Allen & Heath’s Xone:23C [Review & Video]
Allen & Heath's latest mixers, the XONE:23 and the XONE:23C, are the company's entry-level replacement for the somewhat aged XONE:22. In this review, we'll be focusing on the 23C, which is essentially the base model with an integrated soundcard and a few new styling touches.
I really enjoyed my time with the mixer, and while I admittedly have a few minor gripes, I feel very confident in saying that this an excellent choice for anyone looking for a 2 (+2) channel mixer with soundcard at this price point (around $399 USD).
Let's dive in to the details and see what the latest XONE has to offer!
My last A&H mixer was the now-discontinued XONE:32, so it was difficult to compare the 23C to current offerings rather than my old silver-faced mistress. Unboxing the unit and hooking it up for the first time reminded me of doing the same with my 32. A moment of “well, (this) and (that) were some odd choices by the engineers… but damn does this thing sound and feel nice.”
I definitely have no complaints on the styling. The mixer looks modern and clean, with design cues taken from the DB:2. It's got a nice metal finish, and large “XONE” and “ALLEN & HEATH” logos on the sides. After I take a moment to admire the pretty-ness, I am mildly disappointed to find that it has an external power supply. So, bear in mind that you'll have an extra “brick” to go along with your new gear. It's small and unobtrusive, but worth mentioning.
The box also contains a USB cable, a user manual, a download voucher for the MixVibes Cross LE software, and a pair of small jumper cables… more on that later.
The line faders feel appropriately stiff for a smooth, yet sturdy feel… this isn't Allen & Heath's first rodeo, and they've pretty much gotten the tactile aspects down by now. The crossfader is much more loose by comparison (as it should be), and is Innofader-compatible for the scratch DJs. All of the knobs are nice and grippy, with solid center detents for the EQs.
The crossfader curve is selectable between linear and a sharp on/off (for scratching). There is no crossfader reverse option, however… a downside for scratch DJs that prefer “hamster style”.
Overall, the unit is actually quite light for something that feels so sturdy… partially due to the fact that the power supply is not integrated. The build quality is everything you expect from a company like Allen & Heath. The 23C boasts a nice set of amenities for such a small and affordable mixer: dual headphone outputs (small and large), XLR outputs, XLR mic input, booth outputs, record out, and an FX send/return loop.
Another cool feature is the X-Link port on the back. For the uninitiated, this is basically an RJ-45 (like ethernet) connection which allows you to connect XONE:K2 controllers without using up USB ports on your laptop. Macbook users like myself are always up for anything that saves our limited USB ports, though I honestly would've probably preferred an integrated USB hub instead (a la Native Instruments' Kontrol Z2). Still, it's nice to know that the option is there for the brand-loyal.
The combination of the Xone:23C, the Cross LE software, and a pair of K2's results in a rather nice complete budget setup for the modularly-minded digital DJ.
I wanted to try out both the analogue and integrated digital aspects of the mixer, so I connected one of my trusty Technics on the right while playing digitally from the left (utilizing the internal sound card).
Being a Traktor guy, I was pleased to find that the Xone's audio interface popped up straight-away in the settings on my Macbook. I literally plugged in the mixer's power cord, connected the USB cable, and started playing a track in seconds.
This is a 2 + 2 mixer, meaning that it's two channels and four inputs. Each channel has dual inputs (phono and line) which can be used simultaneously and have separate gain controls. Technically, you could probably consider this a 2 + 3 mixer. Each channel (line fader) is a summation of the two RCA inputs plus the USB audio assigned to that channel.
I used Shure SRH-750DJ headphones for monitoring, which can be on the quiet side for some gear (I struggle using them with my Kontrol S4). So, I was very happy to discover that the headphones output was as loud as I could ever want them to be. Kudos.
The 9-cell VU meters are nice and bright, showing the levels of whatever line has the “Cue” button lit… or showing the overall output if both buttons are dim. This brings us to gain staging, which introduces a few gripes for me.
The first thing I noticed is that there is no knob for gain control of USB audio. In other words, the volume level for the active track is determined by software… but you have no way to control it on the mixer itself. This bothers me since I'm used to the way that mixers like the Pioneer DJM900nexus and my Denon DN-X1600 work… the gain knob works just as it would for a pair of CDJs.
An acceptable workaround would be available if the mixer was MIDI-enabled and you could assign a knob to your software's gain control. But I saw no way to do this, which means that your options are: rely on the auto-gain function of your software, map a gain knob via MIDI on some other controller, or use your mouse.
My other complaint came in when I brought in a vinyl record on the right channel. The music was very quiet. Even when I turned the gain knob all the way to 100%, it was barely touching 0db (the manual says to play between -6 and +6 on this particular mixer). I realized that the record I had chosen was from 2000 and might be a touch quieter, so I picked up a brand new record and put it on the table with the same result. The fact that I'd be struggling to play particularly quiet pieces of wax (like some of my very old records from the 70s-80s) concerned me a bit.
These things aside, I was pleasantly un-surprised to hear the phenomenal sound quality that is inherent to the Allen & Heath brand. The total-kill EQs are smooth as butter, and are a complete joy to mix with. The faders and knobs all feel right.
And, of course, I would be remiss if I didn't mention the now-legendary VCF (filter) that the XONE sports. If you don't know the A&H filters by now, you should get hip. They are pretty much the best-sounding filters in the industry. To some, this will be a minor detail to skip over. To me, this is almost the selling point of this mixer.
I use my internal Traktor filters all the time, but I'd choose this one any day if I had it. The only thing that might make me think twice is the fact that there's only one (assignable) filter instead of two… but I rarely filter two tracks at once anyway.
DVS Out of the Box…ish
One selling point of the XONE:23C is the fact that it includes Mixvibes Cross LE, which is DVS (timecode) enabled. Of course, it doesn't include any control records or CDs and I didn't see where to buy them on the Mixvibes website. I was able to find them on Amazon, however… so no biggie.
However, the small jumper cables I mentioned earlier play a role here. It seems that, in order enable DVS functionality, you have to actually open up the mixer. Like, with a screwdriver. The manual states:
This job should be entrusted to an authorised service agent whilst the mixer is still under warranty as any damage due to incorrect procedure will not be covered.
Of course, not everyone lives within reasonable range of an authorized service agent (myself included… I've looked). Also, not everyone likes the idea of cracking open their brand new gear for advertised functionality, when it seemingly could've been catered to by the addition of a toggle switch.
There is always the option to use your own DVS software of choice (Traktor Scratch, Serato, etc.) but as the mixer is not certified for those applications, you'll be bringing your own audio interface anyway. At that point, you should save a hundred bucks and get the base model XONE:23.
The XONE:23C is a terrific mixer for the price, considering everything that you get. It's a well-built piece of gear that does a few things and does them well. The filter alone is reason enough for many DJs to go the XONE route over other entry-level mixer options.
It's good for beginners and seasoned pros alike… appropriate for the modular digital DJ, the scratch DJ, and even the DVS DJ. A few gripes aside, I'd have no qualms about spending my hard-earned money on it. Especially when the amount of money is impressively low. For Allen & Heath fans wanting a 2-channel mixer with integrated sound, this hits the spot.