Xone DB4 by Allen & Heath – The King of All DJ Mixers

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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.

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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!

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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!

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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!

Test 1

Test 2

 

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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:

Dry loop

LPF with Resonance (Wild)

BPF with Resonance (Wild)

HPF with Resonance (Wild)

Dry Loop with Delay

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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.

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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 –

EMT250

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

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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.

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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.

 

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12 Responses to Xone DB4 by Allen & Heath – The King of All DJ Mixers

  1. van Erp says:

    I bought this mixer over a year ago(second hand for no more then 1100 euro’s ) , then they still had some troubles with the drivers(mac) and there where rumours about it not working as should, sound quality is something i really dig so after installing it and hearing it for the first time i knew this was it, coming from a native s8 and knowing the pioneer sound it blew me away, i am still very happy with this beast and its not going anywhere, running traktor on it with 2 d2’s and a xone K2 ..so much fun…

    • admin says:

      Hi van Erp
      It is a beast of a mixer…so much fun to work with. Glad your enjoying it, it’s one of those mixers you never let go of because frankly there is nothing that can replace it!

  2. Yeah. Overall mixer is great, good concept but not developed to full potential and basically abandoned product by A&H. Beat clock engine being tight is absolute bullshit. Clock is not tight at all and looses beats after few loops. Making looper useless really. Everythng else is true.

    • admin says:

      HI again Michal
      The loopers will over time drift using turntables just bend pitch a little. The DB2 shares 1 BPM clock the DB4 has 4…the DB4 loopers can basically do loop rolling on the fly which the DB2 cannot.The loopers are made to capture and loop sound from sources like turntables as a way looping out of a mix.The Wet/Dry is like an On/OFF/Volume the knob should be all the way wet when you engage looper.The nice thing about the DB4 is that you still have an FX unit available for that channel. If you find they drift to much and you use Traktor send a midi clock out and set the BPM clock to midi clock and it will follow tempo little faster. If you use Serato using Ableton Link will sync FX to Serato tempo. But The loopers will only capture 4 bars at whatever tempo it is captured at …if you change tempo of source track – looper will not follow tempo – looper acts like rudimentary sampler with volume control.

      • rob van Erp says:

        I use The db4 with traktor, and when synced to the midi clock of traktor the looper is spot on, i never had any issues drifting or not getting it right, when relying on the internal clock of the db4 after a while it will drift out of time, as there is no way to nudge back or forth this is sometimes a problem. I love the looper together with the K2 and the way you can use the fader to blend your current loop with the track that’s on that channel. Only thing i would love is an easy way to switch between the k2 in latching layers mode or X link as i have the K2 mapped to the internal eq’s so while i use the filter mode i still an use some eq to boost some freq when needed, also have the buttons of the k2 mapped to eq kills, this way you can have the best of both worlds without switching between eq/iso or filter mode 🙂 When i asked a question about the switching between latching layers or xlink at the (now closed ;( ) xone forum they said this function would maybe added to the firmware (no promise was made) so i think they are still working with t and did not stop with the support..

        • “i have the K2 mapped to the internal eq’s so while i use the filter mode i still an use some eq to boost some freq when needed” – Yep. I discovered that just recently as filter mode can be missing some strength sometimes. It’s fantastic solution. I would upgrade to DB4 but I rather keep my funds for never products. Plus I had so many issues with my DB2 that I don’t trust A&H anymore. I’ll wait.
          Regarding forum, they have new one but is still bad forum. No people and almost no help form admins (if there are any). http://xonecommunity.allen-heath.com – there was firmware update released this year. Check it out.

  3. “Rane and Pioneer mixers are more expensive, and are trying to cash in on mediocrity” – Well this is overstatement. When Rane has weak FX it definately beats A&H in terms of build quality and sound. I have DB2 and I used Rane mixers. Rane are far better build (made in USA) than current A&H mixers (made in China). Pots are better quality (better eq characteristics), better faders, better faceplate and components. Overall Rane is build like aviation equipment. Rock solid and highest quality hardware. A&H is good quality but silver buttons looks cheap and are cheap – mine lost silver paint after 2 months of usage (partially, it’s just peeled off). Plus silver FX buttons have disputable action feel. Faders are ok but not near Rane line. And sound is personal. I love A&H warmth and FX but Rane is easier to work with on eq’s and overall easier to mix (2 channels voice together better without sonic clashes). Both are really good but Rane executed it better in my opinion.

