bpb Freeware Studio: Best Free VST Host Applications

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bpb Freeware Studio: Best Free VST Host Applications
After covering numerous free VST plugins so far in our bpb Freeware Studio series (aka Free VST Plugins Directory), now would be the right time to take a look at the best free VST host applications currently available.

Various different types of VST host apps were included in the list, from fairly basic ones useful for plugin testing, to modular DAWs, trackers, and some full-featured live performance hosts.

Free VST Host Applications

Follow the links for screenshots & download info:

People often mention Reaper as a free VST host, but please note that Reaper is actually commercial software with a 30-day trial period. Although the actual software installation never expires, you should purchase a licence if you use it longer than 30 days (there is however Reaper v0.999 which is still available for free, many thanks to vian for sharing the info in the comments!).

MuLab FREE is my favorite freeware VST host application. Even with the 4-track limit of the free version, it is still a very powerful modular VST host which will let you create some crazy FX and instrument chains using your favorite VSTs.

Podium Free is without a doubt your best choice if you’re looking for a full-featured freeware DAW. The only serious limitation of the free version is that it uses a single CPU core, but the amount of features available at no cost is simply insane. It is very stable, perfectly designed, and definitely worth checking out (as well as the Pro version).

Podium FREE by Zynewave.

Podium FREE by Zynewave.

Usine Free, LiveProfessor, Rack PerformerVstBoard and Cantabile Lite are VST hosts suitable for live use, Usine currently being the most popular one.

Psycle is a free tracker which also works as a VST host. I must admit i’m not very experienced with trackers, but I know there are many people who don’t use sequencers at all and go for trackers instead, so this one’s for them.

SAVIHost, MiniHost and VSTHost are lightweight and easy to use VST host applications, perfect for quickly testing new VST plugins.

KRISTAL Audio Engine is an interesting 16-track sequencer which can load VST effects, but unfortunately doesn’t support MIDI, hence no VST instruments can be used.

Feel free to leave comments suggesting other free VST host applications I may have missed and I’ll include them in the list.

Many thanks to Ronnie for suggesting LMMS, a free cross-platform VST host application which is a great alternative to commercial loop-based programs like FL Studio, Greg for suggesting Jeskola Buzz and DarkWave Studio, two pretty awesome free VST hosts (and also Scooty!), bonzo for suggesting OpenMPT, Alex_HS for suggesting Macaw, and gropkcor for suggesting Rax’n’Trax! Finally, a big thank you to satt for suggesting Tunafish, a lovely old school sequencer!

Share it like a boss.

About Author

Tomislav is a musician and a blogger. He writes about free and affordable music production tools on a daily basis here at Bedroom Producers Blog.

94 Comments

  1. I’m afraid Revisit is actually a VST plugin enabling to use the tracker interface inside a ‘conventional’ VST host. The real tracker host in your list is Psycle — and it’s a genuinely great piece of software! Highly recommended, even if it still has some features missing (not that much for a freeware application though)

    • bedroomproducers on

      ok, fixed that now! thanks for letting me know, i do make such silly mistakes from time to time. :/

  2. There’s Rax ‘n’ Trax too!
    Completely free & very flexible – looks like (if it is stable enough) it could be used live.

    • bedroomproducers on

      thanks gropkcor, added it to the list! it seems like i’ll soon have to rearrange the list by splitting into trackers, sequencers, live performance hosts, etc.

  3. Ardour isn’t really a VST host by default. You have to compile it manually to get VST support, but it’s still unstable and buggy.

    By the way I can suggest you to add Linux to your list as greatest audio platform ever! Even commercial DAWs can’t get you so amasing performance and freedom in audio related tasks. You can run most of VSTs as simple standalone applications using fst and FeSTige, connect them to any multitrack host using JACK server without any limitations and automate them via MIDI. With session handler tools like LADISH and Claudia you can save all running applications and plugins and their routings in one single session file like popular windows all-in-one DAWs. You can run any applications together synchronized with JACK transport. JACK is network compatibile, so you can do it even on different PCs connected together via netjack. Take a look at Linux audio applications list, try Ardour3, OpenOctaveMIDI, Hydrogen etc… Using JACK transport you even can bounce offline mix of all running applications without any limitations like as some cubase or sonar does but you can’t use more then one ASIO application at once with most PRO drivers. Using realtime kernels you can gave ALL your PC resources to audio applications.

    And all those amasing features are FREE.

