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Allen & Heath Xone DB4 review

Late last year Allen & Heath announced the  release of their flagship mixer the Xone DB4. Eagerly anticipated due to leaked/hacked information from their webserver, Juno Plus chose to reserve any further judgement until the arrival of our own unit.

The DB4 comes extremely well packaged, with dense foam padding protecting the padded courier bag containing the current crown jewels of the DJ mixer market. It’s nice and compact, sitting on the desktop at 320 x 88 x 358 mm although for an extra few quid you can pick up the X:DB4-RK19 optional 19” rack mount kit (whatever happened to the day’s of these things being included in the box?) It weighs 5.1Kg, with its lightweight aluminium construction promoted by the manufacturer as beneficial for touring DJs. The build quality is up to the usual military standard that one expects of Allen & Heath, and although many have likened the layout to the Xone:92 we can assure you that there’s been a big shake up on the user interface in key areas, such as a re-designed EQ section, and most notably the addition of the Quad FX Core DSP effects engine. The DB4 also boasts of a built-in 24-bit / 96kHz, multi-channel, fully patchable USB2 soundcard and is also MIDI compatable.

“There are banks and banks of fully adjustable presets to work through, which combined with the looper section makes on-the-fly remixes a real option that’s not just reserved for the connoisseurs”

A tour of the controls sees the presence of matrix style rotary source selector knobs at the very top of each channel (as premiered by Denon last year), allowing you to assign any of the available stereo music sources: analogue Line 1-4 (switchable to Phono on 2-3), digital 1-4 or USB 1-4. Gone are the days of the four band EQ with split mid range; instead the new set-up can be configured to operate in three modes. In Isolator Mode the EQ provides full attenuation when fully anti-clockwise and a safe +6dBof boost when fully clockwise. This EQ offers a steep 24dB/octave slope for tight frequency isolation. In Isolator Mode the EQ knob pointers are illuminated in blue. In EQ Mode you get -26dB of attenuation and +6dB of boost. This EQ has a gentler 12dB/octave slope and the pointers are illuminated in red. Lastly in Filter Mode, the EQ section becomes a high and low pass filter system with adjustable resonance offering precise control over the frequency spectrum. The filters have a 12dB/octave slope. The high and low filters illuminate blue, whilst the mid knob turns red, controlling the resonance of the filter. Directly below you’ve got the new Looper section which consists of a multifunctional rubber knob, two digit display and indicator LED. This will cleverly loop your audio for up to four bars at 60BPM or above. You can jam with the start and end points in a non destructive manner but can’t save anything to memory. Unlike some of the software DJ systems the Looper operates in Roll Mode, which means that the source audio will continue playing even though you’ll only be hearing the loop.

Moving downwards, you’ll find the new super effects controls occupy the area above each of the channel faders, linking to more detailed information and user interaction possible via the big new OLED display on the far right of the console. There are five different effects types – delay, reverb, resonator, modulator and damage (or distortion) – each represented with their own button. Each effects bank has a dedicated expression control and a rotary pot to set the wet/dry level and further tweaking can be performed using the global controllers in the FX master section. They’re pretty easy to use – just select your desired effect, hit select (which opens up the library menu on the screen), then tweak the available parameters to your heart’s content. Sadly only one effect per channel can be used, although you can use the effects on all four channels simultaneously, easily toggling between the four by means of the select button.

