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Vestax VFX-1 ITCH Effects and MIDI Controller
Reviewer: Gizmo • Date: February 2010 • Price: £195/€222/$250 • Link: Vestax

Introduction

Vestax VFX-1 Controller review

When Vestax brought out the Serato ITCH enabled VCI-300, I breathed a huge sigh of relief. Finally, I had a controller that just worked - no more messing around with mapping, configuration files or any other such tomfoolery. But despite this "it just works" scenario, some people still weren't happy. Oh no. "Why doesn't it have effects?" was the cry. Well at this point they didn't exist which would explain why. But due to the ITCH principle of 1:1 control mapping, enabling effects meant additional hardware to make effects a reality. Thus the VFX-1 was created for this very reason.

In a nutshell

Vestax VFX-1 Controller review

The VFX-1 is a USB hardware controller for ITCH effects that works on a per channel or master basis, and is also a generic MIDI controller for use in other DJ software. The VFX-1 doesn't do any audio processing itself, but simply acts as a controller and enabler of ITCH effects.

Like the VCI-300, the VFX-1 is USB powered and both seem to run quite happily from a USB hub as well. But they do need their own USB port - there's no way to hang the VFX-1 off the back of the VCI or vice versa.

First impressions

Vestax VFX-1 Controller review

Like its (searches for correct family simile)… big brother, the VFX-1 is a solid beast. It's been designed to exactly match the VCI-300 in every single way - the same knobs, buttons and materials. Even the corner protectors are the same. Be under no illusion - the VFX-1 is a high quality unit, capable of withstanding much throwing in and out of your DJ luggage. Just as well really as this is most likely what will be happening.

I can imagine that the layout of the VFX-1 caused some sleepless night for Vestax. Where is the logical place to sit an add-on unit on an all in one? Numark went for across the top for their equivalent NSFX as this sits perfectly with the NS7. And I'm quite sure that the same metaphor could have been used for the VFX-1, but that would clash with the ins and outs. So a compact off to the side unit was devised.

The VFX-1 is essentially 2 separate units crammed into one case, with matching controls on either side of the middle divide. It's a mixture of various sized knobs and buttons, laid out in slightly haphazard, but easily adaptable way. You get 4 logical buttons for applying effects to the aux channel, deck 1, deck 2 (together for master) and for pre-fader listening (PFL FX).

Rather than cutting and pasting for the sake of it, download the VFX-1 manual and read the perfectly written descriptions of each effect.

Below that is the effects selector. The VFX-1 gives you reverb, delay, echo, LPF, HPF, phaser, flanger, crusher and tremolo - none of which should require any explanation. You also get 3 "user" effects - repeater, reverser and braker. All of these effects can be effected by the following controls:

Vestax VFX-1 Controller review

Depth
- this is a great big wet and dry knob. A very solid and smooth knob though that determines the amount of source audio to effected audio.

Vestax VFX-1 Controller review

Beat Division
- Assuming the effect can be matched to BPM, the division parameter can speed up or slow down the effect. Obviously, this works really well on effects like echo and delay. On effects like reverb, it has no effect (haha) at all.

Vestax VFX-1 Controller review

Mod/x
- This is where it gets interesting. This control takes over additional parameters of the effect. In it's normal state, it adjusts the intensity i.e. how much effect is applied. If however you press and turn the knob, you get access to further parameters - if there are any that is.

It seems that the standard effects are fixed, but the user effects can be tinkered with (make setting and double-click the mod button) to save as a favourite effect - a default tweak as it were. I sense though that these 3 effects will be user changeable as Serato gets busy with new ITCH effects.

Engaging effects is as simple as hitting the on/off button. This can either be momentary, or if you engage the latch switch, the effect is on until you switch it off. I suspect that this is how most people will use it.

One last thing - like any good effects unit, most are linked to the BPM. This is taken from the analysed ITCH data or can be tapped in manually. This can also be reset back to the ITCH default by holding down the Tap button.

Routing

Vestax VFX-1 Controller review

Although this is quite obvious, I'll just cover this off briefly for clarity. The VFX-1 can add 1 or 2 effects to the aux input, deck 1, deck 2 and master output. This can be individually e.g. 1 effect on deck 1 and 1 on deck 2 or 2 effects on the master. These are all post fader effects (like it should be) and you can even listen to the effects in your headphones without applying them to the output via the PFL-FX button.

One small caveat with the above statement - if the effect is specifically post-fader dependant such as delay, PFL doesn't work. It's an architecture thing apparently, but seeing as this is all done by USB rather than actually audio, I can sort of understand why. I've never been a huge user of PFL for effects anyway, but some might lament this being the case.

Effects Quality

There is a certain amount of elitism in the DJ world, especially surrounding sound quality. In some circles, the very mention of digital is greeted with derision, so you can imagine that having an entirely digital effects selection may well be greeted with suspicion.

