suit your preferences.
The Tone2 NanoHost is available in the VST plugin format, limiting its compatibility to DAWs that only host VST plugins and instruments.
NanoHost’s GUI boasts an astonishingly high frame rate of 120 Hz, ensuring smoother animations and crisper graphics. It takes up minimal screen space, leaving ample room for your VST plugin interfaces. What’s more, this software is incredibly compact, taking up almost no hard drive space and loading in an instant.
Unlike typical hosts, NanoHost empowers you to configure soundcard settings individually for each plugin, optimizing your VSTs for peak performance. With its intuitive interface and context-sensitive help, NanoHost offers a user experience that’s not only efficient but also beginner-friendly.
3. Apple Mainstage (AU-host)
Apple MainStage is part of the Logic Pro X suite and provides a platform for creating and performing music using virtual instruments, effects, and plugins.
MainStage offers a user-friendly interface with customizable layouts and patch management. It supports MIDI controllers and offers features like Smart Controls, Playback, and Loopback. With MainStage, musicians can create complex virtual instrument setups, control multiple parameters simultaneously, and deliver stunning live performances.
It also supports MIDI controllers, allowing performers to control and manipulate their sounds during live performances. With its user-friendly interface and flexibility, MainStage has become popular among musicians for live performances and studio recordings.
- Intuitive Sound Editing (Smart Controls and Mapping)
Easily edit and create sounds using MainStage’s full-screen view, eliminating the need for external gear. Combine software and hardware sounds in one Patch for ultimate flexibility. You can customize your live setup by assigning parameters to physical controls like knobs, buttons, and sliders. That allows for real-time manipulation and control of instrument sounds and effects.
- Auto Sampler
Transform hardware synths into sampled instruments that can be played directly from your Mac, simplifying setup and management of your keyboard rig.
- Sampler Redesign
The redesigned Sampler plug-in offers a single-window design compatible with all EXS24 files. The expanded synthesis section and mapping editor enhance instrument depth and dynamics, while drag-and-drop hot zones facilitate instrument creation.
- Virtual Instruments
With a wide array of virtual instruments such as keyboards, drums, guitars, strings, and more, the software’s instruments are meticulously sampled to provide realistic and high-quality sounds.
- Effects and Plugins
MainStage includes a vast collection of audio effects and plugins. These range from dynamics processors, EQs, and reverbs to modulation effects like chorus, flanger, and phaser. You can apply these effects to your virtual instruments or external audio sources.
- Patch Library
The plugin has a built-in Patch Library that allows you to browse and select different instruments and easily effect presets. The library provides a quick way to switch between sounds during live performances.
- Playback and Looping
MainStage supports audio playback and looping, allowing performers to incorporate pre-recorded tracks or backing tracks into their live performances. You can also create loops on the fly using the Loopback plug-in.
- MIDI Mapping
MainStage seamlessly integrates with MIDI controllers, enabling performers to control various aspects of their performance using external hardware. MIDI mapping allows you to assign MIDI messages to functions within MainStage, providing a hands-on approach to performance.
- Live Performance Tools
The plugin provides a range of tools designed specifically for live performances. These include a customizable interface, performance view, and touch bar support on compatible Macs. You can easily create unique layouts, switch between patches and trigger playback.
Minimum System Requirements for MainStage include macOS version 12.3 or above. To ensure smooth performance, a minimum of 6GB of storage space is required for the installation, while a full Sound Library installation requires 72GB of storage space. Additionally, MainStage works seamlessly with Logic Pro, allowing you to integrate the two applications and enhance your music production experience.
Apple MainStage empowers musicians and performers to create and deliver exceptional live performances with its extensive collection of virtual instruments, effects, and performance tools. It offers a user-friendly interface, flexibility, and seamless integration with other hardware and software, making it a top choice for musicians and live performers.
4. Niall Moody Pedalboard 2 (free)
Niall Moody allows for modular patching and real-time manipulation of plugin parameters through MIDI CCs or Open Sound Control messages.
It supports both Windows and OSX platforms and is available as an open-source download. Pedalboard2 is based on the JUCE ‘audio plugin host’ code but heavily modified. Multiple patches can be queued up and switched quickly, offering flexibility during live performances.
- Modular Patching
Pedalboard 2 allows you to create complex audio signal chains by connecting multiple VST plugins together in a modular fashion. This patching system enables flexible routing and signal processing possibilities.
