Review & Video: American Audio VMS4.1 Controller & Standalone Mixer

Review Summary:

The American Audio VMS4.1 isn't going to appeal to controllerists or scratch DJs, nor those looking for gear they can perform to the highest level on by pushing it to its limits. It's aimed at mobile / wedding / hobbyist DJ who would rather have features over absolute best performance. If that sounds like you, you should look into it - especially if you already own Virtual DJ Pro, as in that case, you do get a decent amount for your money. Just make sure you can live with those rubber-sheathed old-school jogwheels.

American Audio VMS4.1 Controller & Standalone Mixer
The American Audio VMS4.1 improves in at least one key area over its predecessor, the VMS4: Sound quality.

The American Audio VMS4.1 improves in at least one key area over its predecessor, the VMS4: Sound quality.

Review: The American Audio VMS4.1 Controller & Standalone Mixer

On paper, the American Audio VMS4, which the VMS4.1 that we’re reviewing today replaces, looked like a real bargain. It had more features than just about any DJ controller out there at any but the highest of prices, appeared well made, and seemed to offer a level of versatility unmatched by anything other than top-of-the-range gear from the likes of Allen & Heath.

Turned out though, that this (admittedly very affordable) controller had issues which for many were deal-breakers: The main one was average audio, but there were also reliability issues reported by a larger than normal number of users. While some loved it, for many it was ultimately – despite its metal and rubber, workmanlike externals and plethora of controls – a work in progress.

No doubt reacting to that initial user feedback, the company countered with today’s unit, the American Audio VMS4.1 for Virtual DJ (and also with the VMS4.1T, a version for Traktor). Question is, has it managed to fix that main error – sound quality? And how does the VMS4.1 stand up against the competition, nearly two years down the line?

First impressions and setting up

If you aren’t familiar with this controller or with its little brother, the American Audio VMS2, they are basically old school beasts of devices. Reasonably big (about the same size as a Vestax VCI-400, maybe a little wider), the controller is made of painted, polished metal, with huge rubber corners. With it in the box are a power cable, instructions, Virtual DJ CD (with ASIO drivers for PC people, not necessary for Mac), a sticker and a USB cable.

It’s durable, heavy and feels like a piece of utilitarian gear rather than a design classic, an image reinforced by the decidedly old-school jogwheels, which have translucent, easily removed rubber rims around them (more about those later).

Controls, inputs and outputs
The unit is notable for the number of controls it has: The top has four full mixing channels; booth and master outs knobs (with balance); and a set of touch controls (mouse pad, load buttons, and touchstrips).

Each deck has controls for sampler and FX; cues (four per side, with shift doubling up); keylock; vinyl/nudge switching; pitch bending; and of course, the ubiquitous transport, pitch slider and sync buttons.

American Audio VMS4.1

The front of the American Audio VMS4.1: A massive amount of control over inputs, and two full EQ-able mic channels.

Round the back it becomes apparent how versatile the design is: there are two combi mic inputs (XLR and 1/4″); four RCA-ins for up to four analogue sources (two line-only, two switchable line/phono) plus earth poles; outputs for booth and master (RCA) plus balanced XLR master outs; 1/8″ sockets for compatible fader start decks; and the usual USB and power sockets (it is a standalone mixer as well as a Midi controller, so it needs mains power) plus an on/off switch.

Meanwhile, the front of the unit features on/off plus gain and full three band EQ for not one but two microphones; switching between USB and analogue and channel routing controls for all four inputs, Xone DB style; a sound card behaviour switch for using either four software decks or routing two external sources through software (for digital vinyl, for instance); crossfader curve and reverse; plus cue mix and gain for the 1/4″ headphones socket.

Setting up
Setting up involves installing the ASIO drivers if you’re on a PC, installing Virtual DJ LE VMS4.1 version, plugging in and turning on.

There are absolute no configuration options in the LE version of Virtual DJ that’s supplied, which is a great thing for getting going, but it means that as we’ll find out, you’ll want the full version of Virtual DJ for pro use.

