Thursday, September 23, 2010

Allen & Heath Xone DX ZeSoundSuite Review!

A couple weeks ago I was lucky enough to have an Allen & Heath Xone DX in my possession.  Naturally I knew I'd be writing a little review up on it so I tried to master the controller as best as possible in the short time I had it.  I used the Xone DX with Traktor Pro because to be honest Serato's Itch is just not appealing to me whatsoever.  Itch's GUI just instantly turns me off to it.  I don't care what anyone says, a solid looking pleasant GUI is beyond important.  Serato is for Turn Table DJ's not Controller DJ's.  GUI stands for graphical user interface by the way, it's essentially just a fancy & nerdy way of describing how the software looks on your screen.  Enough of talking about the crumby bundled software, lets get down to the grit.  

Allen & Heath created a special .tsi file for Traktor (4 different mappings to be exact) that allows the Xone DX to be instantly MIDI mapped to Traktor without any fuss.  Once the Xone DX .tsi file is loaded you literally don't have to touch your computer again.  The browsing section controls located on the Xone DX is fantastic and makes selecting and loading songs from your library a breeze, all without ever having to touch your track pad.  Keep in mind the Xone DX was not built in collaboration with Native Instruments.  Allen & Heath just did the MIDI mapping perfectly and certainly had Traktor Pro in mind when they designed and built the Xone DX.

I'll keep this review as short as possible whilst still remaining concise, I'll explain to you all what I really liked about the Xone DX and also the features I think they could improve on.  Let's start with the sweet stuff first though, this should also tell you right off the bat my overall impression of the Xone DX.  My favorite feature hands down is the build quality, this thing is built like a tank! Not much to say about this to be truthful, it's no secret the DJ MIDI Controller market is flooded with a bunch of garbage that feels like a playschool speak & spell.  Allen & Heath left this idea in the dust when they built the Xone DX.

The knobs feel absolutely beautiful and you would swear you're touching an actual analog mixer.  The faders are equally as sweet, they're smooth yet feel quite solid.  You don't have to worry about breaking these beasts while slamming tracks together they can surely handle it.  They didn't build a pitch fader into the DX, instead you control pitch with a click able knob.  I'm sure this will no doubt turn some DJ's off but if you want to be smashing 4 tracks at once together you're not beat matching anyway.  Let's all be honest, the audience has no idea and you can give them 50 times the show if you're using an auto sync feature.  Not to say beat matching isn't an important skill and art, it's just that it's the future now and using auto sync to create a more interesting set will take over.  I could still be using a rotary telephone because it's "classic" but, I don't.  Allen & Heath definitely thought about this when they built the DX and it's quite evident seeing as how the DX lacks pitch faders.

