The market for USB DJ controllers would seem to be reaching something of a saturation point just now, especially compared to the amount of new vinyl turntables coming on to the market. Pioneer, Native Instruments, Behringer and others have all joined the battle over the last few years with devices that range from the very, very good to the not so wonderful and when you add in the fact that the bulk of CD turntables are able to play your downloads via software or USB stick, it is increasingly difficult for any DJ to ignore the wind of change.
Allen and Heath’s Xone K1 is essentially a modified version of their older Xone K2 unit – a small stand alone USB powered device that packs in a huge amount of features for the price: A sound card, 4 line faders, 12 analogue pots and 6 endless rotary encoders plus the ability to program latching layers that greatly multiply the potential controls to ever greater (and slightly unwieldy) heights. The K1, whilst being virtually identical to the naked eye, makes several small changes that, depending of how important you find them, either cleverly reduce the price whilst still keeping the superb functionality or neuter your ability to do great things with it.
Firstly, the soundcard that was integral to the K2 has been removed which, in my eyes at least, is probably a good idea. Having used the K2 for the best part of two years now I can say that I have never been tempted to use this feature. For a device that I use mainly for transport control and EQ in Traktor (amongst other things) I never saw much use for it, doubly so when I heard the reports of the devices very low output volume. Also gone are the latching layers which allowed you to increase the amount of controls at your disposal. The jury is still out on whether this is a good move or not. Some like it, loving the power it gives them. Others found it too fiddly. I think I’m properly in the second camp. I am easily confused and liable in the depth of a mix to hit something by mistake that sends the music scuttling away from me. Also removed is the case that doubled as a stand, although it seems this will be available for a price later on.
Regardless of what Allen and Heath have removed, it’s what they haven’t that makes the K1 attractive. The build of the K2 is fantastic – weighty, solid and professional feeling with virtually no unnecessary bells and whistles which puts it ahead of a lot of the competition these days. It’s also software agnostic; you should be able to use it with Traktor, with Live, Serato and virtually any other DJ software or DAW without issue. One of the issues I have with the controllers Native Instruments (and to a lesser degree Pioneer with Serato) have been producing is that they are built for Traktor – increasingly so. I understand the reasons for it, it keeps you tied into to both the hardware and software and stops you moving to something else, but as someone who has found Traktor more irritating and troublesome than fun recently it’s not a philosophy I’m keen to buy into.
The only thing I wasn’t really fussy about on the K2 are the line faders. There is nothing wrong with them as such, they just sucked for pitch control, being nowhere sensitive enough for the job. Now this is small beer, and there are ways to program the device so that the various pots can be used for this function instead. But I always found it fussy and tricky to do it right which meant I tended to rely on the dreaded Sync button when using it. Your mileage, though, may vary.
Whether or not people will flock to the K1 remains to be seen and a lot of decisions will rely on exactly how much cheaper this new unit is over the old. If, as seems to be the case, the difference might be as little as £20 or £30, i suspect people may still gravitate to the older unit. Should it be a more substantial discount Allen and Heath may well have a winner on their hands. Lets hope so. Competition in the digital realm is something that can only push innovation, and that’s never bad.