Samples, Soundsets And Plugins – What’s The Difference?

Here at VST Buzz, we have great deals on all kinds of different music software. We regularly receive questions about compatibility and which software is needed to run the products. The music software market has fragmented into products of many types, all of which create sounds in different ways. This guide gives a general rundown of the variety of music-making products out there and additional software you’ll need to run them. So let’s break it down…


Think of a plugin as a small software program that runs inside of a Digital Audio Workstation (DAW) such as Logic, Cubase, Ableton Live, Pro Tools or FL Studio. This could be an effect (compressor, EQ etc), MIDI effect, sample player engine or synthesizer. The most common plugin format is VST (Virtual Studio Technology) but there are others including AAX, RTAS and AU. You may need to check if your operating system and DAW supports a specific type of plugin format. For example, Logic uses the AU format, Pro Tools uses AAX and RTAS, whereas VST is the most widely supported format used by other DAWs.

Here are some examples of free plugins:

Sonatina Symphonic Orchestra Plugin:

Spitfire Audio Labs Plugin:

Komplete Start Plugin:

Sample Pack

The most basic kind of sound source is an audio file which can be played back by any computer. Common formats are WAV and AIFF but others are available. A single file is known as a “sample” and a collection of many is a “sample pack”. Although you can use any music software to play these samples, most musicians will load them into a DAW and manipulate them.

Here are some examples of some free sample packs:

Pure Snap Magic (snaps, claps & stomps sample pack):

Music Radar Collection:

Soniss Game Audio GDC 2018 Sample Pack:

Sample Library

Subtly different to a “sample pack” in that you will usually need a software sample player to run a sample library, as the audio has been encoded to a developer-specific format.

Here are some examples of free sample libraries:

Piano In 162:

Engine Artists Library:

Alpine Project:

Sample Player

This software will play back a collection of samples and most operate both as plugins within a DAW and as standalone software. The most common format is Native Instruments Kontakt – available as a paid full version or a free player version with more stripped-down functionality. Other sample library formats include SFZ, UVI and Engine, all of which need specific sample players to run them.

Here are some examples of free sample players:

UVI Workstation:

Kontakt 6 Player:


Kontakt Player Library

When you see a product listed as “compatible with Kontakt Player” you will not need to pay for the full version of Kontakt to run it. Instead, head to the Native Instruments website and download the free Kontakt Player – that’s all you need. There will be a registration process required via Native Access and the sample library will appear in the “libraries” browser at the left hand side of the interface. Developers who opt for this player format must pay a licensing fee to Native Instruments. As a result, Kontakt Player libraries are often offered by larger, more established developers and they are a little higher priced than other libraries which use the full version of Kontakt. However, these libraries will also run in the full version of Kontakt in the same manner.

Here are some examples of free Kontakt player libraries:

Embertone Arcane:

Sennheiser Drummica:

Kontakt Library

Sometimes termed “Kontakt Full”, these types of sample library do require the full paid version of Kontakt to run them, which is available to purchase from Native Instruments. Once loaded, these types of libraries will not show up in the “libraries” browser. Libraries for the full version of Kontakt can be cheaper than those which only use the player and are usually developed by smaller companies. If you’re serious about making music we would advise purchasing the full version of Kontakt at some point, as you can dive into Kontakt’s extensive programming, scripting and editing functions (which are locked on the free player version). There are also thousands of free libraries available for the full version of Kontakt created by both professional developers and Kontakt enthusiasts.

Here are some examples of free Kontakt libraries:

Pocket Blakus Cello:


Dronar Free Edition:

Sound Sets

This kind of product is designed to be an extension to an existing software synth, usually consisting of presets and sometimes additional audio content. You will need the relevant software to load these sounds. The most popular synths, Omnisphere 2 and Serum, have thousands of these sound sets available. Compatibility specifications will tell you which software synth you’ll need to load and run a specific product.

Here are some examples of free synth sound sets:

Omnisphere Power Pack:

u-He Diva Soundset:

The Unfinished Free Soundsets: