Allen & Heath xone:db4 mixer

Allen & Heath xone:db4 Review

Link: xone  Price: $2899/£1899/€2099

The Mutt’s Nuts?

Allen & Heath xone:db4 mixer

It often seems that unless DJ gear has a pressing need to join Weight Watchers and quit biscuits it’s considered worthless, a mere toy. You hear that opinion expressed on the internet often and I’ve been guilty of it myself, which makes the cognitive dissonance on picking it up all the more unbearable. The DB4 is incredibly light, so much so that if the DB4 bore the logo of any other manufacturer I’m sure the die-hard A&H fanboys would pillory it mercilessly.

Were it a basic analogue mixer I could understand the size zero lightness, but this is a digital mixer that packs a 16 channel audio interface, 4 separate loop recorders and FX units, two Xone filters and a PSU within its 12.6” x 14” form factor. How have they managed it?

Moody titanium off some dodgy mush in a pub car-park?

It’s certainly not because they’ve cut corners, as you’ll find out.

Allen & Heath xone:db4 mixer

In the box you’ll find nothing but a trendy black bag bearing the Xone logo, which will cause you to panic like a nonce with his nuts in a vice until you open it up and take a peek inside, at which point you’ll find the DB4. The bag is well padded and the sides are rigid to keep the expensive contents safe. There are also pockets for headphones, cables and USB drives, et cetera.

You might find the inclusion of a carry-bag odd for a club mixer, but the DB4 is much more than that. This is a personal mixer, a device that is intended for use at home, in the studio and at the club. Wherever you go to perform the DB4 goes with you.

Allen & Heath xone:db4 mixer

The unit itself is intimidating when you see it in the tin. There’s such an overwhelming amount of controls it’s tempting to put it back in the bag and ignore it, but to do so would be madness. The DB4 is fundamentally a four channel digital mixer. You can happily use it and not have to worry about the advanced functions it boasts. If you just want to mix audio and you’ve used a mixer before, you can use the DB4.

It’s a busy control surface, though, and working out where everything is and what it does will take some time. Mastering it will take even longer as it is a complex device.

I/O

Allen & Heath xone:db4 mixer

The inputs and outputs are as comprehensive as you would expect from an A&H mixer and it’s pleasing to see that they’re neatly arranged, as this makes finding connectors in the dark or if you can’t see the back panel a lot easier.

Allen & Heath xone:db4 mixer

There is a row of four stereo RCA inputs with lines 2 and 3 switchable between line level and phono. But perhaps the most exciting feature of the back panel is the presence of four digital inputs – a first for A&H mixers, which have traditionally featured a single digital input at most. It’s exciting because owners of CDJs, samplers, et cetera will now be able to make use of their digital outputs with an A&H mixer. If you’re a fan of fader starts you’ll also be pleased to note there are four inputs for the control cables of your CDJs on the back panel.

Allen & Heath xone:db4 mixer

Balanced outputs come in the form of one pair of XLR connectors and one pair for the insertion of 6.3mm jacks. There are two further outputs in the form of a stereo pair of RCAs and a coaxial digital output, both of which are used to record the output of the mixer. These are not your typical auxiliary outputs, however, and ably demonstrate the myriad ways in which this mixer can be customised to your own personal taste. They can be switched between the master output, headphone output and ‘cleanfeed’ (master audio minus microphone audio) via the DB4’s menu. You can also set trim levels while you’re at it to attenuate the signal that is output.

This is a generous level of control that is easily put to use.

Allen & Heath xone:db4 mixer

There is a type B USB connector resident on the back panel with which you can attach a computer, all too predictable in this day and age, but to the left of this is a rather interesting connection called X-LINK. It does nothing at the moment, but will be used to input data from future A&H accessories. The connection itself is an RJ45 Ethernet connector, a connection type that has become common on DJing devices over the last few years. Let’s hope it is actually put to use. Pioneer has proved such a system can work with their PRO DJ LINK and it’d be great to see A&H offer the same interconnectivity with their gear.

Matrix Inputs

Allen & Heath xone:db4 mixer

Matrix inputs have been a feature of Denon mixers for many years now and have also been seen on Korg’s ill-fated Zero series, but they can now be found on the hallowed top panel of an A&H mixer.

