What are the differences between the Cranborne Audio 500R8 & 500ADAT?
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What are the differences between the Cranborne Audio 500R8 & 500ADAT?

500R8 and 500ADAT - two revolutionary 500 series racks featuring elite-quality AD/DA conversion, ultra low-jitter clocking, summing mixers, and reference headphone amplifiers built-in to their 4U frames.

Both are designed to integrate all the benefits of 500 Series modules into brilliant hybrid studio workflows not previously possible. 

But whilst on the outside their differences look minimal, these two racks are designed for completely different users - integrating into your studio in completely different ways.

In this blog post, we’re going to deep dive into the physical and applicational differences between the two units to help you decide which one would work best in your studio. 

The fundamental difference between the two units can be boiled down simply to their intended use:

500R8 - USB Interface


500R8 was designed for users wishing to upgrade/replace their existing audio interface and build their studio around the 500 series format. It connects directly into a laptop/desktop computer via USB to record 28 channels and playback 30 channels of audio.


500ADAT - Digital Expansion


500ADAT was designed for users who love their current (USB/Thunderbolt) audio interface but want to expand their studio connectivity and branch-out into the 500 series format. It connects directly to any 3rd party audio interface (Universal Audio, Apogee, RME, Focusrite, Audient) via ADAT to expand the available recording channels of any audio interface.

500R8 vs 500ADAT Comparison



500R8

500ADAT

USB Audio Interface

✖️

ADAT expander for 3rd party audio interfaces

✖️

USB Port

✓ (audio interface)

✓ (software updates only)

ADAT I/O

✓ (ADAT interface)

✓ (ADAT expander)

MIDI I/O

✖️

SPDIF I/O

✖️

Monitor Controller Section

(Talkback, Speaker A/B etc)



✖️



In order to completely facilitate and satisfy these two unique applications, Cranborne Audio developed 500R8 and 500ADAT with a differing feature set to enable deeper integration into their desired application. 

ADAT Expander vs USB Interface with ADAT I/O


ADAT (Alesis Digital Audio Tape) is a digital audio protocol that has a long and illustrious history in the recording industry stretching back to 1991. Whilst the VHS recorders of yesteryear are long gone in favour of computer-based digital audio workstations (DAWs), the transportation of digital audio using the ADAT protocol is still prominent in today's studios.

500R8 and 500ADAT feature the same appointment of ADAT lightpipe connectors on their rear panels however their implementations of the ADAT protocols are completely different from one another in order to facilitate their different use cases.

500ADAT is an ADAT Expander...

... meaning that it can be used to expand the connectivity of any existing audio interface that features an ADAT interface. With hundreds of audio interfaces on the market from manufacturers such as Apogee, Universal Audio, Focusrite, and Audient featuring ADAT connectivity, 500ADAT can connect to any of these audio interfaces’ ADAT ports and add 8 more inputs and 8 more outputs onto the interface for recording and mixing.

Once connected, audio can then be transported out from your DAW session, into 500ADAT (via ADAT) and through the inserted 500 series module for analogue colouration and processing. 500ADAT then sends that signal back down its ADAT outputs, into your Audio interface’s ADAT inputs and back into your DAW for recording.  

500R8 on the other hand is a USB audio interface...

...that features a built-in ADAT interface. This interface receives ADAT from an external ADAT expander (such as 500ADAT) and uses those ADAT signals as extra recording channels. 500R8 is essentially the master device; connect an external ADAT expander into 500R8’s ADAT interface and now you have increased 500R8’s possible recording and playback channels by 8.

Once connected, audio can then be transported out from your DAW session, into 500R8 (via USB) and through the inserted 500 series module for analogue colouration and processing. 500R8 then sends that signal back down its USB interface and directly into your DAW for recording.  

Monitor Controller vs London Skyline

The biggest visual difference between the two units and the easiest way to identify them are by the top-right space of their front panels.

500R8 features a built-in monitor controller and a 28-segment LED meter...

