Our favorite feature of the Serato Itch is the audio waveform view, which is colorized to distinguish high-frequency sounds (snare drums) from low-frequency sounds (bass drums), making it easier to visually align two beats to fall in sync. If more drastic measures are needed to beat-match a song transition, Serato's pitch-shift keys, auto-tempo controls, and key lock should come in handy.
For better or worse, the Serato Itch software uses the VCI-300 hardware as a glorified copy-protection dongle, leaving the software crippled without the controller being attached to your computer. The upshot of this system is that there are no passwords to manage, and you can install the software on as many computers as you like without the hassle of online registration. The downside, of course, is that the software can't be used with any random MIDI controller, and you can't practice your mixes without having the VCI-300 hardware attached to your computer.
Most laptop DJ rigs are a kludge of audio cards, MIDI controllers, and DJ software that you can only pray will cooperate. With so many components depending on each other, and a general lack of communication between manufacturers, a random software or firmware update may be enough to bring a digital DJ rig to its knees. The appeal of the Vestax VCI-300 is that the hardware and software comprise a relatively closed system that has been engineered to work seamlessly together--providing exceptional stability at the expense of third-party interoperability. For many DJ's, the promise of dependability and plug-and-play simplicity are more important than keeping up with the latest components and software plug-ins.
Another advantage of the closed system between Vestax and Serato is that the hardware and software aren't required to communicate strictly using an open standard, such as MIDI. For instance, the VCI-300's jog wheels and faders communicate with Serato Itch using a protocol that enables thousands of small increments, instead of the maximum 127 control messages allowed by MIDI. This higher resolution results in more nuanced control and improved jog-wheel tracking, which leads us to the question everybody asked us during testing, "Can you really scratch with this thing?"
Yes, the VCI-300 is one of the first USB-connected DJ controllers we've used that may satisfy music's most fickle faction: scratch DJs. Hardware features, such as platter torque adjustment, light-friction faders, low-latency controls, accurate platter turns, and a crossfader slope adjustment, show Vestax's pedigree in catering to the scratch DJ market, while Serato throws in brake-speed adjustment, instant doubles, and crossfade slope reverse to seal the deal. It might not be enough to make a veteran battle DJ trade in her record crates, but it should sway some of the scratch-happy DJs who've already made the leap to CD decks.
We couldn't find fault with the sound quality from the VCI-300, although the lack of balanced outputs may be a deal-breaker for some DJs. The EQ errs on the side of subtlety, trim controls offer plenty of headroom, and an autogain setting within the Itch software takes some of the headache out of level-matching between songs.
We think the VCI-300 is a great system for DJs who want a minimum of technology (and its inherent headaches) getting between them and their music. It's priced a little on the high side, but the increased reliability and high-resolution controls will be worth every penny for demanding DJs.