Allen & Heath xone:db4 mixer

With so many input options it’d be easy to implement a confusing, illogical array of options, but A&H have, thankfully, avoided this by separating the various inputs into three sets of four. The three input sets are analogue, digital and USB and you select the set you’d like to use on a channel via a toggle switch. Once selected, you can route inputs 1-4 of that set to a channel via a rotary selector. The input currently selected is denoted by a green light, making it easy to see which input is in use with a quick glance.

As a verbal example of this, let’s assume you want to use the device connected to the 2nd analogue input on channel 4. To make that happen you push the input assign toggle switch on line 4 to the far left and turn its rotary selector to the 2nd position. It’s that simple. You won’t have to worry about managing your inputs ever again.

The input matrix is much more than a simple convenience. With the DB4 you can have one track routed to all four channels and record four different loops, apply separate effects and filter different parts of the audio. The input matrix opens up a lot of creative possibilities.

EQ Section

Allen & Heath xone:db4 mixer

One of the most striking elements of the channel EQ area is the odd layout of the EQ pots.

Rather than the linear placement seen on most mixers, A&H have placed the mid-range pot to the left of the other pots. Directly between the high and low pots is a switch that lets you switch between isolator, filter and standard EQ modes. The isolator cuts all frequencies for a band and when all pots are turned fully to the left the channel is silent. Standard EQ mode cuts frequency bands by 26dB. Both modes boost audio by 6dB.

Allen & Heath xone:db4 mixer

In filter mode the high frequency pot becomes a low-cut filter and the low frequency pot a high-cut filter. The mid-range pot controls the resonance applied to the filter and whilst it’s a welcome feature it doesn’t provide the generous amount of resonance granted by the main Xone filters.

Neither do the EQ filters themselves operate or sound as good as the main filters. They are similar in sound and effect to the channel filters on Traktor Pro and the INST FX filter on the DJM2000. They are, however, a welcome addition and will get a lot of attention from the DB4’s target market of EDM DJs.

Allen & Heath xone:db4 mixer

To help you quickly identify the EQ mode to which a channel is set each EQ pot is illuminated either red or blue. In isolator mode all pots are coloured blue, in standard mode they are red and in filter mode the high and low pots are blue whilst the mid pot is red.

This is an invaluable feature that demonstrates the careful thought and consideration that has gone into the design of the DB4. What could have been a confusing and complicated feature is made accessible and user-friendly by simple visual cues. Exactly what you need in the heat of battle when your mind is focussing on everything else except the position of a toggle switch.

A further demonstration of A&H’s care and attention to detail is the instant change in colour when you move the toggle switch. I know it seems like an insignificant thing to mention, but I’ve used a lot of equipment that employ dual lighting on a particular control to signify its state. Often, the light that should be off is illuminated slightly and whilst it isn’t functionally detrimental it is irritating and distracting. This doesn’t happen on the DB4’s EQ pots, they’re either red or blue. There’s no confusion.

Faders

Allen & Heath xone:db4 mixer

I can’t help feeling that the channel faders let the DB4 down a little. They just don’t feel like they belong on an £1800 mixer. I mention this not because they’re useless, but because I’m disappointed. I expected more from A&H. (See official comment from Allen & Heath at the foot of this review)

As an example, the channel faders can wobble slightly when you move them. I stress the slightly, but it’s still unwelcome. In terms of feel they’re similar to the faders on the Xone:42, Xone:3D and Xone:4D, on account of them being the same type of fader, and exhibit no lag. You move the fader and the volume changes accordingly, at that instant. That’s not as common as you’d expect these days. Channel fader curves can be switched between 3 settings that adjust the fader from a linear curve to a sharp one where the sound rapidly rises to full volume when the fader is pushed from the off position to 1/3 open.

Allen & Heath xone:db4 mixer

Crossfader cut-in is shy of 3mm when set to the sharpest setting. Three curve settings are available, thus catering for all styles of DJing. The DB4 is unashamedly aimed at the vast majority of EDM and mix DJs, not turntablists, but that doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy a bit of cutting on it (just don’t expect to crab – Gizmo). After all, despite the claims of marketing men the vast majority of DJs are not polarised to one extreme or the other. Just because a DJ uses their DB4 to play trance one night it doesn’t mean they can’t play old-school hip-hop and funk the next, or indulge in a bit of recreational scratching at home. It’s not designed for hardcore scratching, but the crossfader is surprisingly capable for a ‘regular’ club mixer and will support the needs of the vast majority of DJs.

