Tech Talk

Allen & Heath Xone:96 review

Our view on the top of the range Xone:96

Allen & Heath have long been at the forefront of British mixer companies, starting life at the heart of London’s swinging music scene in 1969. Back then, they hand-built mixers for the top bands of the era, including Genesis, Pink Floyd and The Who. Fast forward to today, and they are one of the world’s leading mixer companies, with their Xone DJ mixers a regular feature in clubs and on tech riders globally.

Xone:96 top down

When you’re in the DJ booth, Technics turntables and the Pioneer CDJs are the club standard. While Denon and other DJ/audio companies are definitely making strides in the industry with incredible products, currently it is Technics and CDJs which rule supreme. The mixer though? That’s a very personal choice. 2 channels, 4 channels, more channels? Digital or analogue? Linear or rotary? Inbuilt FX or external? With so much choice, picking the right mixer, which ultimately is where your tunes are blended, is an important decision.

The Xone:96, is the long-awaited update to the Xone:92, which originally debuted back in 2003. With influence from Richie Hawtin, the 92 was an all analog mixer with no onboard FX (except the much loved silky smooth VCF filters). While many brands updated their mixers to conform with the latest DJ trends, the92 stuck to it’s roots – offering a simple, but powerful sounding mixer. It’s 4 band asymmetric EQ, inclusion of MIDI (to sync digital gear to the analog mixer), and surplus of send and return options quickly made it the mixer of choice from top DJs – especially those in the techno scene.

Price
£1500 RRP

Closest rivals
PlayDifferently Model 1 – £3,060 RRP
DJM V10 – £2700 RRP

So is the 96 just a refresh of the 92?
The Xone:96, builds on the historic Xone:92 – creating a DJ mixer that is instantly recognisable, but providing a myriad of new features that modern DJs demand. This isn’t a replacement for the 92, it feels like the next logical evolutionary step marrying the analogue and digital era.

Beyond the obvious new faceplate colour and increase in size, the new features that make the 96 a standout mixer aren’t immediately obvious.

What is new then?
The layout is much the same with 4 stereo channels and two stereo return channels, dual VCF filters, and 4 band EQ. There is now the inclusion of 2 additional return channels (“C” and “D”) giving the 96 a total of 8 input/outputs.

The addition of a dual 32-bit USB soundcard (24 Channels at 96kHz) with Traktor Scratch certification right out of the box, means that there is plenty of connectivity for all of your devices, be it laptops, CDJs, turntables, FX pedals, synths, drum machines, and more.

Double cueing – fully independent second cue, which allows for two DJs to cue at the same time. This is incredibly useful when going back-to-back with other DJs, especially as you can route the cue to a different channel and prep for the next mix seamlessly.

The fader curve function now allows you to easily adjust the curve to your own preference. Another welcome addition is the inclusion of a 3-band booth EQ, allowing you to tune the monitor system perfectly – ideal for those times when the booth isn’t quite set right.

The VCF filters are improved too. For those that have used the 92, there was an audible “pop” sound when the filter is turned on/off due to the circuitry design. We put the 96 through a heavy pace of use and this problem has been fixed – making it silky smooth to use. Additionally, they’ve replaced the LFO and included “crunch” which adds harmonic distortion to the filter effect – great fun to tweak and play with this.

The phono pre-amps have also been upgraded, improving the sound quality from your vinyl dramatically. The 96 boasts custom-designed 60mm linear VCA channel faders, admittedly these take some getting used to as they are a lot bigger than usual mixers, but they are so smooth to use. The crossfader is updated to the industry-favourite Innofader Mini, although we appreciate many DJs mix without that feature.

A minor addition, but the 96 now has a second ground pole for your turntables, making it easier to switch out units without that horrid humming sound. They’ve also moved the record out output to the top of the back of the mixer, so there’s less chance of accidentally disturbing the DJ playing after your set!

Beyond just DJing, the Xone:96 is a fantastic mixer for the studio. The onboard soundcard allows you to connect with your DAW of choice and use the line ins for recording your hardware, and the filter adds a new dimension for your studio productions. And this also works vice-versa, if you want to run your synth or CDJs in your DJ set through your favourite DAW VST/AU plug ins, this is easier than ever and gives you complete control of your set up.

Verdict

Would I buy this mixer? Absolutely. A powerhouse bridging analogue and digital for a “no-frills” mixing experience. The 96 is built like a tank, and will definitely last the test of time. If you want the classic analogue sound, but with new digital connectivity, the 96 might be the mixer for you.

If you’re a DJ who prefers using onboard FX though, then unless you want to run external gear (RMX-1000 or FX pedals) you could accuse the mixer of being a bit boring. While it sounds great, it does miss some of the “plug and play” fun that the DJM-V10 or the A&H DB4 has. As soon as this mixer left, I did find myself missing it. Vinyl sounds superb, the filters are superb, and the faders are superb. With all the I/O connectivity, the mixer is suited to be both a DJ and studio mixer, and for £1,500? A great price point.

For full tech specs and where to buy, click here!

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