In use

The VMS4.1 feels solid and dependable. It’s heavy, so once you start using it it isn’t going to slip and slide. The skin for Virtual DJ is well mapped to the controller, although there are elements missing that will become annoying to you over time. (One bugbear: no dedicated switch for swapping deck layers, although a reader has pointed out that pressing shift and pause together seems to do the trick for him. A dedicated button has been added to the Traktor version, apparently.) But overall it feels up to the job.

Touch controls
I didn’t like the touchpad for controlling your computer mouse. It’s a neat idea, but on my Mac, it moved far too slowly, and I didn’t seem to be able to make any difference to the behaviour via the control panel on my computer. Nonetheless, it’s better than nothing for hitting the odd control you can’t find a hardware mirror for. Just try not to touch it by mistake…

There are two vertical touchpads either side of the mixer, and these are a neater idea; you can map them to anything with mappable software, but as supplied they scroll through your current files (right) and folder tree (left). In the latter case, though, once you’ve reached a folder, I couldn’t see how to “select” it from the hardware.

Transport and jogs
The buttons underneath the jog wheels are cue, play and pause – normally you’d have a sync button here and the play and pause would be on the same button. As it is I kept thinking they were (they are on most controllers, and they are on the Traktor version of this one). This just takes some getting used to; there’s nothing inherently wrong with it. The sync, by the way, is unobtrusively tucked away up by the pitch faders.

American Audio VMS4.1 control surface

The American Audio VMS4.1 control surface: Workmanlike, but with relatively primitive jogwheels.

Ah yes, the jogwheels. These are the most low-fi jogs I’ve ever seen! Made in kind of hollow metal, they have grooves on like a record, and kitsch strobe dots like the platters of Technics turntables. Then, over their edges is stretched translucent plastic!

The purpose of this is to make the top of the jog function for scratching, and the edges as nudge (they work electrically on touch, so the rubber insulates them from your fingers). But it feels like an afterthought, is not going to be particularly durable, and doesn’t look very good.

Faders and buttons
The crossfader is good, though, and it’s Innofader compatible so you can switch it out for a scratch fader should you wish. Likewise, the crossfader curve is a nice addition, but really, scratch controls (including the reverse button) are a bit superfluous when the jogs are so-so as these are.

Most knobs have lit red strips in them to show where they’re set in the dark, which is great. Likewise, the line faders feel solid enough, and the knobs are rubberised. A nice touch here is that the Master volume has an orange strip. They’re mainly centre-click but some stepped, depending on function.  The unit’s buttons are nice, too – they’re backlit white rubberised little rectangles, mainly blue but some red, and Pause breaking with the scheme, in green and orange respectively.

Control over the samples and FX (notwithstanding the latter being limited on the LE software) is simple and intuitive with the supplied controls; looping works in a completely standard way for manual looping, although accessing beatmatched looping is a little fiddlier; and the four hot cues per side work how they should, with shift plus the button deleting them.

Advanced use
Some of the power of the unit is under the surface. You can switch the sound card to operate across four software channels, or you can have it operating across two, with two of the analogue channels feeding into the software (to carry DVS timecode, typically, which is possible with Virtual DJ DVS).

American Audio VMS4.1 rear

The VMS4.1′s back panel: Plenty of inputs and outputs for the most complicated set-ups.-

The EQ can be switched to either software or hardware, and Virtual DJ can even be mapped so that even if the standalone mixer is doing just that – operating as a standalone mixer – the controls on the screen still “move” despite not doing anything in reality. This is neat, and shows thought and planning in the Virtual DJ mapping.

Note however that to do any of this stuff, you need to upgrade your software – the supplied software, as I mentioned, has no configuration available to the user at all.Also, if you’re on a Mac, the instructions in the box are limited for advanced audio configuration, so you’re going to have to have some experience or get forum digging when you want to start tweaking things.

The microphone channels, by the way, are completely hardware, being routed nowhere near the computer under any option.

