July 18, 2012

Vestax VCI-400 Overview

The VCI-400 should really be something to look forward to, it’s a four deck controller from Vestax with Serato DJ Intro and Virtual DJ support.  It is designed to work as a pro mixer designed specifically with the power user in mind.  Designed to work with any standard DJ software the VCI-400 is supposed to be the end all DJ controller perfect for controllerism, power users and even the mobile DJ.  Vestax went out of their way to make mappings for all of the popular DJ softwares in house so they all should work pretty well but the proof is in the pudding and I have all of the mappings and all of the software so follow me young padawan as we explore the depths of the VCI-400’s alleged greatness.

Construction wise the VCI-400 is built really really well, it weighs about 2.2 pounds more than the Traktor Kontrol S4 but this weight comes in the form of heavy duty professional construction, something I am always willing to put up with provided it makes the gear last longer.  The outside of the controller is built of high quality metal and the four corners have metal legs on them that elevate the controller nicely off of the table.  This is something that I am notorious for loving, it’s a small detail but the slight elevation of the controller will keep it from getting damaged on beer soaked DJ tables and booths.  Build quality is something that pros and power users really notice and the VCI-400 does not disappoint.

Once you get your eyes on the VCI-400 it’s hard not to notice the sheer amount of buttons and control knobs on the surface of the controller.  This is immediately a bit of a turn off for the novice out there but this is a controller built for pros and Vestax is relentless in the options they give you to customize your controller.  For instance, at the bottom of the controller there are a mind boggling twelve buttons, six on each side that control transport functions.  At first this seems quite overwhelming but I soon realised that the buttons were deisgned to control both decks per side, this means that you can start playing your C and D decks without directly switching the deck controls to do so.  I love this feature, finally there is a controller that allows the DJ to do something simple like start songs on the other decks without risking the potential trainwreck that comes with having to switch manually to a new deck to start playback.  I can’t tell you how frustrating it is to be in the middle of a killer set and accidentally pause my master track because I didn’t properly switch decks.  Traktor Kontrol S4 relies on a small button in the corner of the jog wheel area to switch control surfaces and I would be a liar if I told you I hadn’t train wrecked because of this feature.  Vestax VCI-400 completely resolves this problem but it can also lead to a different type of problem when controlling tracks.  I found that although it was easy to start a new track it was so easy that when I wanted to nudge it to get it in time I would mess it up because I would forget to switch over to the other deck controls.  There is a little switch located just above the jog wheels that allow you to choose which deck is selected and I can not tell you how many times I kept nudging/scratching the wrong track.

Faders on the VCI-400 feel great, the line levels have a nice light resistance to them and the crossfader is nice and loose for some good scratching.  The crossfader can be easily upgraded to a higher quality cross like the CF-X2 also from Vestax.  Lots of scratch DJs find that the stock crossfader just doesn’t feel like the ones they know and love and Vestax acknowledges this by giving you easy access to change them or upgrade them.  Customization is what this controller is all about so it should come to no surprise that these little things can be tweaked and pros are gonna love it.  In the middle of the controller you will find LEDs that indicate your master level and line levels are found underneath each line fader.  This is nice because the controller provides a space saving layout without compromising any of the visuals DJs require to get down and dirty in the mix.  Just above each line level we encounter the PFL Button which is Vestax speak for Cue Button for headphone playback and a mere 9 millimeters above that we find the on and off buttons for FX one and two per channel.  This means that to control your effects you have to switch them on with these two little buttons which are generally located towards the top of controllers, Vestax is the only company I know of that has the buttons so close to the line levels but I do not think this will affect your performance in a negative way.  Right above the FX buttons is the big red filter knob.  I freaking love how huge these knobs are, they provide a High Pass filter when twisted to the right and a Low Pass when twisted to the left.  The sheer size of these knobs mean that it’s possible to really dial in the amount of filter you wish to have effecting your channels.  I found that the VCI-400 is the easiest controller on the market to get down and dirty with the filter and I loved using it to really lock down my vocal tracks for overlays on tracks I was mixing in.  Just above the massive filters on each channel are two oddly placed buttons, the Sync and Load buttons.  The sync button is generally located down on the bottom of the transport section meaning that it is really easy to get your tracks up and synced (if you DJ that way) but having them at the top means that your use of the Sync feature will be a little more covert.  Currently it’s kind of shunned upon to use the Sync button even though it keeps your mixes super tight, but there are plenty of DJs that feel it is not really DJing.  Personally I don’t care one way or the other but for those of you that get crap for using the Sync you will love the VCI-400 because the Sync is discretely placed and you can mix down with it on and still look like a total boss.  Loading of tracks is easier than I have seen on any controller and this is due to the dedicated load buttons on each line.  I can’t tell you how many times I have loaded up a track into the wrong deck and completely killed my mix, I don’t totally suck as a DJ but these things happen but on the VCI-400, they don’t.  The knobs in the mixer feel really great and actually work as total kills for the sound on each channel, this is nice because you can really dial in your mix without getting any dirty feedback from the tiny amount of sound coming from a quiet but not killed channel.  Oftentimes I find myself compensating for the S4’s lack of kills by using the filter in conjunction with my mixing to keep everything sounding clean and on point.  On the top of each line there are trim knobs which I found both useful and a massive pain in the butt.  On one hand it is really easy to hop on them to amp up your mix but on the other hand if they are not turned all the way up then you get really low output power.  This is frustrating because they do not operate like normal gain knobs and only serve to lower the tracks volume rather than give you leeway to raise or lower it as you see fit.

