Review & Video: Vestax VCI-400DJ Serato DJ Controller

Review Summary:

One of the best built, best sounding, most practical pro DJ controllers out there, gets relaunched in a Serato DJ version, which is largely successful, offering a great deal of functionality straight out of the box.

VCI-400DJ
  • VCI-400DJ
  • Rating: 4.5
  • From: Vestax
  • Price: $899
  • Reviewed by:
  • On August 22, 2013
  • Last modified:August 19, 2014
Vestax VCI-400DJ

Now available in a special Serato DJ edition, the Vestax VCI-400 may just have grabbed itself a whole new user base.

Review: Vestax VCI-400DJ Serato DJ Controller

Vestax VCI-400DJ for Serato DJ full review: The Vestax VCI-400DJ for Serato DJ is a new version of the Vestax VCI-400, is widely regarded as one of the most professional DJ controller out there, with a wealth of high quality controls, an amazing sound card, and an insane amount of “mappability”.

Of course, with all the flexibility of a “pro” controller comes a learning curve, which one suspects Vestax felt might have been harming acceptance of the original VCI-400. Maybe that’s why recently, the company has pushed both the Traktor mapping for the original VCI-400, and launched a new version – the VCI-400DJ, reviewed here today – which is tightly mapped to Serato DJ, that is also supplied with the unit. So: Out-of-the-box brilliance, or dumbing down? Let’s find out…

First impressions and setting up

The controller is physically identical to the VCI-400, save a new faceplate that is silver and printed with the correct labelling for Serato. (Actually, Serato DJ now works with the original VCI-400 too as long as you buy the software, so the difference here is that with the new VCI-400DJ, you get Serato DJ in the box, and that faceplate to make everything easier to understand.)

For those of you unfamiliar with the VCI-400, it’s bigger and heavier than most compact DJ controllers, while still remaining nowhere near as the “next size up” models like the Numark 4Trak / NS6, or the Pioneer DDJ-SX. For me, this strikes the right balance between portability and features: the VCI-400DJ is in no way cramped, but can still fit into a backpack easily enough. It’s roughly Traktor Kontrol S4 sized, although due to that all-metal build, is considerably heavier.

The standout features are four full channels; hardware filters that all have their own big red knobs, one per channel; full standalone mixer capability, switchable between two and all channels; and an all-over high amount of control over everything from FX routing to cross- and line-fader curves. Individual channel VUs (built rather neatly into the fader slots) and a master VU provide comprehensive monitoring, and with twin microphones, XLR/TRS master outputs, and two external line inputs, really the only criticism of the inputs and outputs would be the lack of a booth monitor or record out (and deck inputs – no using this with turntables).

Serato software is famously easy to get going; you install it, jump through a relatively simple licence activation “hoop”, and you’re off, the whole thing needing little more than for you to plug the VCI-400 into outlet power and your computer, and attach some powered speakers and headphones. The only other setting you really need to concern yourself with is setting the touch sensitivity of the jogwheels correctly, using two tiny controls on the front panel; this makes them move at the correct speed and respond promptly to your touch.

In use

I used the controller (completely against my own advice to anyone who ever asks) for a “real” gig, having not actually auditioned it at all up until that point! Happily, I can report it was easy enough to get going on, and I had next to no mishaps. (I have to also make clear that I’m familiar with Serato DJ, and also the Vestax VCI-300 and VCI-380, so it wasn’t a massive leap to the ’400DJ).

One of the things I really liked about it was the way the six rubber buttons under each jogwheel have been mapped. The are basically play/pause, cue and (rather bizarrely), censor, for all four channels. That means that you can control basic transport of all four decks without switching to the “hidden” deck if you don’t want to. I’ve not seen this on any DJ controller before, and it works well. I honestly don’t know why they didn’t map the “sync” button to the one they’ve used for “censor” though – it would have been more usual and made more sense to do this.

VCI-400DJ four decks

Under each jogwheel, you get continuous control over all four software decks, at least as far as play/pause and cue goes (and ‘Censor’!)

While the VCI-400DJ lacks the natty rotating LEDs of the VCI-380 on its jogs, for me that was more than made up for by having big, chunky filters there to play with. They have bright red LEDs to show you that they are engaged – saving mishaps when accidentally mixing into a fully filtered channel, for instance once you’re used to checking. (Not that I did that at all, ahem, no, of course not…)

There is simple beatmatched looping available using a push encoder, but there’s also full recallable manual looping available as one of four performances modes. These performance modes ape the VCI-380 more or less, with hot cue, loop, roll and sampler (the manual looping replacing the VCI-380′s slicer – again, something I think is more useful on the ’400). This eight buttons plus four mode buttons set-up is originally from the Novation Twitch, but is not as nice to use on the VCI-400 as the VCI.380 or the Twitch, the buttons being smaller and harder than the more tactile rubberised version on those controllers.

The effects section controls all modes of Serato DJ’s FX engines, including the ability to dasiychain three simple FX together, and then route them wherever you wish. Having the FX and filters separate is a godsend, and a definite winner over the VCI-380 in my book.

Advanced deck controls include two sunken deck select rockers, a slip function, vinyl mode for the jogs, and a beat skip mode for in-time track scrubbing. Many of these functions area available using the shift buttons, which add an extra layer of Midi control. The small slider volume right in the centre of the controller operates the overall SP-6 sample player volume, dividing the library rotary encoder below it from the navigation buttons (area focus, file/folder browsing etc) above.