Sound quality
I didn’t get to test the original, but the sound quality from the VMS4.1 is fine. Should you be interested, the THD is quotes at 0.045%, s/n at 97dB, frequency response 20Hz-20kHz, +/-0.3dB. I’m assuming it’s 16 bit, 44.1kHz but that’s just my guess as the spec is missing this final info. I’m not a fan of numbers, though. I prefer ears. I listened to it through our current test monitors, the KRK Rokit 10-3s, so any major shortcomings would have shown up right away, but it sounded full and engaging, with nothing jumping out as below par. So you can safely assume if you’re interested in buying this unit that any issues from the VMS4 have indeed been sorted out.

Finally, the headphones volume was easily enough – as you’d expect from a DJ controller with mains power.

Conclusion

When the VMS4 came out, I wanted to like it, as it offered so much for the price. But before we got to review it the so-so news about the sound card hit and our review never happened. However, I’m pleased to say that that particular bugbear has been put to rest, so for that reason alone, I guess the VMS4.1 can be judged a big improvement.

Additionally, while it’s hard to test overall reliability in a day’s playing, it seemed well made and felt like it would last the course. I assume if there were any glaring manufacturing issues, American Audio would have taken the chance with the 4.1 version to right them.

Virtual DJ for the American Audio VMS4.1

Virtual DJ for the American Audio VMS4.1: Upgrading the software adds an awful lot to the price of this unit.

Value-wise, on the surface it’s cheap – it comes in at around £330, or US$434, which for a standalone four-channel Midi mappable mixer, two Midi decks, a versatile sound card, booth and master outputs, two EQ-able mic channels, and some smart Midi stuff that means you can slot this in at the heart of some pretty esoteric set-ups, seems good value.

But when you add in US$299 for the software, it’s really not so cheap. This is not the fault of American Audio, but with Traktor now almost a giveaway in comparison, all controllers relying on a full version of Virtual DJ to truly complete are looking expensive indeed. I wouldn’t be surprised if Virtual DJ doesn’t alter its prices soon.

The American Audio VMS4.1 isn’t going to appeal to controllerists or scratch DJs, nor those looking for gear they can perform to the highest level on by pushing it to its limits – it’s not really aimed at that kind of market.

It’s aimed at mobile / wedding / hobbyist DJ who would rather have features over absolute best performance. If that sounds like you, you should look into it – especially if you already own Virtual DJ Pro, as in that case, you do get a decent amount for your money. Just make sure you can live with those rubber-sheathed old-school jogwheels.

Product Summary

Review Summary:

The American Audio VMS4.1 isn't going to appeal to controllerists or scratch DJs, nor those looking for gear they can perform to the highest level on by pushing it to its limits. It's aimed at mobile / wedding / hobbyist DJ who would rather have features over absolute best performance. If that sounds like you, you should look into it - especially if you already own Virtual DJ Pro, as in that case, you do get a decent amount for your money. Just make sure you can live with those rubber-sheathed old-school jogwheels.

American Audio VMS4.1 Controller & Standalone Mixer

Video Review

Have you bought this unit? Do you gig regularly on it? Did you buy the original? Please let us know your thoughts in the comments.

Comments

  1. I think American Audio has gone crazy…
    Why the hell the Traktor version of this controller costs 200USD more?
    Are they trying to profit from Traktor pricing? I seriously doubt NI charges enormous amounts for licensing…

    • Be clear that the prices I have quoted are the cheapest I could find in the US and the UK online… not the RRP. So your comparision might not be completely valid.

  2. This one works just the same with Traktor as the VMS4.1T only diferens being the prints on the device. I actualy prefer getting the VDJ because the Traktor version has prints on the LED buttons so when mapped difrent then stock mapping. it can become confusing pressing a cue button that is flashin loop in.