- Real-time Parameter Control
The software provides the ability to control plugin parameters in real time. This means that during a live performance, you can manipulate various plugin settings, such as volume, filters, effects, and more, using MIDI CCs (Control Change messages) or Open Sound Control (OSC) messages.
- MIDI CC and OSC Support
Pedalboard 2 supports MIDI CCs and OSC messages, allowing you to map and control plugin parameters using external MIDI controllers or OSC-enabled devices. This feature enhances the live performance experience by providing hands-on control over plugin settings.
- Cross-platform Compatibility
The software is available for both Windows and OSX platforms, making it accessible to a wide range of users. This cross-platform support ensures you can run Pedalboard 2 on your preferred operating system without any compatibility issues.
- Open-source and Customizability
Pedalboard 2 is an open-source project, meaning its source code is freely available for modification and customization. That feature allows you to adapt the software to your specific needs or contribute to its development.
Pedalboard is available in VST and AU formats and can also host both VST and AU plugins.
While Pedalboard 2 offers these features, it is no longer being updated, and the developer does not provide assistance for any problems or bugs. Hence, you should be aware of this when using the software and be prepared to troubleshoot any issues they may encounter independently. Overall, Pedalboard 2 is a versatile VST plugin host for live use, offering modular patching for complex audio chains, real-time parameter control, and support for MIDI CCs and OSC messages.
SAVIHost is a compact software derived from VSTHost, designed for the singular purpose of automatically loading a single VST instrument (VSTi).
To use it, you simply need to copy or rename the “savihost.exe” file to match the name of the desired VST plugin’s DLL. For instance, if your plugin is named “blabla.dll,” rename “savihost.exe” to “blabla.exe.” This renaming process enables you to run the plugin as a standalone program. Starting from version 1.07, SAVIHost includes a built-in keyboard bar, allowing plugins that rely on external MIDI input to be easily tested.
Why is this useful? Well, some people prefer the simplicity of running their VST instruments as standalone applications without the need for complex sequencer software. With SAVIHost, you can create an executable for your plugin within seconds, making it as easy as double-clicking to launch. No hefty sequencer packages or unnecessary overhead are required.
- Minimalistic Interface
SAVIHost offers a clean and minimalistic interface that focuses on functionality. The interface includes basic controls for loading and managing plugins, making it easy to navigate and use.
- Plugin Loading and Management
With SAVIHost, you can easily load and manage VST plugins. It supports VST instruments (VSTi) and VST effects (VSTfx), allowing you to explore various plugins and expand your creative possibilities.
- Parameter Control
There are controls for adjusting parameters within VST plugins. This feature lets you tweak and fine-tune various settings, such as volume, panning, filters, and effects, to achieve your desired sound.
- Audio Routing
SAVIHost allows you to route audio between plugins and your computer’s audio output. This feature enables you to create complex signal chains and experiment with different plugin combinations to enhance your audio production.
- MIDI Input Support
The plugin supports MIDI input, allowing you to control VST instruments using external MIDI devices, such as keyboards or controllers. This feature adds versatility and real-time control to your music production workflow.
- Preset Management
SAVIHost provides a simple preset management system, allowing you to save and recall your plugin settings. This feature is beneficial when you want to quickly switch between different configurations or recall your favorite presets during a live performance or recording session.
The plugin is available only in VST 2, VST 3, and VST formats as 32 and 64-bit plugins.
Overall, SAVIHost’s key features make it a convenient and efficient tool for musicians, producers, and audio enthusiasts who want to test, use, and experiment with VST plugins without needing full-fledged DAW software. SAVIHost is a lightweight and simple tool that is perfect for testing and using VST plugins directly.
6. Audiostrom Live Professor 2
Live Professor 2 is a live-oriented plugin host that enables you to create a powerful, portable, and flexible effect rack.
This plugin host is designed for live, theatre, and broadcast applications, providing a flexible VST/AU effect track. With Live Professor 2, you can easily automate individual plug-in settings using snapshot automation, making it a sophisticated tool for live performances. LiveProfessor 2 introduces Signal Chains, a convenient way to organize plugins by creating collections of connected plugins in series. You can easily manage and control specific sections of your audio chain by grouping plugins together, such as those processing the bass guitar.
- Snapshot Automation
LiveProfessor 2 offers extensive snapshot automation capabilities, enabling seamless switching between snapshots that save individual plugin settings or global snapshots that restore the entire project’s state. This feature allows for quick and efficient adjustments during live performances.
