Allen and Heath announced at NAMM 2015 that the Xone mixers would be SeratoDJ natively supported and at the same time also stated that the Xone:K1 midi controller would be an Official Serato Accessory. As DJ’s around the world jumped for joy in excitement, I couldn’t wait to see this Hardware/Software marriage in person. Having both a Xone DB2 and Xone K2 at my disposal, I was able to borrow a Xone:K1 from my Allen And Heath distributor. As my previous review showed the DB Series mixers are a breeze to setup with the Serato software. In this review I will be going over the set-up and operation of the Xone K1, Xone DB2 mixer and SeratoDJ 1.7.5. I will be using a MacPro running OS X 10.10.3 so we should at least have a stable operating system.
Firstly, The K1 is dimensionally the same as the Xone K2. In fact looking at each one side by side they look almost identical knob for knob and button for button. The firmware under the hood is very different though. The Xone K2 uses a layer system to add different midi cc’s multi use buttons, by selecting the layer button you are able to cycle through one midi page to the another. The Xone K1 on the other hand has done away with layers and opted for the use of a “Shift” button and “Hotkey” button to implement different midi cc’s for the multi use buttons. There are a total of 52 assignable controls. Controls include 6 endless rotary encoders with push switch, 12 analogue pots, 4 linear faders, and 30 backlit performance switches with three-colour illumination. On the top end of the unit there is 1 usb port and a both an In and Out Xlink port to connect to a DB mixer or daisy chain another K1 or K2 without the need of hooking it up to an additional USB port. On the bottom row of controllers are a “Shift” button, 2 push button endless encoders, and another button marked ”Exit Setup”(This if the Hotkey Botton).
As the K1 powers up by either USB or Xlink hold down the right endless encoder. You will now be entering the midi setup, rotate the encoder and you will see the buttons light up red. The number of red button represents the midi channel number. The default is Midi channel 15. Press the “Exit Setup“ button to exit setup. Your good to go with opening up SeratoDJ.
When opening SeratoDJ it will attempt to recognize a compatible DJ device. You cannot just run a K1 by itself, you must have a recognized Serato device. My weapon of choice the Xone DB2 ….Killer sound, Killer FX and SeratoDJ DVS compatible. When adding a Xone K1 it becomes a wicked setup used by many top named DJ’s. My first instinct was to go to the “Midi” tab in Serato to see if there was any midi preferences. The only available midi devices are external controllers, the Xone K1 or the Xone DB2 do not show up in the midi selection area. You do have an option to enable midi output lighting which is a big plus if you are mapping a controller from scratch. If you have mapped in Traktor you know how much of a hassle it is to map the Input controls and have to go back and map the lighting.
So being that the Xone K1 just works and there is no setup for it. Can it be remapped to your liking if the presets are not to your liking? (edited 7/1/2015) If you leave it on the Default Midi Channel which is set to Midi 15 the only thing you can map are the 4 faders. My logical choice was to map these as Tempo faders, you may have thoughts to use them on some other midi control but your choices are limited. All is not lost for someone who wants to create a full custom mapping though. My friends at A&H (Thanks Greg!) filled me in on a great tip for those concerned about being locked into Serato’s default mappings. Serato normally recognizes the K1 on Midi channel 15 and triggers the plug and play mapping for it. But, If you change that to any other midi channel other than 15 you will have the freedom to map as you please. Serato is user-friendly in the mapping dept. meaning that you can see what function you are mapping by simply going into midi mode and select the function and assign the K1’s control. That’s it instant gratification! And if you get a little confused (you shouldn’t) just set the Xone K1’s midi channel back to Midi 15 and you back running on the default mapping. Most people will leave this on Default midi Channel, but for the more advanced users the K1 has just became an essential bit of kit. Below is the Default operations out of the box.
The K1 has 4 endless encoders across the very top that operate as the “Loop” section. Rotate the encoder to adjust the size of loop and push to engage. A secondary function while pressing “Shift” and rotate the encoder is “Beat Jump”
Rows 2 and 3 have 4 encoders each as well as illuminated buttons below each. These act as FX1 and FX2. The encoders 1-3 on each row adjust the amount of effect, encoder 4 adjusts the beat timing of the effect (ranging from 1/32 to 32 beats). The buttons 1-3 engage the effect, button 4 acts as a Tap Tempo. The secondary function the buttons 1-3 while pressing “Shift” is the ability to change the effect using the dropdown menu you are presented with.
Row 4 contains 4 encoders as well as illuminated button below each. The encoders act as the “Filter” section sweeping from low to high pass. The button engages the controversial “Sync” function ( which I will touch base on later).
The next section is the fader section which contains 4 smooth faders that can be mapped via midi. These are the only controls that can be mapped in SeratoDJ.
The last section is a grid of 16 illuminable buttons and being that SeratoDJ has set the Xone K1
to act as a 4 deck controller (this cannot be changed to 2 decks) each row of vertical buttons act as 1 deck each. They are setup from left to right as Deck 3,1,2,4 to replicate most 4 channel mixer setups. From the bottom to the top button, Button 1 is “Play”, Button 2 is “Temporary cue or previous track”, Button 3 and 4 act as “Pitch Bend” up and down.
