When hardware masters Allen & Heath dropped the DB4 last year it raised some eyebrows in the DJ community. Often heralded by DJs and audiophiles for the quality of their analogue mixers, there was a certain suspicion when they revealed their new top-of-the-range mixer would be digital. So how will the DB4's younger brother the DB2 fair?
Historically the Allen & Heath brand has been defined by the quality of their analogue kit. They make a point of always hyping their 'real' analogue filters over the digital imitations favoured by their rivals at Pioneer, and superior sound quality is their ultimate USP. So when they unveil a digital mixer, it is always going to be contentious. However, the response was unprecedented. Drum & bass don, and analogue purist Andy C built his new ALIVE show off the back of the MIDI capabilities of the DB4, we struggled to fault it in our in-depth review for the mag, and it even scooped the coveted 'Ultimate Club Mixer' award at the DJ Mag Tech Awards, judged by DJs including Joachim Garraud, Mat Playford, Kutski and Sean Tyas. It was, in no small terms, a triumph.
So as is the way with product launches these days, the flagship unit comes first targeted at high-end users and permanent venue installs. Then the series works down towards the consumer end of the market. Priced just under £1300, the DB2 is by no means a cheap mixer, but compared to its £1800 big brother, it is a viable option for the small studio/club or hi-specced bedroom set-up. The build quality is superb and it comes in the favoured dark grey colour way that the Xone series have made their own. In essence, it is a four-channel mixer with two assignable banks of studio-grade effects, incorporating low and hi-pass filters.
REINVENTING THE WHEEL
One of the striking things about the DB series is that they not only subvert the traditional idea of an Allen & Heath mixer (analogue, simple layout etc), but they also completely challenge the idea of how a mixer should function, look and feel.
Let’s start with the design. The DB2 eschews the traditional EQ layout (bass, mid and treble in a straight line above the up-fader) in favour of an unusual 'C' shape layout with the mid-range pot positioned to the left of the bass and treble. From a design point of view, it definitely looks different. But for DJs who like to work the EQ, the layout feels organic and right. And the layout is really just the beginning.
Like the DB4, the DB2 adopts a Tri-Modal EQ system, which means that the EQ can be switched for different mixing styles. There is a standard EQ mode, an Isolator mode (offering complete kill on each frequency range) and a filter EQ, which really isn't an EQ at all, but utilizes the high and low frequency dials as hi pass and low pass filters respectively, leaving the mid-range pot to control the resonance in the same way as the famous 'Mild/Wild' control on previous Xone mixers.
The EQ is switched via a couple of clicks in the user menu, which is easy enough, but it would be nice to have some kind of bypass mode so that dials could be returned to their starting positions when switching, as mid-mix changes to the settings can cause big drops or peaks in the sound, particularly with the filter mode engaged.
ENTER THE MATRIX
The other unique feature of the DB mixer series, also found on the DB2, is the input matrix. A quick check of the rear of the unit shows that there are only four inputs, none of which are pre-assigned to a channel. It is another re-think that can appear confusing on the surface, but makes perfect sense once in action. DJs can plug in four devices and then map them to whichever channels are required on the mixer. This has dual benefits. DJs can switch the inputs into the channels to suit their preferred mixer set-up. The second clear benefit is the option to double up the signal across multiple channels and assign filters and effects for remixing on-the-fly. Very cool.
The matrix also acts as inputs for the soundcard inside the unit, which works beautifully with Traktor once the supplied drivers have been installed. However, as the device is not Traktor certified, DJs who want to use control vinyl or CDs will still need to plug in their external soundcard. Same goes for Serato Scratch Live DJs. However, it does illuminate a flaw in the matrix design. By limiting the device to four inputs, a Traktor or Serato DJ wanting to utilize two decks and have 'through capability' to play actual records/CDs as part of their set will need to use all four inputs of the mixer, which is fine for a home set-up, but will make booth changeovers tricky, which is ironically one of the proposed benefits of the internal soundcard.
DB4 - 2 = DB2
There are a few subtle distinctions between the DB4 and the DB2, such as the layout and the LED feedback to demonstrate the EQ mode (available on DB4 only). The clearest distinction between the models is the number of FX channels available. Unlike the DB4, which has separate effect banks and filters for each channel, the DB2 only has two, which can be assigned to any input channel using switches above the up-faders. This will be more than adequate for most users, who won't require four banks of FX, although the addition of individual channel filters is a feature that would be expected on a mixer in this price range these days. Obviously the filter mode on the EQ can plug this gap, however most DJs will want to use a filter alongside the EQ, not instead of it.
The most exciting part of the DB2 is the level of customisation that is available. This is not a mixer that dictates how a DJ should play or pushes the user in a certain direction with rigid layouts, non-customisable effects and a 'boxy' sound. Instead, it invites the DJ to customize it in the same way that would be expected if using a MIDI controller to fit their own style and methods of mixing.
Certain parameters of the mixer can be tweaked via the user menu. The channel fader curves and the crossfade curves can all be altered to suit tastes. The studio quality effects can be fine-tuned and even the way the db meters work can be changed. It is clear that the more time given to this mixer, the more it will reward. Learn it in a day… not likely. But spending some time learning the features on the DB2 will allow DJs to adapt their playing styles so that they don't sound the same as the next man — a massive plus. We could talk about the features of the DB2 for another two pages, but would instead recommend you get down to your local retailer and test it out first-hand. We think — like us — you will be bowled away!
|Ease of Use||7.5|
|Value for Money||8.0|
|Hype||Incredible sound, innovative features and fantastic-sounding effects|
|Gripe||Lack of inputs is restrictive for DVS users|
|Conclusion||The DB2 is a great-sounding mixer with some great features, at a cost. But if you don't love the feel of this mixer, we will eat our headphones!|