Are you looking for a simple way to add real deck control to your digital DJ set-up? Maybe you’re a laptop DJ who just wants to be able to scratch over your laptop-controlled music, or you’re a DJ who is happy with his current DJ controller but wants to liberate one of the extra decks offered by your current software. If this sounds like you, you might be interested in the intriguing little VTT-101 from DJ-Tech. We took a closer look…
The DJ-Tech VTT-101 is a DJ Midi controller, and probably the simplest such device we’ve ever seen. It has a 5″ jogwheel (touch sensitive dual action, the top being metal to control scratching, the side being plastic for nudging), two Pioneer-style play/pause and cue buttons with LED lighting to indicate state, and a single 45mm fader.
It has a single USB jack, a DC jack for 6V power if your USB can’t provide enough power for the unit, and three small pots to adjust the crossfader curve, the sensitivity of the touch-sensitive jog, and the Midi channel.
It is a Midi controller, not a sound interface; there is no sound card built in, and so you’ll need a sound card elsewhere in your set-up. It is clearly meant for scratch DJs to use as an extra scratch deck or for practice, and while you could feasibly turn it 90 degrees and use it as a straight deck, remapping the crossfader as a pitch control, the company already has a version of this – the CDJ-101 – that does precisely that, so there would be no point buying this unit for that purpose.
First impressions/setting up
The DJ-Tech VTT-101 comes in a green and black box whose artwork and presentation don’t do it justice; unboxed, it is a sturdy device, made of high-quality plastic with a metal-topped jogwheel, pleasingly chunky with a metal plate housing its jacks and setting controls.
The buttons feel good, and the crossfader is pleasingly loose, although it’s non-replaceable. The only thing that lets its appearance down to my eyes is the garish green type colour used on its decal.
It comes with a USB cable, and a copy of Deckadance LE DJ software, although it is also apparently “optimized for Traktor (sic) Pro”. In reality, this is a Midi device and so can be mapped, software dependent, to anything. Just as well, as we’ll find out shortly…
The USB cable supplied with our unit had a right-angle plug that meant the lead pointed upwards out of the jack – not ideal. Nonetheless, having plugged in, we installed Deckadance LE as supplied, which comes ready-mapped, and within a few minutes were playing with the software.
With Deckadance, using it felt like driving an old jalopy, where you turn the steering wheel but the thing simply doesn’t respond properly! There was an easily perceptible delay between moving your hand and the corresponding changes in the sound, and spinbacks were unnatural in that the music stopped pretty much dead the second your hand left the jogwheel, rather than spinning back naturally.
It was not possible to stutter-start using the cue button, as again there was a delay in the command being acted on by the software meaning it could only be pressed about four times a second without one or more actions being ignored by the software.
It was nothing to do with the audio setting (ie. latency), more to do with the software’s Midi responsiveness. Without getting involved in the Midi vs HID debate for jogwheel control, I’ve seen Midi jogs that are far more responsive than this. I think DeckaDance is to blame here, but you really do have to wonder why DJ-Tech bundled it with this software – it hardly shows off the controller’s capabilities to their best.
However, we didn’t want to write the controller off just yet. Because the truth is, Deckadance isn’t how most people are likely to use this controller. There are two types of DJ who might find it useful:
- DJs wanting to add an extra Midi deck to their current controller set-up in order to control a third or fourth deck on their software, having it operating alongside their current controller
- Scratch DJs wanting a small, portable device they can use to practise their scratching on wherever they get the chance – at work, in a hotel room or whatever
In both of these cases, the chances of them using Deckadance LE with an out-of-the-box mapping are low. Such DJs are more likely to have Traktor Pro or maybe Virtual DJ as their current DJ software, and so will be interested in how the unit performs with these programs.
The provided quickstart instructions recommend you to visit the DJ-Tech website in order to find mapping for other DJ software, but we couldn’t find anything there and so we contacted DJ-Tech to ask for mappings, and found out that there is an HID mapping for Virtual DJ due imminently and also a Traktor .tsi file – and the only reason they’re not currently on the website is that the website is brand new and they haven’t been added yet.
DJ-Tech provided us with an early HID Virtual DJ mapping, and with this, it was a completely different story with the unit – it was tight and responsive, not far off as good as anything I’ve used for scratching and crossfader control. You could easily stutter with the big cue buttons, and the unit immediately made perfect sense. It was suddenly a blast to use.
As a unit, the VTT-101 shows promise – it’s well-enough made, with the jog and crossfader being fun to operate, and the overall feel is good if a little tacky with the green type.
The crossfader curve adjuster works well (although in Virtual DJ, the screen display shows the crossfader where it would be with the curve set flat, which is a bit disconcerting) and the sensitivity adjuster is useful.
Of course, the problem is that it’s unusable with the supplied software. When reviewing it I spoke at length to the DJ-Tech team, and they promised that they are diligently working on getting both Traktor and Virtual DJ mappings delivered on their website for the unit imminently.
Once it has these – and assuming they both work as well as the Virtual DJ pre-delivery test HID mapping that they sent me – I have no complaints about the unit’s operation, and I think scratch DJs would find it perfectly OK to use. However, it is not particularly cheap for what you get, and it’s been on sale for a while now – heaven only knows what early purchasers did bar actually writing custom interface XML and mappings it themselves to get it to work.
So to sum up – if you’re after something like this (and you’ll know if you are, it’s after all pretty specialist item), visit the DJ-Tech website and check that there are mapping files for your software. If you’re reading this after May 2011, there should be.
Also, check below and when we can vouch the production mappings work well, we’ll post in the comments. Just don’t buy it and expect to use it with DeckaDance. (As such, the gradings below all assume workable mappings appear for the unit as promised to the standard of the Virtual DJ prototype mapping we’ve already tested.)
Are you a scratch DJ who’s been looking for a portable scratch controller? What do you use to practise on? Have you already got a VTT-101 and found a usable mapping for it? Let us know your thoughts in the comments.