November 25th, 2009 – First off, sorry about the delay in getting this post up. I actually had the videos ready to go Monday night, but the company I host my websites on, suffered a massive crash. Alright, now that’s out of the way…let’s get to the review!
Ok, let’s dive right into this review (if you missed the unboxing, you can read it here). See that picture up above? That’s the Vestax Spin, and it’s sitting in a custom steel case that I made for it. Well not exactly made, more like re-purposed and customized. Yup, it’s good enough that I want to protect it.
The Vestax Spin is an absolute blast to use. It definitely feels like less of a toy than most DJ controllers out there but, of course, it’s not a competitor to Vestax’s bread and butter, the VCI-100 and VCI-300. When viewed on its own, the Spin looks great; clean lines, a pleasant and ergonomic design, thoughtful layout, smooth and heavy platters, and good quality plastics. When compared to the VCI-100 and VCI-300 though, it looks like a plucky kid brother.
Of course, Vestax knows that the VCI-100 and VCI-300 faithful aren’t going to be looking at the Spin, but I’m sure users of the Spin will look up to the VCI-100 and VCI-300 when they want an upgrade. That being said, the Spin is just what a beginner laptop DJ like me needs.
For those starting out, the value in an included soundcard cannot be denied; plug in a set of headphones, connect the USB cable to your computer, and RCA outs to your speakers, and you’re good to go. There’s no fussing with external soundcards and having to route separate headphone and speaker outs. There’s a big headphone button next to each platter and you press it to hear what’s coming out. It’s that simple.
All the buttons and faders are intuitively placed, and the spacing feels good. All the main features that you’d want to control are available with clearly labeled and nicely lit buttons. The platters feel great, although it would be nice if the touch surface was a little wider for better control. Contrary to my initial reactions in the un-boxing, the linear faders are not too light. In fact, they feel pretty nice. Either I’m going crazy, or the faders got tighter and smoother with use. Is that even possible?!
One weird thing about the design, is that there’s a plug for a power adapter, but the Spin is bus-powered and doesn’t need one. Even odder, is a switch in the back that allows you to switch between external power, off, and USB powered. It doesn’t even say anything about a power adapter in the manual. If anyone from Vestax reads this, perhaps they could enlighten us.
I know you all are hungry for all the info you can get on the Vestax Spin, but the real hero of this combination is Algoriddim’s djay software. Lest we forget, the Vestax Spin is designed with djay in mind. I’ve tried out a lot of different DJ software in my quest to find something that feels right including Traktor and Mixxx (both software titles that I’ve talked about previously). I liked the simplicity of Mixxx and the flexibility of Traktor and I feel that djay slots somewhere in between.
Feature-wise, it has everything that you need to get the job done. EQ, speed control, headphone cueing, etc…all of that is present and where you’d expect it to be. What’s nice are the extras. User definable cuepoints are a huge plus for djay. You can set 3 cuepoints for each song and djay will save them in its own database where BPMs that djay has determined are also saved.
I checked iTunes to see if that information was stored in a common database, but unfortunately it looks like djay keeps that information to itself. This means that if you use your music library with other DJ software, that information will not be available to it. One thing to keep in mind is that although you can set 3 cuepoints in the software, you can only access one on the Spin. That means you’ll have to press the laptop keyboard to do any cool cuepoint juggling. Not really a big deal and, although adding more buttons would have been nice, it would have made the Spin bigger (or the buttons smaller).
Another great feature in djay is the sampler, which not many DJ software titles have. You can play up to 3 samples at once. You can record from the microphone or the turntables live, or you can load up your own samples. Regardless, the sampler is a great tool to get your creative juices flowing.
One thing I noticed was that the integration between iTunes and djay is closer than I first thought. iTunes has to be open for djay to be able to load the tracks. I’m not sure what the reason for that is, but I have a feeling that djay may be piggy backing on iTunes’ playback engine. At the very least, it needs the iTunes database to access songs. I’m not a developer, so I’m not sure if iTunes needs to be open to access that or not. Anyways, if you’re running an older version of iTunes that leaks memory all over the place, then you’ll want to get the latest version. While djay itself doesn’t use that much RAM, an iTunes leak could significantly impact performance.
