About this time last year, when everyone was talking about four-channel controllers, Vestax almost it seemed apologetically slipped out the VCI-100 Mk II, its follow-on controller to the emblematic VCI-100 – the controller that really started it all.
The VCI-100 Mk II was instantly compared to the VCI-100, a controller that had become the became the darling of a relatively small number of nonetheless influential controllerists. Because the VCI-100 Mk II was no longer as modifiable, no longer a heavy metal box, and because – well – it was more appealing to the everyday DJ, it had a section of the modders and button-punchers up in arms. How dare they not release another controller aimed at that small community?
But while that may have been unfair, a perhaps more valid criticism was the unit’s price point. Numark, for instance, was shifting bucketloads of its Mixtrack Pro controller, which cost less than half the price of the VCI-100 Mk II at its launch. And while the VCI-100 Mk II is better built and offers more functions, the Mixtrack was redefining what to expect from a DJ controller at the low to mid price point.
Furthermore, the middle ground was being squeezed from above too. Native Instruments launched the Kontrol S4 around the same time, which came with an at-the-time exclusive, improved, full version of Traktor (which is their own software, of course) – unlike the VCI-100 Mk II, that only shipped a drastically cut down LE version.
The biggest omission in the software was that you only got two decks. Once you added the cost of upgrading your software onto the price of the VCI-100 Mk II itself, you were getting close to full four-channel Kontrol S4 territory – and the S4 was pushing sample decks and loop recorder in addition.
The jogwheel question
Another thing the S4 had that no non-Native Instruments Traktor controllers could (or still can) offer was true one-to-one jogwheel-to-software control – as responsive as any vinyl scratch product.
Vestax hardware can do this (witness the unsurpassed control over Serato ITCH offered by the wonderful jogs on the VCI-300, or indeed the controller reviewed here when used with Virtual DJ), but just as with all other non-Native Instruments DJ controllers, the VCI-100 Mk II offered good-but-not-quite-perfect scratch control over Traktor.
And as Traktor is the software supplied with it and the software that is name-checked on the surface-attached sticker, it is what the unit was always going to be judged on.
All of this meant that the Vestax VCI-100 Mk II seemed to get kind of forgotten as the controller market marched into 2011 with four-channel beasts arriving seemingly every other week, and with whole new ranges being launched (I’m thinking especially of Pioneer’s arrival into the controller market).
Is less more again?
Fast-forward to today, though, and things seem bemusingly to have almost swung full circle. People are realising that big, bulky controller that you need to put in your car boot to get them to your gig may not be all they’re cracked up to be.
DJs are musing that maybe they don’t really need full four-channel mixers for day-to-day DJing. They’re falling in love with the idea of a controller in backpacks all over again. With the Traktor Kontrol S2 announced, the Novation Twitch making waves, and Reloop’s small but capable Mixage also winning fans, it seems like this season, less is more again.
Combine that sentiment with a price drop on the Vestax VCI-100 Mk II to something more reasonable (if not exactly cheap), and the future is looking a little rosier for this little two-channel, four-deck controller. We felt it was time to revisit it…
First impressions and setting up
In the box are the unit itself, CDs for Traktor 2 LE and the ASIO drivers, a USB cable, and helpfully a rather neat little USB hub, with four USB outputs on it. It is optionally powered, but there’s no power lead included. Nice idea, though, especially for USB-strapped Mac users.
Vestax gear has always felt serious and ready for business. Stuff for musicians and performers. And the VCI-100 Mk II is no different. In a sober grey box, it is similarly understated – a compact silver unit with grey and black knobs, buttons and faders, and two smart black metal jogwheels mounted on transparent acrylic with 7″ record adapter-esque spindles that can be tightened or loosened to affect the way the jogwheels spin.
The unit is pleasingly styled, with rounded corners, rubberised decal on the front and back to offer some physical protection to the buttons and sockets found in those areas, and a lightweight metal top plate. The chassis is what I believe is technically referred to as “metally plastic”!
Like the Novation Twitch and the Kontrol S2/S4, the unit uses modern materials but eschews a lot of metal, therefore weighing in considerably lighter than controllers built in that way. While some may bemoan this, I think it’s preferable to do things this way, as long as the build quality is there – what’s the point of having a small controller if after carrying it for 10 minutes your arm is dropping off?
