A professional DJ controller with integrated, high quality soundcard. That’s a way to describe the new Allen&Heath Xone:DX. But that would be missing a whole lot of points of the digital DJ system that Allen&Heath and Serato co-developed. The Xone:DX controller in combination with Serato Itch software is a professional and robust system for the Digital DJ. As a vinyl-DJ with relative extreme little Digital DJ experience, I’ve got the opportunity to check out the Xone:DX and write up my first impressions!
When thinking about Allen&Heath, you expect a reliable quality of gear that you can take with you on stage to perform with, and this expectation is fulfilled: the hardware is covered with a metal plate, it’s got serious weight to give it a sturdy feel, the rotaries feel firm and the faders are as smooth as you want them to be. As expected. Sweet! When looking at the controller, it does seem a little flat, especially when it is placed right inbetween two SL1200’s. The advantage of a more flat device is that it is more easy to take with you in a laptop bag though.
image above: Allen&Heath Xone:DX next to Technics SL1200 – not so high!
A digital DJ system consists of both hardware and software, and the software part of this package is created by Serato’s Itch-software. Specific Itch functions have gotten a specific place on the Xone:DX, and as such the DX is dedicated to Itch. It must be possible to use the Xone:DX to control other software, like Traktor, but that is beyond the scope of this review.
Playing with the DX is just fun!
There are different ways to mix your music. Coming from vinyl, I’m trying to control the most digital way of mixing, using the concept of syncing beatgrids. When in beatgrid-sync-mode, there is a masterclock running, and tracks are tempo-matched to the masterclock’s tempo as well as beat-matched to the right beat of the masterclock’s beat. This requires your mp3-tracks to be analyzed perfect. While Itch is pretty good at this, I do recommend checking your tracks on tightness of the beatgrid before playing them for an audience for the first time! My vinyl-dj-friends still have a problem with the Digital DJ concept where beatmatching is performed by the software, because it removes some of the oldskool traditional DJ skills from a DJ performance. They are right of course, but only when beatmatching is the most important part of a DJ-performance.
I’ve noticed that the Xone:DX lets me learn how to mix in new ways. Because beatmatching does not take up time, you can focus your attention on other parts of mixing 2, 3 or 4 tracks in sync together. And play with the effects. Or create loops (that are synced to the BPM). One specific button, the “CENSOR”-button on the controller, is assigned to instantly “reverse” the playback of a track. When you push it the track plays in reverse, and upon release the track resumes playing as if you hadn’t pushed the reverse-button in the first place. Track remains perfecly in sync and you can create real cool mini-breaks! And make combinations with effects at the same time.
image above: blacklight effect on the controller surface
Talking about effects: selecting effects is something between the Xone:DX and Itch, where you use the controller, but have to look at the screen to see what you’re doing. That is something you have to get used to, if you want to be able to switch between effects quickly. Also, some effects will match your personal taste and style more than other effects, but there are plenty of high quality effects to throw in your mix. And that Low Pass Filter is still pretty sweet…!
Audio sample contains some effects (EQ’ing, LPF, reversing…) Audio taken from Pzylo & Jagger Jack Featuring Oedla – Acid Injection (Acid Cirkus 004 – Albert Hofmann Tribute EP)
The Xone:DX is a controller, and not a mixer. That means that the Xone:DX without computer does nothing. You can connect the Xone:DX with a single USB-cable to your computer . Next to that, the DX requires an external power supply to make it run. When taking a further look at the back side of the controller, you see 4 line-INputs, of which 2 of them are switchable between Line/Phono. These inputs can play the output of your external CD- or Phono-decks through the Itch software. And Itch can then, like when playing mp3-files, apply effects to these external inputs before they end up as audio-tracks under the faders of the mixer. Beat-sync’ed effects, loop-sampling or reverse do not work on external inputs though, but this does open up the opportunity to keep your original record collection through your new digital media library. Or the other way around. A little latency in playback is noticeable though, but I did not consider this to be a problem at all.
Altogether it is the total picture of the Xone:DX/Itch-system that gives me a very positive feeling. The software is good, but as always with software, it can be improved on some points. The way that the music library is organized is not always logical to me, but it can be something you have to get used to. On the other side of thing, on the controller, I would have preferred it when the disabling of a selected effect is executed on button RELEASE instead of then you PUSH the button. But these are personal remarks. Bottom line is that I had so much fun when playing with the Xone:DX and rediscovering and learning new ways how to mix records. And that’s the most important thing I have to say about the Allen&Heath Xone:DX. Chill…!