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Our Guide to the Cranborne Audio Camden EC2 Dual Mic-Pre & Headphone Amp
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Our Guide to the Cranborne Audio Camden EC2 Dual Mic-Pre & Headphone Amp

Since their launch in 2018, Cranborne Audio's Camden preamps have turned numerous heads in the audio industry. They are proven to be one of the cleanest, most transparent preamps out there with exceptional linearity even at high gain levels. The dedicated 'Mojo' saturation circuit gives allows you to dial in that transformer-style 'vintage' sound - making it a versatile addition to any studio. 

Originally released as a 500 series module, Camden is now available as a pair in a rackmount chassis - The Camden EC2. In this guide, we take a closer look at what Cranborne's new version of Camden has to offer.


Also take a read of the Sound On Sound review of the EC2!

The Ultimate Studio Front-End

Cranborne Audio call it “The Ultimate Studio Front-End" as it upgrades the audio paths passing both in and out of your existing audio interface.

It has two main facilities: Two award-winning mic/line/hi-z preamps, and two reference-grade headphone amplifiers. Both facilities are designed to significantly upgrade the equivalents offered by your audio interface and elevate the sound offered in your studio to the next level.

Camden EC2 is also one of the only “preamps” on the market that is equally as powerful when mixing as well as recording – thanks to the headphone amplifiers and its line-level “Mojo” saturators.

Physically, it’s a 19”, 1u chassis with all of its important controls on the front and a plethora of I/O connectivity on the back including XLR and 1/4” outputs to match the connectivity on your audio interface.

Multi-Award Winning Preamps

The issue with the preamps built-in to your audio interface is that they suffer voltage limitations – mainly due to the fact that most of the power is utilised elsewhere in the box. The preamp topology and design itself is also often overlooked with many audio interface manufacturers turning to off-the-shelf, low-voltage (5v) chipsets that sound good, but don’t sound great.  

Camden EC2 on the other hand doesn’t sound like anything... 

That's because it’s one of the cleanest, most linear, and transparent preamps on the market, with each Gain position carefully optimised to give you the very best performance with any mic and instrument combination.  

You can use Camden EC2 to capture instruments with complete transparency; boost low-sensitivity microphones without adding noise and colouration; and capture instant and coherent transients without phase shift that causes summing abnormalities.  

 

In comparison to popular designs found in audio interfaces, the Camden preamp itself is smooth, extremely low-noise, punchy, and has a very even performance across all frequencies and gain positions. Cheaper preamps tend to sound harsh especially when pushed hard due to their lack of headroom and excessive high-end transitory distortion, Camden EC2 on the other hand maintains it’s amazing performance at all gain positions with no audible distortion, frequency roll-off, or phase shift – even at maximum gain.

Statistically speaking, Camden EC2 is one of the cleanest mic preamps you can measure on today’s equipment. Cranborne Audio even put together a video that dives into the numbers and explains why they matter.

Mojo Analogue Saturation

But having possibly one of the worlds cleanest preamps at your disposal isn’t all that is on offer with Camden EC2. At the turn of a single dial, Camden EC2’s extraordinarily clean, natural, and precise sounding preamps transform into - thick, gooey, and vintage-sounding preamps – standing up to some of the most legendary transformer-based designs.  

Mojo is complete analogue saturation design to emulate the desirable effects of transformers/valves (or tubes if you’re based overseas!) but without the downsides such as huge phase shifts and excess noise. Unlike those famous transformer/valve-based designs, Mojo’s effects live on a variable control that can be dialled to taste on some sources, and bypassed for others.


There are two Mojo styles – Thump and Cream. Thump provides instant Vintage Transformer British-style vibes with a generous helping of low-end THD, dynamic high-end smoothing, and natural wide bandwidth compression. Cream takes on valve-style preamps with an extremely dynamic mid-range smoothing and bucket loads of THD (up to 50%). Cream works wonders on Drums – taming boxiness and adding a squelchy mid-range character.