When I first noticed the channel FX buttons on the DB4 I thought scratching would be impossible without accidentally engaging them, but that proved not to be the case. Of course, the possibility remains and I’m sure it will happen to someone, but my medium sized fists never once made contact with them.

Allen & Heath xone:db4 mixer

In terms of its faders the DB4 is a truly versatile club mixer that supports many different styles of DJing. I’m not happy with the feel of the channel faders, but my criticisms are an expression of my opinion and personal preference based on the cost of the mixer. There is too much play in the channel faders and I don’t think they’ll hold up well to continued punishment. You might feel differently and I have to admit, in use the faders gave me no problems, but the DB4 is aimed primarily at EDM and house DJs, many of whom use the channel faders exclusively. Any weakness in fader design or construction will be exposed by them.

Allen & Heath xone:db4 mixer

Every channel fader is accompanied by a peak meter and in keeping with the DB4’s immense scope for customisation you can change the behaviour of it via the menu. You can choose to view the regular line of dancing lights, a dot denoting the current peak or a couple of dancing dots to denote the current peak. I’m sure most people will be happy with the default behaviour, but it’s nice to have the choice.

MIC/ Aux Section

Allen & Heath xone:db4 mixer

The microphone section features one XLR input for a microphone and a pair of RCA connectors to which you can attach some auxiliary device such as an iPod, sampler or another mixer. You can switch between the two inputs using a switch.

In their normal state the MIC and AUX signals are post fader and phones, but you can assign them to channel 1 so that they can be mixed with other audio and be subject to effects. Whether the audio is routed through channel 1 or not, the CHANNEL ON button must be lit in order to activate the microphone or auxiliary input. There’s no ducking of the audio to make way for the MIC signal, which might annoy some jocks, especially if they’re mobile or playing in a more commercial pub/club setting where chatting on the MIC is the norm.

The MIC section features two EQ controls, one for high frequencies and the other for low. The EQ isn’t as sweet as those on the regular channels, being a bit brutal and uncivilised, but is plenty good enough for a MIC channel on a DJ mixer. You also get gain and level controls. There’s no peak meter, but you do get a red light that will illuminate if the audio is clipping.

Monitoring Section

Allen & Heath xone:db4 mixer

To the casual observer the monitoring system of the DB4 would seem the same as any other mixer of its type, but it isn’t. It’s unnervingly weird.

When you press a cue button the LED behind it glows red to show that you have cued it – as it should. But if you then press the cue button of another channel the previously cued channel ceases to be heard in the headphones. To cue more than one channel you have to press the cue buttons of the channels you want to hear simultaneously, which makes me feel a bit uneasy. It’s like I’m aggressively patronising the DB4 because it can’t be trusted to carry out the simplest of tasks.

Surely I’m not the only person that would prefer a channel to remain cued until I’ve made the decision to switch it off?

Allen & Heath xone:db4 mixer

Tinnitus enthusiasts will be pleased to know the headphone amp is extremely powerful and delivers ear splitting noise from the second notch onwards. The cue-mix control lets you crossfade between any cued channels and the master output. The master output is permanently cued and if no other channel is cued the master is heard at full volume no matter where the cue-mix dial is positioned. When one or more channels are cued the master can be cross-faded with the cued signals as normal.

The cue-mix feature isn’t as well implemented on the DB4 as it is on most other mixers. When the control rests at its central detent the audio should be a clear mix of the master and cued channels, but it isn’t. It’s indistinct, watery. And by that I mean it’s like looking at a reflection in a lake. The clarity of the reflection is constantly altered by the rippling of the water’s surface, and so it is with the DB4. The clarity of the crossfade is not uniform. It’s unbalanced. Move the dial to the left or right of the centre detent and you can’t hear the other track very well. What the cue-mix feature needs to be is a linear progression between the cued channels to the master.

As with most things on the DB4, there’s an ample amount of settings that you can adjust. You can alter the trim level (between +12 dB and -28 dB), for example, or select split-cue monitoring. You can also alter the master signal that is directed to the headphones, with a choice between a cleanfeed signal (so you hear the master without microphone audio) and a normal signal which is the master output with microphone included. These settings are adjusted using the DB4’s menu.

Allen & Heath xone:db4 mixer

Another great feature of the DB4’s monitoring system is the ability to plug either 3.5mm or 6.3mm headphone jacks into the DB4. This is handy if you’ve left your adapter at home.

