Well in Allen & Heath’s own words its “…NOT an analog mixer! And it’s not a controller either! It’s our first fully digital DJ mixer and easily the most technologically advanced DJ product we’ve ever made.” Those are very weighty words considering the company uttering them, with hardcore products like the Xone: 4D rolling off the factory floor every day.
So while the Xone: DB4 is spec’d as the replacement for the legendary Xone92, the ambitious folks at Allen and Heath have also earmarked their new addition for the coveted DJ product of the year award. After spending some time on the mixer I am hard pressed to find anything that is going to touch the DB4 on the many levels it operates as well as its appeal.
A good place to start would be the FX section which has seen some impressive improvements built around a Quad FX Core DSP to drive a host of insanely good production quality effects, most of which have been taken directly from the acclaimed iLive system. All of these algorithms are replicated by the Allen & Heath team to closely match the dynamics of real world studio and live outboard gear, and manipulation of the FX’s and timing is closely controlled by the DSP to allow for simultaneous use of all four effects engines across each of the four channels. Each channel is equipped with 5 groups of effects which cover Delays (x 5), Reverbs (x 19), Modulators (x 9), Resonators(x 9) and seven Damage style effects. Each of the effects can be independently manipulated with a combination of rotaries for expression, dry/wet, timing and a basic adjustment option.
On top of these insane DSP effects the DB4 retains the Xone Dual filter system, assignable to any of the channels. The cherry on-top goes to the dedicated looping section, again per channel, which allows ranges from 1/16 beat up to a full 4 bars even when playing as slow as 60 IDM! Unlike other looping systems that record pieces of a loop to play, the DB4 will record the entire 4 bars of audio so you can cut and move the loop markers around at will without having to re-record.
All the settings pertaining to presets and effects can be toggled on the LED display which is visible even in direct sunlight. Accessing the DB4’s menu gives you custom control over functions like recording and headphone responses, left and right output phase settings, master trim, USB routing, metering modes and screen brightness. All of these presets and software updates can be moved from one DB4 to another by means of a USB flash. The DB4 is also soon to be Traktor certified with added DVS support on the way as well.
Another positive on the DB4 is the EQ section, and while moving away from the much loved four band EQ on the 92, Allen & Heath have gone for a 3 band setup that can be configured either as a standard asymmetric EQ (+6/-25dB), an isolator (+6/OFF with a 24dB/octave slope) or High-Pass/Low-Pass filter system with adjustable resonance. The backlit EQ rotaries will change colour depending on which EQ system you have selected via the selector switch in each section.
If your jaw hasn’t hit the floor yet I haven’t even touched on the MIDI component yet. Nearly everything on the DB4 can function simultaneously as a USB MIDI controller turning your faders and knobs into encoders, assignable to any software you’re using. This even applies to the effects controls and loop encoders which can be disconnected for additional control knobs. Although why would you really want to get rid of those DSP effects? The inputs on the DB4 are nothing short of amazing with four analog inputs via RCA (two of which are phono/line switchable), four digital inputs and USB access to the 4 stereo inputs available via the DB4’s built in 24 bit/96 kHz audio card. All of these 12 inputs are managed with Allen & Heath’s newly adopted matrix-style assign system so any of these can be assigned to any one of the four channels on the DB4 by using a selector switch for Analog, USB or Digital and then a rotary to decide what you want where. For guys combining an analog and digital set-up this can save you extensive safaris to the back of the mixer to track down input cables and their destination…in the dark…with a countdown. And for the digital-only DJ this allows for a single USB cable to control all the I/O and still allow for simultaneous connection of other devices without interfering with the audio.
The output is just as cool with balanced XLR master outputs, balanced ¼” Jack for the booth output, RCA record-out and a Digital record out for making it easy to hook up ADAT or any other S/PDIF equipped interfaces.
If transporting, and wear and tear is an issue, bear in mind the entire DB4 body housing is made of aircraft grade aluminium to safely house all those insanely good faders, pots, effects and circuitry. Now, if that still isn’t enough the kind folks at Allen and Heath also supply the DB4 with a custom padded carry bag. Nice.
This is aimed at those DJ’s that want to integrate multiple analog and digital sources in their performance without the need for extra MIDI controllers, soundcards and RAM. With everyone looking at using better quality effects the need for processing power to run those effects through your laptop is often in short supply. The DB4 responds to that by providing this processing power within the mixer, saving you having to funnel vital resources away from the running of the computer and your software.
The price tag definitely tilts the Allen & Heath DB4 towards the upper echelons of the DJ market, but as the old adage goes “he who buys merely based on price alone has no concept of the true value of the thing.” Anyone that has played on an Allen & Heath can attest to the fact that no other mixer on (or off) the market sounds quite like it. The better the system it’s being used on, the better it’s going to sound. It’s going to be tremendously challenging to find anything else on the market that combines capability and quality as astutely as the Allen and Heath Xone: DB4. As with any piece of gear this isn’t going to make you an amazing DJ but it will provide the correct tools to allow you to grow into one, and for those guys who are already in that headspace it will afford you the best set of tools to express yourself aptly. After all if you believe DJ’ing is about performance why would you want to limit the power of your instrument?
It’s as iconic as anything British that carries the DB letters preceding a single digit. In fact a great analogy would be that if James Bond was a DJ in his spare time (who’s to say he isn’t?), then the Allen and Heath Xone: DB4 would be his choice, and it would be a great fit alongside the Walter PPK in his holster and the Aston Martin in his driveway.
Just routing a simple audio feed into one of the DB4 channels, looping it and then effecting it sometimes twice over is comparable to a religious experience if that’s your thing, and the quality of the effects and the looping system have to be heard to be appreciated. Like any piece of great design the Xone: DB4 solves problems and opens doors that simply weren’t there before.
But where it truly excels is in integrating multiple DJ setups while offering studio grade effects to the digital performer without compromising on processing power. There are so many levels to this mixer that I struggle to see why an artist wouldn’t want one, unless they were bringing their own that is.
Written By : Dave Skinz