In use, just like the VCI-400 for Traktor, I found the controller sounded excellent, felt utterly reliable, and let me just get on with the task at hand without much recourse to the instructions. I have to admit I needed to work out the jogwheel settings to get them working right, but when they are, they’re tighter than the same controller with Traktor. Also, I had to consult the manual to crack manual looping (you can adjust loop in and out points using the jogwheels, which is natty) – but overall, it’s all pretty apparent with a little experimentation what does wheat.

Conclusion

From some of the prototype variations on the VCI-400 that I saw at a recent music trade show, it looks like the bigger plan from Vestax is to package this controller up and bundle it with various DJ software packages moving forward, which makes sense; selling a “one size fits all” controller is all well and good, but many DJ just want to plug and play. and with this Serato DJ version, they’ve certainly achieved that.

It is intuitive, powerful, great sounding, and a blast to DJ with. It feels reliable, and has plenty of inputs and outputs to deal with most DJing situations, yet it is still practical for throwing in a bag and taking to your gig without breaking your back. I didn’t like the weird prominence of the “censor” button; I am a DJ who always uses “sync” nowadays rather than manually monkey-matching my beats, and so would have liked to have seen that used for the “sync” feature. Maybe they felt having sync so prominently would cheapen the controller?

I also found one other weird thing. That is this: When you turn the gain (“trim”, in Vestax terminology) knob on the hardware, the trim control and on-screen VU meters on the software remain static. the level is apparently being adjusted in the software rather than by the hardware, so why that isn’t reflected is anyone’s guess, and is certainly counter intuitive.

However, with full metering on the unit itself it’s not a big issue; just an irk. The only other irk was that on my (possible pre-production) faceplate, “USB Midi Controller” is misspelled “USB Midi Contoroller”!

Overall? The VCI-400DJ with Serato DJ supplied in the box is a smart move by Vestax, and I think will see a rush of sales from Serato-loving DJs who want a controller with roughly similar capabilities to the Pioneer DDJ-SX, but with a smaller footprint. If you’re in the market for such a controller, you should definitely check it out. Competition-wise, compare it to the Reloop Terminal Mix 4, which I feel is its closest competitor, although the VCI-400 does have a more comprehensive mapping and overall slightly better build to accompany its higher price point.

Product Summary

Review Summary:

One of the best built, best sounding, most practical pro DJ controllers out there, gets relaunched in a Serato DJ version, which is largely successful, offering a great deal of functionality straight out of the box.

VCI-400DJ
  • VCI-400DJ
  • Rating: 4.5
  • From: Vestax
  • Price: $899
  • Reviewed by:
  • On August 22, 2013
  • Last modified:August 19, 2014

 

Video review

Are you tempted by the VCI-400DJ? Are you a current VCI-400 user who already uses it with Serato DJ? Please share your thoughts below.

Comments

  1. When is this going to be available to purchase? I did some quick searching and I can’t find any retailers selling it yet.

  2. Jam-Master Jake says:

    Nice piece of kit, though I think I’ll stick with my DDJ-SX and my Twitch for now. After all the issues I had with my VCI-380, Vestax has left a bitter taste in my mouth that I don’t see being easily washed away for another few years. Same goes with Numark, which is why I won’t be rushing out to buy the new NS7 II when it launches.

    Nice review and video, Phil. I can see this selling well in the Serato market and bringing a surge in new business to Vestax.

  3. Awesome i have the vci400 black and wanted this silver cos it would look great with my 1200′s but would not run them analog . This sux

  4. Any chance they’ll throw in free serato dj software for those who bought the vci-400 months ago? :(

  5. Isn’t it possible to just re-map the Censor button to Sync, as it would be in Scratch Live?

  6. Nice review Phill!
    For VCI400 users, they may ask their local dealer for free Serato DJ overlay. Got mine within a week for free!

  7. Just have a look here in the link : http://www.vestax.com/v/release/detail.php?id=269
    Just don’t pay any attention to the e-mail link to order, it won’t work. Just order the overlays at your local dealer/shop.

  8. guys, i bought my VCI-400DJ about a month ago – in the UK, @ http://www.westenddj.co.uk. It’s a lovely piece of machine. Plug and play man! my Serato Scratchlive & Serato DJ sharing the same music files seamlessly. Prepare my music files in any any of the softwares and just play.

  9. I may be missin out on some stuff recently. Uuhh, what does the censor button do? Was it made to “bleep” out vulgar words? Say from a hiphop tune?

  10. Sounds like the controler Ive been needing…BUT does the vestax vci-400 let use connect control records via scratch live? seratoDJ should be compatible with ANY midi mixer right? Ive only seen the tractor s4 being used with turntables. Too big for mobile rigs when you want to use TTs/CD players. VCI-400 is just the right size to go between say a pair of stanton str8-150 TTs…NEED to KNOW before I commit to purchase. Thanks hil and anyone else who can help with my question. DjChozen1

  11. Reloop T4 at nearly £200 less than than the VCI-400 and more or less the same machine…rethink!

  12. Do the “mode switches” on the front of the unit for the 6 transport buttons have any function in serato?

    • scooterADAM says:

      you can use them to change from a virtual deck to a external input (at least when using the latest SDJ firmware update for the regular vci 400)

      so for instance you can have one external input and three virtual decks if so

  13. How do you record a mix/performance on these, i dont see a rec out, isit done internally via the software?

  14. I use the vci 400. I live in the USA but could not find the DJ version. I order from Juno Records in England.

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