  4. Mulab is the one I started with. It is especially comfortable for rookies…Fancy exspensive softwares can learn much about some great concepts inside of Mulab (sequence on a track does’t have to be send on same chanel as that track etc.)…

    • bedroom producers blog on

      thanks for the tips! XT Software has recently announced that the Core version of energyXT will we available for free for a limited time.

  5. I use LMMS but it doesn’t let you record while you change the settings on a vst effect plugin – it only lets you change the settings and then record. And I was wondering if anyone knows of a sequencer that allows you to record while adjusting effect settings? Thanks

    • bedroom producers blog on

      not sure, i’ve only used LMMS a few times in my life. have you tried asking on their forums? that’s often the best solution (if it’s not covered in the manual).

    • bedroom producers blog on

      thanks for the tip! however, i’ll make a separate list for audio editors like Wavosaur and Audacity.

  6. thanks for your freeware studio series man. I’m in the process of using all an freeware workflow. though I still have yet to find a DAW that could replace FL for me. I was looking into Reaper but its either that the midi sequencing is tedious or I just dont know how to. I really wanted to use energyXT but the demo always crashing on me

    • bedroom producers blog on

      cheers man, glad it’s useful!

      not sure about what could serve as a freeware alternative to FL. Podium Free is the single most powerful freeware DAW in my opinion, but i’m sure not everyone will find it user friendly. Presonus will be releasing a free version of Studio One soon, but i doubt it will support VST plugins.

      anyway, the DAW is the first priority – if your studio has to be 100% freeware, try Podium Free or spend some more time with the old Reaper. if you can spend some cash, the DAW should definitely be your first and most important investment.

      my philosophy is not necessarily to use 100% freeware, but to save up for the really good stuff and always spend your money wisely.

  7. I tried podium but I’m too dumb to start a project. maybe I’ll just wait for an imageline sale or look into the academic copies sold on ebay. dont really have any intention of selling my music anyways

    yeah I don’t know what is it with the independent and freeware developers. but to me choosing each part of your setup every step of the way kinda makes it a more sentimental and fun process. and using freeware or personally programmed softwares gives that sense of rawness likes its done out of passion and love hehe. Which you kinda lose when using pro softwares from big companies I think. like how you can almost tell how certain songs are using massive, sylenth1 and nexus. just sounds too big and shiny for me. I highly recommend this article on Ital’s use of Audacity for his album too http://www.tinymixtapes.com/features/ital.

    • bedroom producers blog on

      that’s exactly what got me into freeware in the first place. i was looking for a free program to make music and found out about MuLab Free (the free version was a lot less restricted then). i visited the MuTools forum in search for various answers and was amazed how the dev took time to reply even though the product was free.

      from that point i started exploring about more similar freeware tools and that’s pretty much where i am now. :]

      thanks for the link too, great read!

    • unfortunately, i’ve never had a chance to use a commercial editor like Audition or Sound Forge, so i can’t go into detail here. Wavosaur is surprisingly powerful for a free program, though. from my point of view, the main drawback of Wavosaur is the somewhat unstable performance when using VST plugins.

    • Bedroom Producers Blog on

      ohh, it seems that i’ll have to remove MuLab from the list then! :(

      so sad to hear that, MuLab FREE was my first VST host. are there any updates about this?

  8. Hi: I just purchased an Akai Professional LPK25. I only want to use it as a keyboard (for now anyway.) Can you tell me which freebie would be the best choice for me? I am completely brain dead when it comes to midi, so the easiest one to learn would be great!!! Thx in advance!!!

    • Bedroom Producers Blog on

      if you want to be able to record your performance, i’d suggest MuLab Free. the limitation of the free version is that you can have a maximum of 4 VST plugins per project, but that’s more enough for starters. it’s the first VST plugin host i ever used. :)

      it’s extremely simple to set up, btw. just point it to your VST folder and add an instrument to a track.

      have fun!

  9. Looking for a VST host on Windows 7 for the ETAP2 Emulator and a novice so nice and simple please.

    Any information will be most appreciated, kind regards.

    • Bedroom Producers Blog on

      are you going to work with midi or audio recordings?

      if you’re looking for something simple and basic, check out MuLab Free. it is fantastic for beginners and very easy to use. let me know if you need any help with it.

  10. I had also been using synthfont (http://synthfont.com/) to host vst effects and instruments (as well as soundfonts and samples). It also has a piano roll editor, though i prefer my favorite midi editor for that job. Though you may choose to donate and register, it can be used for free.

