This time around, we’re looking at a relatively simple program from Hermann Seib (who also has some other really cool stuff available) called VSTHost. You can probably guess what it basically does from the name, it hosts VST(i) plug-ins. However, it does have some features beyond basic plug-in loading, most of which I will try to cover here. VSTHost is donationware, though there are no locked features or other limitations if you use it for free.
Here’s your Host
VSTHost has been around since 2002, and began as a very simple test-bed for plug-ins, which is a job it continues to excel at. I use it most often to test my own plug-ins. However, it has been significantly added to over the years, and now it also works quite well as a performance tool.
As one might expect, it can load VST effects or instruments, which can be chained or run in parallel, though there is no mixer like you might find in a normal DAW (you could always get around this with a mixer plug-in if needed). It can record audio output, up to 32 channels at a time to the same file. You can also enable soft-clipping on the output (live output and/or recorded files). Recordings can be pre or post-fader. There is also a Wave Player, which can be played parallel to the engine output, or can be run with the input for processing with loaded effects.
It has a built-in MIDI file player, and of course can also work with live MIDI input. You can also control many features of the program itself via MIDI. You can save your setups as “Performances”, and switch between them with MIDI Program Changes. There is also a built-in “MidiModify” plug-in that can filter and transform MIDI in a number of ways. Another really fun feature is the ability to use a joystick as a MIDI CC controller. You can also control plug-ins with an on-screen virtual keyboard. VSTHost also supports OSC.
In addition to the main VSTHost program, there are a number of “variants” available, including a double-precision version, and one specifically tailored for running on older Windows 98/ME/NT4 machines. There is even a version called SAVIHost that lets you essentially make any plug-in a standalone program.
Though it probably won’t replace anyone’s DAW of choice for most jobs, VSTHost is great to have around for quick & easy testing/checking out of plug-ins. It’s also a great thing to have around for checking if that problem you’re having with a new plug-in is your DAW or the plug-in itself, or similar types of problems. It would also be a good way to use plug-ins live, if you don’t need much in the way of sequencing. Perhaps you’re playing live keys, or using a hardware sequencer, but still want access to some plug-ins, for example.