The Allen & Heath Xone:DB4 first debuted in 2010, you might say to yourself “WOW, that’s old tech” or “nothing beats a Pioneer DJM900”. On both cases, you have made statements that makes you look like an idiot!(sorry). The Allen & Heath Xone:DB4 is still to this day (Sept.2016) the most advanced mixer on the market and for good reason. The heritage of the DB line of mixers come from the A&H line of Xone analogue mixers (Xone 92) and their iLive FX systems(iLive-176). Not only does this mixer output legendary sound but the FX on this mixer are true studio quality. The most surprising thing about the Xone:DB4 is that it is quite affordable (as of 09/2016 street prices are $1999USD / $2699CDN) in comparison, Rane and Pioneer mixers are more expensive, and are trying to cash in on mediocrity. Some may argue the Pioneer is the “standard” and I agree on the basis that they are very basic and anyone with some common dj-sense could walk in and use it. The Xone:DB4 can be used like a boring standard mixer but you’d be missing the whole culture of DJing – Creativity! Truth be told, this mixer has a slight learning curve but once mastered it is a weapon on the dance floor.
Enter the Xone:DB4 – Use by DJ’s like John Digweed, Armin Van Buuren, Andy C (the hub of his Alive show), Mark EG and the ever so hard Frank Kvitta to name a few. The Xone:DB4 goes beyond basic mixing leaning towards the realm of sound sculpting and manipulation with over 50 different FX spread over 5 categories. The DB4 also sports the legendary Allen & Heath filters, these are not your grandmothers HP/LP combo found on so many other competitors mixers. There are 6 filters in total plus many sweeping filters in some of the FX, I will get to those later in the review. The sound output also has that legendary warmth that Allen & Heath mixers have been known for. So as you can imagine this was a fun yet extensive review due to the nature of this beast. Let us begin!
The Xone:DB series of mixers have been praised by their input matrix that basically allows any or all inputs to be sent to a specific channel. For example you could have the output from Traktor Deck 1 on the first 3 channels and Deck 2 on the last, or a turntable on the first 2 channel lines one running as a loop/fx and the other as a live input. In essence, the 4 line faders do not have a static input assigned to them regardless if it’s an Analog/USB/Digital input. I must say having this feature makes hookups a breeze – just plug into any input and assign it to a channel later…brilliant! The channel trims reside in this area as well neatly tucked in beside the matrix selector.
The Xone:DB4 has 4 channel faders, that are 60mm linear Alpha faders that feel smooth and solid and have 3 options for setting the curve of the fader using the CH FADER toggle switch near the lower right corner of the mixer. Also in the lower right corner is an XFADER toggle to adjust the 3 crossfader curves (Smooth, Dipped, Sharp) The crossfader itself feels smooth and robust for the House and Trance DJ’s and can be replaced with a Pro-X-Fade just in case you need to get your scratch on. The crossfader can also be assigned or unassigned to each channel using the CH XFADE toggle switches. I was apprehensive about these tiny switches at first, but they are, as in all things built by Allen and Heath – Rocksolid. Now what about all this interest in rotary knobs these days? Have No Fear! The large rotary knobs that control the Wet /Dry FX can be switched in the menu settings under ROTARY SETUP to become your line level control and the linear faders now will control the FX Wet/Dry 🙂 The flexibility of this mixer just blows my mind … It’s no wonder Sasha and Digweed request this mixer in their Contract Rider!
The menu settings on the Xone:DB4 are extensive and can be viewed on an incredible looking OLED display. Rotary push knobs are used for Menu selections and FX parameters. The menu accesses the onboard chipset (digital) for things like USB sound routing, Midi Setup, Xlink pairing and host of other settings that can be user specific, needless to say it’s deep. That being said, a USB port has been made available on the front panel to save and load user specific settings so that you can just show up to your gig, load your personal setup the way you like and just start mixing. Did I mention the menu was deep? The USB output routing alone has 21 sources that you can send to each of the 4 output channels. You can adjust Trim and Phase on both Main Mix and Booth output. Headphones have a separate settings for trim, cue mode (split or normal), clean, auto-mute and auto-cue. You can also adjust the frequency crossover using the SPATIAL XOVER setting, essentially setting a crossover point for LF and HF enabling you to set the LF to mono while leaving the HF or everything above that frequency point and adjust the roll off with a 6db or 24 db slope. If you find the LEDs to bright you can turn them up/down as well as the LED METER modes (Bar, Dot, Peak). So as you can see the setup menu has a lot to offer in respect to user configuration and sound output flexibility. The USB sound card is a 96khz/24bit (Ploytec) which provides 4 stereo sends and 4 stereo returns and in conjunction with the input matrix and usb output routing table it enables a lot of possibilities.