It has plenty of knobs and buttons (more than something like the cheaper Mixtrack, for instance), and a rather smart little joystick in the dead centre. Overall, its appearance is smart, professional, compact and modern.
To set up, you install Traktor 2 LE, install the ASIO drivers if you’re a Windows user (Mac users don’t need to), plug it in, go through them as usual rather convoluted Traktor set-up process (the setup wizard unhelpfully doesn’t set the sound configuration for you as with all non-NI Traktor controllers, so you have to work that out), and you’re off.
Once plugged in, the unit has distinctive blue “go faster” stripes that glow down each side. Whether this is to your taste or not, it’s certainly eye-catching. It would look good in a low-lit, UV-dominated cocktail, bar, for instance, but may look a bit naff in a utilitarian DJ booth.
Down to business, though. The unit comes with a Traktor Pro mapping, rather than a Traktor Pro 2 mapping, which means that should you want to use Traktor’s sample decks and loop recorder, you’re going to be using keyboard shortcuts or mapping them yourself.
However, if you want to use straight four-deck Traktor functions, everything is present and correct. Vestax has promised a Traktor Pro 2 mapping, but at the time of writing couldn’t provide me with a version to test.
Deck selection is by old-fashioned toggle switch at the top of the two channels – they’re firm and pleasing to use. Each channel has three-band EQs which don’t quite cut-to-kill, but they’re not far off. Each channel also has a gain and rather unusually, pan control – a nice addition. There are also dedicated filter knobs with on/off switches – again, good to see.
The joystick allows you to load to the selected deck, scroll up and down through your library, and toggle library view on/off on the software (by pushing it to click). Cue buttons, FX selectors and long-throw line faders complete the line sections of the mixer
The crossfader comes with curve control but is probably not going to win scratch converts as it’s not particularly loose. It was fine for me though, and let’s face it: For scratching, this wouldn’t be top of your list anyway – nor would any such controller.
Jogwheels and transport controls
The jogwheels are similar to most Vestax controllers, which is to say very good. Topped with touch-sensitive metal for scratching, nudging is done by touching the plastic sides. As mentioned earlier, you can loosen or tighten them using the centre control. Their undersides glow blue until touched, at which point they turn red. There are controls around the back to adjust sensitivity.
The usual CUE and play/pause buttons are present for each deck, but there’s also a pair of extra buttons. The first is a CUP button (drops you back to the cue point but carries on playing immediately from there, unlike CUE which drops you back there and waits), and the second moves the cue point to where the playhead currently is without interrupting the music. I’ve not seen this exact functionality elsewhere, and it’s useful.
The jogs are definitely a strong point of this controller, although as I mentioned in the introduction, the way Traktor handles jogwheels on third-party controllers is not ideal. Although this controller doesn’t ship with Virtual DJ, it works fine with it – and in Virtual DJ, the responsiveness and performance of the jogs are far better than in Traktor.
It’s a shame between them that the companies can’t get this right, as the end user suffers with below par performance. Not many will even know or care as it’s not a huge thing, but if you want a DJ controller to duplicate the “vinyl” feeling, you need 100% responsive jogs – something Traktor and third-party controllers as a whole (I’m not singling Vestax out here) can’t (or won’t) deliver.
Moving on. The tempo controls are reasonably fine, moving about 0.05 of a BPM at their most granular. This will be OK for manual beatmatching, although Novation upped the ante with the brilliant (and rotary too!) tempo controls on the Twitch, that basically move in 0.01 of a BPM increments and make manual beatmatching a dream.
Loops and effects
With four knobs, four buttons and two micro up/down effects select buttons, there is pretty comprehensive control over Traktor’s effects units, but of course such is their complexity that you will end up occasionally using the keyboard and/or mouse to sett config and make changes in these areas.
The FX buttons, although not labelled, logically move from left to right through the buttons on each effect unit on the screen, so no worries about knowing what they will do before pressing them. As previously mentioned, effects are assignable within the mixer section to each channel.
You switch between the four effects units by holding down SHIFT and pressing the corresponding one of the four microswitches. The looping works with a simple on/off button and half/double pair of buttons for selecting the beats/fractions of a beat to be looped, and there’s a move function as well accessed via shift, although it doesn’t move the whole loop – just moves the playhead backwards or forwards by the size of the current loop.
