I’ve tried – really, I have, but I can’t hear any difference in quality between the soundcard audio and that translated by the digital inputs. Both sound excellent. I know you can’t expect anything less from A&H, but it is rare that a manufacturer accords the audio interface shoe-horned into a mixer the same level of attention as the rest of the mixer.
Often, the soundcard is nothing more than a concession to the growing demand for hybridisation and interconnectivity, an extra feature on the design tick-list to increase sales, but the DB4’s audio interface is different. It doesn’t matter whether audio is coming from your CDJs or your laptop the two signals possess equal clarity and definition.
Fans of the phonograph may be disappointed to find just two phono pre-amps rather than the usual four, but at least the input matrix lets you assign them to whatever channel you want. I doubt you’ll be disappointed with the sound quality, though, as it’s as delightful as the audio from other sources and certainly the best my 1210s have sounded through a mixer for a long time. That said, you do have to crank the gain up a bit when playing vinyl.
Predictably, there’s a generous amount of headroom, but twist too many knobs to the right and the sound will distort.
Even after many years of critical and consumer acclaim, A&H exhibit no signs of complacency. They’re still passionate about maintaining the high sound quality of their products and the DB4 sounds every bit as good as an £1800 mixer should.
Perhaps the most exciting thing about the DB4, bar everything else, is the ability to record a loop on each channel. Built-in samplers are nothing new, but where the DB4 differs from other mixers is the flexibility, length and accuracy of the loops.
Loops are activated by pressing the loop recorder dial, which can be found just above the FX SELECT buttons. If you press it once, quickly, it will play the loop until you press it again. If you press it and keep it depressed it will loop until you take your finger off it, at which point the loop will stop. The latter is better if you want to drop a few quick stutters. For example, you can press the loop button to enter a ½ beat loop, twist your finger to the left to create a ¼ beat loop and then release it to let the track play as normal. The former is best for keeping a long loop in the mix.
The loop recorder will record loops between 1/16th and 4 bars in length. Even if you trigger a 1/16th note loop, the DB4 will read ahead and record 4 bars of audio in case you want to extend the loop, but beware – if you disengage the loop all the recorded audio is forgotten and you’ll lose the loop for good. You can’t save loops.
The loops are extremely accurate for a mixer-based loop sampler thanks to the DB4’s exemplary BPM detection engine, the best I’ve ever witnessed. Hiccups do occur, especially if you’re sampling a breakbeat, but those are exceptional cases. I sampled GMF and the Furious Five’s The Message and the DB4 looped it seamlessly and accurately, something that cannot be done with the CDJ800’s autolooper.
No matter how good the DB4’s BPM detection is, loops will, eventually, go out of sync with other audio that might be playing and there’s no way of getting them back in phase. This means that whilst you can, in theory, have one track playing on all four channels with different samples of that track playing on each channel, you can’t keep them playing indefinitely without them going out of sync. If you’re receiving MIDI clock data from Ableton, Traktor or some other software the loops will stay synchronised for longer.
IDEA: What’d be handy is some means of adjusting the phase of the loop. Perhaps by pressing and holding the SELECT button whilst rotating the loop recorder dial.
Because the loop recorders on the DB4 are so good you might forget you’ve engaged them. Thankfully, there is a red blinking light at the side of each loop recorder dial to let you know that it’s engaged.
Another aspect of the DB4’s loop recorder that elevates well above the competition is the absence of unwanted noise or audio blips when you adjust the size of a loop, which sometimes happens on loop samplers. Nor is there a degradation of sound quality when the audio recorded by the sampler plays. The recorded audio is every bit as good as the original track.