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.
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.
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.
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
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.