    I have the VMS4 and I totaly love it there are just so many buttons to mapp
    I was planing on getting a VCI400 but I’d rader get the VMS4.1 instead. But I’m totaly happy with my original VMS4 that I won’t get a new unless it breaks, and that looks like it might take some time :D have been using mine over a year and still works like day one

    • If it breaks however (knock on wood), I strongly suggest getting the VCI-400. I bought the VMS4 and it was great (for the money). I changed it because one of the faders started sending weird MIDI messages after a year. I could have kept it, returned it, whatever…. Instead I paid the difference and I can tell you that, although almost double the price, the VCI 400 is the sweetest thing you will lay your hands upon (for now at least). All in all, for this price range, a very honest piece of equipment! If you can afford to pay a bit more and really want to feel and hear “the upgrade” then the VCI-400 or the Denon MC6000 is definitely worth it!

  3. Martin van der Hoeven says:

    Phil,
    I’ve noticed again that you’re talking about the huge amount of money the upgrade to the full version of VDJ will cost. (you mentioned it on other reviews)
    For your interest (and other potential upgraders) I would like to say that if you buy a controller bundled with VDJ LE, you’ll get a discount if upgraded to the Full Pro-version. This depends on the (price of) the controller, but could get up to about $150,-. For what you pay more than for Traktor you’ll get video- and MP3+CDG-support, a bunch of audio- and video-effects, any skin you’ll like, a.s.o. I own both programs and use them depending on what gig I have.

    • Perfectly correct – Moral is: “If in doubt, scroll down the page”!

      When you click “buy now” from your LE version, it takes you to a page where the first thing you see is “buy now: $299.

      However, if you then scroll down further, there’s an upgrade option, where you enter your serial. In the case of this product, the price is halved to $149. Considering you get lifetime free upgrades, that – while adding to the price of the product – is far more palatable.

      It would be good if you went to a dedicated upgrade page, as I bet I’m not the only one who hasn’t scrolled down far enough to see this section…

  4. Jens Vallentin Hansen says:

    To switch between decks a/c or b/d hold shift and press pause that should switch between the decks, at least its working on my VDJ le

  5. synthet1c says:

    you get a discount when upgrading this controller, It would be between $100-$150 so the price isn’t quite as steep to upgrade, and the benefits it enables are absolutely worth the price.

    Also I can’t see atomix dropping the price as it is already discounted and you get free updates for life they are proud of offering that to users. Without hating on traktor, imo they can lower the price of admission as they charge for future updates and have branded hardware to ensure they recover any lost revenue.

    • Can you explain how that works please? I clicked through from the LE version of the software as supplied with the controller to “buy now”, and the price was 299 – no discount applied. Do you know how a user would get a discount?

      • When you click “upgrade to pro” in Virtual DJ LE, it takes you to the VDJ website. Scroll down a little to the “UPGRADE TO VIRTUALDJ PRO FULL” section, tap your serial into there and it’ll take you to an order screen with the discount applied.

        The discount depends on the product. Numark’s DJ2GO gets you $30 off. Stanton’s new DJC.4 gets a $50 discount. Not a lot, but better than nothing.

    • On a broader stage, I wonder how long software-only products are going to last without meaningful hardware partners? I think “LE in the box” as a business model is becoming less attractive in the face of more complete hardware/software solutions. The point is, if you can buy a fully functioning (ie not crippled) DJ controller with Traktor or ITCH in the box for a competitive price, it makes competitors look less attractive all of a sudden.

      Interesting to see how things develop in the next year or two.

    • Thanks Gizmo for pointing that out – in this instance, you get a discount of 50%, which is substantial enough. It’s confusing having BUY NOW as the first and dominant thing on that page, and the upgrade option tucked further down. Well, it’s confusing for a hurried, old hack like me, anyway :D

  6. SolidState says:

    I really hope it’s built better than the VMS4, I have one and not only has one of my hotcue buttons stopped working, but 2 of my 4 volume sliders have come straight off the board, broken solder joints. Repairing them yourself means they just break a few days later. I have absolutely no confidence in the device, and certainly won’t spend money to get it repaired, it doesnt seem worth it.

