Controller Clinic #13: Best Controller For Mixing Older Music?

Vestax VCI-300 Mk II

Vestax VCI-300 Mk II: No effects, only two decks... but great for the DJ who wants to mix older music and doesn't need any more than this.

Digital DJ Tips reader Gabriel from California writes: "I want to get back into small clubs, and find a crowd that appreciates my track selection. Mainly Motown, Northern Soul, Stax... so a lot of drops, less overlapping mixing, but If I do 80s then I'd need a good beatmatch. I currently have the Vestax Spin, but I feel it is arm wrestling me at getting my DJing done. I want to spend around US$800-900. Can you recommend a two-channel controller, with a safety input channel for an iPod (in case my Macbook Pro gets a glitch)?"

Digital DJ Tips says:

Because of your requirements, I think complex controllers with effects, samples and so on are not necessary at all for you. What is necessary is good sound quality, something robust that won't break on you, and something with software that's equally at home playing older, non-beatmatched music as it is the early electronic music that was coming out in the 1980s.

The controller I'd recommend to you is the Vestax VCI-300. It's getting old, so look for a bargain, and get the Mk II rather than the Mk I, because the Mk II has a higher output volume (the Mk I, for all its strengths, was a bit "quiet"). This controller is just two decks, very few bells and whistles, and it works a treat. It's very close to the feel of two decks and a mixer, which is great for what you want. It is easy to DJ on, and comes with Serato ITCH, which is simple-to-use but powerful, effective DJ software that's just as comfortable with non-electronic music as it is with music you wish to beatmatch - especially if you set the software to simple sync mode.

This set-up should last you for a long time and not "get in the way" of your DJing.

Do you DJ a similar style to Gabriel? What do you use? Are you a VCI-300 user? What do you think of the controller? Or if you think something different might suit him better, what would that be? Please share in the comments.

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Comments

  1. Depends on how the OP mixes. If you beat match disco, funk, boogie stuff, (I do!) then you really want full size pitch faders. I use Traktor myself, but I agree that for exclusively old skool mixing, Itch is more natural. I’d recommend the Pioneer DDJ-S1.

  2. Gabriel. Don’t forget to give Virtual DJ Software a try. Virtual DJ and the Mixtrack Pro team up very well. You won’t be disappointed.

    I used both Traktor and VirtualDJ Pro. Virtuald DJ is user friendly, very easy to learn and use quickly.

    Traktor requires a bit more work but of course is also well worth the investment. I’ve never tried Serato.

    Happy mixing :-)

  3. Michael L says:

    I agree with Phil on the VCI-300mkii — a great, reliable, straightforward, loud, very portable rig. I bought an Allen & Heath Xone:DX first, then picked up the 300mkii as a backup. Now I find I lean toward the 300mkii due to the simplicity. I love the DX, but for my style, sometimes it feels like overkill. Down the road I may pick up a Vestax VFX-1 to add effects to the 300mkii — or maybe not. If your needs are pretty straightforward, I don’t think you’d go wrong with a 300mkii. They’re selling cheap now — picked mine up for $500.

  4. thisisian says:

    +1 on the VCI 300. …..it’s still the most natural “2 decks & a mixer” digital set-up i’ve ever used.

    I wish i’d never sold mine

  5. I’m a VCI-300 user and I can only say IT’S THE BEST!

    Very solid, easy to work with, no headache..
    For a 2 channel controller you will not get any better ;)

    Cheers

    http://soundcloud.com/oliverforce

  6. I highly recommend Virtual DJ Pro combined with a Denon MC6000. With that combination you will be able to pull off any type of event including Videos, Karaoke, mobile and clubs. It’s extremely versatile.

  7. You will definitely need jog wheels and a big pitch fader. I have a twitch and that is hell trying to actually mix disco music. I can still cut and so forth but trying to beat match is impossible on unquantized tracks.

    I also would recommend Scratch Live if your trying to beat match unquantized track. The real time transient waveform doesn’t rely on a beat grid so you can line up the beats with the jog wheel in real time and get it bang on.

    • DJ AntiChris says:

      I got a Novation Twitch because it’s different. Beatmatching is so simple, even with 2-3 minute songs, the sync feature is useful, but I find myself always using my ears and eyes to get things in sync. I can throw in some funk, some ska, some reggae and it’s still just as fun, even more. For people doing EDM I can assume the Twitch is even easier.

      You can drop in a loop, hit a cue point, and use the delay effect to fade to another track. It’s a great controller to dj from drops, works for odd music very well.