Master Section

Allen & Heath xone:db4 mixer

Other than a type A USB port for importing and saving mixer settings there are no surprises here, just a peak meter with master and booth output controls.

Annoyingly, the peak meter stops displaying the master output when you press one of the channel cue buttons and displays stereo peak levels for the cued channel instead. There is no way to stop it from doing this. I also found that I had to crank the master dial up to 8 or 9 to get the best out of the DB4.

Allen & Heath xone:db4 mixer

The ability to save and load settings is a truly neat feature. Saving your settings to a USB drive takes no longer than 2 seconds and loading settings is near instantaneous. This feature is great if you’re going to be using a DB4 other than your own (perhaps at a club) and you want to mirror the settings of your own DB4 on the club DB4. Don’t worry about having a USB drive hanging out of your mixer though, because once you’ve loaded or saved your settings there’s no need to keep it there.

Sound Quality

Allen & Heath xone:db4 mixer

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.

Allen & Heath xone:db4 mixer

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.

Loop Recorders

Allen & Heath xone:db4 mixer

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.

Allen & Heath xone:db4 mixer

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.

FX Section

Allen & Heath xone:db4 mixer

They’ve been a long time coming, but effects have finally made it onto a Xone mixer and what a fantastic set of effects they are. We’re not talking DJ quality effects here, but studio quality. The way the affected sound integrates with the original audio is sublime and sounds so natural it’s as if the effects are part of the original recording.

Each one of the DB4’s four channels has its own independent FX engine and each channel has access to no less than 5 different effect types, with each effect type having more than one effect available for use. To change the currently selected effect you press the SELECT button for that channel and then use the menu controls to choose a different one.

Allen & Heath xone:db4 mixer

There are 5 effect types available for use: Delay, Reverb, Resonance, Modulator and Damage.

Each effect type offers more than one effect of that type. For instance, the delay type offers 5 different delays and the reverb type no less than 19. Getting to know each effect intimately takes time and practice, but isn’t that a fantastic problem to resolve?

Allen & Heath xone:db4 Review

You can quickly see the effects that are currently primed for use on the DB4’s GUI including all pertinent information about them, such as timing and the BPM of the track playing on that channel. Each channel has a chunky dry/wet dial to control the extent to which the source audio is affected and an expression pot to control a further parameter, such as pre-delay and oscillator frequency for the resonator effects and LFO depth for modulator effects. The movement of the dial is super-smooth and yet it can be quickly set to extreme left or right with a twist of your wrist.

On top of that you have an extra control located to the right of the GUI menu that lets you adjust a third parameter, typically a filter sweep, and a control for adjusting the time of an effect. What’s great about the DB4 is you’re not limited to a set number of beat fractions as you are with other mixers. Yes, the delays can be set anywhere between 1/32nd of a beat to four bars, but others, most notably the reverbs, can be set to times as avant-garde as 3/8ths and 7/16ths.

Allen & Heath xone:db4 mixer

All effects are pre-fader, but you can simulate post-fader echoes using the DB4’s ‘Kill Send’ feature. This is activated by pressing an effect button and the FX Adjust button simultaneously. When activated, the feature can be engaged by rotating the dry/wet dial fully right. The original signal that is submitted to the FX engine is muted and all you hear is the affected, returned signal. This is a great feature and you can have great fun gradually adding a delay to a track during a breakdown, adjusting the timing, sweeping the filter and then spinning the dry/wet control to the right to create an echo during the last bar of the breakdown before turning it fully left as the track kicks in again.

Switching from a delay to a reverb is as quick as pressing the relevant button, but selecting a different type of delay means pressing the select button, navigating to a different delay, selecting the delay and then altering settings to suit your needs. This takes time and requires intimate knowledge of the various effect types. If you prefer to add effects on the spur of the moment then you might find the effects on the DB4 inaccessible. In contrast the beat effects of the DJM2000 are more easily triggered thanks to sets of push buttons.

Allen & Heath xone:db4 review

 

It’s not perfect; I don’t like having to waste precious seconds trawling through menus to select the exact effect I want. The Pioneer DJM2000 and even DJM800 allow more immediate access to the effects you need when you want them. The fact is the DB4 is primarily a performance tool to be used by DJs that have planned and rehearsed a set to perfection. And when you hear the effects warp your music all is forgiven.

