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:
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.