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Allen & Heath Xone:K2 – Buttons, and Faders, and Knobs…Oh My!

The Xone:K2, a bite-sized DJ controller from the UK courtesy of Allen & Heath, is an exciting new array of MIDI controls allowing for enhanced command of your favorite DJ and performance software. With a 16-bit, 4-channel sound card built in, the K2 comes close to being a compact, all-in-one DJ workstation,  but lacks some key features such as jog wheels and easy split audio controls, requiring extra gear or inconvenient workarounds for complete standalone functionality.

While designed, at least primarily, with Traktor software capabilities in mind, the Xone:K2 can be fully and competently mapped to any MIDI-controlled software. Two Traktor maps are included with the driver package: one is designed to utilize the K2 as a sample launcher, and the other is designed to emulate the functions of Native Instrument’s very own Traktor Kontrol X1. As an X1 emulator, the K2 is mildly disappointing, but I honestly wouldn’t expect otherwise. The Kontrol X1 is highly specialized and has entirely different sets of controls than the K2 (there are no faders on the Kontrol X1!). The sample deck mapping works pretty well, though, and upon first glancing at the K2 I noticed its similarity in appearance to the Traktor Kontrol F1. I was quite excited to begin using the K2 to control the new remix decks featured in Traktor 2.5, however I was disappointed to learn that Native Instruments has not made their remix decks satisfactorily MIDI-mappable. Only one row of samples can be controlled at a time by a MIDI device (other than the Kontrol F1), so only basic sample deck functionality is accessible. Given these constraints, the K2 does a great job as a sample launcher. Although it’s sometimes hard to remember which button performs which function, that will always be the case with a controller whose buttons have no pre-determined purpose; in fact, this lack of labeling is what allows for maximum customizability.

If you do decide to invest your time in setting up a custom mapping for the K2, the rewards can be spectacular. Not only are the 52 controls on the K2 fully assignable, but there are three different layers of control accessible at the press of button. This is similar in concept to some of the Ableton-based MIDI controllers, but the K2 allows for selective control over exactly which parts of the K2 are given layered control. For example, you can create three different layers on the K2’s button matrix at the bottom, but retain constant one-layer functionality on the faders and knobs at the top of the controller. I found this particularly useful in my own Ableton mapping, where I used layers of the button matrix to scroll through my loaded clips, while the faders control channel volume and the knobs control channel EQ.

The four-channel sound card provided in the Xone:K2 was a nice touch, though it isn’t quite built with the greatest quality or feature set. The 16-bit quality and 44.1kHz sample rate are nothing special, but the sound quality is certainly adequate enough for gigging. The K2 also has separate outputs for master audio and headphone cue, but the single pair of stereo outputs requires that all mixing be performed within software. The K2 also lacks a monitor/booth output.

Much of my original disappointment with the Xone:K2 comes from a set of false beliefs perpetuated in part by Allen & Heath’s marketing and in part by my own expectation of what a controller should be. The sheer amount of control offered by three layers of MIDI controls coupled with a built-in sound card suggest that somewhere within the K2 lies the potential to be an all-in-one controller. If you stick to that belief, you will be ultimately frustrated, and you will miss just how beautiful of a device the Xone:K2 can be. The same goes if you expect the K2 to replace a Traktor Kontrol X1 as an effects and hotcue controller. The 171 total MIDI commands at your disposal are certainly not to be taken lightly, and if used properly, the K2 can be one of the very most important aspects of your DJ arsenal. The K2 is incredible as a compact controller for Ableton Live, and when used properly with Traktor the K2 offers an absurd amount of functionality not seen in a Kontrol X1 (faders, for example!). In a way, a controller based on nothing but an expanse of buttons, faders, and knobs is a truly ideal controller – the control possibilities are endless, because nobody’s telling you what each button is “supposed” to do! At the same time, this makes initial setup more difficult, because creating your own custom MIDI map is no walk in the park, especially for three layers of control. However, given that investment of time (or a really great mapping from the internet), the Allen & Heath Xone:K2 can be a huge asset to your performance workflow.

Features:

Universal
Xone:K2 is a universal MIDI controller and is perfect for use with any DJ software, such as Traktor Pro, Ableton, Virtual DJ, PCDJ and MixVibes. Xone:K2 can even be used to control lights or VJ software – if it can receive MIDI data it can take commands from K2.

MIDI Control
Xone:K2 has 52 physical controls – including 12 analogue and 6 endless rotary encoders with push switch, 4 linear faders, and 30 backlit performance switches – providing up to 171 MIDI control commands across 3 layers. What each control does is entirely up to you – you can create a completely customised layout that perfectly fits the way you want to work. We also provide maps to get you started out the box and information on how to set up your own.

Latching Layers
By assigning controls to multiple layers you can give a single physical control up to 3 functions. You can configure all, some or none of K2’s controls to be linked to the latching layers system. As a quick visual reminder, when toggling through layers all switches assigned to a particular layer will illuminate in the appropriate colour.

Audio Interface
Xone:K2 has a high quality internal, four channel (2 stereo) soundcard. Setup options include using the Xone:K2 with headphones, headphones and a mix/PA system or with an external mixer – Xone:K2 is truly versatile for all modern DJs requirements.

Style with Strength
Its slim line chassis, soft touch controls and minimal looks set K2 apart from the pack. There’s plenty of substance too – Xone:K2 is built to Allen & Heath’s renowned touring grade audio and build quality standards, including the use of steel nuts on all rotary controls to protect the circuitry from impact damage.

Case / Stand
Xone:K2 comes packed in a robust black padded case as standard. As well as keeping it safe on the road, the case doubles as a stand, bringing the K2 up to the same height as most pro DJ mixers.

X:LINK
Two K2s can be linked via Allen & Heath’s X:LINK protocol, giving twice as much control capability. X:LINK uses a standard RJ45 connector and distributes power and data, which means two K2s can be connected to your software using only one USB port on your computer. X:LINK also allows connection to Xone:DB4 and Xone:DB2 mixers, offering further expansion.

By | 2016-12-02T15:07:56+00:00 July 24, 2012|News, Reviews|1 Comment