Just above the jog wheels are twelve buttons that control a multitude of features on the VCI-400 including loops, cue points and even effecting tricks.  The functions of these buttons change depending on which software you are using and depending on what your switches are set to on the front of the controller.  Once again, this controller was made to be mapped by you to control custom functions, this means that these twelve buttons are your prime time mapping area and should be mapped to control cool effects or something unique to your playing style.  My only neg from this section is the fact that the buttons are hard plastic and playing on them kind of tires out your finger tips.  It would have been really nice to see these buttons made out of the same material as the ones on the VCI-380 but they didn’t do this and it makes no sense to me as to why.

Effects are easily controlled with the effects section on top of the controller but this section is not mirrored so when using it with Traktor is feels weird because one of the effects knobs on the right is an endless rotary encoder that should be used for selecting effects but it controls effect parameters, weird.  I am not surprised by this in the mapping but Vestax really should have thought about the mirrored controller principal and kept the controls and knobs consistent across both sides of the controller.  Pitch faders feel great on the controller and run smoothly from top to bottom making it easy to dial in your mixes perfectly.

Lastly I want to talk about the jog wheels because to me I find that these bits of the controller really make or break the piece for me and there is a lot to talk about on this controller.  First off they change colors depending on which deck you have selected making it very easy to see what exactly you are controlling in the software.  In the middle of the platters is Vestax’s torq adjustment control so by holding it down and rotating the jog wheels you can adjust the amount of torq in the spin on each platter.  Each platter also has two zones of control for scratching and nudging alike.  I found that nudging was actually kind of difficult because the outside of the platter is clear plastic making it very slippery on ones hands and hard to really feel control over.  My only other neg in the jog wheels comes in the form of the mapping, I was using the VCI-400 primarily in Traktor and I found that because it was not designed specifically to work with Traktor there is a bit of lag between jog wheel movements and software response making it really hard to scratch with any real degree of control.  This is not the case in Virtual DJ or Serato DJ Intro which it comes with as the controller’s integration with these softwares is much tighter.  I did have trouble getting Serato DJ Intro to run with this controller because I had an older version installed on my computer but when I did get it going the controls felt great.

The VCI-400 from Vestax is not a beginners controller, it was made for DJs that want to drop science and get down and nasty with their own custom mappings.  If you have a fear of mapping your controllers then this may not be for you but then again getting a controller like this as a beginner would enable you to grow tremendously as a DJ because of the creative headroom it provides.  Mobile DJs are going to love this controller too because it provides two mic ins on the back a crucial feature of mobile DJing.  Vestax really hit the nail on the head with this controller and it could quite possibly be one of the best four deck controllers on the market and I highly recommend it to any DJ from beginner to expert.