    • sequitur became Temper long time ago, and yes, it should be in the list:

      “Temper is no longer for sale. I’ve had very limited time to devote to development for awhile now so I’ve decided to end sales. It’s still a product I personally use and will improve as time and interest warrants. I can’t express enough how appreciative I am to everyone who’s purchased this software over the years — it’s amazed me how generous people have been with software that is largely free to use. The few features that were available after purchasing a license — note decor, group operations, performance time and the VST randomizer — will remain exclusive as a thank you to all paying customers, but please enjoy the completely free and fully functional version that’s still available.”

      http://www.angryredplanet.com/temper/download.html

  11. I found this site very useful for finding new synths. My only gripe is that I cannot download daHornet. Perhaps I’m doing something wrong? Thank you for the rest of the plugins I’ve downloaded!

  12. Man, you totally forgot about Magix Music Maker. It loads them up faster than all of these, and is very easy to use. Its what i use to make my sick beats with VSTs.

  13. SunVox 173 cool free (Windows, Linux, Mac OS X) tracker:

    SunVox is a small, fast and powerful modular synthesizer with pattern-based sequencer (tracker). It is a tool for those people who like to compose music wherever they are, whenever they wish. On any device. SunVox is available for Windows, Linux, Mac OS X, Windows Mobile, PalmOS, Maemo, Meego, iOS and Android.

  14. Madtracker has VST support and is a nice tracker too. I haven’t gone too in depth with it, but its pretty nice and it has a mixer aswell.

  15. nice list, going to check out zynewave’s podium free because I see some good comments on it! :D but for lmms, english is not my native language so I don’t know what the verb sequencing means, but I found out that a sequencer does like control devices you have connected to it but a daw can also make music without external instruments, so does lmms! that means lmms is a daw? can you confirm that? just curious :P podium free looks better than lmms and it has no step sequencer(?) which is good for me! :) bye

  16. Nice blog! Im looking for something like this, but i need some advice …

    I run dj software Traktor on my windows laptop
    I want to host some VSTs to route my audio in from traktor.

    Preferably i want to change the values in the VST with an iPad, is this possible?

    Thx!

  17. Hey; it’s always good that someone is sharing lists like this online.
    However, I’ve noticed some errors:
    – There are Mac OSX versions of LMMS and Pedalboard2.
    – The ashost and HostX links are dead.
    Note – I haven’t checked all your links and details; these are just what I noticed while perusing.
    Cheers!

  18. as a guitar player only recently venturing into the land of computer synths, i find that herman leib’s VSThost is super easy to use, and does everything i need. no sequencers or recording, but easy ui, plays vstis perfectly. i’m looking forward to trying it in a “jamming”/ live setting. upgraded my sound driver to asio and it’s real time, baby.

    thanks for your blog; it’s been invaluable in finding quality vstis.

  19. As a free DAW for Mac, I’m surprised Apple’s Garageband isn’t listed—Apple made it free some time ago.

    Also a coupple of updates to the Mastering Tools page (the comments are closed on that page):

    • Photosounder SplineEQ is now available on the Mac.
    • Pleasurize Music Foundation TT Dynamic Range Meter now requires a US$30 membership to access the download. Technically the download is still free, but requiring a paid membership first isn’t really in the spirit of free software.

  20. Just a head’s up for everyone, I know LMMS has been listed and everything but everyone just NEEDS to check out how much more awesome it is now after the first few updates (current is 1.0.3) and how much more awesome it will be once the 1.1 update rolls in. Automation is so much easier, many bugs were fixed to make this a ton less frustrating to use, the built-in instruments have been updated, and also…. MOTHER TRUCKING SEND TRACKS ARE COMING IN 1.1.
    SEND. TRACKS.

  21. Please note that for VSTHost any commercial (in your studio?) or public (a public performance?) use is strictly forbidden by the licence. I also don’t see any way to buy a commercial license. An excerpt from the license:

    This free VSTHost is intended exclusively for private use. You may copy the complete program package and pass it on to others for private use only.

    The free VSTHost may not be used for commercial or professional purposes.

    • The TBT VST company got into a huge argument over this. I think they resolved that it means no selling the HOST as your own property for gain. Not that you can’t use the program’s functions commercially.

  22. In your blog about “What is a VST plug-in” you write: “Assuming that you’re happy with your hardware setup”. Can you spend some words about a typical / good hardware setup? Windows / Mac ? Many thanks.

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