For many DJs, a digital DJ controller is a great way to play. But for some, the flexibility, expansion potential and usually superior audio quality available through building a DJ system from separate components means that this is often a preferred route. Allen & Heath's Xone:43C is designed to be the heart of just this type of digital DJ system - and specifically, a Serato DJ system. Here's our review...
The way digital DJ systems are set up can be confusing to newcomers, but you always have the same components in some shape or form. Basically, you have the software running on a computer which is also where the music files are kept, an audio interface that converts the music files into analogue signals to be amplified and heard (whether that's through the headphones or to the audience via the speakers), and a set of physical controls, to save you having to use the computer's keyboard and mouse to do everything (usually referred to as "Midi" controls, as Midi is the name of the protocol used by digital music/DJ gear to communicate with computer software).
Additionally in the case of more complex systems including "digital vinyl systems" (DVS), the audio interface is two way, so it can convert audio into digital too. So for instance, with DVS, the DJ uses special vinyl or CDs that contain a high pitched tone containing information that can be "read" by DJ software in order to be able to "play" audio files using standard DJ CD players or record decks. This is a very popular way of DJing in clubs for digital DJs.
So where does the Xone:43C fit into all of this? Well, the Xone 43:C is a standard, analogue DJ mixer (so you can use it with CDs, record decks, microphones etc, away from any computer), but it also ticks all the "digital" boxes too: It not only contains an audio interface that can do all the things mentioned above, but it also has a special link called "X-Link" that lets you add in Allen & Heath Midi components to control your DJ software, too.
Add just such a component (we tested it with the Xone:K1 Midi controller) and DVS (we tested with both CDs and vinyl), and you have a system that can do pretty much everything standalone consumer DJ controllers can, but that looks and feels the same as the gear you find in DJ booths.
First impressions & setting up
Allen & Heath is a quality brand, and its gear always looks and feels the part. From the off, this mixer doesn't disappoint. In the company's new, updated livery, the Xone:43C looks rounded and funky, while still meaning business. It's aluminium, making it a sturdy and relatively lightweight design, and the knobs are mounted metal-to-metal on the chassis. The box has a couple of leads and some spare knobs and fader caps in with the bagged quickstart guide, which is a nice touch.
Setting up involves installing Serato DJ, installing the Allen & Heath Xone:43C driver from within Serato DJ software itself, and finally if you want to use DVS (I think most users will), ensuring you have that version: Buying the Club Kit version outright is £110, or upgrading to Club Kit is you already own Serato DJ is £65. (Note that once you have Club Kit, you can use Serato DJ with any compatible digital mixer, not just this one.)
Once you've calibrated your digital vinyl and followed the audio routing wizard, you're ready to go.
The mixer has four switchable analogue/digital channels, plus an extra mic/aux channel, that has a rotary gain and two-band EQ, effectively making it a fifth channel. Paired with Serato DJ software, it gives you control over all four Serato decks. The four main channels are switchable phono/line/USB, and each has its own VU meter in addition to the master VU.
The channels all have a big fat "X-FX" knobs that I suspect many DJs will assume at first glance is a filter per channel, but actually, these knobs are individual sends to any external FX unit you may have plugged in. (In the video, you'll see we tested it with a Pioneer RMX-500.) There aren't individual hardware filters at all, but there is a single Allen & Heath hardware filter, and you can switch each channel on or off in order to send its output through that filter. The filter sounds great, with "mild to wild" resonance and a choice of high-pass, low-pass or (unusually) mid-pass options, but analogue DJs using the mixer may find a single filter restrictive.
The feature set past everything mentioned so far covers all the basics a pro would need: As far as inputs and outputs go, all four main channels can be record decks or line as well as digital, there's that fifth mic/aux channel, and outputs are balanced XLR/unbalanced RCA master, plus unbalanced RCA booth; many DJs will love the fact that the headphones section includes a split cue; likewise, scratch DJs will appreciate the crossfader three-way adjust, although the crossfader itself is too stiff for advanced scratching (it's Mini Innofader replaceable, though).
Unlike Allen & Heath's more expensive mixers such as the Xone:DB2 and Xone:DB4 there are no onboard FX past the single filter; this is very much a mixer designed for expansion when the DJ is ready to spend more money, as stated earlier, so there's the extensive FX send/return feature for adding an external FX unit if desired.
However, as mentioned in the intro, the X-Link network socket offers a really simple way to add a controller for software control; the Xone:K1 is Serato DJ-supported out of the box and will give you loops, cues, sync, library controls, and control over both software FX and filters, so you get your per-channel filters that way. For DVS users or even users wanting a stripped down modular set-up, adding a controller like the K1 would be a great move a great move.
As far as sound quality and the "in use" feel of the mixer go, the best way to describe DJing with it is that it doesn't feel like you're using a digital DJ set-up at all: It really does feel like DJing done "the old way", as everything's that much bigger and more spaced out, and to me at least, having comprehensive and trustworthy metering helped to add that "manual" feel back to things. The sound overall was fantastic, and the hardware filter sounded great... plus as we hooked it up to an external FX unit too, we found it hard to pull ourselves away to actually film and write the review!
This mixer is a statement of intent by any DJ buying it. It says: I'm going to build a DJ system at home that looks, feels and acts similar to the gear I find when I play in clubs. It says: For me, a simple controller isn't going to be enough. Hooked up with a pair of (any type of) DJ CD player, or a pair of record decks, the Xone:43C gives you an easy to set up, professional feeling basic DJ system but which you can, from there, take in any number of directions as your DJing career develops.
Want hardware control over loops, filters, FX, library selection etc? Add the Xone:K1 and with a single cable, it's all there. Want to add in an external FX unit, having fallen in love with one in a club you DJed at? The send/returns you need are present and correct, and the mixer has a really versatile X-FX system to let you get the most from such a unit. Want to simply DJ from CDs or records? Depending on the "deck flavour" you chose for your DVS control, at the flick of a switch, you can - even in the same DJ set. Want to DJ with a vocalist, or another DJ with their own controller? You've got a decently featured channel to plug them in, too.
Indeed, while it's sold and badged for Serato DJ, there's nothing stopping you using it with any DJ software, and it'd work just as well with Mixvibes or Virtual DJ DVS, for instance, right out of the box in the same way that it works with Serato DJ Club Kit. So again, another layer of flexibility.
At its list price of £799, it's a fair and solid piece of kit to build a system around, and while its feature set is relatively basic compared to higher end (and more expensive) mixers, it has few limitations for growing with you into the future. Couple that with great sound quality, and the clever X-Link idea to make adding extra components easy (and remember, nowadays with Serato you can map supported devices yourself, so they'd be nothing stopping you daisy-chaining K1s, for instance, to make a controllerist's dream set-up...), and you have a very desirable mixer for the serious hobbyist or ambitious prosumer DJ.