By now we are swamped with multifunctional midi controllers. The big production houses have been engaging a battle of leds, effects and consoles, with an ever growing number of keys to control and knobs to torture. In addition, also the software houses try to understand the djs’ demands in order to elaborate softwares that can be combined to the umpteenth controller. Today I have the Vestax VCI 300 MKII controller at hand, joined by the VFX -1 effects controller.
Once out of its box, the Vestax VCI 300 MKII appears very compact (Pic.1) and, in the meantime, it feels solid and resistant: in fact the controller chassis is totally aluminum die-casted, with the upper side covered and reinforced with a glossy and rigid black plastic. This explains its 1.76 lbs in just 16 x 11 inches. The Dj controller has been carefully designed, paying attention to the smallest details: each corner is fastened with rubberized edges in order to avoid hitting it with other consolle devices. The jog wheels are 5 inches in diameter, plus a 1/5 of an inch transparent plastic which lights up its circumference. At first sight the Vestax VCI 300 MKII midi controller it shows the control have been arranged in place in a clear and precise way. Inside the box we find the supplied, 1.5 version of the Serato ITCH software, a USB cable to connect the device to PC/MAC, an english and japanese manual, a cleaning cloth with the Vestax logo and Serato ITCH to polish the consolle and remove any finger marks.
The Vestax VCI 300 MKII is an ultra-compact all-in-one midi controller: any space is set with obsessive and accurate care. I’ll start introducing the available features on the controller from the back panel (Pic.2).
Starting from the very left we see an Rca AUX IN input, which firstly allows the connection to auxiliary sources and, secondly, to switch them directly to the master output via THRU. Alongside of this input there is an AUX GAIN knob which controls the gain for the auxiliary device (Pic. 3)
Pic. 3 – Vestax VCI 300 MKII AUX IN input (Photo by Paolo Colacicco)
Below the Vestax logo there is a ground connection, followed by a little key PC/THRU ON which controls the THRU SWITCH, completing the auxiliary source connection and allowing us to disconnect the computer audio output, letting the signal go from the auxiliary source directly to the MASTER OUT. On the side of the Vestax logo we find the Kensington® Lock slot, i.e. a little hole where we can connect a safety lock to prevent theft (Pic.4).
Pic. 4 – Vestax VCI 300 MKII – THRU ON (Photo by Paolo Colacicco)
On the middle part of the back panel we find the MASTER OUT 1 output, where we can plug a 6.5 mm TRS jack (Pic.5), placed side by side with MASTER OUT 2 to connect the controller through RCA cables.
Pic. 5 – Vestax VCI 300 MKII MASTER OUT (Photo by Paolo Colacicco)
It’s possible to control the sensitivity of the jog wheels simply using the two TOUCH SENSOR LEVEL trimmer knobs which separately (left/right) allow the DJ to set the right sensitivity regulation MIN/MAX (Pic.6).
Pic. 6 – Vestax VCI 300 MKII – TOUCH SENSOR LEVEL (Photo by Paolo Colacicco)
At the right extremity of the controller we find a 7,5V DC adapter (not included) connection, which allow us to choose – through the ADAPTER/USB OFF/POWER USB switch – power from the USB input or through an auxiliary adaptor. Finally we find the standard USB input which connects any device that feature this kind of connection (Pic.7).
Pic.7 – Vestax VCI 300 MKII – ADAPTOR/POWER USB (Photo by Paolo Colacicco)
On the front panel (Pic.8) of the Vestax VCI 300 MKII controller we find, starting from the left, a microphone input MIC IN followed by a little trimmer MIC LEVEL to control levels, (Pic.9)
Pic. 8 – Vestax VCI 300 MKII – Front Panel
Pic. 9 – Vestax VCI 300 MKII – MIC IN Input (Photo by Paolo Colacicco)
while on the right side of the panel there are some trimmers to control the FADER CURVE CONTROL and therefore, the possibility to control separately the cross fader curve (C.F. CURVE) and the channel fader curve (I.F.CURVE). On the right extremity there are two headphone connection, one 1/8 inch TRS headphone jack connection along with a standard 1/4 inch connection. (Pic.10)
Pic. 10 – Vestax VCI 300 MKII – Fader control and Headphone input (Photo by Paolo Colacicco)
Jog Wheel / Deck
As previously mentioned in the introduction, the jog wheels on the VCI 300 MKII are 5 inches in diameter surrounded with a glossy and rigid black plastic which helps us understand when it’s touched – in fact its colour changes from blue (off) to red (on) – and of course this touch sensitivity can be adjusted through the touch sensor level. On both sides of the plates, somewhat hidden, almost under the consolle, there is a JOG TORQUE ADJUST KNOB to control the speed and accurate jog torque adjustments, by tightening and loosening the screw (Pic.11).
