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The Vestax VCM 600 Midi controller injects fun into DJing with Ableton Live

It seems the whole DJing and production world is looking for the ultimate Ableton hardware controller, and Vestax are the latest to rise to the challenge with their VCM 600 Midi controller.

Ableton is a killer piece of software that allows a DJ to add more production techniques to his sets, but it has a few major drawbacks. For example, it’s impossible to use Ableton to its full potential in a live performance due to the amount of navigating involved between clips. And when glued to a laptop, it’s easy for DJs to look like they’re just checking emails rather than orchestrating the crowd.

This is where hardware controllers come into play, but so far very few take full advantage of Ableton and the ones that do aren’t exactly intuitive for DJs moving over from vinyl or CDs to digital laptop systems.

The Vestax VCM 600 is a dedicated hardware controller for Ableton. The first thing we notice when lifting it out of the box is that it’s heavy — not in the hippy sense, but in the excess baggage charge kind of way. And it looks like the bastard offspring of a DJ mixer that’s had a one-night stand with a studio console after the Vestax labs were shut for the night.

The control surface layout is complex for someone who’s more at home with a DJ mixer, but not intimidating, and it’s really obvious where all the important bits, like the channel faders, EQs and master faders are located, so DJs will be up and mixing in no time once the Midi controller is rigged up.

Pretty much everything about the VCM 600 will appeal to DJs using Ableton for live performance. It’s a Midi controller with no in-built soundcard so an audio interface is required, but think of it as six-channel mixer with the ability to control more channels via the bank switches.

Each channel has a three-band EQ with kill switches, two sends, a mute, a cue (sort of) and some extra bits for controlling Ableton. The additional controls on each channel start and stop clips, swap between the channel views in Live and also provide resonance and frequency control. It’s important to keep in mind that these controls are only the defaults supplied by Vestax but can be mapped to pretty much anything easily and quickly in Ableton using the Midi learn feature. And the VCM can be used with any other Midi enabled software such as Cubase, a VJ system or even a lighting rig.

Lots of buttons and knobs have been set aside for filters or anything else the warped mind of a DJ might wish to control, while the nearby loop controls are a great size and nicely spaced.

The faders and pots have a good quality feel, while the crossfader is of the light-as-a-feather variety, which can be a bit of a nightmare because it’s easy to accidentally brush it in the wrong direction. A curve adjustment for the crossfader can be set-up however needed.

An interesting quirk is that the VCM 600 is lacking a designated cue button. The solo button, however, doubles as a cue, just like in Ableton, and it’s been placed in a slightly awkward spot, right below the mute button, so there is the potential for mis-triggering while in the heat of the moment.

Amongst the VCM 600’s best features are the tempo control slider and nudging buttons. The tempo control slider is basically the same as a pitch control on decks or CD players and the nudge buttons behave exactly like the nudge feature on CD mixers, making mixing into and out of vinyl and CDs nice and easy, complemented further by a fine tune knob to get your beat mixing tight as you like.

Choosing between clips — what Ableton calls tracks or audio loops — is taken care of quite neatly using a knob located below the pitch fader and the play buttons on each channel. This means less time spent hunched over a laptop and more time with hands in the air or where they need to be — on the control surface and wowing the crowd.

Ableton Live users not using the new version 8 or the latest version of 7 will find the install process a bit fiddly. A whole heap of manual midi mapping and assignment of buttons and faders on the VCM to the corresponding buttons on Live is required before you can start mashing up those beats. But with newer versions of Ableton Live installation is easy, as all of the controls are mapped to the VCM 600 automatically. And it even comes with a simplified version of Live 7 for instantaneous start-up.

Overall, the VCM 600 is pretty damn cool and offers lots of control and performance enhancing features and that’s what makes a set more fun both for the DJ and the party animals on the dancefloor. For instance, the EQ kill switches are cool as fuck and light up when in full kill position — great for those fancy bass blasting EQ tricks that rock the discotheques.
Powered by USB direct from your laptop, the unit is fantastic for ‘on the road’ applications or for showing off on the plane on the way to the gig, but it is a little bit heavier than the average laptop and there’s no way it will fit into any laptop or record bag.

Its all-metal construction is solid and the build quality is so sturdy it feels like it could take a full-on battering, and keep on going. The faders and knobs are mix-friendly and the layout is clean, user-friendly and for the most part intuitive despite a huge number of controls.

In a nutshell, the VMC 600 is a cracking piece of kit, which is in a league of its own at the moment. There’s no other product on the market in its price range that has the same number of features and similarly satisfies the needs of the Ableton DJ.

PRICE £650
VERDICT Build Quality 4.0
  Ease of use 4.0
  Features 4.0
  Value for money 4.0
Sound Quality N/A
HYPE Six channels allows DJs to be more creative in the mix.
GRIPE It won’t fit into a laptop bag.
OVERALL A well-built Midi controller that injects fun into DJing with Ableton Live.