You’ve got to love Allen & Heath. Such is the loyalty of their fan base they could’ve integrated a Major Morgan into the DB4 and it still would’ve been revered above all other FX mixers. I honestly thought the DB4 would just be A&H’s means of testing the effects water. As it is, A&H haven’t just made an excellent effects mixer they’ve surpassed all expectations and produced the most sophisticated effects mixer currently available.

Filters

Allen & Heath xone:db4 mixer

A&H are famous for their VCF filters. The two filters on the DB4 are digital, not analogue, but they work in the same way as their analogue counterparts and sound great. Perhaps those that own XONE:62s or 92s will notice a difference between the filters on the DB4 and the rest of the clan, but I didn’t.

Allen & Heath xone:db4 mixer

There are two filters and each of the four channels can be set to either one of them or none at all. Each filter lets you select one of three modes – Low Pass Filter, Band Pass Filter and High Pass filter – via three push buttons. You can even select two or three modes at the same time by pressing two or three buttons, but pressing three buttons is pointless, as you won’t filter anything.

The cut-off point of a filter can be swept between 20Hz and 20 kHz using the Frequency Sweep dial and there’s plenty of resonance if you want it courtesy of the Resonance dial. And you will want it because it sounds so sweet. Ordinarily, I can’t be bothered with filters, but the traditional Xone filters are a breed apart from other filters, whether mixer-based or outboard. When you get the opportunity to use them you’ll find you can’t stop.

Digital or not, these are a great set of tools that faithfully recreate the classic Xone filters.

GUI Menu

Allen & Heath xone:db4 mixer

The GUI menu is functional, not beautiful. It gives you the bare information you need to perform and nothing more.

In its normal state you see settings for each of the four FX units, but press the MENU button and you’ll be granted access to a wealth of options, from headphone set-up to Deck Start and USB routing options. You move through the menu using a rotary encoder and you select a menu item by pressing it.

Moving through the menu can be done quickly and the menus respond near-instantaneously to your commands, but it still isn’t as quick as using the touchscreen on Pioneer’s DJM2000. Then again, most of the options within the menu are either set & forget or are used rarely (an example being the attenuation of the headphone signal). What proves most time-consuming is selecting a different type of effect as has already been mentioned in the FX section.

Unfortunately, the GUI is ruined somewhat by a screensaver that kicks in way too soon, replacing the much needed effects info with a pretty animation of a spinning Xone symbol. You can’t turn it off because it’s there to prevent screen-burn, which means you then have to press something to get rid of it. And that can cause something unwanted to happen.

The DB4’s GUI does what it has to and no more, an approach that will be welcomed by some and upset others. It might not be pretty, it’s not even colour, but the DB4’s no-frills, purely functional GUI matches the resolutely focussed nature of the unit and that makes it entirely appropriate for the DB4.

Audio Interface

Allen & Heath xone:db4 mixer

The DB4’s audio interface is a 24bit 96 KHz 16 channel affair, which means you have 4 stereo outputs and 4 stereo inputs. As has already been said, the sound quality is superb, but the soundcard offers much more than top-notch fidelity.

The inputs from your computer to the DB4 are sacrosanct and cannot be routed anywhere other than the four line channels, although you can assign any incoming channel to any line channel thanks to the input matrix. The outgoing channels that are transmitted from the DB4 to your laptop can be routed however you like.

By default the DB4 transmits the audio signals from the analogue inputs to your computer, but press the MENU button and you can assign a different input for each of the four channels.

You could, for instance, have channels 1 and 2 sending data from the digital inputs to your computer whilst channels 3 and 4 send an analogue signal from your Technics. But as they say on the shopping channels – that’s not all. You can also route the output from the headphones, the master output and the channel PFL signals too. I made use of this by routing the record output through channel 4 so that I could record mixes in Traktor. Each upstream channel has 16 different USB audio routing options. That’s more than enough for the most demanding of users.

The audio interface of the DB4 provides immense sound quality and a wealth of routing options. The only thing missing is an extra set of inputs and outputs, as it would’ve been nice to use a dedicated extra channel for recording mixes on your computer or to implement an effect send and return loop.

That, however, is a minor criticism for as of this date this is the best mixer-based soundcard I’ve ever used.

