The Vestax VCI-300 is a hardware and software bundle that transforms your laptop into a professional, portable DJ rig. With a list price of $1,300 (around $900 street), the Vestax VCI-300 isn't cheap, but its uniquely integrated system offers stability and control that's hard to find.
The most striking part of the Vestax VCI-300 bundle is the hardware interface, which roughly mimics a traditional mixer and turntable setup on a smaller scale. The control interface uses a solid metal chassis covered in an attractive, glossy, black plastic, and measures 1.5 inch tall, 16 inches wide, and 11 inches deep. All the faders and knobs are as full-sized and professional-feeling as any analog mixer we've tested, with spacing and positioning that most DJs will find familiar. The Vestax VCI-300's buttons are backlit and are formed from a hard plastic that feels durable, but isn't as inviting to wail on as the rubber buttons found on the Numark iDJ2.
Easily the coolest feature on the Vestax VCI-300 is the pair of 5-inch illuminated jog wheels. The jog wheels are made from clear acrylic, sandwiched under a textured-metal plate and bolted to the chassis with three stabilizing screws. Unlike the Numark NS7 or Stanton SCS-1D, the Vestax VCI-300's jog wheels aren't motorized, which takes some of the gee-whiz factor away, but also means there are fewer parts to wear out. The Vestax VCI-300's jog wheels are touch-sensitive, however, so placing your hand on the wheel while a track is playing in scratch mode will stop music playback as if you were placing your hand on a spinning record. Likewise, releasing your hand from the wheel resumes playback where it left off, and moving the platter back and forth produces a sound that is indistinguishable from the sound of reversing and cuing vinyl.
The back of the Vestax VCI-300 includes a USB socket, a jack for an optional power adapter (the controller is intended to run off USB power), and adjustment knobs for the jog-wheel touch sensor. More importantly, the back of the Vestax VCI-300 offers a pair of stereo master-audio outputs (RCA and 1/4 inch) and a single AUX input (RCA) with a gain knob and an emergency thru switch (sic) that allows you to switch over to a backup audio source in case your computer crashes.
On the front of the Vestax VCI-300, you'll find a few more audio connections, including a 1/4-inch headphone output on the right, and a 1/4-inch microphone input on the left. We're perplexed as to why Vestax would place the microphone-gain knob conveniently next to the mic input, but not place the headphone controls near the headphone output (headphone volume is located near the top of the unit, instead). Still, it should be fine if you're the type who typically sets-and-forgets your cue mix.
The Serato Itch software that comes bundled with the Vestax VCI-300 is a competent, yet slightly stripped-down version of the popular Serato Scratch Live. As far as music organization goes, Itch makes it easy to collect all the music files from your computer or external hard drive (MP3, WAV, AAC, and Ogg Vorbis are supported, however, iTunes-protected AAC files are not), sort them using editable ID3 tags, search for songs by name, and file them into virtual crates. Song tempos can be detected automatically by the software, entered directly, or tapped-in manually. One little feature that caught our eye is that after a song is over, Itch color codes the title to prevent you from repeating it later and boring people to tears.
Compared with a program like Native Instruments' Traktor or PCDJ DEX, Serato Itch is extremely light on effects and advanced EQ settings. If you want to add filters, delays, or flanger effects to your mix, you'll need to do it with outboard gear. Itch does offer a three-band EQ (0-6 dB), a reverse/censor effect, and three independent cue-point loops per channel.