DJ Zack Rocket

Video Transcription:

Hey what’s going on guys. DJ Zack Rocket in the Studio here at with the VCI 400 four Deck DJ Controller from Vestax. Its got a lot of great features, a really sweet controller. and I’m just going to run you guys through a quick overview of exactly what this thing does. Lets check it out.

The first thing I noticed about this controller is the construction quality. Its made of solid metal which is really great. Its definitely made for the road and for you professional DJ’s out there. It has these four little pegs which actually give you a little elevation off the DJ booth table which is great because sometimes drinks will spill and this going to keep your gear lasting longer. In terms of the layout its mirrored which makes it really really easy to get in the mix. Its definitely made for you controllerists out there. So everything that happens on the left is happening on the right as well. Makes it really to figure out what exactly all this stuff does. Down here at the bottom we have our transport section with our cue, play/pause, and we actually have the ability to cue, play/pause decks D on the B side and decks C on the A side. So that means with this transport section you can actually start all of your tracks at once without having to go up to your deck select which is pretty cool and very unique to this controller. The platters feel great. They are the standard Vestax platters with the manual torque adjustment built right in there so you can loosen that up or tighten it down if you want a little bit tighter of an experience. And above that you will find that we have this matrix of twelve buttons on each side. Now these can control hot cues, looping functionality, even slicer and effects. And this is really sort of the meat of where Vestax whats you guys to get creative in your mappings. Now these functions can also change depending on which mode you are in and that just makes for even more possibilities in the mix. Just above that we have our looping controls, our shift button, a really nice pitch slider that lights up when you lock that in right in the middle, and of course our FX controls right here at the top. At the bottom of the controller we run into our crossfader and our line faders and Vestax actually provides you a way to upgrade these faders. If you want something a little more high performance you can just unscrew this bad boy and pop those in there no problem. The one thing thats really cool about these line levels is that you actually have back lit levels on each line. So you can see exactly how loud your track is before you mix it in. In the middle we have our browser, our sample controls, as well as our master volume. On each channel we have our cues, FX assign for FX one and two, a really big filter which I absolutely love because you can really get down and dirty with your filtering on this and it makes it really easy to dial that mix in. On each channel we have sync buttons and load buttons. So that means that you can actually load up a track, get it going, sync it up without ever having to switch decks which is something I havent seen on any other controller in the game. The knobs feel great, the hardware feels great they’re rubberized, theres a nice little click here up at the top, and its just really high quality.

So the ins and outs on this thing are absolutely great. Its got you covered in just about any situation. You’ve got two balanced XLR outs as well as two quarter inch TRS. You’ve got two inputs on the back for lines with your RCAs as well as two microphone inputs which is really really great especially for you mobile guys. Over here on the front we have our touch sensor controls for the right and left as well as the crossfader curve adjust so you can adjust how quickly this crossfader responds to the movements. Finally we have these nice little switches on the front here which change your mode and this is what I was talking about earlier. These are the switches that you can actually pop over and completely change the functionality of the mixer. Really really cool. Just to the right of that we have our cue, master, and level knobs as well as our quarter inch headphone out. So thats really easy to get to and you can push those in right there and hide them away so they dont catch on anything. Now overall this is a controller really designed for you power users out there. Vestax wants you to get in and customize this thing. So if you love MIDI mapping, if you want to have a setup thats completely unique to the way you DJ, you’re going to love this. Mobile guys are going to love it to just because of how easy it is to sync up songs and get everything loaded and everything playing. Its really really nice. Totally a pro mixer. The one thing I did notice though was that it does require the power to be plugged in so it cant run off bus power. This thing is a real power hog so make sure you’ve always got that with you. But other than that I mean this thing is great.

So if you guys want to find out a little bit more about the VCI 400 or pick one up, be sure to head on over to where you will find all the best prices on this controller as well as all of your favorite DJ gear. My name is DJ Zack Rocket, and ill catch you guys on the flip.