The target market however probably isn't as selective as the supremely picky pro audio brigade. And to be honest, I've heard so many implementations of effects over the years that there isn't a definitive delay or phaser to my ears.

To me, there isn't anything great or bad per se with the effects. Reverb is a tad muddy for my tastes but at its maximum setting is immense. I find the filters a little tricky to use, but I really don't see filters as effects though. The repeater has the potential to be quite exciting as a remix tool in the right hands too.

Ultimately, they're a set of nice digital effects that'll add some creative spice to your sets. I do like the user effects capability - I'm sure something interesting will come from Serato in the future using user presets too.

In Use

Vestax VFX-1 Controller review

Much of the success of using the VFX-1 depends on if you're a hands on type or a screen watcher. You can (and I did) quite happily use the VFX-1 without looking at the screen and did everything by looking at the unit and using my ears (you know, the old fashioned way). But for those that like numbers and cannot function without them, you can see exactly what's happening on screen as well.

Vestax VFX-1 Controller review

Once the VFX-1 is plugged in, the ITCH interface displays a single line of info for each deck. This bar displays the current effect, depth (the wet/dry amount), the mod parameter, beat division, effect source (aux/1/2/mix) and BPM (either auto or manually tapped).

Vestax VFX-1 Controller review

Obviously, this info is handy to have, but I really didn't need it. However, if it wasn't there I'd be kicking off big time as a clear missing feature. But it is so I'm not.

As previously discussed, the orientation must have been a tough one to nail. I generally preferred to have the VFX-1 on the right side of the unit. I guess it depends on your technique really - you may be more of a mix DJ and have your hands on the VFX-1 more than off. Or you could be a little more dexterous and have your hands on the platters and VFX-1 all the time. You'll soon get to grips with it and deciding what works for you.

Alternatively, you could turn it on its side and sit it above the VCI-300. Indeed, as seen at NAMM Vestax are toying with putting out a landscape version of the VFX-1 complete with a stand to make this a reality. Check this video for more:

A couple of considerations to be mindful of:

• Although bus powered, the drain of USB powering a VCI-300 and a VFX-1 might be too much for your computer. Consider a power supply for the VCI.

• Plugging in the VFX-1 enables the effects, thus processor load kicks in. If your ITCH installation already struggles to keep up i.e. latency is poor or audio breaks up, you may need to consider an upgrade.

As a MIDI Controller

Vestax VFX-1 Controller review

Like all ITCH controllers, they also double up as generic MIDI controllers too. However, assigning effects commands with the VFX-1 will require some fancy manual coding rather than using any kind of auto learn. Why? Well most controls will map happily to the corresponding function inside your selected MIDI software. But the effects select and beat divider functions work on MIDI notes rather than CCs, and I'm not too sure if you can explicitly select a named effect and map it to a control.

Yes it's all rather technical and I'm not 100% on it myself. But using it with a beta of SSLv2 (for me the VFX-1 makes the ideal effects controller for the forthcoming release), it's going to take someone who knows how to write SSL XML MIDI maps to release a file to make it work.

To be honest, the VFX-1 is so specific to ITCH that I see little need for anyone to buy it to use with any other software except perhaps SSL v2.

Summing Up

Vestax VFX-1 Controller review

To be frank, this review is a courtesy rather than a necessity. With Serato having a closed architecture around ITCH, the choice for adding effects to a VCI-300 is limited to the VFX-1 and the Numark NSFX. Both do almost the same thing, largely leaving the cosmetic and logistical element of how well it fits with your VCI-300 as the key consideration. Thus the market is narrowed down to just the VFX-1 really.

Some have asked about using other effects units with ITCH controllers. Well you can, but you can only add them to the master output, meaning a massive loss of control and flexibility. There maybe killer effects that you simply cannot live without on the Korg KP3 for example - tough. Without send and receive, you cannot insert the effects in the audio chain.

While it's pretty much a Hobson's choice, the VFX-1 is really good. And bar some personal comments on the effects themselves, it's hard to imagine a better controller for the VCI-300.

Ratings

Build Quality
Build and size wise, it's an offensive weapon. Keep it in your bedroom at night.

Sound Quality
Effects are subjective, but this set do sound good to my ears. Thankfully being software, they can be updated if people pipe up enough. And let's not forget the user effects too.

Features and Implementation
A boatload of effects, complex routing and a lot of flexibility. I'm happy.

Value For Money
Some have complained that you're simply paying to unlock effects in software. I say you're paying for the effects and getting a rugged dual purpose controller for a fraction of the price of a KP3 or EFX500.

Bottom Line

Choice wise, you have very little. But thankfully the Vestax VFX-1 is a robust and feature rich effects controller for the VCI-300.

Gallery

Want some pretty pictures?

 



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