MIDI

Allen & Heath xone:db4 mixer

With the exception of just three components everything on the DB4 can be MIDI mapped, including the line and crossfader switches. Most components can be mapped directly. For instance, if you want to assign the DB4’s crossfader to control the crossfader in Traktor Pro you simply hit the LEARN button in Traktor’s Controller Manager and move the crossfader. It’s the same with the other faders, the EQ dials and the crossfader curve switch, but there are certain controls, such as the loop dials, effects buttons and FX adjust dials that must be used in conjunction with the MIDI SHIFT button that is located at the left of the mixer. It is these controls that the vast majority will want to map to software, particularly if they are using a DVS, which means they’ll be pressing MIDI SHIFT a lot.

A&H mixers are pretty tough and most of the controls will stand up to years of abuse, but the weak links for me are the FX, FX ON/OFF and CUE buttons, the reason being that the buttons are plastic with a flimsy feel. They showed no signs of damage or fatigue during the test period and only time will tell if they can take a pounding from hot-cue happy DJs. A&H have stress-tested each component with over 30000 actuations to ensure that they can cope with being pressed, but that still doesn’t stop me worrying about their premature failure.(See official comment from Allen & Heath at the foot of this review)

Although the MIDI controls work perfectly and the DB4 interacts with your software as well as you would expect, you need to plan your maps carefully, as manipulating the majority of controls will affect both the incoming audio and your software.

You might think that makes the transmission of MIDI data by faders redundant, but that isn’t the case. As an example, if you’re using video mixing software such as Cue or VDJ you could assign the DB4’s crossfader to the video crossfader in those applications. The audio mixing would be done via the DB4, but the MIDI data transmitted by the crossfader would mix the video within VDJ.

The DB4 doesn’t offer as much scope for MIDI control as Pioneer’s DJM2000, but everything considered A&H have provided a sensible complement of MIDI controls whilst adequately differentiating the DB4 from MIDI behemoths like the 4D.

DB4 with Software

During the review period I mapped the controls for use with Traktor in both Internal and External Mode, though why anyone would want to use Internal Mode is beyond me. Instead, use External Mode for everything.

If you want to use the DB4 as the sole controller for Traktor you can map the transport, sync and tempo-bend controls for each deck in Traktor to the FX buttons on each channel of the DB4.

You can even control looping in Traktor with the loop controls of the DB4. As the loop dials on the DB4 will only emit a MIDI command when the MIDI SHIFT button is pressed there is no conflict between the two systems, which means it’s impossible to simultaneously engage a loop on the DB4 and Traktor with the press of one button. This means you can create a loop in Traktor and then loop it using the DB4’s loop recorder to stutter or shorten it.

The DB4 really can be used as a standalone Traktor controller, even if you are limited to basic transport and looping controls, but it’s an even better companion for Traktor Scratch Pro.

I mapped the FX buttons on the DB4 to the hot-cue buttons in Traktor and used them as I would my Dicers. The FX buttons were a good substitute, but their size and proximity to each other meant that you had to be extra careful when engaging in a spot of button-bashing lest you accidentally hit the wrong one. I’m also concerned that the FX buttons won’t stand up to intense bouts of button-bashing, but only time can see if that is the case.

allen & heath xone db4 reviewThe DB4 is crying out for Traktor Scratch certification. It’s undeniable and despite the best attempts of A&H it seems that certifying the DB4 isn’t at the top of NI’s to-do list. This is a real shame.

Not only do you have to use an Audio 4 or 8 with your DB4 (with all the attendant wires and mess that involves), you also need an extra USB port on your laptop to accommodate the MIDI messages transmitted by your DB4. Plus, there’s only four sets of RCA inputs on the DB4, which means you cannot use the full complement of RCA connectors on the multi-core leads. If you want to listen to regular CDs or vinyl you’ll have to select Audio Through on a Traktor deck instead of having that audio routed through the MIXER TT/CD leads of your multi-core cables. One way of getting round this if you’re only using two channels is to plug those leads into channels 3 and 4 and use them for non-timecode tracks.

Traktor Scratch certification would allow users to use the full four channels of TS Pro and would tidy up the workspace considerably. Here’s hoping that happens.

The DB4 is equally good with Ableton Live.

Again, the best way of using it is to route channels in Ableton to the channels on your DB4 and then mix the audio on your DB4. The FX SELECT buttons make excellent triggers for clips. It’d be good if there was an extra set of inputs and outputs so that you could route all incoming audio to the master. Then you could map the DB4’s faders to the faders in Ableton.

Until the DB4 gets TS certification it makes a better match for Ableton than Traktor. Indeed, the A&H have been clogging Ableton in their videos since the DB4 was first announced.

Allen & Heath xone:db4 Review

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