  7. DJLunarImpact says:

    Thanks for reviewing the VMS4.1. I have the VMS4 and I love it! The only problem I’ve really had with it is the low sound output. I have to red line the hell out of it to get fair output (like +7 on the meters). Occasionally a button will stick if you press it at an angle but now that I am used to it that is no longer a problem. I just decided a couple of days ago that I am going to get a VMS4.1 hoping that it would be a major improvement (already ordered a custom skin for it from Styleflip). This review has made it clear for me that I am not making a mistake :)

    You mentioned in the review that you haven’t figured out how to load a track on a deck once you selected it with the vertical touchpads. I actually just figured this out the other day. The trick is that right under the mouse touchpad the 2 little pads that are designed to be like your left and right mouse buttons are what you use. Notice that right under them there are little white text boxes that say “load”. Well once you have used the vertical sliders to highlight the track you want you hold down one of the shift buttons and press either the left or right “load” touch pad to load the track onto either the left or right deck. In VDJ when you press it the first time, if a track is still playing on that deck, a little window will pop saying “A song is already playing on this deck. Are you sure you want to stop it?” In that case, continue to hold the shift button and press the load button again and then the track will be loaded on the deck.

    • DJLunarImpact says:

      But I find it easier to use either the touchpad on my laptop or preferably a wireless mouse to load my decks. The touchpads on the controller are a spectacular idea but are a bit difficult to use. The mouse touchpadpad is too slow and the vertical touchpads are too sensitive and too fast in my opinion.

    • No, that’s not what I meant. I meant when you’re scrolling through your folders (not your files) there’s no way to open a folder from the touchpad.

  8. no(spin) says:

    ok just recieved my vms 4.1 and its great, heavy solid feels just right! buttons are nice thou jogs are so so, but i am not scratch person so its ok. it really solid and sound quality is nice! lovely thing. thanks digitaldjtips for helpink me making my opinion more clear on this matter. and yes my English is broken , sorry. Keep playing :)

  9. dj. exclusive1 says:

    when using the strips highlight your song then hold shift key and touch keyboard mouse select to the side which you want the song. basically shift plus left or right mouse click deck a/c left click b/d right click

  10. dj. exclusive1 says:

    by the way i love my vms4.1 its great for use with my technics its my center piece good fader but i also have an innofader i haven’t used yet. its good for using in conjunction with turntables and CD decks, adds great versatility for cutting scratching. mp3 and video with the turntables sound effects awesome.

  11. how do you compare vms4.1 and numark n4? for a trance and house dj

  12. Hi, I think I would share some tricks regarding VMS4.1 (virtual dj edition) in use for Traktor:

    1. Regarding deck switch for 4 decks layout, yes you can hit the pause button to turn it into amber light, and the entire deck will shift to control the other corresponding deck. for example: pressing the left pause button will turn the entire left deck to control deck C. to activate deck D, you can press the right pause button.

    2. About folder expand and collapse, you can do that by scrolling using left strip search to select the folder you want to open, and hold shift then re-scroll using the left strip a little bit. You can then select the track within the folder using the right strip.

    3. About switching effects layout from one to three layout effects on the upper right and left layout, you can hold shift and press (not turn) the ‘effect’ ‘select’ knob (the left utmost knob of the effect section).

    4. To assign activate the left(1) and right(2) FX section to corresponding decks(not to be confused with on/off the assigned effects), you can hold shift and press the second button of the effects section (parameter button) to activate the left fx section to the deck, and third button of the effects section (play button) to activate the right fx section to the deck.

  13. Hi there Phil,

    I want to start of by saying that i love your website, been on it all afternoon checkin out midimixers, the most informative site that ive ever seen on digital DJ’ing!

    I have a question about the jogwheels on this VMS4.1. You said you wheren’t very impressed with them. I agree that those added condoms on top seem kinda crappy. But have you tried using them for beatmatching? I wonder if the nudging works accurately.