Both Mojo styles are “dynamic” processes rather than “fixed” processes like EQs, compressors, and similar. This means that Mojo’s audible effects are dependent and change based on the incoming signal level and frequency content of what you are running through it.  

 

Here’s a few examples of what it can do and how it can bucket loads of mojo analogue saturation can transform your audio:

Acoustic Guitar

Drum Machine

Bass Synth

 

Reference-Grade Headphone Amplifiers

Partnering Camden EC2’s preamps are two, equally as impressive headphone amplifiers featuring the same reference design found in Cranborne’s flagship 500R8 USB audio interfaces. Each headphone amp has two independent line mixers with level controls for each preamp to enable direct, zero-latency monitoring of live sources.  

These headphone outputs are also very handy during mic placement; get your talent to play guitar, put on the cans, grab the mic, and move it around the guitar cab to find the “sweet-spot” of the speaker cone. This saves a lot of headaches in the recording process as you get it sounding right at the source in no time at all.


 

The headphone mixers also have a very useful Aux Input which corresponds with a stereo pair of Aux Input ¼” jacks on the back panel. Connect your DAW mix or playback source to these line inputs and now you can blend them in with the direct preamp sources.

 

In terms of quality, you’ll be hard-pushed to find a headphone amp with as much clean power as Camden EC2’s. They have a very low-impedance design with plenty of power for high-impedance, low sensitivity headphones and their frequency bandwidth is very wide (-1dB, <1Hz to >70kHz) for a full and uncoloured sound. This means that even when you do not need to use the preamps in Camden EC2, its headphone outputs are a perfect reference-grade headphone mixing/mastering headphone amp that you can use for picking out the subtlest details in the mix.

C.A.S.T. Cable Management And Distribution

On the back of Camden EC2 are two rather unusual-looking Cat5 ports... no, these aren’t the same as you see when you restart your router when it inevitably packs up – these ports are Cranborne Audio’s C.A.S.T. system, and they might be the best thing since XLRs.

C.A.S.T. stands for Cat5 Analogue Signal Transport and Camden EC2 utilises this unique system for distributing audio around the studio or stage using affordable Cat 5e, Cat 6, or Cat 7 cabling whilst achieving the highest sonic results.  

Essentially, C.A.S.T. repurposes the 4 twisted pairs and the shield of ethernet cables to transport 4 balanced, analogue audio channels between two Cranborne Audio products.

Camden EC2 features two C.A.S.T. ports that are designed for use in two different ways. Connect it’s C.A.S.T. Output to Cranborne Audio’s 500R8 or 500ADAT, and you can send Camden EC2’s preamps directly to the interface's inputs ready for further processing and recording.  

Whilst at the same time through the same cable, 500R8/500ADAT transmit their built-in monitor mix directly to Camden EC2’s headphone mixer for monitoring.  

 

This allows 500R8/500ADAT users to locate Camden EC2 into the live room using a single Cat 5e, Cat 6, or Cat 7 cable whilst freeing-up 500 series slots in 500R8/500ADAT for more EQ and Compressor modules and extra processing before hitting 500R8/500ADAT’s converters.

 


Connect Camden EC2’s C.A.S.T. IN port to Cranborne Audio’s N22 or N22H and you have a cost-effective analogue snake. You can use N22 or N22H to relocate Camden EC2’s rear panel I/O to a remote location such as a vocal booth or live room up to 100m away from Camden EC2 itself

These breakout boxes enable the engineer using Camden EC2 to make the most out of the available studio and run an N22 into a hallway, reverb chamber, or alongside the musician in the isolation booth using Cat 5e as cheap, high-quality, analogue multicore.


Camden EC2 is much more than two preamps in a metal box. It’s an application-based studio tool with a multitude of features designed to make your life easier. And after it’s done making your life easier, it’s making your music sound better both during recording and during mixing. All of this technology packed In to a 19”, 1u chassis would come at a cost with many manufacturers, but with Camden EC2, Cranborne Audio continue with their commitment to pro studio performance into a box room near you.


Thank you for taking the time to read Our Guide to the Cranborne Audio Camden EC2

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