skratchworx news
skratrchworx monthly archive

Skratchworx DJ equipment reviews
skratchworx skratchlounge dj forum
skratchworx downloads
skratchworx links
contact skratchworx
skratchworx RSS
SKratchworx twitter

Custom Search

Skratchworx Dj gear reviews DJ gear reviews DJ Mixer Reviews DJ Turntable reviews DJ CD deck reviews Digital DJ Gear reviews DJ Cart needles review DJ Slipmat reviews DJ accessories reviews
Vestax VCI-100 Controller
Written By: Gizmo • Date: March 2007 • Price: £399/$499 • Link: Vestax

Vestax VCI-100

In the race for digital dominance, it seems there's a new contender coming up on the rails. We've had CDs emulating analog decks, software emulating analog decks and now it's the turn of controllers trying to the same thing. It's logical really - when many peoples music collections exist on their computers hard drives, it seems sort of silly to still have a full blown analog setup when for the most part, a full DJ set can be rocked in software like Traktor without a hitch. Sure it's not the same experience but it can be done quite easily (and let's not hear the haters say it can't because it can).

But despite this, we still want the tactile experience of DJing and that's what the plethora of controllers offer. They're nothing new of course, but it's only in the last 18 months that they've started to gain popularity and it seems from the NAMM feedback that everyone's must have controller right now is the Vestax VCI-100. It's taken the Japanese giants some time to get into the digital market but they seem to have landed right at the top of the heap with this one.

About this article: due to the VCI-100 being delivered 4 days late, I've only got a limited amount of time to pour over the features of it so THIS IS NOT A FULL REVIEW - more of a first look at a pre-production model, hence I've tried to answer the most popular questions along with giving you my own impressions of it.

First impressions

For some reason, many manufacturers are knocking out pretty cheap plastic MIDI controllers but Vestax have turned out a serious beast of a unit. It's certainly not large, measuring 360mm x 250mm x 60mm to the top of the knobs - a little larger than a 15"laptop - but it weighs a ton, coming in at a seriously heavy 3.8Kg. I'm led to believe that this won't be the final weight but it gives an indication of the robustness of the unit.

Vestax VCI-100

Styling wise, it's a perfect match for my Mac Powerbook - something I'm sure was at the front of Vestax's mind when designing this (not me you understand, just the styling). And on the whole it oozes quality, with tactile low profile buttons and very solid knobs, although slightly let down by the quite sloppy pitch sliders (could be the pre-production thing). There also some very small pots for balance and volume levels that could have been bigger.

On the top are 2 plates, and being the irresponsible screwdriver wielding hack that I am, I took a peek underneath and found... well nothing except more metal, which leads me to assume that these plates are swappable for other software configs. Seeing as software functions can be MIDI mapped to buttons and knobs, it makes sense to have your own plates and configs. Perhaps there will be separate plastic overlays.

Vestax VCI-100

The jog wheels are very interesting. One of my issues with digital controllers has been their weighting, which are largely made from lightweight plastic and spin around pretty freely. So it struck me that perhaps a much heavier wheel made from thick Perspex or even glass could be used, and that's exactly what you have on the VCI-100. The wheel is 115mm across 5mm thick and made from 2 parts - a heavy plastic disk and an inner metal plate. Removing the jog wheel revealed a brass platter that makes contact with the screws to make the wheel touch sensitive, rather than adopting a push down/click motion that many jog wheels have. At rest, the jog wheel glows blue but when being touched, they go red.

The touch sensitivity of the jog wheels is adjustable for each wheel around the back, via a couple of recessed pots, from stop all the way round to free running.

Vestax VCI-100

In theory, you could make your own platters as long as they connected metal to metal but you'd also need to think about it functioning just as a regular jog wheel for pitch bend (the clear bit around the edge). you also have to be mindful of the other buttons around the jog wheel so you'd only be able to go another 25mm wider.

