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UK DJ builder Allen & Heath may be best known as a mixer company, not so much a controller maker. But that’s a pity, because they make one of the most compelling controller units on the market.

Spoiler alert – the K1, like the K2 before it, feels great, has a terrific layout, works with anything you like, and more or less beats every other slim-line controller for DJing or VJing. Whatever you own now, you may find yourself wanting one of these to go along with it.

We’ve certainly had some controller news this month, partly because DJs are lining up for a big event in Atlantic City. So, yes, there’s now Akai gear that will work with Serato and finally gives that tool something slimmer than a house. There are bundle deals on Traktor with NI hardware. And Livid are about to ship a mixer-style controller.

Allen & Heath, for their part, are quick to say they’re making something generic. This doesn’t say Traktor on the tin. It isn’t forcing you to some default mapping. Its selling point from the manufacturer is that it’s meant to work with the software you want, the way you want.

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If you’ve watched closely, it also shouldn’t look terribly new. The K1 is essentially identical to the Xone:K2, minus the K2′s audio interface. But that’s a good thing, because the K2 was already I think one of the best unsung controllers on the market. It has a no-nonsense layout – faders, backlit buttons, encoders, knobs. In that configuration, it fits a whole lot of controls, whereas some slimline controllers might leave you wanting more. And it feels simply fantastic, better than any other hardware on the market (save perhaps for the Faderfox).

Update: One key difference – you don’t get layers and latching as on the K2, as near as we can figure. That’s a significant change, but perhaps with the K1 as a satellite to a K2, it isn’t such an issue – or if you don’t mind having one layer for everything.

Or, to put it another way, the Xone:K1 and K2 are good enough that they can take Native Instruments on at their own game. This is slim and sleek and tidy and tasteful, like NI’s hardware. But the NI range, while it has lots of handy hardware, just doesn’t offer this particular layout. The Z1 is more of a two-channel mixing surface with crossfader; the F1 sacrifices controls and opts for short-throw faders to fit a big disco-light grid. The X1 is closest, but – no faders, and fewer controls. In fact, you’d be forgiven for imagining you’d seen something like the K1 with an NI logo on it, but despite the similar name, the K1 isn’t an NI product. It’s the Traktor Kontrol product NI somehow forgot to make themselves.

And that same layout lends itself to other software, too. I’ve seen more than one live visual performer buy a K2 to run VJ apps – even though it has an audio interface that’s useless to them. It’s a bonus that it feels great and comes with an optional, cute travel case that protects it in your luggage and doubles as a stand.

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Actually, I’m saying way too much, as I should ask Allen & Heath to send me a review unit (and maybe… take some time sending it back). So, uh… forget that I just told you it’s the best-feeling slim-line fader controller on the market. I just … heard that somewhere.

The specs:
6 endless rotaries with push switch
12 analog pots
4 linear faders (these are, to me, the real selling point in feel)
30 backlit RGB performance switches
MIDI functionality – nothing proprietary here, driverless
USB power
Optional carry case

These units are also daisy-chainable using Allen & Heath X:LINK over Ethernet cabling, saving you a USB hub and tangled cables. (Sadly, it’s proprietary. Schade – it’d be great to use other hardware this way, but it does allow easy combination with Allen & Heath mixers or a rather nice combo of the K1 and K2.)

There are software maps for Ableton Live, Traktor (in different configurations), MixVibes, and so on, but I think I like best a custom overlay PDF so you can make your own. The one omission: Serato users are on your own (as I mentioned in the Akai story), in that there’s no template for download, but that should be fixed soon enough – 1.7 allows any MIDI mapping. (Edited to add that last clarification, in case you haven’t been keeping up – Serato has finally sorted MIDI controller mapping.)

The K2 is still worth a look, as it adds separate line and headphone outs. But K1 and K2 should certainly work nicely as a pair.

Price: £159 (including VAT), so a fair discount on the K2. (Note that apart from the audio interface, the K2 includes the case/stand free.) Available this month.

More info:
http://www.allen-heath.com/ahproducts/xonek1/
http://www.allen-heath.com/ahproducts/xonek2/

  • http://www.twitter.com/flocked flocked

    No, Serato users aren’t on their own anymore. Serato DJ 1.7 (currently in beta) allows midi assign parameters to any midi device ;)

    • http://pkirn.com/ Peter Kirn

      Right, that’s a good point. Overdue but worth mentioning. There isn’t yet a template from A&H, but – users should sort that in no time. ;)

  • boboter

    I was looking forward to a combo of two of these controllers since I like the K2 but don#t need audio in it. But as the price-cut is the main attraction to the”bigger” model, I’m kinda curious for how much this is gonna be sold for. The K2 at the moment costs 185€ including the little case, So a street price of around 130€ for the K1 seems reasonable. But I doubt they will start that low.

    • http://pkirn.com/ Peter Kirn

      Well, £159 street in Pounds Sterling – that’s including VAT. So I think you will get a street lower on this; let’s see. They didn’t provide either €/$ or street…

    • boboter

      Yep. I think the price is alright for the built quality. But with the K2 being so cheap compared to the original price at the moment, the street price of the K1 will need to be quite low to sell well, I guess.

    • boboter

      So at the moment, the K1 in Germany costs 6€ less than the K2. Which is kinda no good deal at all in comparison.

  • Albert

    After reading the manual for the K1 It seems the midi-implementation is quite different from the older K2: no more layers for instance, so no more switching to different CC’s for all controls. But they added multicoloured midi-feedback on the leds. S I guess it depends on your intended application whether or not this is an improvement over the K2.

    • http://pkirn.com/ Peter Kirn

      Yes, I read it the same way. So – if you can get a deal on the K2, seems that makes some sense. ;)

      On the other hand, not everyone needs layers – and I assume the thinking was, you’d use layers on K2 and wouldn’t need them on K1 if you just bought one to add extra controls (i.e., using the two together)

    • Albert

      Yeah, I assumed that was the rationale behind the K1. Anyways, I have a K2, and was thinking about getting a second one:so this comes at the right moment for me. The combination of a K2 and a K1 with Ableton Push should give a compact and powerful livesetup.

  • Alien Blip Machines

    What about iPad / iOS connectivity, esp. for DJ apps and class compliance?

  • Popo Bawa

    Bummer – I was hoping I could use it over ethernet instead of USB

  • Robin Parmar

    No cross-fader? In a DJ controller? No mention of centre detent on the pots?

    • Ezmyrelda

      I think they specifically don’t want it to be seen as just a DJ controller. As a device for that use case it’s not exactly a deal breaker.. DJ’s use channel faders too.