REVIEW: Vestax VCI-380 DJ Controller Part 1

In Use

Vestax VCI-380 Serato ITCH DJ Controller review (19)

To start with, I tested on a 2011 MacBook Air 4Gb 1.8Ghz Intel Core i7 running OS X Lion 10.7.4. It ran absolutely smoothly with zero dropouts and no special optimisation of the system.

It’s all about preparation. The success of ITCH is largely down to having a solid library of well organised and analysed tracks, and this was never truer than with the VCI-380. The workflow is about working with 2 channels, applying effects, and using the wide range of hot cues, loops and samples. Yes, you can just rock up with a folder full of music, but the magic happens when all your music is analysed and snaps to the grid properly.

A brief note about beatgrids – to me this is the kind of thing that goes hand in hand with track preparation, so I’m really not bothered by the lack of hardware controls, as I’m more likely to do this on my laptop offline. It’s a control omission that I’m quite happy with.

Coming from a multi-disciplined background, I found the VCI-380 a joy to mix with and scratch on. But it’s when I started to get a little more animated with the hot cues and rolls that the party really started. And with the Pad FX and a little too much coffee, I was performing in front of a stadium full of people, getting crazy mashing up track after track, all on beat and synced to perfection.

The VCI-380 offered me all the creativity I needed with just enough SP-6 one-shot action to compliment my own creativity. And this was where I realised the problems facing Vestax and how they dealt with them. Sample workflows are all the rage, and are well catered for in Traktor, SSL and ITCH. But the adoption of the more complex looping and syncing elements is still more of a niche than mainstream, thus I feel that Vestax have decided give the most basic start/stop one-shot functionality to the hardware rather than add more hardware controls to an already busy piece . You still get the full SP-6 feature set, it’s just at the end of your mouse. While I know nothing about future products, I wouldn’t be at all surprised to see Vestax or Numark come out with an SP-6 specific controller to compliment the VCI-380, and probably all other ITCH units.

Overall, my performing experience has been exemplary. Hugely engaging fun, but also very capable of doing some really clever creative work.

Mapping

At this moment in time, the VCI-380 only works with ITCH. It’s slightly outside of its much-lauded 1 to 1 mapping ideal, as some features are now creeping under shift buttons. The official maps for Traktor and Virtual DJ will come, but not in a hurry. More on that another time.

Summing Up

Vestax VCI-380 Serato ITCH DJ Controller review

What Vestax and Serato have delivered in the VCI-380 is a distillation of all that is good from the modern DJ menu, and delivers it in a very strong way with just a few compromises. Sample play is just that with no extra controls, but everything else is top-notch. The VCI-380 gives you the ability to be a club DJ, turntablist, DVS user, controllerist and VJ all in one unit to a pretty high level – provided you use ITCH.

There seems to be perceived need for controllers to work with everything, but in doing so they become a little vague and less easy to use. But being tailored specifically to ITCH makes the VCI-380 an incredibly smooth experience that just works. There is a price to pay though, one that sees the VCI-380 heading towards the 4 channel price zone.

It really is a matter of working out what features are important to you. For a regular 2 channel back and forth shout over the mic DJ, the VCI-380 is total overkill. But for more demanding needs, with a wide variety of styles and uses, the VCI-380 is possibly the biggest box ticker on the market.

Ratings

Quality

While not being the beasts found in the 100 and 300, Vestax have made sure that the VCI-380 is as solid a lump as possible. And quality also extends to sound too, with great advances under the hood to make the VCI-380 sound as good as it can be

Features

The VCI-380 aims to be the most versatile controller around, but some compromises have been made fulfil the expectations of the masses. Pitch isn’t great, and sample control is limited to play. But the overall feature set is a generous scoop of all that is popular.

Value for Money

It does a lot, does almost all of it really well and feels great doing it. If I were to spend this much money and get so much in return, I’d be very happy.

Bottom Line

If you’re not swayed by 4 full channels or need Traktor, and want to do the maximum possible with 2 channels, the Vestax VCI-380 is a real contender for the most versatile controller out there.

Gallery

Big thanks to Vestax for the review unit. It’s now in Chris’s capable hands.

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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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