Having said this, it’s easy to forget that this is a DJ mixer (not a studio DAW) designed for maximum performance without over complication. If this mixer breaks through to become industry standard then you won’t need to own your own unit in order master it – just like how any DJ should be able to whip up a storm on the Pioneer effects by now. The delays and reverbs can be set to Kill Send mode which means that the KS area of the wet/dry knob will mute the send to the effects unit, leaving only the output to decay into the mix. The mixer section doesn’t differ too greatly to previous Xone models – you have the familiar filter and cross fader assign switch and channel cue button above each fader. These faders feel like the mutt’s nuts and come with a 13 segment LED level meter per channel and three different up curves. The crossfader feels equally satisfying with dipped, dippless and fast-cut curve settings. The filters remain largely unchanged from the Xone 92, with the resonance control knob being placed directly above the HPF button. Completing the arsenal up top is the mic control room with XLR or dual RCF inputs, high mid and low pass filter and volume knob. The headphone monitor section is comprised of a raised heavy duty ¼ “ input with level and cue knobs. You’ve also got booth and mix level, a 26 segment LED output meter.

“If this mixer breaks through to become industry standard, the good news is you won’t need to own your own unit in order master it”

The back panel is equally well stocked, comprising insulated gold male XLRs for the main mix out, ¼ stereo booth out and gold RCA’s handle the record out. The four stereo analogue inputs are also gold RCAs with channels 1 and 4 line only and 2 and 3 being switchable between either phono or line. You’ve got four mini-jack deck start connectors for a foot pedal or equivalent external device, as well as four digital inputs for standard 75 Ohm RCA interface cable plus a single digital out of the same format fixed but not copy protected at 48kHz/24bit. The X-link is a standard RJ45 connection which has been designed so that future Allen & Heath products can communicate with each other via digital data. A USB 2.0 port completes the digital hook ups.

Using the mixer is easy, and once you’ve made the relevant connections you can calibrate almost every function of DB4 by means of the set-up menu, saving your preferences onto a USB stick for club recall. These customizations can be anything from the way the peak meters behave to the brightness of the front panel LEDs, to more advanced functions such as USB routing, booth mix and record set-up, right through to adjusting the sensitivity, audio source and mode of the headphone cue system. We installed the drivers on our Mac in under five minutes, with everything being recognized as it should within the audio and MIDI preferences/utilities menu, and the resulting audio signal was punchy and loud. The effects are the area of the unit that most users will be drawn to, and they are very impressive, having been modelled on Allen & Heath’s iLive touring consoles. There are banks and banks of fully adjustable presets to work through, which combined with the looper section makes on-the-fly remixes a real option that’s not just reserved for the connoisseurs. The MIDI shift key is also very cool, allowing the mixer to be used as a controller and a mixer simultaneously at the touch of a button. Check out the video below to witness the mixer in action at the BPM trade fair at Birmingham NEC.

Dicken Lean

Analogue/Digital conversion 24 bit
Analogue/Digital Line-up +12dBu = 0dBFS
DSP processing 24 bit I/O + 48 bit EQ
DSP Mix Bus 56 bit Fixed Point
DSP core sampling frequency 48kHz
USB soundcard sampling frequency range 44.1kHz to 96kHz
SPDIF input sampling frequency range 32kHz to 192kHz
SPDIF output sampling frequency 48kHz
Main outputs 0VU = +4dBu
Monitor 0VU = +4dBu
Record 0VU = +4dBu
Maximum output level +16dBu balanced
Mic Sensitivity -20dB to -50dB
RIAA input sensitivity 1kHz 70mV = 0VU (200mV max)
Frequency response Line in to Mix out 10Hz – 20kHz +0/-0.5dB
Distortion at 1kHz Line in at +0Vu out 0.003% (-90dB) un-weighted
Main Mix noise 22Hz- 22KHz un-weighted -88dBu (104dB dynamic range)
Residual Mix noise 22Hz- 22KHz un-weighted -94dB
Equalization +6dB boost/-26dB or Total Kill 3 Band
Fader Shutoff -110dB
Desktop 320 mm (12.6”) 88 mm (3.5”) 358 mm (14”) 5.1 kg (11 lbs)
Rack ears fitted 483 mm (19”) 88 mm (3.5”) 358 mm (14”)
Packed 530 mm (20.9”) 470 mm (18.5”) 260 mm (10.2”) 8.6 kg (19 lbs)