The Browser section is controlled by the the 2 endless encoders located at the very bottom of the Xone K1. Browsing the library can be done by rotating the encoder and and pressing the encoder to assign to a specific deck. The left encoder assigns tracks to Deck 1/3 and the right Deck 2/4. To assign tracks to Deck 3/4 you will need to press “Shift” and then press selected encoder to assign.
The grid of 16 also acts as a “ Hot Cue” section. This is accomplished by pressing “Exit/Setup”, you will enter the same setup from left to right being Deck 3,1,2,4 respectably. Each deck has 4 hot cues each that illuminate when setting a cue point. To delete the cue point press the “Shift” button and select the cue point you want to delete.
In use the Xone K1 and SeratoDJ are very responsive to each other and having little to no mapping setup is a plus for a lot of DJ’s. I would have liked to have a preset for 2 decks to provide a little more function in the way of the sampler or flip. It is very well laid out as it stands to give you the basic functions and I found it more DJ friendly than the Traktor X1.
Now about that “Sync” button, Sync has been a dirty word in the DJ world for a while now. Some say it takes away from the craft, others say it allows any dumb ass to DJ. I personally started DJing in 1985 back then you had to beat match or you would sound like radio DJ . Technics 1200’s where the talk of the town and expensive for the time, fast forward to today and you’ve got Sync buttons, Key lock, and Harmonic mixing in Key. The Sync button to me has its uses when mixing samples and 4 decks its essential. But because I’m from the real Old School it is in my workflow to beat match without it, I do like the fact that you dont have to find the tempo manually so that saves some time to do other things. That being said i do use it occasionally but I don’t depend on it. As for Key Lock I’m a huge fan of breakbeat like Acen ,Chemistry and Force Mass Motion….I like the chipmunk voices! depending on your Genre you may need it.
Now the real culprit in this sync hate relationship is the Mixing in Key that seems to be all the rage. News Flash! Its not new and we used to use it for matching up commercial songs, we used a piano or synth to get the key. One thing that young DJ’s don’t realize if you don’t use Key lock and adjust the Tempo, the Key (harmonically) will change, throwing you Mixed in Key number out of whack. Not a big deal though because they have Sync on and everything is all Synced up and no need to worry about what the next track is, just pick one that has the same key and it will all sound great! Do you see a problem here? Hence the term “ Even a monkey can DJ” case in point Krewella or Paris Hilton.
Thankfully Serato and Allen and Heath have mapped the Xone K1 to have “Pitch Bend” and the ability to map the faders as “ Tempo” to give a more realistic feel and a whole lot of fun in doing so.
I use both Traktor and SeratoDJ extensively, and I can say that if you need to throw in a new track into a deck that hasn’t been analyzed yet, Traktor and Serato will treat them differently. Serato has 3 choices for Sync, they are “ No Sync” obvious, “Simple Sync” only matches BPM your on your own to sync, and “Smart Sync” is like Traktor’s sync mode but requires the beat grids to be accurate or things will go very wrong.
Traktor’s syncing algorithm is very good, not to say Serato’s is not, its just different, it requires manual intervention at times. To do this you must set beat markers to get very accurate timings. If you’ve ever used Ableton this is a no-brainer, for those who haven’t and have enjoyed the no-brainer button on Traktor it will be enlightening. Usually tracks can be done in 2 or 3 beat markers, breakbeats and intricate beats are a little harder. Traktor also has trouble with these as well. Serato uses a system of displaying the beat grid in musical bars which can help when setting the beat grid.
What I found while using SeratoDJ was that I listened closer to the track because I had to interact deeper with the music, when allowing Traktor to do everything I felt distant to the track. My selections have been better chosen,I have been better prepared and my mixes have been more creative all because I have had to beat grid the song manually. Now I wouldn’t want to do a back catalogue of 50,000 songs, but getting a set ready and going through a few hundred songs you’ll be done in no time.
So, depending on your selection of “Sync” preferences in Serato will reflect how you use it on the K1. I personally have a lot of fun using it without sync on and it feels very natural to toggle the assigned pitch bend buttons and adjust the tempo with the faders.
You cannot adjust the brake speed with this controller alone, but if you enter “Offline Mode” and enter “ DJ Preferences” tab. You will then be able to adjust the brake speed to your liking and it will save in your preferences for K1 use. Now when you use the K1 and stop “Play” you get the nice turntable slow down effect.
The Xone K1, although natively supported by Serato is just a midi controller, so it will work with all midi compatible programs (Traktor, Deckadance,Cross, Ableton etc..) Just check your software’s sites for Mappings. For Traktor users I recommend getting the OS X program called Xtreme Mapping available at the App Store.
Is it worth the $249.99 USD ? Yes, hands down a great addition to your gear. Small enough to take with you to any gig. I would have liked to have seen the included case for that price as the K2 has. It is built well with steel pots and a solid construction so as a main controller it should stand up to some abuse. And of coarse coming from Allen and Heath,the technical support system is top notch and is available to answer any questions you may have. That being said, it was a pure joy to use and I’m reluctant to give back my loaner because I’m having to much fun with it.