REVIEW: Vestax VCI-380 DJ Controller Part 1


Those Pads

This is what I previously referred to as the business end, and for me the reason to buy it over other 2 channel controllers. Lifted right out of Vestax‘s PAD-One but styled on Novation’s Twitch are the performance pads – 8 high quality rubber pads that allow you to get creative with your music. Split up into 4 (5 with the shift button) sections:

Vestax VCI-380 Serato ITCH DJ Controller review

Hot Cues – the VCI-380 gives you a full 8 hot cues, all colour coded on-screen, but displaying as a single coloured green pad. Press a button and the cue is defines – shift-click it and it’s deleted. So easy.

Sampler – shift/hotcue gives you  basic start stop control of the 6 SP-6 slots, with 2 pads for navigation between banks A-D. In these times of sampler-centric performance, the VCI-380 feels decidedly underpowered here, and feels almost like an afterthought. We can only hope that Serato are working with Vestax and their other partners to bring additional sample controllers to ITCH.

Slicer – for many this is Twitch’s key feature, and certainly a step forward for creative DJs. Slice is an easy thing to experience, but a tad tougher to explain. So… imagine 8 beats, and now imagine those 8 beats being assigned to a pad. When you hit a pad, it repeats that beat based on the setting on the parameter touch strip, just like a loop roll. But those 8 beats can be up to 16  beats, meaning getting quite creative with a much longer slice of music. Make sense? The VCI-380 has 2 slice modes – a continuous mode that works within the next measure you’ve set and keeps moving forward, or a measure loop mode so that you can for example chop up a vocal for as long as you like.

Auto Loop – as it sounds. Assuming you’ve analysed your music correctly, this will loop from 8 beats to 1/64th beats and each stop in-between. The touch strip also acts as a multiplier to extend this range up to 32 beats. Hit the auto loop button again and you get access to saved loops on the buttons. You can also bounce your auto loops into saved loops – a nice feature.

The Serato forums seem to have a few people not exactly happy with the way this works. In older versions, once you’d hit the loop, you could just engage the saved loop at any point inside the loop without having to hit the beginning bang on beat. But to me, it’s very logical and useful, even if it doesn’t work quite the same as other Serato products. If you plan to swap between SSL and the VCI-380, it’s something you’ll have to work around, unless Serato can add a software switch for it.

Roll – again, self-explanatory. Pressing rolls the beat between 2 beats and 1/64th beats. When rolling, the music carries on underneath and picks up upon release.

Vestax VCI-380 Serato ITCH DJ Controller review

There’s also an increasingly popular touch strip. This one has 2 purposes, one to adjust parameters on the buttons e.g. slicer measure, and also via shift to skip around the playing track, all on beat as well. It works perfectly, but I didn’t really use it that much as I found the default values serviced my needs without tweaking, and more often than not, my tracks had hot cues to take me to where I wanted to be.

The pads themselves feel lovely, and you can batter the hell out of them and not hurt your fingers. But they need a much harder press in the middle and are more sensitive around the edges. You may find yourself missing a few hits until you get used to them.

Overall, “the business end” is highly specced. The sample player does just enough to be useful, but really needs an additional yet-to-be-made controller to be truly useful, whereas the slicer and loops perform perfectly. Just be mindful of touching the jog wheel – I did this a few times reaching over to the pads, but it was set up a little higher that normal while testing.

Channel Effects

Vestax VCI-380 Serato ITCH DJ Controller review

So many controllers are designed to be Traktor friendly. Thus they’re usually endowed with a serious number of buttons and knobs that aim to tame Traktor’s many effects parameters. But ITCH is different – simplicity is the key here, and the range of effects, their parameters and controls is pared down considerably compared to Scratch Live and Traktor.

The controls do take a little getting used to at first, especially if you’re used to the now obligatory row of knobs and corresponding buttons found on most controllers. There are just 2 knobs and 2 small buttons to control the channel effects – an on/off control, a wet/dry knob, and an effects selector with shift button parameter changer. Tricky at first but second nature before too long.

