Vestax VCI-380 – Serato ITCH DJ Controller Review
Since the beginning of DJing and DJ culture Vestax has been heavily influential in evolution of the art form. With the advent of turntablism and controllerism they have consistently had a presence with products like the PMC series battle mixers, PDX series turntables, and the VCI range of controllers. A host of incredible DJs and turntablists, including Q*Bert, Carl Cox, DJ Krush, Johnny Fiasco, and Rafik, have endorsed their products for years, choosing the Vestax range of mixers, turntables, and controllers as their weapons of choice. The quality and reliability of the Vestax product is undeniable, and their technologically advanced design and versatility is maintained in their new range of midi pad and DJ controllers.
One of the influencers of modern controllerism, Ean Golden, first used a Vestax VCI-100 to originate a culture and a style that is more widely used among many of today’s top DJ’s. The tradition continued with the VCI-400 and now, the newly announced VCI-380 Serato Itch controller. Vestax takes many of the similar elements of the original VCI-300 and adds the improved audio card of the VCI-400, the PAD-One velocity sensitive pads, along with other hot new features to deliver what seems to be an amazingly stunning masterpiece in the VCI-380. Here are some of the basics.
- 2 Channels USB MIDI controller for Serato ITCH
- Built-in 24Bit/48kHz audio interface
- 2 x 8 Performance Pads with Velocity & Aftertouch
- 5 performance modes (Hot Cue, Auto Loop, Slicer, Roll, Sampler)
- PAD FX function
- Channel FX controls
- Ribbon (strip) control for Pad parameters and Needle Drop
- Large scale 5 1/3 inch jog wheels with needle position display
- 2 Channel stand-alone audio mixer with Phono / Line input
- Hi-Pass filter, Trim and 3 band Eq on stand-alone mixer.
- 2 Mic inputs with volume control
- Balanced Master output (XLR) & Booth output (RCA)
- 19″ rackmount kit (optional)
- Robust metal body construction
- CFX-2 (Digital Crossfader) compatible
We had the pleasure of having Vestax’s Reishi Mizumoto pay us a visit, who made the trip all the way from Tokyo, bringing the VCI-380 to select U.S. dealers prior to its official release. He came by the UniqueSquared studio after long travels throughout the country, and we were very honored to have him visit with Vestax’s much anticipated controller. It was the first working unit and he was running Serato Itch’s latest beta version for the demo. It was nice to physically get our hands on one with the software working so we could truly witness the strength.
At first glance the VCI-380 looks like a modded out version of a VCI-300, and to a degree it really is. The first noticeable differences are the larger platters, complete with rotating LED feedback, and the sixteen velocity-sensitive, four color LED, multi-purpose drum pads that are raised and angled above the surface of the controller, nifty. Vestax has also added a touch strip above the pads to adjust effects parameters and also for dropping the virtual stylus within your tracks.
The VCI-380 can also act as a stand-alone digital DJ mixer with two hybrid channels that are capable of mixing external devices such as CD players, turntables and MP3 players, together with tracks and samples Serato ITCH is playing. The size is slightly bigger than the previous VCI-300 allowing for a less congested layout and an improved technical design. Everything is in it’s right place and the layout really invites a streamlined, efficient workflow while still offering more unique features than ever before.
The VCI-380 body is constructed primarily with metal, weighing in at 3.5 kg or roughly 8 lbs. It’s pretty solid and road worthy transported in a padded gig bag, or better yet a custom hard case. The EQ knobs are molded rubber and the filter/FX knobs are chunky and metal. Sliders and fader had the proper resistance whether slick on the line and cross, or slight resistance on the pitch adjust.
The improved platters are larger than the VCI-300, and they still can be adjusted to suit your personal playing style. Tension can be dialed up on the top of the jogs, and sensitivity can be adjusted with the turn of the smaller knobs on the front of the unit. You can also adjust the curves of the line faders and cross-fader, also from the front via smaller knobs. The cross-fader can be upgraded with the turntablist’s favorite CFX2 contactless, magnetic fader found in the Vestax PMC range of battle mixers.
The built in high quality 24Bit/48kHz audio interface is based on technology developed with the critically acclaimed Vestax VCI-400, and features BIT-Perfect audio powered by a studio grade asynchronous USB streaming system. This extremely advanced technology provides low latency, premium sound quality and outputs your mix, analog or digital, with magnificent clarity.
The layout of the VCI-380 is pretty standard, but it screams out invitingly to be fondled. It is sleek and uncluttered, having the proper mix of minimalistic, intuitive button and pad placement, with a clean, open area for cross and fader play without fear of accidental track stutter, cue, or FX activation.
As I have said before via Radiohead, it has “Everything In Its Right Place.” I speak often of having a “mirrored” layout, which for me personally is formidable and inviting to utilize in my DJing workflow. Nothing against the fine Pioneer products that adapt a “player-mixer-player” concept of layout, but Vestax got it right for me the first time with the VCI-100 and they maintain it in the VCI-380.
Mixer Section: The faders are high quality, medium throw faders with a touch of resistance, and Vestax’s nicely symmetrical, trick-ready, replaceable cross-fader. Directly below the EQ’s are the cue buttons, FX select, and FX depth/Filter knobs. This has a “winning” placement and nice contrasting, chunky, metallic knobs.
