We recently reviewed the Allen & Heath Xone:23 mixer, but this is the one we’re truly been waiting for: the Xone:23C. Why? Because it has a killer addition over the Xone:23, for digital DJs at least: A built-in audio interface. That means in short that you can feed two stereo digital inputs through the mixer, and also record the mixer’s complete output digitally onto your computer too.
But let’s rewind a second. Why would a digital DJ want a standalone mixer at all? Why not just have a DJ controller with everything you need built in? Well, standalone mixers typically offer features you just don’t find on all but the most expensive DJ controllers (FX send/return, hardware filters, multiple line/phone inputs, record outs), making them a flexible choice for the DJ who used CDs, vinyl and/or digital sources.
But also, in today’s age where jogwheels are strictly optional and there’s lots of modular Midi controllers that interface with DJ software and simply require a mixer and sound card to complete the set-up (Traktor Kontrol F1, Traktor Kontrol X1, any number of button boxes like the Vestax Pad One or Midifighter, etc), why not have such a sound card and mixer in one handy package? That’s what the Xone:23C offers, and why we’re reviewing it today.
It’s basically identical bar a few transfers on the faceplate to the Xone:23 in looks. In fact, I’d definitely recommend you head over to our Allen & Heath Xone:23 review if you haven’t read it already, to familiarise yourself with the analogue functions of this unit.
There are a couple of input and output additions, though, to cover the digital side of things: namely, there are USB and X:Link sockets. The USB is self explanatory (just add a computer), but the X:Link is Allen & Heath’s proprietary networking protocol so you can plug other compatible hardware from the company into the mixer, saving the need to have multiple USBs running back to the computer.
Apart from that, it’s business as usual: well constructed, lightweight (mainly because the power transformer is external, something personally I’m not a fan of), and great quality (bolted down knobs, backlit buttons, pleasingly tight upfaders, and a nice loose Innofader-compatible crossfader.) The mixer has been updated to look like the much bigger Xone:DB2 and Xone:DB4 models, giving it a distinctively modern, “digital” look.
So to briefly recap how it works on the analogue side, you get four inputs (two each for line and phono, although the phono can be turned into line by opening up the unit and knowing what you’re doing with a soldering iron – ouch!), which feed through the two actual line channels. Rathe than a toggle switch to choose which you use, there are two small gain controls above each line, so you can feasibly have all four inputs playing at once, albeit governed by the same onboard EQs, crossfader etc.
A mic channel with its own two-band EQ and a single, switchable, Allen & Heath standard (ie excellent) hardware filter complete your mixing features, and there are separate booth, record and master outputs. An FX send/return is available were you to want to use a Pioneer RMX-500 or RMX-1000, for instance, to add some more hardware FX to your sound, although it’s only across the master output, limiting its usefulness somewhat. (Interestingly there’s also a digital FX send available, although no digital FX return.)
But the really interesting thing for digital DJs, as stated earlier, is the fact that it now offers two stereo inputs straight from your DJ software (typically), and indeed MixVibes Cross DJ LE is provided in the box to get you going. If you assign a pair of decks to the Xone:23C’s sound card within a DJ program, they appear automatically on the respective channel; there’s no on/off switch for the USBs, and no gain control as with the analogue inputs (you’d control input level from the software, after all). Hence what we actually have here is a “3+3” mixer, with the chance to have all six channels live at once if you really want.
This is great for the digital DJ using hybrid sources, and another good thing for such DJs is that the sound card also lets you record the complete throughput of the mixer digitally. In other words, set it up right and you can record what you’re doing with the 23C no matter whether the inputs are from vinyl, CD or DJ software, and it’ll send the “finished” mix right back up the same cable to the computer that your two digital channels were coming down into the mixer. It can be tricky to set your laptop up to do the actual recording depending on whether you’re using PC (ASIO drivers can be tricky for recording when using with DJ software) or Mac, and of course on what software you’re using, but it’s generally possible one way or another with a little work (ie Googling).
Practically, the sound card sounds great, all the controls feel solid and dependable, the nine-bar VUs work well, and as anyone who’s ever played with an Allen & Heath hardware filter before will hopefully agree with me, it’s damned addictive; even though there’s only one filter, you can have a lot of fun mixing with this unit.
So a lot of the things I said about the Xone:23 apply here: It’s a great value little mixer, high construction standard, and frankly, I feel any DJ should at some point make sure they’ve got a simple two-channel mixer in their armoury; it’s something you find yourself using in all types of situations. Hard-wired phono inputs (ie not switchable easily to lines) and an external transformer are the only things I really would change if I could.
The digital side is well implemented, sounds great, and it’s intriguing that the way it’s wired gives you basically six potentially live inputs at once; it’s definitely a flexible approach. Assuming you can work out a way to record that digital output in your particular OS/software set-up, having it there is also a great bonus for hybrid DJs.
The only headscratcher* is that while this has X:Link for plugging in other Allen & Heath gear, the only thing I’d truly think you’d want to pair with it in this respect is their Xone:K2 controller which would take on a similar role as a Traktor X1, for example,letting you control transport, FX, cues and so on for your decks. But the K2 has a built-in audio interface already, so arguably, you’d want to pair it with the Xone:23, not the 23C. Maybe Allen & Heath has something else up its sleeve to complement the Xone:23C? (The box does mention “K-series” controllers, of which there’s only one at present…)
Anyway, future product musings aside, this is a capable, great sounding, well built, and highly useful piece of kit, It’s at a good price, and is unlikely to ever let you down. As such, if you’re starting to think beyond a simple DJ controller and move towards a modular set-up for your digital DJing, it’s pretty much the perfect two-channel mixer – especially as it’s actually six channel!
* UPDATE: In between writing this review and publishing the review/video, Allen & Heath has announced the Xone:K1, which would make the perfect partner for the unit. Mystery solved…
Do you own the Xone:23C? Are you tempted by a mixer like this? Please share your thoughts in the comments below…