 A common facility of all high-end audio interfaces, this monitor controller allows 500R8 users to control their speaker A/B selection, Mono Sum, Dim, and Talkback features during mixing and tracking duties.

500ADAT on the other hand has no monitor controls...

... as it was designed to connect directly to any external 3rd party audio interface that would likely feature its own monitor controller functions. To save cost and remove redundant controls, 500ADAT forgoes these facilities and instead features artwork of the London skyline in its place. The rear panel of 500ADAT also does not feature the rear I/O connectivity for speaker A/B and talkback - these connections would instead be used on the 3rd party audio interface that 500ADAT is connected to.

USB Routing vs ADAT Routing

The simplicity of their signal routing is part of what makes 500ADAT and 500R8 so special. All of the signal routing for each 500 series module is configured using the Module Source Select switches on the front panel below each slot - these switches determine which input source is fed into the 500 series modules installed into each 500 series slot.

Each of the racks feature Module Source options for C.A.S.T. and ANLG signals. C.A.S.T. corresponds with the cat 5 connections on the back of each rack and enables the user to relocate the analogue input of each 500 series slot elsewhere in the studio space using Cranborne audio’s C.A.S.T. breakout boxes. The ANLG (short for Analogue!) option corresponds with the rear panel XLR and allows mic/line inputs connected to the rear panel of the units to arrive directly at the inputs of the modules - much like a standard 500 series rack.

The 3rd available routing option is what differs between the two racks:

500R8 features a 3rd routing option labelled USB

... which, when engaged, routes audio from its built-in USB audio interface directly into the front-end of the modules installed into the rack.

Configure your DAW to send audio out from USB outputs 1-8, set the source switches beneath 500R8’s modules over to “USB”, and now audio being sent from your DAW arrives directly at the input of the 500 series modules installed into 500R8.

500ADAT on the other hand has a 3rd routing option labelled ADAT.

When engaged, this option routes audio from the ADAT Input ports directly into the front-end of the modules installed into the rack.

Using your ADAT-enabled audio interface, configure your DAW to send audio out of ADAT outputs 1-8, set the source switches beneath 500ADAT’s modules over to “ADAT”, and now audio being sent from your DAW arrives directly at the input of the 500 series modules installed into 500ADAT.


The input routing of the two racks is not the only aspect of the signal routing that differs between each unit. The digital output assignments on the racks are also fixed and preset to enable the maximum optimisation in their respective setups.

  • On 500R8 the output of each 500 series slot is converted into digital signals using its high-end converters and then sent through the USB stream directly into the DAW for recording.
  • On 500ADAT the output of each 500 series slot is converted into digital signals using its high-end converters and then sent through the ADAT output stream directly into an ADAT equipped audio interface.



Creating Monitor Mixes

To enable greater flexibility in a studio setup, 500R8 and 500ADAT feature streamlined monitor mixing features that enable the engineer to create headphone mixes for musicians during recording and live tracking. An essential element to a successful monitor mix is achieving the right balance between the amount of DAW playback and live channels so that the musician can hear both the DAW and their instrument/voice simultaneously.

500R8 can take create a monitor mix using USB audio

500R8 can achieve this simply by using its built-in USB audio interface and blend controls, however 500ADAT has a similar facility when integrated with your 3rd party audio interface.

On 500R8, the output of the DAW is sent via USB and directly into 500R8’s physical blend controls. When adjusted, these controls change the balance between the MIX (fully anti-clockwise), the DAW playback (fully clockwise), and anything in between for a mix of live and pre recorded instruments.

500ADAT has physical Aux Inputs...

On 500ADAT, which doesn’t feature its own USB audio interface, you can send a physical DAW output from your 3rd party audio interface directly into 500ADAT’s physical ¼” jack Aux inputs. These Aux inputs are connected directly to 500ADAT’s Blend control which alters the balance between MIX (fully anti-clockwise), AUX In (fully clockwise), and anything in between for a blend of live and pre recorded instruments.

