These days, it’s pretty rare to see a piece of audio equipment with an innovative feature set, but the Cranborne Audio Camden EC2 is indeed one of those rarities. It is a combination two-channel microphone preamp, saturation device, and dual headphone amp in a single space rack unit. Upon unpacking the Camden EC2, it was immediately clear that the build quality is quite good, and the look of the unit is a classy, sleek black and white. The knobs and switches are solid, and in general, it feels like a high-quality piece of equipment.

The first thing I decided to test was the mic preamp portion of the Camden EC2. I recorded my Martin D-35 acoustic guitar with a Neumann KM 84, then overdubbed a vocal with a Neumann U67. These are common sources that I record in my studio, captured by microphones with which I am exceptionally familiar. Listening back I could hear that the EC2 has a very balanced, neutral frequency response that is clean and clear top to bottom. My voice and the guitar sounded as I would expect through these classic vintage mics. The EC2 mic preamp sounds uncolored, yet without feeling sterile. It has excellent headroom, and seemed sonically linear at different gain settings. The high-pass filter was also quite useful for cutting unwanted low frequencies from the guitar.

Next, I plugged a Fender P bass into the EC2’s DI, and it immediately sounded fantastic. The low end was deep with a crystal-like clarity at the top. While playing the bass through the DI, I decided to experiment with the Mojo knob. Mojo has two settings: Thump and Cream, selected via toggle switch and controlled with a variable potentiometer. Thump sounded wonderful on bass – bringing out a harmonic distortion that expands the low end in a very musical manner. I could also see this feature being useful on kick drum or room mics to push up harmonics and low end. Kirt Shearer reviewed the original Camden 500 Series preamp [Tape Op #130]. Here’s what he had to say about the Thump feature on kick drums: “It starts adding a good deal of additional harmonic content below 100 Hz. I found that this works wonders on low-frequency sources such as kick drum or bass guitar. In this case, I could dial in an incredible low end on the kick, without it sounding synthetic or out of place. It can certainly make a wimpy kick drum work well in a mix by adding a solid fundamental note.”

Cream was less noticeable on bass, but when I tried it with mic’d acoustic guitar, I began to hear what it was doing. The top end seemed to get a little softer and subdued, while a subtle crunchy distortion was introduced as the knob gets closer to being maxed. Cream also sounded good on electric guitar – adding crunch, and I could see it being useful on sibilant vocals that need taming in upper mid frequencies. I found the Mojo functions to be a nice partner to the exceptionally clean mic amp as it gives the user a great deal of control over a variety of sonic flavors, from linear to quite colored. If I could change anything, I would make it possible to use both Thump and Cream simultaneously!

So what makes the Camden EC2 even more unique? The headphone amplifier. First of all, the headphone amp is sonically exceptional, but the rare thing about it is that it allows the user to blend an external stereo (or proprietary C.A.S.T.) input with the direct output of either of the two preamps (combined or separate), providing two separate latency-free headphone mixes that the artist or engineer can easily control. I was quickly able to dial in a pleasing sound from the mic pre with a musical headphone balance while overdubbing with the EC2. Multiple units can also be chained together using Cranborne’s proprietary C.A.S.T. system (via Cat 5e, Cat 6, or Cat 7 cable) that allows for integration/expansion with their ever-expanding line of hardware products.

Cranborne Audio has done a stellar job in packing a lot of functionality, coupled with high-quality sound, into a small, attractive box. The Camden EC2 is a comprehensive studio tool for engineers; not only does it have two quality mic pre/DI channels with variable harmonic distortion, but it also has two high fidelity headphone amps that allow for easy, accurate, inspiring monitor mixes while tracking. All this flexibility makes it a must-try for studios and engineers with needs in these areas.

Tape Op is a bi-monthly magazine devoted to the art of record making.

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