Pic.11 – Vestax VCI 300 MKII – Jog Wheel and Jog Torque adjust knob (Photo by Paolo Colacicco)
The controls on the Vestax VCI 300 MKII deck are very intuitive and ease of use: on the top we find the PITCH SLIDER to control and adjust the playback speed with a range of +/- 6%, a green led on in the middle to indicate that it is not working but placed at the zero level position. On the right of the pitch slider we find two PITCH SHIFT BUTTONS to offsets the pitch range by 12%; in order to reset the pitch shift and get back to normal values it only requires pressing the two buttons simultaneously. The KEYLOCK button, once on, changes the speed without any action on the pitch of the track, instead with AUDIO TEMPO we can take advantage of the typical matching speed function in order to match the speed of the track we are playing with a secondary one. Not to underestimate the SCRATCH function, or “vinyl function”, which allows us to “manipulate” the track as we like or either simply scratch it: this function can be quickly enabled or disabled through the little button near the jog wheel (Pic.12).
Pic.12 – Vestax VCI 300 MKII – Deck section controls (Photo by Paolo Colacicco)
The deck control is in charge of two big blue-backlit buttons, placed in the standard position (i.e. in the lower side of the jog wheel): CUE and PLAY/PAUSE. By them we can start and stop the track or choose the initial segment position of the track (Pic.13).
Pic.13 – Vestax VCI 300 MKII – CUE/PLAY/PAUSE controls (Photo by Paolo Colacicco)
On the upper part of the deck we find the CUE/LOOP section, composed of 3 CUE/IN buttons and 3 OUT/LOOP buttons. By pressing the CUE IN button we can decide where to place the CUE POINT, and then we can loop that segment by pressing the corresponding OUT/LOOP button. Obviously the loop segment can be increased or reduced in half using the HALF and DOUBLE buttons. The AUTOLOOP button creates a synchronized loop calculating the BPM of the track. The backlit function of the controller is very intuitive, in fact when it comes to the cue/loop, when the loop is activated, the buttons light up in green, which will become red if we press the OUT1/LOOP button again, disabling the loop function for that segment. The following 2/3 keys light up in orange and blue if a secondary loop is ready to replace the one that is enabled for the track playing in the first place. The CENSOR button, if held down, reverses playback temporarily; by activating the SHIFT+CENSOR function (reverse) the button will start to flash in orange light and the track will be automatically reversed. There is also a SHIFT button which allows us to activate very intuitive secondary functions or simply to disable a function or reset the selection (Pic.14).
Pic.14 – Vestax VCI 300 MKII – Loop Section (Photo by Paolo Colacicco)
Gain & EQ
Each deck has got a TRIM, a rubberized knob which represents gain for each channel that works on the volume before it goes through the equalizer and the fader. The Vestax VCI 300 MKII EQ section is composed by 3 rubberized knobs LOW/MID/HIGH to be used respectively for the low, mid and high frequencies. On the upper and center part of the Vestax controller we find the MASTER knob, which controls the output signal level regardless of the software, while MONITOR SELECT works on balancing and mixing the headphone pre-listening and MONITOR LEVEL on controlling the volume. In the middle of the controller, near the line faders we find the PFL-A and PFL-B buttons which allow us to enable the headphone pre-listening of the relative A or B decks (Pic.15).
Pic.15 – Vestax VCI 300 MKII – Gain and EQ section (Photo by Paolo Colacicco)
Between the two job wheels we find the fader section composed by two vertical lines for the sound level separated by 12-level led indicators and a shorter horizontal one (cross fader). The fader curve of both the three faders can be customized for the cut control, which is great for those who needs to scratch or something special for his show (Pic.16).
Pic.16 – Vestax VCI 300 MKII – Fader Section (Photo by Paolo Colacicco)
The browser section of the Vestax VCI 300 MKII controller is very intuitive and functional, though compact. Pressing the CRATES button the cursor within the Serato ITCH software switches and flip through the file library starting by the previously arranged collection, something like the record crates that Djs were used to prepare and classify before a performance. Once the collection has been chosen, pressing the BROWSE button, you will see the files with details such as title, artist, BPM, genre, and so on, instead, using the FILES button, it’s possible to check your own hard disk and its directories. Everything with the help of the NAVIGATION stick which allows us to scroll the files using the jog wheel. It is also possible to load tracks by holding down the SCROLL + PFL A or PFL B buttons together depending on which deck you want to use to open the track (Pic.17).