    • admin says:

      Hi Michal
      I Have the DB2 as my personal mixer and I agree with you that say the Pioneer 2000 or Rane 64 are slightly better than the DB2, but they cannot compete with the DB4.
      Rane/Pioneer have a flat digital sound albeit still sounds good but not the warmth that A&H mixers have. Rane although made in USA now will change as they have recently been Bought by InMusic (Numark,Akai,Denon) and are closing the US facility. If you want a US built Rane you better get it Now. As for A&H- the build quality is superb don’t judge weight on quality of build – A&H use airplane aluminum to lighten the DB mixers to the would weigh a ton! The Loopers on the DB4 are so much more complex as far as slip mode and controlling the loopers from a Xone:K2 – I don’t use them much on the DB2 because of that – but they are meant for turntables and such, also if you are using Traktor your not going to use them…more for live. You silver paint is coming off because you are banging the crap out of the FX buttons. They are meant to be subtly turned on and left on and use the BIG knob for Wet/Dry. The upfaders are the same as most mixers in this range and the crossfader is not scratch worthy – like the magnetic faders on the Ranes or Innofaders and you can always put in a Profade. QBert to Jazzy Jeff are not going to buy this mixer – It is mixer made for well – Mixing (slow builds/atmospheric mixes/producer or studio work) You wouldn’t believe how many people have these just for mixing in the studio. The DB2 is a great mixer but when i had the DB4 for review for like a month it was just so impressive – I’ve used the Pio 2000 and the 900 and the Rane 64/62 they are just overpriced and the build quality is good on all mixers in this range as it should be – A&H uses steel posts for there pots and the EQ sweeps are all set differently by each manufacturer – remember an EQ is made to be subtractive. And Xone filters… come on nobody even comes close. But it sounds like your trying to compare a DB2 which is $1200 vs $2000 DB4 – It is similar yet so far away. I will say the Rane and Pioneers are still over priced for what you get and that is why the DB4 is the King of Mixers and lets not get started on the price of CDJ’s …….like who uses the CD drive anymore – That price needs to be cut in half!

  4. I’ve had this mixer now for around 4 years. And I still love it. I would like some more FX to be added via a firmware update though. I have gotten used to all the ones I regularly use now.

    Don’t underestimate the power of the midi shift though. My set-up has evolved around this mixer over the years, at one point with 4 1210’s, but have now reduced it to a pair of 1210’s, a pair of F1’s and using the midi shift to employ the use of a Traktor mapping for transport controls, this set-up works well for me. I can do whole sets with just the DB4 and F1’s, for a nice, compact, extremely advanced set-up.

  5. Rick Dawson says:

    This is why I’ve upgraded from an Allen&Heath Xone:4D to a DB4

    I’ve had the DB4 for a week now, and even yesterday played my first live broadcast DJ set with it

    shameless plug: https://chew.tv/djrickdawson/

    I’m now looking at the more advanced things to do with it.

    I eq mix between tracks. but I want to be able to use the channel filters to manipulate tracks between mixes.
    If I set everything to be at zero (eqs all at 12 o’clock) and switch to the filters, they alter the sound.
    as to have the same as setting the eqs at 12 o’clock require the hi filter to max, and low filter to min.

    looking for a seamless way to switch from eq to filters and back.

    one way I’ve thought of is to have one input on a channel using eq, and playing fader up.
    another channel taking the same input, set to filters hi at max low at min, fader down.
    then do a quick as possible swap with the faders.

    Another thing I want to do is, if possible a long echo or reverb tail at the end of a track.

    any other ideas that you have?

    • admin says:

      Hi Rick
      If you switch between filter and eq while the channel fader is up( playing content) the sound will be destroyed. If you want to use EQ or ISO on the channels you could mix using the 2 main LPF or HPF on either side of the crossfader. Chances are your not going to use a HPF and LPF at the same time. If you do use the channel filters and switch to EQ mode just do it while the channel fader is down. To get the tail echo – Select button on the FX and the Menu button at the same time and you will get a PRE/Post menu. Choose Post Fade, and try hybrid mode. Play with this until you get what you like. Remember after everything is setup save to USB stick

  6. John Berry says:

    “and lets not get started on the price of CDJ’s …….like who uses the CD drive anymore – That price needs to be cut in half!” – mic drop… exit stage left…

    lol..!

    I love it and agree..! lol..!

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