Completely standard sync and keylock buttons complete the supplied mapping, although it’s worth noting that there are lots of unused SHIFT button combinations – 20 or so – that are waiting for custom mapping by those so inclined. I am sure some of these will see the light of day when Vestax gets its Traktor Pro 2 mapping finished.
Front and back
The main volume, crossfader curve knob, headphones cue/mix, headphone volume, another level control (that I couldn’t quite fathom out), and a sound card configuration plus a headphones socket are spread out across the front of the unit.
Meanwhile around the back, there’s a single external input, which does not route through Traktor at all – it’s just meant as an emergency thru for plugging an iPod or something similar into should you have a system crash and need to keep music playing when you reboot (Before you cry “meh!”, note Traktor Kontrol S2 doesn’t even have this much). It has a level control at least, so you can make emergency adjustments as needed.
There are touch sensitivity controls for the jogs, USB, optional DC power sockets, and two RCA output pairs. These are not booth/master or even record/master, because they essentially both output exactly the same signal in internal mode, but if you set the software to external mixing mode, they are used to output a channel to each.
And that’s it! It all works as advertised, it inspires confidence, and there’s lots of room for mapping your own shortcuts to spare keys if you wish.
There are dozens of Traktor controllers available, and there’s nothing here that most of the others don’t have – barring the undeniable Vestax quality of build and components, which is refreshing when you set this model against some of the consumer-grade controllers.
The Vestax VCI-100 Mk II is a nice controller. It’s well built, the knobs, buttons and jogs are decent quality, and it controls Traktor Pro well enough, with enough room for custom mapping on it’s 20 or so unmapped button combinations.
It lacks a microphone input, balanced outputs and dedicated booth output, none of which are particularly essential for the majority of mixing DJs, but which means that if you’re DJing in a larger bar or club with this, you’ll definitely want to go through their house mixer, if only to get decent monitoring into the equation.
What it also lacks, alongside the majority of Traktor controllers at this time, is a decent Traktor Pro 2 mapping to take advantage of the juicy new features in that software, so in competition with the (forthcoming) Traktor Kontrol S2, it currently loses out a bit here – although even the S2 only partially maps all of Traktor Pro 2’s new features. Let’s hope Vestax hurry up with the promised Traktor Pro 2 mapping.
It’s ironic too that, as mentioned, for a Traktor controller, the jogwheel performance is actually better with Virtual DJ.
In comparison with Vestax’s own VCI-300 (an ITCH controller), this unit is slightly smaller, cheaper and definitely lighter, but that controller comes with a full version of its software, so no need to upgrade. Mind you, the VCI-300 appears underpowered nowadays, with absolutely no built-in effects and strictly two decks. There’s still nothing in the controller world at this level that comes close to the jog performance of the VCI-300, though.
The more telling comparison may be with the Mixtrack Pro. Although that unit is aimed firmly at beginners and consumers and thus still considerably cheaper than this one, apart from the four-deck control over Traktor (as long as you buy the upgrade, of course), there’s not much this can do that the Mixtrack Pro can’t, at least straight out of the box. And the Mixtrack Pro has thus sold extremely well, even to semi-pros, many of whom have thrown in the towel and admitted it’s great value for money.
However, if you baulk at the Mixtrack Pro’s consumer looks and undeniably to-budget build quality, and are just looking for a basic true “pro” Midi controller (which the Mixtrack isn’t) with no frills, a decent sound card (this sound card sounds great, by the way) and the kind of build quality that means everything will probably still be working in a few years’ time after some abuse, the Vestax VCI-100 Mk II should definitely be on your shortlist.
It’s still a trifle underpowered for the price, and it’s not really cutting edge (due mainly to the current lack of a Traktor Pro 2 mapping), but the recent price drop certainly puts it back on the map. If you’re a pro or semi-pro who’s in the market for four-deck mixing in a compact and well-built unit, give it a look.
• Anyone who has bought this unit with the old Traktor LE and registered the software in 2011 is entitled to a free upgrade to Traktor 2 LE.
Has Vestax got the balance right with this controller at its new price? Or are there similar products you feel have the edge? How important do you think scratch-standard jogwheel performance is on a DJ controller? We would love to hear your thoughts in the comments.