  8. I’ve had my eye on this controller for a while, as I play similar music to the OP. One question about the 300, am I correct in thinking that I can feed an external source into it? I like to run a turntable in my setup, so am looking for a controller which can allow me to do this. (I know I’d need to run through a separate phono amp). If so, how do you select the external source?

  9. I’d probably cosign with Serato, as it seems to be the ideal user-friendly simple setup. If beat matching with sync is a must, then it gets more complex, but I imagine you just want to play tunes in a more jukebox style.

    VCI-300 if you need things smaller and more portable. That or look into the Numark or Pioneer controllers if you need bigger faders and such.

    • Serato actually has better beatgridding than most DJ software, as it is elastic so it is well suited to older material – but certainly for manual deck-style beatmatching, it is ideal as you can set it to just match tempo and leave you to hold things in sync, just like you would with vinyl or CDJs.

      • I agree. for music that slips out of time Itch is MUCH better than Traktor. i use the touch strips on Twitch to adjust the beatgrids while the track is playing.

        i also find Itch closer to traditional DJing that Traktor. I use my ears more, not just my eyes. that might just be me though. i was suprised how much i preferred Itch to Traktor which i struggled to use to mix slipping tracks.

    • I agree, I always felt like Serato was no-frills any DJ can hop on easy. Itch is simple but powerful!

      If there aren’t any size constraints maybe the Numark MixDeck or MixDeck Quad? They are mapped to VDJ/DJ Intro/Traktor and play CD’s and Thumbdrives on top of the software control.

      If you are going smaller, I agree with the VCI300mkii.

  10. gabriel says:

    Thanks Phil for all your help, I already used the VCi-300 MKII out in the wild a few times, and it has been flawless, I never get overwhelmed because of it’s simplicity, and it feels very solid. (all metal enclosure) Thanks for the recommendation, …. I’m glad I listened to your advice, instead of buying something just because it’s “The Latest” …

    Gabriel, Orange County, CA

  11. Mark Stewart says:

    Rather than a suggestion, a question ..the OP states he plays Northern from digital ..i’m confused. the entire northern scene is about playing the ORIGINAL 45, not even a repro or 70’s boot. Most of these 45’s run into several 100’s of ($/€/£) and many into several 1000’s the scene has been around since the late 60’s …..

    The scene is built around vinyl and you can’t get a single booking with digital (including CD’s), even if you suggest it people walk the other way. The tracks I have that are unreleased studio cuts on tape, I’ve had to have pressed onto vinyl before even attempting to play them.

    So the question, why are you trying to digital DJ in a scene that will not allow it?

    Mark Stewart
    Vinyl Collector, DJ and dealer for 30+ years

    PS I also have 4 complete TSP2.5 systems and train people on Traktor …so believe me this is not a dig at digital.

    Digital is for digital

    • Guy’s in California, Mark, you saying he’s not allowed to play Northern Soul unless he plays it from original 7″s?

    • Mate, you’re getting a bit anal there I think. Plenty of places on this planet where you can play that genre without being keel-hauled if it’s not original pressed 7s.

      • Mark Stewart says:

        Northern Soul is a British thing and every single Northern Soul club in the UK and most in Europe will not allow CD’s, re-issues or boots …many won’t even allow LP tracks.

        Not my rules, the rules of the scene which is now over 40 years old.

        If you don’t believe me ask ANY Northern Soul club in the UK if you can DJ there with CD’s, boots or re-issues …you’ll see the reaction (be prepared to run at this point).

        The entire scene is built around the acquisition or original first issue 45’s, and if there’s a local and national release ..then the local release is favoured.

        This is why the stuff costs so much, the average price for a floor filler would be £500, the big stuff is into the 1000’s …. many of these tracks are so rare only a handful exist. Now if someone was to play such a track in a venue and it wasn’t original, there would be at least 90% of the customers stood in front of the DJ box demanding to see it destroyed and the DJ removed.

        If someone was to advertise a night of Northern Soul and the fans of the scene turned up to find it was a LAPTOP !! they would certainly have something to say …seriously … the scene is extremely protective about the use of original 1st issue vinyl only.

        The fans of this scene are as dedicated and hardcore as any thing you’ve encountered and laptops are never going to be accepted.

        Don’t shoot thee messenger …. read about the scene before passing judgement.

        • Of course fans of Northern Soul would not accept a laptop DJ in their scene Mark, but the Northern Soul scene is not our audience.

          This is a digital DJing site and if someone here wants to play Northern Soul from a laptop, they have every right to. Or to put it another way, nobody has any right to tell them not to.

          And 99.9% of audiences would not demand they be removed from the decks. It’s a big world out there.

