Link: Allen & Heath – Price: $1799/€1499/£1198
Allen & Heath have long battled Pioneer for the industry standard club mixer, and A&H die hards cite studio quality sound and an unbeatable filter as the main draws. As the competition heats up with increasingly powerful effects channels – an area Allen & Heath had hitherto left unexplored – A&H have had to launch a counter attack, and the Xone:DB2 is the little brother to their flagship, the discrete effects on every channel behemoth that is the Xone:DB4. Stripping back some of the DB4’s capabilities to allow them to undercut the competition but still provide more in the way of effects, in the DB2 Allen & Heath have created a mixer that will appeal to the DJ that wants studio quality effects capability without the super-club price tag.
As you might expect, or at least hope in the case of a mixer that breaks the £1000 barrier, the DB2 is very solidly built. It features solid, easy to manipulate knobs and faders, a tough chassis and fascia, and whilst there aren’t any buttons that you might need to hammer on the ones that are featured are smooth with a short and quick action. There’s a little bit of a hollow feel to the mixer, but in use any reservations fade away immediately.
It’s not all glory though; the fader select switches are a bit fiddly and shaky. They might not be the most important switches on the mixer, and certainly having them a little bit awkward to fiddle with reduces the risk of any butterfingers moments, but they do somewhat belie the overall quality of the mixer.
As you might expect from A&H, the filters really make the DB2 shine – or sing, as the case may be for the colossal resonance bump available on the filter setting of the tri-modal EQ. An entire knob for each of the low/high pass filters, leaving a third free for adjustable resonance, means that if you’re prepared to sacrifice EQ you can have two of the best sounding filters I’ve heard on a DJ mixer on every channel.
All channels use the same EQ mode, so there’s no mixing and matching modes across channels, but if per channel filtering is less important to you than EQ you can also select either standard EQ or isolator models. The standard EQ is a +6/‐26dB adjustment on each band, facilitating the kind of tweaking you’ll love if you’re a smooth mix kind of DJ. I prefer the isolator mode, though, with full kill to +6dB operation that despite the steepness of the 24dB/o frequency cut manages to sound very musical and comes away as perhaps the best isolator style frequency mixing solution on the market – except for dedicated (and unbelievably expensive) active isolators.
Effects are perhaps the entire point of the DB2’s existence, and A&H have one‐upped the competition with two dedicated, pre/post fader effects processors and dual mode filters that can be sent over the entire signal or to two groups that team up with crossfader assign. After playing for a while I came to the conclusion that perhaps I would have preferred to see the groups selectable by button on the channels rather than forcing them to pair with the crossfader assign, as it can get a little confusing if you use the crossfader a lot in your work flow.
The DB2’s effects are all tempo synced via an obscenely smart tempo detector; it got the number of everything thrown at it more or less immediately in my tests. There are five categories of effect – delay, reverb, resonance, modulation, and damage – and each category has a generous list of models in it that are set by jumping in to the menu. If there’s a gripe about the effects it’s that because of their flexibility they’re not quite as immediate as the competition, but that aside the sonic qualities they introduce into the sound are so, so sweet that you won’t begrudge spending the time with them to figure out your favourites and the mixer will remember your settings between sessions.
Despite the simple controls (on/off switch and knobs for wet/dry, ‘expression’, and timing), A&H have managed to give the effects more of a studio sound than you may be used to hearing. Subtlety is the key word; whilst you can still be ultra‐brash with them, evolving the effects over time until the signal is bathing in them is extremely gratifying and almost subliminal in its approach. As the wet/dry knob is on the effect there’s no way to send varying amounts of channel signals to each processor, but this is a cut down version of the DB4 after all. The big dial is extremely gratifying to play with too – I wish there was space on the mixer for the expression and filter knobs to be the same size!