Vestax VCI-100

I have one comment about the interface in general. In a dimly lit room, the effectiveness of the VCI-100 is impaired. The words become really hard to read and the illuminated buttons are pretty dim. In a dark club, this might not be the easiest piece of kit to use. Bring a torch. Disclaimer - you only wish the VCI looked like this in the dark. Long exposure and Photoshop made this particular picture.

Ins and outs

Vestax VCI-100

Usually, when you spin anything from Vestax around, you can find a serious number of RCAs but the back of the VCI is empty bar a USB port, meaning that this isn't a soundcard - simply a USB MIDI controller so you'll still need a soundcard for proper audio management from your computer. There's no headphone sockets for monitoring either so a dedicated soundcard is essential.

While we're round the back as well, it's worth mentioning the powering of the VCI-100. Thanks to the joys of USB, the VCI can be us powered from your computer, or if your machine isn't up to it, you can also run it from a (hopefully - this one wasn't) supplied PSU.

And the fader?

Vestax VCI-100We've all seen the NAMM footage of Troubl cutting it up on the VCI with Mixvibes so it's clear that the fader in this box is very scratch capable. Just to make it clear, Troubl was simply using the VCI-100 as a MIDI fader, but I'm really not sure if a hardcore scratcher would use this setup anyway. It's certainly smooth with a tight curve that controlled with a tiny pot at the back. The lag is around 3-4mm but I did cobble together a gaffer tape based surface mounted credit card mod, simply because I wasn't prepared to tear the VCI apart.

While I'm pretty handy with a screwdriver, I'm just not brave enough to perform open heart surgery on one of the few models in the northern hemisphere to see what the fader is. It certainly doesn't look like a standard Vestax. And to be honest, I'm not entirely sure it matters. This is after all a digital controller, not a scratch mixer and I have no doubt that it'll stand up to the average usage of a likely VCI customer. My gut feeling is that if you want some hardcore scratch action, get a scratch mixer. This is for the party rocking crowd which it does perfectly.

And how does it work?

Pretty good actually. The VCI was supplied with a 1.6Ghz Pentium Sony Viao with the bundled Traktor LE pre-installed so I can't comment on the installation process. But is seemed to work just fine albeit with a slight delay on the functions and jog wheel response but my feeling is that my performance was impaired by the lack of proper sound card. i was running internal audio on the PC and Powerbook There's no way to map the MIDI functions yourself from within Traktor LE - I guess that comes preconfigured. If you were willing to get busy with a text editor, I see no reason why you couldn't edit the MIDI config file yourself.

I'm not going to comment too much on all the individual features of Traktor LE as that isn't the point of the review, it's more about the usability of the VCI and in that respect, it seems to do exactly what it's supposed to do, given the very small time window I have to play and my complete lack of Traktor experience.

I ripped a "History of House" double CD to the supplied laptop and pretty much mixed beginning to end error free. Unfortunately I did this without the joys of a sound card so no actual headphone monitoring but it was simply as a test of the unit. The VCI did everything I needed to rock a set without a problem. And really, that's what the combination of Traktor LE and the VCI-100 are for - it's not a deeply complex lump of gear and did exactly what I expected it to, and to my complete satisfaction.

Vestax VCI-100

Obviously, a controller can't take over every function of the software but it does a pretty good job with Traktor LE. On the left hand side are 3 white buttons and 4 small black buttons - these are used for basic navigation and track monitoring. The top 2 buttons move up and down through your playlists and track collections in the bottom left hand window. The third button activates the audio for monitoring the track you're looking for. The top 2 black buttons collapse the structure in the explorer/playlists window while the bottom 2 skip back and forth through the track you're monitoring.

Vestax VCI-100

For the pitch junkies (you know who you are), pitch is +/- 10% with a resolution of 0.1%. This is fixed and is a limitation of LE. For a comparison of LE to Studio, check here.

Everything else is labeled up and rather self-explanatory, and seems to work as prescribed.