- Hardware Controllers
The plugin provides a comprehensive system of hardware controllers, allowing you to control plugin parameters and program functions. The flexible and user-friendly design ensures that each control can be customized to meet specific preferences, providing a personalized experience.
- Responsive User Interface
With a sleek and customizable user interface, LiveProfessor 2 offers a visually appealing experience. The dark theme enhances focus and concentration, while the ability to recall window layouts using View Sets and Work Spaces ensures efficient workflow management.
- Cue Lists
LiveProfessor 2 offers Cue Lists, enabling seamless changes to settings during live performances. You can easily recall cues on the fly, adjusting parameters such as recalling a snapshot, changing audio routing, sending MIDI messages, and altering project tempo. This feature ensures the right settings for each individual song.
- MIDI Modifiers
Each plugin in LiveProfessor 2 incorporates powerful MIDI Modifiers, particularly beneficial for keyboard players. These modifiers provide functions like transpose, key-zone, and filter, allowing you to manipulate MIDI data and customize your sound easily.
The software supports both VST and AU plugins. In terms of system requirements, it is compatible with both PC and Mac platforms and requires an ASIO-compatible audio interface. It works well with popular hardware controllers and offers audio and MIDI compatibility, making it a reliable choice for managing and controlling plugins in live performances.
Live Professor 2 is a versatile live-oriented plugin host designed for live, theater, and broadcast applications, offering a flexible VST/AU effect rack. It empowers you with Snapshot Automation, allowing swift adjustments during live performances by saving and restoring individual plugin settings or entire project states.
The software features comprehensive Hardware Controllers that can be personalized for precise control. Its responsive and customizable User Interface enhances focus, while Cue Lists enable seamless real-time changes to settings. Live Professor 2 also boasts powerful MIDI Modifiers, benefiting keyboard players by offering functions like transpose and key-zone.
7. Kushview Element SE
Kushview Element SE is a modular plugin host that allows you to create powerful effects, racks, and instruments by connecting nodes.
Element SE supports various plugin formats such as AU, LV2, VST, and VST3. You can use it as a standalone program or a plugin in a digital audio workstation (DAW). Element SE provides features like audio and MIDI routing, live performance capabilities, and the ability to create customizable instrument and effect graphs. It also supports scripting and offers extensive options for customization.
- Preloaded graphs
Element SE comes with a variety of preloaded plugin graphs, providing you with a starting point for your creative endeavors. These preloaded graphs serve as an inspiration and can be easily customized to suit your unique sound.
- MIDI clock sync
For those who require precise synchronization, Element SE offers external sync with a MIDI clock. This feature ensures that your audio remains perfectly in time with other MIDI devices or software. Element SE also provides MIDI controller mapping, which allows you to assign MIDI controls to various parameters within the plugin, giving you hands-on control over your sound.
- Sub graphing
Sub-graphing allows you to nest graphs within each other, allowing you to create complex and intricate signal chains. This level of customization ensures that you have complete control over your sound.
- Customized keyboard shortcuts
Element SE also offers custom keyboard shortcuts, allowing you to streamline your workflow and access important functions with ease. These shortcuts can be personalized to match your preferred working style.
To aid in the organization and structuring of your projects, Element SE provides placeholder nodes. These nodes act as markers or reminders, helping you keep track of your progress and making it easier to navigate your project.
- Built-in keyboard
For those who prefer a more tactile approach, Element SE includes a built-in virtual keyboard. This feature allows you to play and record MIDI notes directly within the plugin, eliminating the need for external MIDI controllers.
Element SE supports scripting, allowing you to customize and extend its functionality to suit your specific needs. This feature opens up a world of possibilities, enabling you to create your own unique tools and workflows.
Element SE supports various plugin formats, including VST, Audio Units, VST 3, VST 2, LV2, and LADSPA, ensuring compatibility with various third-party plugins, and is compatible with Windows, Mac, and Linux operating systems.
Overall, Element SE can be used as a standalone program or a plugin within your favorite digital audio workstation (DAW). It allows you to route audio and MIDI signals from anywhere to anywhere, giving you the flexibility to connect different elements of your audio setup. It lets you play virtual instruments and effects live, making it suitable for live performances and real-time music production. You can also create customizable instrument and effect graphs by connecting different nodes, allowing for intricate and personalized sound design.