The DB2 certainly doesn’t skimp on features or their quality, but a few ergonomic and space-saving decisions are the biggest thorn in its side. Drilling down into the onscreen menu is required more often than when using the DB4, as simple things like fader curve adjust and EQ mode select have been brought into the menu to conserve the all important space on the more petite frame of the DB2. Perhaps these are just set and forget switches but it does appear there’s room for them somewhere.
The finer points of level management have been sacrificed for mini six LED level meters whose main settings seem to be ‘too quiet’ ‘nearly too loud’ and ‘definitely too loud’, which takes a little getting used to, but touch wood the impressive headroom on the channels will help to disguise minor indiscretions.
No hunk of gear can be all things to all people, so inevitably something has to give somewhere. In the case of the DB2, it’s the faders. Whilst they’re just fine for a mix DJ, for the scratchers – certainly the more ambitious ones – out there I’m afraid they don’t cut it (it’s very difficult to discuss scratching without bad puns. My first draft of this paragraph said they weren’t up to scratch).
The crossfader’s cut-lag between the edge of the fader and where the sound begins is around 4mm: too large for performing many scratch techniques comfortably and there’s no way to tighten it up as there is in Pioneer and Ecler competition. There’s more give in the upfaders than the super stiff Pioneer style though, and the switchable curve controls (one for the crossfader, one for all four upfaders) accommodate various playing styles – just not super tight for hardcore scratching.
It’s a shame the scratch performance of the faders is a little lacklustre, because the fantastic post fader effects would be a scratcher’s dream, the ergonomic placement is pretty spacious for a four channel mixer, and the fader caps are a nice, pinchable shape. Reign in your expectations and you’ll be able to have some fun, of course, but don’t expect best in class scratch performance.
Both Rane and Pioneer competition have a clear claim to turntablists’ hearts in the form of Traktor Scratch/Scratch Live interfaces in the box, but despite this shortcoming the audio interface in the DB2 sounds great, is easy to set up with the flexible inputs, and latency is potentially tiny. Just about everything sends MIDI too, and the effects selection section can be blocked off to send just MIDI but leave the currently selected effect active with a top mounted button, allowing you to set up the buttons to turn software effects on and off without losing hardware effects control.
The aforementioned weakness when it comes to the scratchability of the faders means that the DB2 probably won’t be your mixer of choice if you’ve got turntablist aspirations anyway, so the lack of DVS connectivity shouldn’t sink the DB2 by any means. Of course, there’s always Virtual DJ – not to mention the newly reduced in price Traktor Pro being, potentially, a very happy marriage indeed.
Ins and Outs
The DB2 features a flexible input matrix, which makes connections stress free. Any input channel can be set to any mixer channel meaning it doesn’t matter where there’s a free connection round the back – a really cool feature thats success is in its simplicity. The mic input is on the mixer fascia and switchable with an also fascia mounted phono aux input which will make connections nice and simple for controller DJs rocking up to an installed DB2.
A&H have made a few savings elsewhere in the I/O section. There are only two hardware phono preamps, but you can select software RIAA amping – and it sounds very good – for each of the other channels individually in the menu. There’s no effects send/return, but I can just about look the other way on that one considering the dual effects processors onboard. That said, considering the price of the mixer it’s a bit of a surprise. There is an X-Link connector though ‐ a factor that could woo Allen & Heath fans waiting to pounce on the K2 controller – but right now there’s nothing to warrant that much excitement around its inclusion.
In a Nutshell
The Xone:DB2 is, at the end of the day, a compromise on Allen & Heath’s vision of what a super mixer should be so that it can get in between a few more decks. That said, it’s an excellent compromise. Squeezing things in have come a the cost of a few ergonomic boo-boos, with a little more delving into the menu than is ideal, but the effects are superb and the tri-modal EQ is excellent. In a perfect world the faders would be smoother and more configurable and there’d be an external effects loop, but hey – nobody’s perfect.
In short, the DB2 finds itself sitting somewhere in the middle of the price scale between pro-club level and home four channel mixers, but leaning much more towards the former category in performance.