The Xone range of club mixers
from Allen & Heath is a remarkable success story - and
there's more to come.
By Mike Mann
Andy Rigby-Jones and
The guys at Allen & Heath pride themselves
on being something of a bunch of mavericks. Their British-built
live sound mixing consoles have won friends around the globe
over the last two decades, and it was in the mainstream touring
and installed PA market that everybody had them safely pigeonholed.
Then in 1999, they brought out Xone, a range of dedicated
club mixers that have given the Allen & Heath brand instant
caché on the club circuit. Xone – based on high
component quality and the kind of reliability demanded by
busy commercial clubs and DJs – is the fastest growing
line in Allen & Heath’s history. And they’re
planning to augment it with a new piece specifically for clubs,
the already buzz-heavy Xone:V6, still in the prototype phase.
One man in particular has been most instrumental in the line’s
success, yet he is about as far removed from the hedonistic
club guru image as one can get. The very normal Andy Rigby-Jones,
creator of the Xone series, took time out from his latest
design project to talk exclusively to Club Systems.
Allen & Heath has a long history in
the studio and live markets – so how did you end up
designing mixers for the club scene?
To be honest, it was personal: I’ve worked part-time
as a DJ since 1980, and I knew that there was a gap in the
market for a good quality mixer that had the right features
for DJs. There are a lot of products out there that just don’t
stand up to regular use, and that sound appalling. Initially,
I persuaded the company to let me have some time to design
an experimental variation on our MixWizard mixer, which we
took to the Frankfurt Musikmesse in 1999. The reaction we
got from that show led to the Xone:464, and we refined the
idea to produce the Xone:62, which has been our most successful
DJ product to date. Other mainstream mixer manufacturers had
tried the same thing, but they had looked at it from a sound
engineer’s point of view, and didn’t really understand
how DJs work. It wasn’t all easy, though – some
of our traditional distributors and dealers were very shocked.
They couldn’t see why we had done it, or how they were
going to sell to a completely different customer base. When
they saw the reaction of the users, though, they got the message.
Xone mixers are among the most expensive
club products on the market. How do you justify their cost?
They’re not intended for high school discos –
these are hard-working mixers that have to perform every night
to a very high standard. The component quality is as high
as our most expensive touring live consoles, and as a company
we know how to design a professional product that will last.
That’s one of the reasons that so many major DJs have
bought them for their own use – they know that they
won’t let them down. Compared to many cheaper products,
mixers might seem over-simple, but a good DJ doesn’t
need the effects, the BPM counters, and so on. Instead, we
concentrate on features that are sonically useful, like good
You say that the mixers are not intended
for wedding. So where do they end up?
Geographically, our home market in the UK was the first to
take up the range. Fabric, for example, liked what the saw,
and now they own every model in the range!
Now it seems that the word is steadily spreading across the
developed world. Some of the club installations I’ve
heard about recently have been in Taiwan, Australia, Japan,
Germany, Mexico, and Israel. There are some really switched-on
people in the US who got behind Xone from day one and we’re
growing in strength there, especially now that we have the
Xone:02 scratch mixer. It’s not just club installers
who buy them; quite a few top DJs have made them their mixer
of choice. In fact, we get a credit on Andy C’s album
cover, and people like Richie Hawtin, he uses a Xone. These
sort of people help us a lot: Not only do they raise our profile
because of the huge amount of respect that they have as professionals,
but they are an important part of our market feedback.
The V6 prototype
The most recent addition to the range has
really caused a stir. What’s so special about the V6?
It’s something of a statement: “Look what we
can do.” I wanted to design something that offered incredibly
high audio quality, much higher than anything else on the
market. There have been other expensive mixers, but they don’t
really have the quality – it’s another case of
finding a gap in the market. This project didn’t start
out as an exercise in making money, we just wanted to show
what could be achieved.
Is there some kind of history behind the
Definitely. In the 1960s a guy called Louis Bozac designed
some incredibly high quality mixers for the DJs of that era.
They were unbelievably expensive, two to three thousand dollars
even in those days, but they were the best. In the 1980s Urei
produced a version of the old design, but it was designed
using op-amps, which didn’t have the characteristics
of the old discrete circuits. What we wanted to do was to
set a completely new standard, using our own ideas and our
knowledge of audio, but capturing the spirit of the old Bozac
So what’s in it?
At the moment we’re still working on the fine details,
but it’s essentially a very simple six-channel rotary
mixer, with valve pre-amps and big knobs! There are all sorts
of details like the VU meters, which are a design that dates
back to the 1930s. The front panel is machined from a block
of quarter-inch thick aluminium, so the :V6 doesn’t
just feel solid, it is solid. We’ve kept the circuit
paths as pure as we can – we haven’t even included
an EQ section. But each channel has an insert point, so DJs
can add their own favorite processor if the feel they need
Valve pre-amps? Isn’t that kind of
thing just for hi-fi audiophiles?
Well, considering the incredible amount of money being spent
on club sound systems these days, it seems odd that there
isn’t really a mixer that delivers a matching level
of sound quality. Valves, in particular, have some wonderful
characteristics for live mixing, because of the way that they
soft-compress instead of distorting when they’re overloaded.
Certain club owners have become wise to the fact that the
quality of a sound system really makes a difference to people’s
enjoyment of the music. Clubbers aren’t stupid or deaf
– and in a big, high-spec club installation, you can
hear the difference. It’s places like this where a really
high-quality mixer is needed.
And the DJ’s – can they hear
the difference too?
Many of the guys out there pride themselves on the quality
of the tracks they produce in the studio – the US garage
scene in particular has gone way beyond bedroom recording
– and they put a lot of effort into music production.
For the most part, the only time a DJ hears his or her music
outside the studio is in clubs, so they know whether the system
is doing justice to their hard work.
The rumor is that you’re using some
extremely costly components in the V6. Is this just a bit
of marketing hype?
In fact, this project is an enormous amount of work for us.
Not only do we have to “go back to college” to
re-learn all the traditional ways of designing good audio
circuits, but we also have to source some very esoteric components
from other manufacturers. Some of these are only made for
top-of-the-line hi-fi, and none of them are produced in big
quantities. The rotary faders, for example, come from Penny
and Giles, and they’re a beautiful example of good engineering.
The V6 will cost a lot, simply because it will cost a lot
So far, the prototype has been shown in
Miami and Frankfurt. What comments have you had?
It’s been absolutely staggering. As soon as we showed
it public, people had taken pictures of it and were posting
it on their own websites and forums, and two days after we
got back from the shows we were getting calls from people
wanting to place orders. Some of the most serious DJs I’ve
ever talked to have said that they want to try one as soon
as it’s available – and when you hear that from
people like Timo Maas and Danny Tenaglia, you know you must
be doing something right. We have never had such a reaction
to a product that isn’t even finished yet.
So how long do we have to wait for the real
Well, it will take as long as it takes. Even though I can’t
wait to see the final version, the V6 won’t be appearing
until we’re completely happy that it achieves what we
set out to do – to be better than the best. Even then
we’ll have a period of beta-testing before it goes into
production. If you’re as passionate about what you do
as we are, you want it to be exactly right – and it