Using 500R8 and 500ADAT Together

One of Cranborne Audio’s biggest considerations when designing these racks is how they can be used together to create a larger recording and mixing setup for studios looking for more connectivity. Connecting 500R8 and 500ADAT together creates a larger recording and mixing setup with 16-channels of simultaneous recording, 16-channels of analogue summing, and an advanced monitoring setup with distributed talkback.



16 channels of recording

Connect the two racks together using ADAT and now 500ADAT’s module outputs arrive directly into 500R8’s ADAT stream which can then be recorded directly into the DAW. In this setup, USB channels 1-8 correspond with 500R8’s 500 series modules and USB channels 9-16 correspond with 500ADAT’s.


16 channels of analogue “inserts”

Through the same connections, you can send up to 16 audio sources out from your DAW and directly into all 16 available 500 series slots to enable you to insert 500 series EQs and Comps directly into your DAW mix sessions to apply analogue colouration onto your stems. Again, in this setup, USB channels 1-8 correspond with 500R8’s 500 series modules and USB channels 9-16 correspond with 500ADAT’s.


16 channels of analogue summing

As well as ADAT, you can also connect the C.A.S.T. link ports of each unit to double the available summing mixer channels to 16. This enables you to send 16 channels of audio out from the DAW and directly into each 500 series module on board 500ADAT and 500R8, create a stereo mix by using all available mix level and pan controls beneath each slot, and finally record the summed analogue stereo mix using a dedicated DAC directly into USB channels 27/28. This C.A.S.T. connection between 500ADAT and 500R8 is completely analogue, zero latency, and sums with 500R8’s summing mixer prior to recording via USB.


More monitoring possibilities

The C.A.S.T. link connection between each rack also opens up more possibilities for headphone monitoring. Through this analogue C.A.S.T. connection, the aux mix created on 500R8 is also sent down C.A.S.T. to enable musicians connected to 500ADAT’s headphone ports to monitor the DAW playback and summing mix connected to 500R8. This same connection also carries the talkback created on 500R8 directly to the musicians connected to 500ADAT to enable all musicians connected to hear talkback from the engineer connected to 500R8. The mix created on 500ADAT also arrives at the blend control of 500R8 to enable the connected engineer and musicians to monitor the mix created on 500ADAT.

Which Unit Is Right For Me?

So with all of this in mind, which rack should you consider when making a purchasing decision? Both offer the same high-headroom analogue summing mixer, uncompromising analogue and digital circuit design, ultra-low jitter internal clock, zero-latency artist monitoring system, and C.A.S.T. integration but each rack satisfies a unique workflow depending on your current studio setup.

When deciding between them your decision boils down to one question, are you looking to upgrade/replace you current audio interface (from Apogee, UA, Focusrite etc) or offer 500 series and analogue integration into your current audio interface.




Whilst the absolute differences between the two racks are minimal, the differences described above add up to create two unique units that sit at home in different studios depending on your requirements as an engineer/musician.

If you’re just exploring the 500 series or you’ve been a collector for years, these two racks offer a huge amount of flexibility and connectivity for a price that defies the technology packed inside. From a company with award-winning innovation under their belts, these racks might just be what you need to achieve your desired analogue hybrid studio setup.


Further Reading

If you’re interested in learning more about the Cranborne Audio 500R8 and 500ADAT, when why not check out their User Manuals below for more information on each element of the racks and how they work in practise. The Manuals also feature a comprehensive set of technical specifications that detail their conversion and analogue performance.

Cranborne 500R8 User Manual

Cranborne 500ADAT User Manual

If you need some modules to fill your rack with, why not check out their Camden 500 preamp and signal processor. An award winning preamp, Camden 500 is extremely versatile offering the cleanest and most transparent front-end on the market alongside a variable harmonic saturation effect that emulates the transformer effects of yesteryear.

Read the Camden 500 blog here


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This new blog is presented by the team at Sound Technology Ltd, a leading distributor of musical instruments and pro audio equipment in the UK and ROI.