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Here’s how to add a new VST synth/plugin to Reaper in 5 easy steps

Reaper is a DAW that has been around since August of 2006. In the 15 years since, it has gained somewhat of a cult status amongst musicians, producers, and engineers.

Ardent Reaper fans stick with it because it’s highly customizable and offers sophisticated routing options.

adding a new VST to Reaper
Image credit: Reaper

In this guide, we will show you step by step how to add a new VST synth/plugin to Reaper.

Step 1

Once you have Reaper open, you want to find the Preferences screen. You can do so by clicking Options from the menu bar, then Preferences from the drop-down menu.

Alternatively, you can use these shortcuts.

  • Windows: Press Ctrl + P
  • macOS: Press Cmd + (,)

Step 2

Scroll down the Preferences list, and near the bottom, you’ll see Plug-ins.

Under the Plug-ins heading, you’ll see VST, and that’s what you want to click.

Step 3

Direct Reaper to the folder containing the VST plugin.

To do this, start by clicking the Add button at the top right of the Preferences panel.

Now, you need to navigate to the correct folder and click Open.

The default paths for macOS and Windows are as follows.

  • macOS: Library/Audio/Plug-ins/VST
  • Windows: C:\Program Files\VSTPlugins or C:\Program Files\Common Files\VST2 or C:\Program Files\VST3

It’s normal for VST, VST2, and VST3 plugins to have a separate folder.

Note: Some plugins will look to install to a custom folder. You can change this before installation, but Reaper must be directed to the custom folder if you don’t.

Step 4

Click the Re-Scan button, and Reaper will scan the selected directory for new VST plugins.

It will then add any found VST plugins to its list of available choices.

Step 5

If you have installed a synth/instrument, click Insert from the menu bar, then select Insert Virtual Instrument on New Track.

From the pop-up menu, choose either VST or Instrument, and select your new item from the list.

If you want to add your newly installed instrument or FX plugin to an existing track, simply click the FX button on the desired track.

Next, choose VST from the pop-up menu, and select your new item from the list.

That’s all you need to know to add your new VST plugin to Reaper. Here are a few things that you should keep in mind:

  • Reaper can search multiple directories for new plugins, which means you can add more than one.
  • Reaper will scan any added directories for new plugins every time it launches, so you don’t have to repeat the whole process every time.
  • Reaper will scan all plugins in the added directories, so you don’t need to add and scan one plugin at a time.

Here is some more helpful information:

Plugin Formats

Reaper does come with a built-in plugin suite that utilizes Cockos proprietary REA or JSFX plugin format. However, all other free or paid plugins will come in different formats.

We have focused on the VSTs for our guide, but it’s good to know a little about different formats.

Here are the most commonly used plugin formats and the popular DAWs that support them.

VST – Virtual Studio Technology, developed by Steinberg (variations like VST2, VST3 – newest and popular, VSTi are also used).

Cubase, Ableton Live, FL Studio, Reaper, Studio One, Reason.

AU – Audio Units, developed by Apple.

Logic Pro, Ableton Live, Studio One, Reaper.

AAX – Avid Audio eXtension, developed by Avid.

Pro Tools 10 and newer.

RTAS – Real-Time Audio Suite, developed by Digidesign.

Pro Tools 10 and older.

MacOS or Windows?

The native macOS plugin format is AU, but it will run compatible VST/VST3, AAX/RTAS formats, too.

The native Windows plugin format is VST, but it will run compatible AAX/RTAS plugins in Pro Tools.

Since some formats are compatible with different operating systems (macOS, Windows, Linux, etc), make sure you select the OS-appropriate file when downloading.

It sounds obvious, but it’s an easy mistake to make (especially with free plugins). Paid plugins typically bundle all available OS install files in your download, then you just run the correct installer.

When installing, you’ll often be asked which plugin formats you want to use/install, and it’s wise to leave them all checked.

Some people use multiple DAWs for different purposes, and leaving all formats checked means your plugin will work on all compatible DAWs without further installation.

Even if you don’t use more than one DAW, you might do in the future, and de-selecting unwanted formats won’t save you much space or CPU anyway.

32-bit or 64-bit

In terms of sound quality, there is absolutely no difference between 32-bit and 64-bit plugins.

64-bit plugins can access more memory, and there are some computer architecture differences, but we don’t need to get into that here.

All that matters here is compatibility. When downloading 32/64-bit plugins, download the version that matches the version of Reaper that you’re currently running.

JSFX plugins

JSFX files are simple text files that take the form of fully-featured plugins when loaded in Reaper.

These particular plugins are distributed in source form, which means users can edit them or create their own JSFX plugins from scratch.

Beyond the JSFX plugins already included with Reaper, hundreds of user-created plugins are downloadable from the Reaper Forum and Resource Stash.

Using Reaper plugins in another DAW

If you’ve found yourself here but aren’t yet using Reaper (or no longer), you might want to try out some Reaper plugins before making the switch.

Cockos, rather kindly, has made a bunch of its Reaper plugins available for download in VST format to use in any compatible DAW.

You should note that it’s a limited selection that omits some of Reaper’s best plugins.