The effects are standard ITCH fodder – nothing to really set the world on fire, but perfectly serviceable nonetheless. The really good news is that they’re all post fader. The bad news is that as the title suggests, these are channel only effects rather than being able to apply them to the master or to samples.

I do like the simplicity of ITCH’s effects. Traktor is at times overwhelming, and for most people, the limited range will serve their needs. If you want endless effects with endless options, look elsewhere.

Pad FX

Vestax VCI-380 Serato ITCH DJ Controller review (5)

This is a pretty unique feature of the VCI-380 and in-tune with evolving performance methods. Imagine being able to add a momentary effect to samples, loops and hot cues – that’s what the pad effects are for. Using any of the effects, you can apply an effect via the velocity sensitive pads – pressing harder or softer will vary the amount of the effect, and you can also adjust the effects parameter with the pad effect knob.

it’s important to mention that you’ll have more control with less overall effect applied. Trying to have any control with 100% of the effect applied over the short pad travel distance is tough. But I like the pad FX. A lot.

So we’ve had knob twiddling and button bashing. I hereby dub this as pad pressing. And it’s very  good.

EQ and Sound

Vestax VCI-380 Serato ITCH DJ Controller review (4)

Broken record time again readers – in the digital age, the sound quality is largely dependent on the quality of the music you’re playing. Push old 128K MP3s through your system, and it’ll have the relative fidelity of a phone call. Thankfully, we’re all rather more savvy about such things these days, and even though there is little discernible difference, DJs are sticking to either 320K MP3s or using lossless files. So that’s at least one weak point in the audio chain nailed.

With manufacturers almost entirely building audio interfaces into controllers, the next stop in the chain is output. It’s a given that it will sound at least good, and have enough control to make it sound better, but Vestax have gone a step further and added XMOS Bit Perfect audio to the VCI-380. Dumbed down explanation – this technology takes your audio down the shortest route through the highest quality components and drivers possible, without resampling through dodgy DACs or using crappy power supplies. Yes – it sounds great. I pushed all manner of digital audio through my monitors and it all sound crisp and loud. What happens through the house system however is a different matter. All you need to know is that the VCI-380 pushes great sounding audio out of its audio path.

Vestax VCI-380 Serato ITCH DJ Controller review (23)

Metering has always been a little bit of an issue with ITCH units, favouring master only, much to the annoyance of many users. A neat trick has been employed with the VCI-380 though – press the cue button, and it switches from master to pre fader post EQ metering per channel.

I have zero complaints about the sound or metering. I tried and failed to find something that I could pull Vestax on.

As a Mixer

As previously mentioned, the VCI-380 also has analogue mixer functionality. You can plug in line and phone level devices, and have control over the input level too. And once  you’re routed in, you get full EQ controls and even a high pass filter on the FX controls. And none of this needs to happen with the USB plugged in either, so should anything go wrong with your laptop, you can play right through with an iPod with little interruption to your flow.

But the clever stuff starts when you hook up a DVS system. You can do that “traditional” (sounds funny for 10-year-old tech) setup of turntables, interface and laptop and have a fully functioning DVS setup. But if you also plug the USB from VCI to laptop as well, you can map many of your DVS’s features and have control over your controls via MIDI without need of an extra controller. This will be covered in much greater detail in a second full review from Chris Cartledge.

This makes the VCI-380 the beating heart of a highly flexible setup. During the week in your studio, you can have a VCI-380 surrounded by your decks , and at the weekend when it’s time to play out, simply unhook the VCI, and off you trot to your gig.

With Video

The VCI-380 is very friendly with the Serato Video plugin, and works a treat, adding effects to the audio as well as performing bang on with the jog wheels, allowing for the usual menu of scratch based techniques. Being a jog wheel based unit, I found myself using it just as if I was audio DJing i.e. back and forth rather than getting creative with the pads. In this respect it works great. But not being an experienced user of Serato Video just yet, I can’t comment on the nuances and details of usage, just that it appears to work, and adds yet another dimension of usage to the VCI-380’s already extensive repertoire.