      • Mark Stewart says:

        fair enough Phil, I see you’ve closed the thread now ..

        The fact that the OP uses the term Northern Soul rather than soul, is showing that he knows about the scene but doesn’t respect it enough to know that you simply don’t use digital in it.

        http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Northern_soul

  12. Boybrown says:

    This has been very useful reading this thread. I too want to do as the OP stated. I do like a bit of soulful house as well but i can beatmatch so thats no problem. The VCI-300 is a bit too expensive for me, would the reloop terminal mix 2 do a similar job? Phil, i know you are about to do a review of the controller but i was wondering what you thought? Cheers.

    • Why not take a closer look at the Stanton DJC.4 which Phil has just reviewed. Seems like a tidy piece of kit at a good price.

  13. dj Vicky says:

    Hi
    I think all controllers are very good ,even the old ones like hercules console and bcd 2000 when mixing old music ,its the software which has to be really good ,and I think Virtual dj is the best for mixing and searching the retro music on your hard drive , the waveform on vdj is excellent as compared to tractor.I am not saying Tractor is bad ,it is also good but complicated.I love virtual dj it is the best one for mobile dj as well as club djs.Please excusefor my bad english.

  14. DJ Gerard says:

    Interesting. I too love to get to play an old school set that has not used sample machines or did but just had bad edits. I have found that jog wheels will never emulate a turntable style. I also agree pitch slides are not that of a 1200 either. I have become more dependent on pitch bend buttons for this style. I have been eying the denon mc-3000 because it has its pitch bend buttons in a good to use location. I currently use Traktor. I also am finally using iTunes to manage my music now so I am not afraid to change platforms and lose my playlists. I may give vci-300 a try with Itch just because the price has dropped so much. I may even find one low price second hand and if I do not like it re-sell it no gain no loss.

  15. gabriel says:

    believe me I’ve heard the criticisms before, so I’m not offended, I do not play at Northern Soul Clubs, … I play at Weddings, and Family oriented gigs, I have played at clubs, but I am in no way connected to a ‘scene”, I have a few friends that do play at clubs here, and they ONLY play Lp’s, but I’m not into a format, I’m into a great song!… There will be a day (probably very soon) when a laptop, and controller will be old school,… I’ll be ready with open arms to the next format. … Incidentally, I played 18 years vinyl, and have a setup at a friends house, where I “digitize” my Lp’s to 320 mp3, I even had to digitize some Glenn Miller 78’s to mp3! those Northern Clubs are too new school to handle that format! … At the end of the day, when I hear a good James Brown track, I do not care if it’s CD, vinyl, Wav, Mp3. AAC, Aiff, or his ghost!, … as long as it’s FUNKY! ……
    Regards and Respect from Southern California
    Gabriel

  16. Time coded vinyls and a nice 2 channel mixer with 3 EQ nobs for each deck, a buttery crossfader and filters. Ofc Serato scratch live.

  17. I had a BCD-3000 runing with Virtual Dj and it was nothing but headaches. now i have the VCI-300 MK2 and Serato Itch AND IM THE HAPPIEST PERSON IN THE WORLD.
    I love serato itch and the VCI 300 MK2!!!!

  18. i’m wondering if the vci 300 mk2 will make good music if I mix Progressive House and dubstep music? Need advice a.s.a.p!!

  19. Dirty Disco Soundsystem says:

    Interesting! Shame thread got a bit lost mid-way but…

    Play lots of disco, funk, soul and hip hop so I’m toying with a Spin 2 as I use an iPad (and it does work playing out!).

    Anyone jumped in yet? Keen to hear what you guys think. Ta and keep spinning.

  20. Osmosis says:

    Excellent suggestion. I had a Vestax Spin for about 3 years and recently got a VCI 300 MkII used for $179 at Guitar Center. Couldn’t be happier. I also picked up a VFX-1 for $79. This is less than what I paid for the Spin a few years ago and now I’m up to a higher level of quality and ruggedness.

    The pairing of Itch and the VCI 300 is remarkable and I’m loving the jog wheel. Initially I was looking at a more expensive controller but realized that I didn’t need all the bells and whistles as this serves my needs quite well.

    Get one, you won’t regret it.

  21. I have a question: I have a Vestax VCI-300MkII and this weekend I was recording a mix and I noticed that when I was transitioning from 1 song to another & scratching the volume on the track I was playing would lower it self. then once I mixed in the other track, it would level it self out. I gues what I’m triying to say is when the 2 tracks were beingng mixed in, the volume would go low. what am I doing wrong?

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