In Use (Bundle)
Included in the box is an install of Virtual DJ LE, as well as a download card for Serato DJ Intro, so it makes sense to start there. While neither is at the top of the food chain, both give a rather pleasant user experience.
Virtual DJ LE provides a mapping that is good, albeit a little bit unadventurous. I know I have seen hot cue mappings on VDJ LE with more than 3 cue points, so it feels like something of a waste to dedicate the entire performance button grid to loops. That said, platter performance is reasonable, and the skin itself is very attractive, matching the unit one to one. For video DJ’s, the “loop deck” section provides a pretty comprehensive set of video commands, making the controller a pretty good choice for the VJ set. As well, with the analog inputs, one could use the VCI-400 as a centerpiece in a DVS VJ setup.
All in all, Virtual DJ itself is a rather underrated program, and it does feel like something of a waste to use so few advanced features (you don’t get anything that the default Virtual DJ skin gives you). The VCI-400 is a good platform to show off, so it might be worth considering when it comes time for the VDJ 8 refresh.
SERATO DJ INTRO
Serato DJ Intro provides a limited experience feature wise, but the software does have more room to breathe on the VCI-400 than many other controllers. As such, you get unlayered direct access to almost every feature, making the software a more pleasurable experience than on the Typhoon/Mixtrack/Mixdeck/etc. You only get a few FX, but the FX themselves sound quite good, and you do get the benefit of a dedicated channel filter. Platter performance is, as expected, tight as hell. One thing that gave me entertainment to no end was the fact that the virtual platter reacted one to one with the actual platter, so anyone coming from vinyl should have less of an issue with the nuances of scratching and having the unit react in a very similar manner. Crossfader performance was good as well, though it was a little bit “softer” than other applications. It might be good for Serato to look at this in the future. I will say that I do wish this were an ITCH controller at times, as the VCI-400 would make a hell of a 4-deck ITCH unit, and Serato DJ intro currently feels like a great introduction with a dead end.
In Use (Everything Else)
Now, I’m guessing that if you are looking at the VCI-400 you are not looking at it for the bundled software. I’m quite happy to report that the VCI-400 plays well with others, in spades.
Mixvibes played very well with the supplied mapping, though there were quite a few unused buttons. I’m actually at a loss as to what to say in this section-it worked. Perhaps version 2.0 will offer more to report, as the feature set is far more comprehensive. If you are a Mixvibes fan, you will be happy, as there really isn’t a controller out there that offers more direct access to the internal feature set
Much like Mixvibes, DJay doesn’t offer the most comprehensive feature set to use with the VCI-400. That said, the application itself is just “fun”, and the VCI-400 very much gives it a chance to shine. Platter performance is, as expected, very good, though the on-screen platter does not correspond one to one with the movements of the physical platter. Please look into that Algoriddim?
Oh Deckadance. You keep on getting lost in the shuffle, which is a very sad thing considering how comprehensive the feature set is. The VCI-400 provides one of the best arguments I have ever seen that Deckadance can stand up to the big boys feature wise. Everything is very well thought out and placed with the mapping, and you even get direct access to the relooper resequence/glitch effect that Deckadance seems to be known for. The only major let down is the platter. The performance is awful. I can’t say it another way. Hopefully this will be sorted out with version 2.0.
Now, on to Traktor. The included mapping works. It has features. It feels good. You were not wondering about all that though, so I’ll skip to the good stuff. This is, hands down, the most well thought out controller I have ever seen as far as selective layering of MIDI commands. Each “deck” runs essentially in flat mode (the “Shift” buttons don’t change the MIDI messages), but the deck switch buttons change channel and note/CC assignments, giving you a great deal of available commands in a logical way that you won’t get lost with. The transport controls also have their own hard shift button, making it possible to map multiple types of controls to the transport buttons with eighteen possible buttons across three layers. The mixer runs in flat mode, with no dedicated shift layers, making mapping quick and easy, and leaving any sort of shift layering to the modifiers (as it should be). Platter performance is good, and can be mapped to provide quite worthy scratch performance. It isn’t an S4, but it is some of the better performance I have found outside of a controller outside of NI’s “approved” list.
Versus the S4
Since this seems to be a hot topic, let’s tackle this head on. If you don’t require great scratch performance, are not using DVS and will be making your own mappings, the VCI-400 is the better controller. It sounds better, is better built and the overall performance is superb. One can argue that you can remap your S4 as well, but if you do this you go into MIDI mode, losing the platter performance that was a deciding factor in the first place.
If you are a DVS user, things do get a bit trickier, as the S4 will act as a Traktor-Scratch certified mixer. As it stands, you have to use the VCI-400 as a controller only with an Audio 4/6/8/10 as your DVS box, losing the Xmos-powered interface. With the analog mixer upgrade however, you will be able to run your NI audio interface into your VCI-400 and use it as a very capable analog mixer complete with filters. You will have to play with your routing a bit so you can cue (cue and volume will essentially be routed into groups of two), but it does work, and you will get an amazingly re-mappable controller.
In a Nutshell
The VCI-400 feels almost like the granddad coming back and showing the young whippersnappers how things are done. With more controller options than ever begging for your hard-earned money, the market is crowded and confusing as hell. The VCI-400 may not be the most adventurous controller out there, but it is laid out in such a way that it just feels like it was made for your software, whatever software it is. As well, you won’t find a better built, or arguably better sounding controller on the market, period.
At the end of the day, everyone wants their own signature piece of DJ gear, one with their name on it, that is mapped out to function exactly as they think and matches their ideal workflow. If you are willing to roll up your sleeves, the VCI-400 is capable of being that controller. And that, my friends, is a pretty spectacular achievement.