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  • phatbob

    ‘Bout time I registered on here…

    I have had a 380 since launch day in the UK, and I completely with every point in your review.

    Having been a long-time SL user, and Twitch owner since last year, this is the controller which finally pushed me to use Itch full time. Something just feels right about it.

    One thing which I feel you’ve maybe failed to explain or understand quite properly is the business with saved loops.

    In SL, or with older Itch controllers, you can activate a saved loop at any point, and the loop becomes active but the playhead continues from where you currently are.

    So, for example, you can loop up the intro, exit that loop, and load a loop saved at the end of the track.

    The track continues to play until the playhead reaches that outro loop, at which point it loops.

    With the 380, activating a saved loop makes the playhead jump immediately to that loop, so you can’t load a loop in advance.

    You can load a loop before starting play-out of the track, of course, but that removes the ability to loop or loop-roll earlier in the track.

    It mainly affects people who play a lot of non-quantised funk etc, and who therefore have manually set loops for intros and outros.

    Personally, it’s not how I work, and the same behaviour was on the Twitch, so I’m used to it.

    But I thought that worth explaining further.

    • http://www.djworx.com Mark Settle

      I thought you might chip in at some point. Thanks for explaining the loops a little further. It really does seem to bring out near hatred of the VCI-380 (or is that Serato?), and if that’s how people are used to working, I can quite understand it.

      Seeing as I don’t have an especially fixed style, I try not to get myself into habits, and go with whatever gear comes my way. As I say in the review, if it really bothers people that much, perhaps Serato need to revisit this looping behaviour, especially if they want to appeal to SSL users.

    • http://www.riddimdojo.com riddimdojo

      Hey phatbob,

      I got three questions:

      Do you feel that the VCI matches the feel and function of the twitch exactly?

      Also, I believe that the effects cannot be applied to the channel faders on the 380 (as on the twitch), do you miss that?

      Finally, does the touchstrip work as the LED strip on the twitch, especially the drop mode, etc?

      I ask because I’ve been waiting for the VCI versus buying the twitch. I already have another jog wheel controlller, but I thought the itch might be nice complement/alternative. Alternatively, I would keep the old controller as backup and roll with the 380 only as the main.

      Your thoughts?

      RD

  • phatbob

    Completely AGREE… Obviously. Doh.

  • phatbob

    I was genuinely shocked at how much some people seem to rely on those saved loops, it’s just not a workflow I’ve ever used, in years of SL use. But it seems like the people who do rely on it, REALLY rely on it. And that’s fair enough, it’s the workflow Serato software has offered for a long time.

    Personally, I find a fully tweaked beatgrid on a track allows me to use the auto beat loops comfortably at any point in the track, so the need for manually quantised saved loops is simply not there.

    We know that Serato must have Itch code for both behaviours, so an option for users to switch modes seems like the answer to keep that vocal contingent happy.

  • sinjintek

    i’m so excited about this controller! so far, most everything sounds great but i am a little disappointed in the pitch throw. i suppose for any controller-only use i can get by with the sync feature, i’ve never wanted to rely on it… yet in my opinion it’s a small price to pay when no other controller can really compare (yet).

    unfortunately i can’t much comment on the “saved loop” issue with Itch, but in my experience with my V7s i tend to use the ‘beat jump’ to set a loop to auto-engage later in the song (or technically i’m just moving the loop, but it works for my use).

  • http://www.facebook.com/djrro Richard Overall

    Great review Mark – this really does seem like a a future icon of DJ controllers.
    One slightly unrelated question. I am a fellow member of bagaholics anonymous (Your review of the SlingBag Trolley Deluxe greatly influenced my recent purchase of that trolley). So I am wondering if your wide, worldly bag experience would know if this controller would fit into the UDG Producer Bag? I know it fits the VCI-300, so given this is a little bigger – I have my fingers crossed.
    Cheers.