Another one of djay’s nice features is its keylock abilities. Basically, you can click the keylock button in djay, and when you make speed changes, the pitch won’t change. It’s a nice feature for DJ’s who mix harmonically and it works pretty well. I wish the Spin had a button for it though. That would definitely have been useful.
Small BPM changes sound pretty good, although you wouldn’t want to slow it down too much; you can definitely hear distortion with extreme BPM changes. You can also set the processing power devoted to keylock in the preferences. There’s also an effect that allows you to pitch the track without changing the BPM. However, since you can’t dynamically change the pitching with the Spin itself, it’s not much more than a gimmick.
At this point, I’d like to point out that djay was around before the Vestax Spin and, as such, is able to use a variety of different controllers. Quite a few controllers are already mapped (including quite a few Vestax models), but if your controller is not listed, djay has a self-learning feature. As well, if you do have a controller that’s listed (even the Spin), you can go in and change parameters as you’d like.
Of course, the offshoot of this is that the Vestax Spin is a fully MIDI compliant controller. That means, you could map it to other software if you so wished and, in fact, I’m sure many people out there have already created Traktor mappings for it.
I’m going to say on the record that djay matches me the best out of all the DJ software I’ve used for both Mac and PC platforms. Some are too simple, and some, like Traktor, can be overwhelming to a newcomer like me. Maybe I’ll grow into Traktor, but right now djay strikes that ideal balance of simplicity and feature set. That being said, there are a couple things I’d like to see in future versions.
For one, it would be nice if there were scrolling waveforms. True, not being able to see the waveform makes you rely on your ears just like traditional mixing, but I’m a studio engineer damnit; I like having the option! I’d also like to have more FX (like filter sweep) and control over those effects. I want to be able to map the effects to rotary knobs if I want. Even if I can only choose between a few steps, I want to be able to turn my knob and control it on the fly. Right now, I have to open the FX module and use my mouse to click right or left to change it. If I want to map the effect to the controller, I can only choose note on/note off commands, not dynamically changing values like from a fader.
I am not a DJ. As a non-DJ, the Vestax Spin and Djay make an ideal pair to introduce me gently into the world. But no, they will not make you into a DJ hero even with BPM detection and syncing. No matter what people say, matching BPMs between two tracks is not the hardest thing about being a DJ. Every professional DJ can match BPM’s, it’s par for the course. The hardest thing is playing music as an instrument itself. In my opinion, that’s what makes a real DJ.
I hope hardware and software like the Vestax Spin and Djay will help introduce DJing to a whole new generation. Skill is skill, no matter what the tools. Some kid is not going to come up and destroy the achievements of Q-Bert or Grandmaster Flash. She’s going to succeed by doing something different. If you’re worried that a kid on a $250 DJ controller is going to steal your thunder, then you have bigger fish to fry like upping your own game. Recognize your history, but evolve.
Oh and on a slight tangent: DJ’s(analog and laptop), turntablists, and controllerists are all different. Each shares a similar skillset, but the end result is markedly different. They do not compete, but rather compliment each other. All can be appreciated for their abilities; why is there so much tension out there?
The Vestax Spin is a fantastic controller. Feature-wise it has just enough to get you started. Even if you’ve never DJ’d before, you’ll feel right at home. Time will tell if the Spin will survive the thrashing it’ll get while DJing; I’ll keep you updated. As for djay, if you’re a Mac user (sorry PC platformers) and you’re looking for some DJ software, it’s awesome. It even has a “set and forget” automix mode that destroys the iTunes genius for auto-djing your next wine and cheese party.
If it sounds like I’m gushing with effusive praise, it’s because I’m just that excited. That’s something that not many products can do. Not only is djay fun to use, but it had some surprises up its sleeve that far exceeded my expectations given its low price ($50). Now bundle both the Vestax Spin and djay for $250…killer value.
Update 12-29-09: For those of you who are interested, I interviewed the developers of djay and asked many of the questions that I have been asked. That post is here.