The EQ section has very nice, rubberized knobs with ticks and 12 o’clock “lock.” The low, mids, and highs are black, and the gain knob is grey. They come off easily if you wanted to use custom knobs, and the posts are really sturdy and secure. The track/file browse knob is slightly bigger, and logically in the center with nicely placed buttons for cueing, track loading, and specific navigation surrounding it.
Platters: The new, larger scale 5.3 inch, high resolution, touch-sensitive platters. They are made from what appears to be lightweight plastic, much like previous Vestax controllers, but they have a metal “groove laden” disc screwed in on top, which makes the platter more weighty and nice to the touch. They can be used purely for nudging, beat-skipping, or to scratch when vinyl mode is enabled with its dedicated button. The shift button on the upper inside of the platters allows for multi-layered functionality of various features like disabling cues and key-locking.
Transport Section: On either side, below the platters are the three transport buttons, representing SYNC, CUE, and PLAY from left to right. They are brightly lit when activated, perfect for the darkness of the night club DJ booth, and they feel as they should, silky.
Pitch Faders: The pitch adjust is on the upper and outer sides of the controller, just as they should be. They have a welcomed tension for accuracy, and the pitch range/key lock can be activated with the buttons just below.
Inputs and Outputs: The front DJ side panel has adjustments for either platter’s sensitivity, cross-fader curve, and headphone cue/mix, volume, and 1/4 inch output. The top outside panel you have two mic inputs, 1/4 inch and XLR with volume pots, and two RCA inputs with trim pots.
The VCI-380 is gig ready with separate RCA booth outputs, and balanced XLR main outputs. Respect to Vestax for making life easier for the working DJs.
Effects, Hotcues, Loops: The most active area is located above the platters where the eight pad/triggers are located. They can emit green, red, blue, or amber depending on which effect or state of effect is selected. Just above the pads is the touch-strip, followed by the four select buttons for hot cue/sampler, slicer, autoloop, and roll.
The VCI-380 has a truly versatile pallet in which to apply Serato Itch’s effects. There are 5 performance modes including Hot Cue, Sampling, Auto Loop, Roll, and Slicer, that closely resemble those of the popular Novation Twitch. In addition, there are dedicated filter knobs that also work can be applied to audio when playing in a stand-alone capacity.
The Pad FX on the 8 touch sensitive drum/trigger pads are the juice of this controller. By holding each pad (aftertouch) you can modify the FX parameter, along with triggering Performance Mode functions. So if you are in Hot Cue or Loop Roll mode, and you have the Pad FX enabled, you can trigger cues or loop rolls AND simultaneously tweak varying levels of effect depending on the amount of pressure you apply to the velocity sensitive pad.
You can also combine Pad FX play with a completely separate effect or filter and apply it directly from either channel. You can control FX parameters from the newly introduced touch-strip above the pads. This is amazing and it really is suited to DJs that want to adopt a controllerist mentality when performing their mixes.
IN THE MIX by Zack Rocket
Being a controllerist the first thing that stood out to me were the beat pads. Ripped straight from the PAD-One they feel great and are velocity sensitive which add another layer of depth to the amount of expression you can put into your mix. I really like to use hot cues and they felt like the meeting point between freshly cooled jello and MPC style drum pads so they are really easy on your fingers and are incredibly accurate.
Vestax VCI-380 Demo (w/ Zack Rocket) UniqueSquared Mobile Studio
Overall what stood out to me was the general feeling of quality that I got when using the piece. Every knob feels great, the faders feel really pro and the dedicated beat pad section is multi-use so it felt easy to get into the mix. I want to point out that I am not an Itch DJ but the VCI-380 is so tightly integrated with Itch that it’s no problem to get up and going even if you are unfamiliar with Serato software.
The VCI-380 is legit. It will definitely give other controllers like NI’s Kontrol S2 and the Novation Twitch a run for their money upon its release. Similarly to the Novation Twitch, the VCI-380 offers a load of flexibility when applying the FX, but it still maintains beautifully crafted and much improved jog wheels in order to map even sweeter FX variations if you want to wor them in a “Golden-esque” capacity. Yes, Ean, I’ve coined the phrase, You’re Welcome!
There are just so many options to deliver the goods that you can really get creative, beyond what other controllers can offer. The new platters, chunky filter knobs, and super crisp audio card alone put this controller on the top shelf and behind the velvet rope, but that’s not to say that it isn’t also suitable for beginning DJs. Anyone can learn to drive in a clunker or a Ferrari, but the slick sports car just makes the experience much more enjoyable and better prepared to make the jump to doing it professionally.
As a Traktor user, I am not always the most comfortable when using Serato Itch, but the VCI-380 radiates a symbiotic bliss with the software that is remarkably tempting to any DJ regardless of what they play on. The integration is very intuitive, but the real star of the show is the hardware. The quality of every singular fader, knob, and pad is exceptional and it can’t be said enough how impressive the addition of the Pad-one styled drum pads and the improved audio card are to this unit.
It is rather curious though that the VCI-380′s hefty initial price tag of $999 for a two-channel controller is the same as their four-channel controller, the VCI-400. We do understand that there are other options, like the Novation Twitch, that have similar features that cost considerably less, but arguably the VCI-380, with its solid construction, upgraded jog wheels, and stand-alone versatility definitely stands above them. It represents a progression in DJ controllers, and for that alone I am impressed and very excited for you guys to give it a spin when it is finally available. As always we appreciate any comments or questions, and until next time, happy gigs!