Another unique feature of the Xone:DB4 are the dedicated LOOPER functions which are available on each channel. When engaged you can capture a loop from 1/16 to 4 bars ( It captures a full 4 bars regardless), rotating the looper knob then allows you to adjust the required length. If you press and hold the looper knob it will create a stutter at which ever length is chosen. This is perfect for those using real vinyl as it allows a loop function on the fly which is rarely seen, not to mention creating some nice build ups. It is kept in time by the BPM/Tempo Engine that is reading the source music and calculates the tempo very accurately, I might add! Running 2 lines of the same Analog input – One for the Dry signal and the other for looping and FX as the BPM counters keep everything on time – numerous times I found myself mesmerized by the sonic auras created by using 2 bars of sound. I have included 2 recordings of my drifting of on a tangent while twiddling session( Beware Resonance Red Lines – Use extreme caution while listening!) This is only a test!
I mention earlier the Xone:DB4 has 6 filters, they are incredibly powerful as a way of cutting and shaping audio. There are 2 main Xone filters are on each side of the 4 channel strips, they offer LPF, BPF and HPF as well as a resonance adjustment. That’s not all, there are combo filters that can be engaged by holding LPF and BPF to get a slightly rounder Q with smooth rolloff. The same can be done with HPF and BPF as well. The resonance adds such a powerful peak that you want to be careful in the low-end as it takes the frequencies on a “wild” ride. Using these filters for total frequency cutting or full-on sweeps can change the whole feel and energy of a song. The other filters can be found in the form of the EQ section in which the EQ knobs act in a TRI-EQ mode via a small toggle switch. In normal mode you have a great sounding EQ (-26db, +6db), the next mode is an Isolation EQ(total kill, +6db) and the last mode is a Filter Mode in which the HF knob acts as a HPF, the Mid Knob acts a Resonance and the LF knob acts as a LPF. These modes are selectable per channel in any configuration you wish. Filter mode on channels 2 and 3 with channels 1 and 4 in ISO mode for an example. I have included a simple loop with what the filters sound like below:
LPF with Resonance (Wild)
BPF with Resonance (Wild)
HPF with Resonance (Wild)
Dry Loop with Delay
The DB4’s “pièce de résistance” is the Quad FX engine on board, not only do you get a bucket full of effects, they are truly studio quality. All 4 channels have independent FX – Quad FX Core is the official term used by Allen & Heath. I call it absolutely brilliant! The FX are broken down into 5 categories that represent the basic theme of the effect. They are named as such DLY(delay), VRB(reverb), Res(resonators), Mod(modulators), and DMG(damage) with each category containing several different effects.
The Reverb section for example contains no less than 18 different reverbs, each of18 reverbs can be contoured by adjusting its decay time, HF decay, LF cut and the Wet and Dry amount. Let me give you a description from the FX Manual on one on the Reverbs –
Mid 70’s, classic plate still stands the test of time. EMT is great on mixed programme and creates space around music without destroying intelligibility and instrument voices – that’s why it’s great for DJ music.
LF cut—not on original but essential for DJ LF control.
HF decay time/pattern—similar to lever 3 on original.
Decay 0.1 to 4.5 seconds. We have fixed predelay, optimal for mixed percussive programme.
All these FX are also in sync with the incredible accurate BPM clocks to keep everything tight. The Delays are infectious and fun and if you have ever heard one of Sasha Mixes, these delays are running constantly. Unlike other mixers that have a big Punch-In button – you know the ones! Their quality is so poor that the sound of their FX can only be tolerated briefly. The FX are meant to be used in subtle amounts to enhance mixes or on the other spectrum you can cause such damage that the material is no longer recognizable, yet can still be used in interesting ways. The delays on the DB4 and the DB2 for that matter are made to add a layer of sound to excite, by applying frequency sweeps using filters to add delay to only the frequencies that you require. For instance, if you want to just add delay to the hiatus, you would adjust the frequency to affect just the Highs leaving the Mids and Lows untouched by the delay allowing a cleaner less muddy and confusing sound. Without going through the description of all 50+ FX I have included a link for the FX notes from Allen & Heath. FX Notes for the Xone DB4
The experience that had while using this mixer for the last 3-4 weeks has been jaw dropping to say the least. There is still a plethora of items I didn’t touch base on like the Mic section and Midi Shift not to mention the Xlink port but I’m sure boredom would have set in some time. This much flexibility in one mixer is insane to say the least. It does come at a price – not a dollar amount, oh no, this mixer is bargain for what you are getting. The price you must pay is time, it takes time to understand the DB4 and to use possibly 6 filters and 4 seperate FX engine and loopers, all while you’re staring at you screen wondering what track you going to use next. You better have some practice sessions under your belt before you play live. This is a working DJ’s mixer, not a cake throwing, hands in the air DJ or looking good for selfies DJ. That being said, this mixer is the King Of Mixers, nothing on the market in the last 5 years has even come close, Nothing from Rane, nothing Pioneer, nothing Period.
The people at Allen & Heath have something to be proud of here and I can’t thank A&H and my distributor enough for these products being available to me for my reviews. I had some much fun with this mixer I’m tempted to ask if the have a permanent loaner program I can join. Hopefully in the near future I will review the New Allen & Heath PX5 that has just been released in the wild.