    • Liam

      I need to know also if the 380 fits the small UDG producer bag? Dimensions on 380 are larger but I think it might just fit the bag

  • http://www.daftwho.com Zayler

    Great review. Couldn’t agree more. I’m in love with my 380 :)

  • http://www.facebook.com/iamdjbishop Deejay Bishop

    Question I have ns7. I have grown tired of luging this heavy thing around. So I bought tracktor s2. hate this equipment. How does vci 380 compair to ns7. Would I be happy with it? Will this fit in fusion backpack? I love ns7 its just to heavy to carry from club to club.

  • Ken Uston

    @Bishop- They are two very different animals, but you should be happy. The NS7 is one of my fav controllers to borrow for a party-it reminds me of the old days of vinyl, and gives me a really simple and quick workflow that I don’t get with Traktor (even though I love my Traktor mappings). I recently picked up the VCI-380 however, and I think it will actually be my go-to controller for parties now. It doesn’t give me as much fun destruction toys as my 400 mapping with Traktor, but it gives me a ton of creative tools, and the best jog performance I have ever felt this side of the NS7. It is actually the only static platter unit I have been able to do a proper beat juggle on since the Pioneer CDJ800/900/1000/2000s, due to the platter LEDs.

    As for FX, the pad FX are dope, but the slicer is actually the big winner here. It fills this cool niche between beat juggling and hot cues, and with the quantize options and smart sync, you can do some dope live production stuff when mixing in. If you are happy with the FX in ITCH, it is the best implementation you will find.

    If you are into ITCH, you should be really happy.

  • http://www.soundcloud.com/beat3productions Dj L-Biz

    Great Review – i have had one from very early on and have used it sucessfully for several gigs. the sound qualitly is great also on big rigs!
    The pads do take getting used to especially if your only trying to add a small bit of filter to a roll or something – but feel awesome.
    The loop issue is personal i think and you can work around it. It could do with a minor rethink perhaps – but not overly bothered (there were only a few random things i used to do with stored loops)
    Slicer is great but does require your beatgridding to have been done, to work to the best of its ability. (i’m not a big fan of spending loads of time on beatgrids but it does help).

    All that aside;
    I really need a good bag flight case for it though something that wont let any pressure on the faders & jog wheels but keeps it snug & protected

    Still great review and awesome pics – have posted a video on the Itch forum with my dvs system & Itch running in unison as such through one setup which like you say , it sits between both my decks and SL1 the trouble is my pmc05 proiv has been sidelined (might just have to steal the fader from it i guess)

  • http://www.soundcloud.com/beat3productions Dj L-Biz

    ps. on the bag tip i did get an email back from decksavers who said there would be a cover coming soon.
    The one for my vci was invaluable for allowing my to sling it in any bag and go it also meant i could put it in a £20 maplin flight case which it fitted perfectly

  • http://www.poweronplay.com J.J.

    Great review and pictures Mark.

    I have a S4, NS6 and VCI-400. The VCI-380 beats all of them. The pads are just brilliant! The LED ring is a must for scratching and juggling. They all have there problems and shortcomings. I thought I needed 4-Channels, but it wasn’t necessary for a compact DJ controller on the go. All those controllers are just 2 Audio Channels anyway with 4 MIDI Volume Controls.

    VCI-380 disappointments :
    • No Split Cue
    • No 3, 4 or Sampler Channel
    • No EQ for Mics
    • No Loop In/Out Exit, Next Loop
    • Mic and Booth Out Level is in the back
    • Short Pitch Fader
    • No Pitch Bend Buttons
    • I will have to spend more money on a real cross-fader
    • 19″ Rack Mount not included
    • Loading tracks is two buttons instead of 1: Jog Scroll + CUE A (Very dumb to use a shift + button for something your always doing like loading tracks)
    • No Censor or Reverse Button
    • No 1 Button Duplicate. Jog Scroll + CUE A TWICE Duplicates
    • No Dedicated Hi/Low Pass Filter in ITCH. However, the SUPERFILTER IN SERATO ITCH work brilliant with the Bass EQ. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=V5VhFoWrB8g The Mid EQ is now the Mid-Low Bass.
    • Cannot assign effects to master or mic
    • Cannot access beatgrid controls (set, clear, adjust, slip, on/off)
    • ITCH is very buggy. Beyond buggy if you use Windows.