8. Hermann Seib VST Host
Hermann Seib’s VST Host provides a simple and lightweight solution for hosting VST plugins.
It is known for its ease of use and flexibility. With this VST Host, you can load and use multiple VST plugins simultaneously, create your own plugin chains, and adjust the various parameters of each plugin.
Hermann Seib’s VST Host is compatible with various VST plugins and supports both instrument and effect plugins. It provides a user-friendly interface where you can load, arrange, and control your plugins. The software also offers features like MIDI input and output, automation, and preset management.
- Preset Management
VST Host allows you to save and recall plugin settings and configurations. You can save your plugin settings as .fxb or .fxp files, allowing you to recall your favorite sounds with a single click. This feature is particularly useful when working on multiple projects or when collaborating with other artists. You can easily switch between different presets, making experimentation and comparison seamless.
- Low Latency Performance
The plugin is designed to deliver low-latency performance, ensuring that audio signals are processed with minimal delay. This is crucial for real-time applications, such as live performances or monitoring while recording. The low latency ensures a smooth and responsive user experience, eliminating unwanted delays or glitches.
- Wave Player / Recorder
Capture inspiration on the fly and record audio directly within the VST Host. With the built-in Wave Player / Recorder, you can easily import audio files for playback or record your performances and productions. Seamlessly integrate your recorded audio with your plugins and take your sound creation to new heights.
- I/O through Windows MME or ASIO Drivers
VST Host offers flexible I/O options, allowing you to choose between Windows MME or ASIO drivers. Whether you need low latency performance for real-time monitoring or high-quality playback, the VST Host ensures seamless integration with your audio interface, guaranteeing optimal performance and sound quality.
The plugin is available in VST format only and can only host VST plugins.
Overall, Hermann Seib’s VST Host combines essential features like VST plugin support, user-friendly interface, MIDI input/output, automation, preset management, low latency performance, compatibility, and standalone/DAW integration. These features make it a reliable and efficient tool for incorporating VST plugins into audio production setups, enhancing creative possibilities, and achieving desired sounds.
9. Music Studio Independence
Music Studio Independence is a free sequencer and multitrack application developed by Frieve.
The application offers many features, including a MIDI sequencer with 256 multi-tracks and support for 64 MIDI input and output. It also provides audio capabilities with 256 mono tracks, stereo/surround busses, and various effects. Music Studio Independence supports MME and ASIO, offering various sample rates and bit depths.
- Flexible Sequencing
With its MIDI sequencer, you can create dense and complex compositions. The software supports 64 MIDI inputs and outputs, allowing for seamless integration with a wide range of MIDI devices. Flexibility is further enhanced through tempo, meter, and key options, enabling musicians to experiment with different musical styles and arrangements. The output is available in 16 channels maximum, while the input supports up to 64 channels.
- Comprehensive effects and tracks
It provides 256 mono tracks for audio recording and editing, allowing for intricate layering and mixing of sound. The software supports stereo and surround buses, enabling you to create immersive audio experiences. Moreover, a comprehensive collection of high-quality effects is available, enabling you to enhance your compositions with reverb, delay, modulation, and more. You can use 44 insert effects and 54 stereo/surround effects, with 5 inserts available per track.
- High compatibility
The software supports various data formats, making importing and exporting projects between different platforms and applications easy. It is compatible with MME (Multimedia Extensions) and ASIO (Audio Stream Input/Output), ensuring low latency and high-performance audio processing. Music Studio Independence provides a seamless and efficient workflow, whether working with MIDI or audio.
When it comes to plugin formats, Music Studio Independence supports VST and VST3 plugins and is available for only the Windows operating system.
Overall, Music Studio Independence stands out as a comprehensive and feature-rich music production software. Its MIDI sequencer, ample tracks and extensive MIDI I/O, offers tremendous creative possibilities. The audio capabilities, with mono tracks, busses, and effects, allow for professional-grade sound production. The compatibility with different data formats and support for MME and ASIO further enhance the software’s versatility. Music Studio Independence is a reliable and powerful tool for musicians, composers, and producers.
Shaurya Bhatia, is an Indian Music Producer, Composer, Rapper & Performer, who goes by the stage name MC SNUB, and is also 1/2 of the Indian pop music duo, called “babyface”. A certified Audio Engineer & Music Producer, and a practicing musician & rapper for more than 6 years, Shaurya has worked on projects of various genres and has also been a teaching faculty at Spin Gurus DJ Academy.