As last year's cutting-edge technology quickly becomes this year's standard feature set, one thing is clear; the hybrid DJ mixer has made its mark and is here to stay.
Allen & Heath pioneered the revolution with the groundbreaking Xone:3D, but while it offered more than any other mixer could at the time and opened the doors to a wealth of new possibilities in the mix, the full potential of this technology wasn't totally realised. Fast-forward to 2008 and the imminent arrival of the jet black Xone:4D.
On first inspection, it may look like the only real difference is the paint job, but there are some major changes inside the box. The most important one is the brand new soundcard, which now uses the higher bandwidth USB2 connection to stream up to four stereo audio channels between computer and mixer at once.
"The soundcard is a superior animal all around, it's much more flexible," says Andy Rigby-Jones, head of Xone Design. "Once we'd perfected the new USB 2.0 soundcard for the Xone:2D, it was an obvious move to migrate it across to the Xone:3D mixer/controller, which now becomes the 4D."
The audio runs at 24bit/96Khz and the four full duplex channels are perfect for four-deck mixing using DVS systems such as Traktor Scratch and MixVibes, with latency as low as 2.5ms.
One compromising aspect of the 3D was the limited number of soundcard channels, which users could elect to use in two configurations, swapping over inputs for outputs via a software panel on the computer. This has been scrapped and replaced by more audio channels and eight selector switches on the mixer, which change the routing without disrupting the audio signal.
This also greatly expands the mixer's potential for multi-track recording purposes as every physical input can be recorded to an individual track in Cubase, Logic, etc.
The Midi controller side has always worked really well, but there's still room for more so it now benefits from a dual layer mode, which effectively doubles the amount of available assignments to a whopping 255.
The Xone:4D has a bunch of minor tweaks too, such as the LFO waveform editing functions, improved BPM detection system, updated mixer circuitry and switchable FX routing and pre/post fader recording.
The LFO waveform can be drawn in using the eight Midi sliders to create new rhythmic shapes, to filter sweeps and cross fades.
All these add up to a smoother, more flexible system for DJs performing live and a more capable beast for recording in the studio. And Allen & Heath hope to gain Traktor certification for the Xone:4D in the very near future.
Best of all, there's no brutal price hike in sight, as the 4D will be available for the same price as the 3D.