    The looping fiasco could be eliminated with an option in the setup-hardware screen to check:
    [__] Jump to Assigned Loop

    Leave it OFF to just turn the loop On/Off without jumping to them. I would still like a way to Loop In, Loop Out and Exit.

    I’m still trying to figure out how to map the Pitch Slider in Scratch Live???

  • http://www.facebook.com/GoodtimesDJs Jeremy Prince

    I too own a 380 and love it to bits but I have the same issue with the loop function as indicated previously. The idea of having a “jump to assigned loop’ checkbox in the setup is a great idea. Serato need to revisit this looping behaviour, especially if they want to appeal to SSL users.

  • http://twitter.com/nnnicwilson Nic Wilson

    How do the EQ knobs compare to those on the VCI-300?
    While I was very happy with the VCI-300 as my first controller, once I started playing out on Pioneer stuff, the knobs on the VCI couldn’t compare. Are the knobs on the 380 of the same quality as those on the 300 or have they been improved as well? Thanks for the review!

  • https://www.google.com/profiles/116827778005701184980 Jack Fox

    Had bought the 380 when it first came out, but sadly had to return it after learning of the change that was made to the way stored loops behave (jumping to the loop like a hot cue behaves). Two of my friends returned theirs as well for same reason. I’m an SSL user too, have been for years, and have untold numbers of stored loops in my library that are now useless because of this change. This is no good for my playing style and workflow as I rely on being able to simply turn those loops on in advance so when the track reaches the loop it automatically starts playing while I’m doing other things in the mix. I’m baffled as to why Serato would make this change considering it’s totally inconsistent with the way SSL behaves AND every other ITCH controller I have behaves to (VCI-300, VCI-300MKII, NS6, NS7, V7). I can understand adding the jump to loops feature, but not replacing regular looping for it. The behavior choice should be a user preference in the setup section. Anyway, loved the 380 otherwise. Great build, feel, etc., but like I said, the looping thing is much too big a problem to work with. Hope Serato changes this in the future and adds back in regular looping. Will repurchase if they do.

  • ace

    Quote : “if you also plug the USB from VCI to laptop as well, you can map many of your DVS’s features and have control over your controls via MIDI without need of an extra controller”

    Forgive me if this seems daft, but how does this unit differ in terms of DVS usage to other controllers that also offer an analog mixer feature? Units like the MC6000 & NS6 can also be used as a control surface whilst using timecode. Am I missing something?

    • http://www.djworx.com Mark Settle

      I think that the VCI-380 can be used as an analogue mixer without the USB being plugged in. But other than that, I think it works the same way.

  • Markos Kontizas

    I bought the VCI 380 a few months ago and i used it only twice. I used it once in August and the second time a few days ago. The first time, after two hours of using it, all of the sudden the right player started playing on the reverse. I was in shock and i didn’t know what to do, i started pressing buttons to make it play normally again and after 10 minutes it started playing right by it self. The second time of using it, after a couple of hours of work the right player again did the same thing and i had to to switch off the machine and also had to log out from the program. When i restarted the program the same problem playing reverse showed up with the left player as well. i had to restart the whole program four times at the same night. i also want to mention that the second time of using it the electricity at the bar i was playing at went down, and a generator was used for the electricity and then the problem with the VCI380 appeared. I want to know if anybody knows, if the problem with the VCI380 is a matter
    of the electricity or of software. I would appreciated it if somebody could advice me on the matter.

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