Vestax VCI-100

But I was a little concerned with the platter response. On the PC, there was a definite time delay between my hand movements and the audio - fractions of a second but enough to make hand cueing a little more difficult. And scratch techniques like flares became as hard to perform as they are to learn. This, as previously mentioned, is down to having an adequate sound card, which internal audio certainly isn't. If you want to use the VCI with any music software, be sure to get a sound card as well.

There's also a small issue with the way that the audio is released when using the jog wheel. It's like there's a slight slowdown before it gets back to normal speed. Let me see if I can explain this better.

As a test, I loaded "aaaah" into Traktor LE and spent some time cutting and scratching. At first I thought the lag was a result of the Jog wheel but when I did the same thing using the mouse directly on the waveform, it did performed precisely the same - "aaah" becomes "waaah". Even stranger is when I use the jog wheel to release the audio. If I just release with the wheel static, it does exactly the same as Traktor, but if I try to compensate by pushing the platter, I get the equivalent of "wawaaah".

Vestax VCI-100Check out this short video I made of the jog wheel performance. Again, I can only stress that the audio delay i.e. hand to audio sync is most likely a symptom of not using a sound card.

On the face of it, the performance is a combination of Traktor's vinyl simulation and the way that MIDI instructions from the jog wheel movement are interpreted. I've relayed my findings to Native Instruments and Vestax so hopefully they can get to work on making the VCI and Traktor work perfectly in sync from a jog wheel point of view.

The Next Level

Being a shameless Mac whore, I just had to plug it in to my Powerbook and see what I could get from it. So the Traktor Studio demo was loaded up as was the Ableton Live 6 demo - and for good measure Reason 3 was too. Again, please remember that I'm a relative noob when it comes to music apps so I've not had the time to get to grips with the finer points of the software in use with the VCI-100.

vestax VCI-100

Most MIDI apps can be taught to respond to particular controller inputs and mapped to controls in the software. Rather than take a crash course in MIDI mapping, I simply copied the MIDI file from the VIAO into the Traktor Studio demo and everything was functioning as it should. And thankfully, the performance was better as well. There's is still the issue with audio release but the audio lag was much better, to a point where I was happy to scratch with it.

Traktor is pretty easy compared to Live and Reason but both apps allowed me to quite easily map the VCI to software functions and the responsiveness is great. There's something called automap which should allow controllers to be automatically mapped to functions but I've been unable to find it and for the purposes of this test, it's not that necessary. All you need to know is that all the mapping I tried worked fine and the functions were very responsive, particularly in Reason.

Summing up

Vestax VCI-100

Essentially the VCI-100 is just a collection of knobs, faders and buttons that can be MIDI mapped to pretty much anything you want. The performance of it is largely down to your computer, and on my 1.6Ghz G4 Powerbook and the 1.6Ghz Pentium Viao, it works OK - but more responsive on the Mac. Once you get to know the functions and their mappings in Traktor LE, you'll be mixing away in no time but for now, scratching is going to be a little basic but acceptable if you work within the limitations. But remember this and sorry if I'm repeating myself - the VCI-100 is a MIDI controller, not a scratch unit. For mixing, I can't really see any problems from the very short time I've spent with it and I'm only spending time on the jog wheel as I know that people really want to know how it works for scratching.

To get the best from this setup, you need a good soundcard. Once you have that, and NI and Vestax can work on the small jog wheel issues, you'll have a near perfect compact and ultra-mobile setup for DJs of all styles.

A Footnote

Vestax VCI-100

Just to underline what I've already said before - this isn't a review. It's planned to get the VCI-100 back in for a full demo. For this reason, I'm not giving any ratings as 2 days of play isn't enough in my book to form an accurate opinion. All I will say is that I liked what I saw and base on my experience of other MIDI controllers, the VCI is a solid balance of quality, features and price. Some may say that it's expensive, but for a dual deck setup with a mixer, effects and a scratchable crossfader and Traktor LE, £400 is peanuts. Just add music and you're off.

Big thanks to Anna, Andy and Nick at Leisuretec for much appreciated gear loan.

© 2011 and may not be reproduced in whole or in part without permission.