    Im actually interested in the traktor layout version of this mixer, do you think that it has enough buttons/knobs for using effects well?

    Thanks so much in advance,

    ure the man!

    Daniel

  14. Hey I was wondering about the looping, I got my vms4.1 a few days ago but can’t seem to understand the looping. How do we choose the size of it say 1 4 8 16 32 … If you know what I mean. Anyways please help me out. Thanks

  15. Hi Phil,

    i wanted to look into DJing and i’m still not sure which controller i should buy. On the one hand i don’t want to spend lots of money, on the other hand i want a controller that i can keep for a while when i find out that i like mixing, etc.

    Now i came to a point where i got three possible buying options.
    1st: Numark Mixtrack Pro I
    2nd: Numark Mixtrack Pro II
    3rd: American Audio VMS4.1 Traktor (which i could get for 269€ here: http://www.thomann.de/de/american_audio_vms41_traktor.htm)

    Another option is a Traktor Kontrol S2, but it seems too expensive, although it has a high reselling value.
    Anyways, what bothers me is that the VMS4.1 Traktor maybe has too many options for a beginner? Another thing that bothers me is the touchpad. I think i’d rather like a button for scrolling through my music. On the other hand the VMS4.1 has by far the most functions out of the three.

    Could you help me to finally find a choice? :)

    Kind regards,
    Nico

    • If you think the VMS4.1 has too many functions, go for one of the cheaper ones. I’d personally go for the Mixtrack Pro over the Pro 2, and try and get a great deal on it.

  16. Jonas Premier says:

    Sorry if, but has anyone already mentioned that there IS a function for the play and pause buttons to be separate?

    I really like it like that, because by pressing Play repeatedly, you directly start playing from the last cue point (without searching for the right one) or the last paused position without having set a cue mark,
    by hitting Pause at 1. you pause, 2. (working as a Stop-button) you return to the beginning of the track OR respectively (3rd/.. press) easily switch through all the set cue points!

    (At least it’s that way on the VMS2, I’m soon going to try it with the 4.1)

    _____________________________________

    Anyway, my main question although is:
    Does the 4.1 also work without the need for external power supply like the VMS2 can??

    This is important to know since we use controllers and mixers for outdoor playing small gigs with as less needed infrastructure as possible (like battery powered sound system and laptop powered controller/mixer).

    Thank you and best regards from Germany!

  17. I had a VSM4 for my first controller totally thought it was my own Nuke! After a week or two of use I sold it. The paint fell off! LoL. If American Audio do what should be done on this it would be a profit to all concerned.

  18. I bought this useless lump of granite. 3 days I and other tech-heads tried to get it to do something… ANYTHING. The mapping wouldn’t do anything, Virtual DJ LE is utterly useless, the unit itself is FAR too big and heavy… Completely deflating and frustrating purchase which I advise no-one else to go through.

    Currently saving for NI Traktor S4. American Audio = Fail.

  19. GERWYN says:

    I am seriously considering buying the VMS4.1 but my only concern is does it work properly with my laptop that’s running windows 8.

  20. Hello to all. I just bought the VMS4.1 and installed it on the 3 laptops. One Mac from 2008 10.5.8 I believe one windows 7 and a new laptop with windows 8. They all work perfectly and did not give me any problems setting up the VDJ LE. I have to say I just tried it with my Yamaha DXR15s and it sounds great. Yes the jog wheels are not the best but I’m not too much of a scratch DJ anyway so it’s not a problem. Where I find the problem is on that damn touch strip. More so the left one that the right one. If you touch it by accident it move your folder file and you have to go back and reload the file again. It’s very annoying. I tried to go in the config setting and it would not respond. Does anyone know how to deactivate that touch strip??? Thanks a have a great party.

  21. Howsmooth
    I notice the jog wheel is never on point, no matter how much you get use to it. Is there a fix to this. I also have notice on the Virtual DJ software the Master and Gain nobs never match up to the VMS4.1 when ever u turn the damn thing on. Do u know why that is?

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