Pic.17 – Vestax VCI 300 MKII – BROWSE Section (Photo by Paolo Colacicco)
The Vestax VCI 300 MKII controller has been tested both on PC and Mac, and in both cases there were no problem. The supplied software included inside the box is the Serato ITCH version 1.5. Firstly I updated to the 1.7 version, as it is due. The device was automatically recognized and there was no need to install any additional driver. The software by Serato (Pic.18), though it can seem stark and disappointing in terms of graphics, is very reliable and intuitive, with only its essential controls in full view. It’s a good fit with the controller and the communication between the device and the software never gave me any trouble during the dj set.
Pic.18 – Serato ITCH software
The ITCH library is very easy to control, flipping through the files it is possible to synchronize it with your own I-tunes library. As for the previously controllers I tested, I tried to scratch, achieving great results: the sound card of the controller is able to control the latency with no delays which would compromise the overall performance.
If you try to turn the controller upside down, you’ll spot an upgrade panel with 4 screws. In reality Vestax gives the opportunity -to those who want to try and use the controller in order to scratch- to replace the supplied cross fader with a digital fader of new design. The Vestax CF-X2 digital fader will allow you to improve your performances and to scratch accurately (Pic.19).
Pic.19 – Vestax VCI 300 MKII – Upgrade panel and CF-X fader (Photo by Paolo Colacicco)
VESTAX VFX – 1 CONTROLLER
The Vestax VFX-1 effects controller is an accessory, in a manner of speaking, which makes the VCI 300 MKII controller even more complete: same design and manufacturing material as the latter’s (Pic.20).
Pic.20 – Vestax VFX-1 – Effect Controller (Photo by Paolo Colacicco)
This controller only requires USB connection and runs with the supplied software (Pic.21).
Pic.22 – Vestax VFX-1 – USB Port (Photo by Paolo Colacicco)
As soon as it is connected to the Serato ITCH software, it will show a bar that displays some informations about the current effect, depth and details about the effect source (deck A or B) (Pic.22).
Pic.22 – Serato ITCH software – Effect bar
The VFX -1 midi controller has been designed in a vertical shape and its controls are very easy and intuitive. In fact Vestax clearly wanted to split by halves the control use, horizontally, giving us the chance to apply effects on deck A and B in separate way. Through the ASSIGN section we can apply, through the DECK A/B keys, the effect to the deck A or B or even to the MASTER pressing both keys at the same time. In the same section there is, sideways, the headphone pre-listening function, by pushing the PFL FX, or the applicable effect function to the AUX/MIC section. On the lower side we find a very much visible ON/OFF key to activate the effect. It must be said that a little switch LATCH is hidden sideways of the controller which will give us the chance to enable an effect without holding down the key. The TAP/AUTO key matches the beats per minute of the tracks with the effect, or, by pressing the key several times, with the tempo (Pic.23).
Pic.23 – Vestax VFX-1 – ASSIGN (Photo by Paolo Colacicco)
VFX -1 Effects section
The effects are obviously included in the Serato software and there are nine of them: Flanger, Crusher, Tremolo, Phaser, HPF, LPF, Echo, Delay and Reverb. Each one can be selected through a 12 snap SELECT knob, and with a similar knob (BEATS) it is possible to change the beat division. Just below there is the big DEPTH knob to control the DRY/WET parameters of the FX and a rubberized knob to control alternative parameters, which is similar to the ones on the VCI (Pic.24).
Pic. 24 – Vestax VFX-1 – FX section (Photo by Paolo Colacicco)
The Vestax VCI 300 MKII midi controller is an excellent one, judging by its quality, design and price. Controls are easy and essential, even for beginner Djs. In the dark, the backlit keys help not to lose control of it, even though the amount of light is a bit disappointing. No denying about how good the materials are: perhaps the faders are something to keep an eye on, though. Overall the controller has a great response in terms of being able to join you in whatever live set, even for the wild performances where you want to try your hand on scratching. The Serato ITCH software fits perfectly with the VCI 300 MKII and very easy to set up and use. Possibly, the only frustration lies in the fact that you need to buy a midi effect controller like the VFX-1 separately: although the quality of the effects is amazing, nowadays there are controller producers whom – at a lower price – offer excellent devices with onboard effect controls.
Untill next time DJ Fresella….
Pros:• Excellent price/quality ratio
• Integrated onboard sound card
• Easy set up
• USB Power
• Perfect for mixing and scratching
• Excellent provided software.
• Framework and mechanics need to be improved
• Key lights meets minimum standards
• Required Upgrade to improve scratch performance
• It necessarily needs an external controller to control the effects.
Model: VCI 300 MK II + effect controllerVFX -1
Italian distributor: www.exhibo.it
Price for VCI 300 MK II: about 690,00 Euros
Price for VFX -1: about 220,00 Euros
Italian to English translation: Umberto del Giudice