Dubspot Lab Report – Allen & Heath’s New Xone: K2 MIDI Controller w/ DAW Integration

Allen & Heath’s new Xone: K2 MIDI controller brings a fresh perspective to interface design with 52 physical controls and two audio outputs in a sturdy casing, integrating easily with your favorite DAW, DJ, or music production software.

Hands on with Xone: K2

Earlier this year we reported that Allen & Heath would be releasing a new MIDI performance interface called the Xone: K2: a slimmed-down version of the company’s popular Xone: 1D and 2D controllers, which combined a high quality USB audio interface with faders, knobs and buttons in a mixer-styled design. After many months of waiting to see one in real life, we’re happy to report that we’ve gotten our hands on the K2, and so far it’s quite an enjoyable control surface and audio interface to work with.

Intuitive Design

The first and most exciting thing to mention about the K2 is its intuitive interface design. While the K2 can be programmed however you’d like, there is a simplicity in four columns of controls that are set up to resemble a bus strip on an analog mixer. While this may seem like an obvious choice, it’s a product that has been sorely missing in today’s MIDI controller market. The Behringer BCF2000 and the Akai APC40 both come close to this design, but neither offers audio outputs (which the K2 does have) and both are much larger interfaces. The slimmer footprint of the K2 does mean that you only get 4 columns of controls (as opposed to 8 on the APC and BCF), but Allen & Heath’s new latching layers concept allows for up to four pages of MIDI mappings that you can switch between by way of a couple button presses. In addition to this you can link multiple K2 units via the company’s X:Link system, which would allow as many physical controls as you desire (or can afford).

Lots of Control in a Small Footprint

With over 52 physical inputs, the Xone: K2 may offer more control in a small footprint than almost any other controller on the market today.  With 12 analogue encoders,  6 endless rotary encoders (with push switches), 4 linear faders, and 30 backlit performance switches, there is a lot of control happening on the K2′s surface. The unit is a bit longer than we expected, though we should have realized – it’s built to the same depth as Allen & Heath’s audio mixers. The unit is about two inches high but raises to exactly the height of an analog DJ mixer by way of the K2′s carrying case, which is constructed to support the K2 during performance. Compared to Native Instruments’ X1 controller, it’s just a bit bigger all around (see above photo).

Xone: K2 in Action

For this article we tested the Xone: K2 with Ableton Live and Traktor to see how it would fare against other popular controllers on the market. Allen & Heath has provided template files on their website for both programs and we found both to be fairly easy to get up and running. We found the K2′s mixer channel design to be a fantastic companion to Ableton Live, offering much of what the APC40 does in a much smaller package. Mapping in Ableton is easy with any controller, and we found that it was easiest to program an Ableton template from scratch than try to modify one of the existing ones. Compared to Traktor’s native X1 controller, the K2 did take more time to figure out. You just can’t beat the direct integration of the X1. However, the dual audio outputs on the K2 are essential for DJs who need headphone monitoring or dual stereo outputs to plug into an audio mixer. It’s worth noting that the Xone: K2 is a pro-end device and not necessarily aimed at beginners. In comparison to the APC40 and X1, we must mention that the K2 doesn’t have the same plug-and play capabilities that these devices offer, but it’s much more versatile for multiple programs for the same reason.

Xone: K2 Impressions

While it doesn’t offer the plug-and-play functionality of some other MIDI controllers on the market, the Xone K2 offers more control and options than most other devices at this price range and size. We very much like the channel strip design which is very helpful for DJ sets or performances that use EQ or effects sends on each channel. If you’re looking for a performance MIDI controller that integrates well with DJ software as well as DAW software, the K2 could be your device. Add to the package two robust stereo outputs and you have a tidy package for live performance or studio creation on the go. Overall we were impressed with the build, sound quality, and ease of operation that came with the Xone: K2 and recommend giving this controller a look sometime.

From Allen & Heath:

The Xone K2 is an elegant, compact controller for any DJ software with no fewer than 52 hardware controls providing up to 171 MIDI commands across 3 layers – plus the ability to link multiple units. Xone: K2 has the power and flexibility to put you in touch with everything from the essential functions to the fine nuances of your chosen software. Xone: K2 has a high quality internal, four channel (2 stereo) soundcard.

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

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 – with a little thought you can create a completely customised layout that perfectly fits the way you want to work. We also provide some sample maps 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.

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. X:LINK also allows connection to Xone:DB4 and Xone:DB2 mixers.

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.