The 4 decks can be independtly controlled with a simple button that allows you to switch between two decks for each side of the DX.  I had decks 1 & 3 on the left side and decks 2 & 4 on the right, the different MIDI maps Allen & Heath created allow you to set this up in any way you'd like however.  Another feature I was really pleased with were the cue buttons.  I honestly wish there was more of them, they bounce back fantastically and make bumping between cues to create cool jumps and loops inside of tracks incredibly easy.  This is a great feature and allows you to unlock all kinds of creativity you didn't knew you had inside of you.  It's a controller so as expected, the XD doesn't have nice & solid large jog wheels.  But, neither does it's big brother the 4D, and the 4D is good enough for the biggest names in EDM Production & DJing so... yeah, you could say they most likely get the job done regardless. The next thing I'll touch on are the 2 groups of 4 effect knobs located at the top of the DX.  The first 3 knobs are all fantastic, the 4th knob is another click-able knob and while it is very useful for selecting and browsing between effects, it doubles as the 4th MIDI knob for Traktor's EFX section and it's a tad difficult to turn quickly and efficiently unlike the first 3 knobs are.  If you're familiar with Traktor you'll know this 4th knob is beyond important in the control and sync of your effects.  I wish they would've added a 5th knob that was click able for browsing and left the 4 you turn for your effects all the same.
Lets talk about looping... Allen & Heath nailed it! The looping creation and selection section on the Xone DX is beyond fantastic.  Creating your loops is painless and you can do it manually In/Out old school style or select a bar length and just turn the loop on & off with a single button.  Loop length can then be adjusted with a knob which makes creating those epic breakdowns building up to 1/16th tripping loops quite simple.  The looping section is yet another very usable and practical feature on the DX.
Alright so we know it feels great, we know the features make operating Traktor a breeze.  But.... How does it sound?  Well seeing as how that's pretty much all I care about you can be assured you're about to have an answer to that question in a few sentences.  Before I tell you I'll explain the interface on the back of the DX.  The DX sports a 10in/10out, 24bit/96kbps audio interface with your main outs being fed by XLR of RCA.  This is all fed via USB 2.0 from your computer.  If you buy one of these, be sure to spend a little extra money on a high quality USB 2.0 cable.  The DX will be sending a tremendous amount of audio plus MIDI info down the same pipe between itself and your computer.  Get a good cable to ensure audio quality is maintained from the beginning of your signal flow. (Your computer's USB O/P)  All of the inputs on the DX are RCA and so are the other outputs.  You do however have a mic preamp built into the front of the DX however that allows to connect any dynamic mic for yourself or your emcee.  This input also features a high freq. & low freq. EQ so you can dial back any unwanted frequencies that might be causing feedback.  It's always a good idea to just kill the highs & lows when you're talking through a mic while DJing anyways just to prevent the possibility of some nasty vibe killing feedback destroying your audiences ears.  That's all cool in all but... How does it sound??? IT SOUNDS FANTASTIC!  Unfortunately I didn't have a nice Pioneer or Dennon mixer to compare it to but I did have my M-Box (this contest wasn't even fair) The DX crushed the M-box on both my studio monitors and my Mackie SRM 450.  When I played a show with it through a system with some low end I was more than impressed.  Bass response was beyond thick and the highs were nice and sparkly without being ear piercing. (especially important if you're a heavy filter fan)  I'll put it this way... I'm not sure if it sounds as good as a Pioneer of even a Xone 4D sound wise but, it sure smashes any other controller's soundcards into the ground.  This actually has that analog mixer vibe in the sound, that's something that is honestly priceless in a controller.
So that pretty much sums it up without explaining every feature in detail, if you're really interested in buying one you should do that research on your own anyways, don't take my word for it.  Before I let you all go do your own digging I will tell you some of things I think Allen & Heath could improve on.  First off, yes the glitch you've seen in youtube videos is true.  If you tap in between the play & cue buttons the controller will sometimes send a midi message to computer activating the play/pause button.  It should be noted that it usually takes a pretty hard tap though.  This could still be  a problem though especially when playing on massive systems as the low end from these could also aggravate and create this pause glitch in the middle of your set.  Hopefully Allen & Heath will address this issue and fix it quickly.  Secondly it's a little small, my hands are fat but I feel like the size is still a bit of an issue. I understand them wanting it to be compact but if it had an extra 6 to 12 inches of width this this would be perfect size wise. (insert dick joke here)  Finally my last bit of advice to Allen & Heath regards the mixer section of the controller.  They should strip all the MIDI functionality of these and make it a true analog mixer.  That way your DJ software would run more smoothly not having to function as a mixer & EQ plus you'd have true analog faders & knobs creating what would truly be the dopest DJ Controller/Mixer hybrid on the planet.

Overall though I give the Allen & Heath Xone DX 3.5 out of 5 stars.  It could have a 4 if they fix that tap glitch and the only reason it can never get a 5 is because the Allen & Heath Xone 4D is the only true 5 star beast.  The Xone DX is hands down the best MIDI DJ Controller/Interface available on the market for the price.  It can't be beat!  Don't waste your time & money with Numark garbage, save your money and buy a DX.  You'll thank me later.  It feels like a real analog mixer, sounds like a analog mixer and controls DJ software with the greatest of ease.  Allen & Heath smashed it when they built the DX and I can't wait to see what the future holds for the DJ MIDI Controller market. 

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