With added functionality and improved specs, this great preamp just got better.
When it comes to choosing mic preamps, some value clean performance, while for others 'character' is all. A couple of years ago, the clever people at Cranborne Audio came up with a way of delivering both in one design, with a very clever, controllable means of adding different characters that they called 'Mojo'. It was introduced in the superb Camden 500 preamp (reviewed in October 2018: go to https://sosm.ag/cranborne-camden500 to read more), which impressed the editors at SOS so much it was Highly Commended in our Gear Of The Year reviews.
Cranborne have recently built on this preamp design to create a new 1U rackmounting device, the EC2. The name is not an expensive London postcode, but rather it derives from 'Expander Camden 2-channel' and it is so described because the EC2 combines a pair of Camden preamps with two high-quality headphone amps and Cranborne's Ethernet-based CAST interface system. The CAST system and headphone amp design were introduced in the company's 500R8 500-series interface (reviewed in September 2019: https://sosm.ag/cranborne-500r8), and used in the 500ADAT (reviewed November 2019 issue: https://sosm.ag/cranborne-500ADAT). As the EC2's various individual elements have already been covered in previous reviews, I'll focus here mostly on how the EC2 works as a complete package.
Although the preamps in the EC2 appear much like the Camden 500 module turned on their sides, and sound every bit as good, the construction is very different. All the electronics for both preamps, the headphone amps, and the power supplies sit on a large motherboard. Subsidiary cards carry the front-panel controls and rear-panel connectors. Surface-mount components are used throughout, and an elaborate DC-DC converter section generates the internal power rails from an external 24V DC line-lump PSU, which connects via a locking 'Power-DIN' plug and has a standard IEC mains inlet. Unusually, the mains safety earth is also extended to the rack chassis via the negative side of the DC supply, and a marked screw on the rear panel is also provided as a chassis grounding terminal, if required.
An unplanned benefit of laying out the Camden preamp circuitry for the EC2's much...