Cranborne Audio 500ADAT: Review

I’ve spent the last couple of months with my Cranborne Audio 500ADAT, and I have to say, it’s proved its worth on more than one occasion. It’s been very helpful in providing a digital link via ADAT from my UAD Apollo interface to seamlessly pick up my 500 series analogue modules so I could keep my little studio space cable-free. It’ll work with any ADAT-equipped interface and sports high quality A/D-D/A conversion along with a whole host of other features. When I first came across this device, I’m pretty sure there was nothing out there that offered this functionality and flexibility. So let’s have a look at some of the things you can do with it.

This unit is essentially Cranborne’s wonderful 500R8 audio interface minus the USB computer connection, for £300 less. Of course, many individuals and studios have already committed themselves to one manufacturer’s interface or another; it’s pretty much the second product you buy, after your computer.

But the great thing about the 500ADAT is that it integrates all your analogue 500 series modules and makes them permanently available via simple configurable and saveable parameters from within your DAW. Connection to your interface is via a pair of inexpensive, off the shelf TOSlink cables in the case of 44.1kHz and 48kHz - or four cables if you’re working with higher sample rates.

The 500ADAT is an ADAT expander featuring high-performance, low latency A/D and D/A conversion with a dynamic range of 121dB. It’s a high-current 500 series rack providing up to eight slots for 500 series modules which connects to your existing recording interface and gives you either eight channels of send and return to those modules, eight additional inputs from mic/ pre modules to your DAW, or eight channels of output from your DAW for analogue summing. All via the ADAT ports.

There are, of course, other ways to use this unit, but if you’re going to be using it as an ADAT expander, I strongly recommend that you set the dip switch settings on the rear panel to ADAT and the sample rate that you’re most likely to be working in. If you’re likely to be working from various sources with multiple sample rates, don’t bolt the unit in a rack as you’ll need to get to the back and adjust the dip switch settings.

With the ADAT dip switch setting, your DAW selects the clock rate, and your interface acts as the clock master. Cranborne Audio makes a fair bit of noise about how good the 500ADAT’s clock is, so provided your studio works to a fixed clock rate you could set it to internal, select a fixed clock speed, and daisy-chain off the BNC Word Clock out.

Your DAW picks up the clock rate from the 500ADAT’s master clock via your interface. If I could find any fault at all with this device, I would point to the rear dip switch for sample rates which has stopped me making use of the flexible mountable rack ears. And that’s at a push. There’s a handy input select switch on the front panel just below each populated slot to switch between ADAT, local analogue XLR, and Cranborne’s own CAST (cat5 Audio Snake Transport) system.

The really great news is that most DAWs - including Logic and Pro Tools - have a hardware insert option as well as an option from within their software plugins menu. For me, using Logic’s menu, it is simply a case of picking I/O from the Utility menu and entering the channel numbers that my UAD’s Console plugin has assigned to the relevant ADAT channels.

Then simply ping the channels with the ‘Ping’ button and it will automatically set the latency compensation sample count for that 500 series module’s round trip. You can then save this as a user preset to recall this module whenever you need it. Always remember to re-ping your module, and always remember to put the module into bypass, especially if it’s a reverb or delay.

This has got to be the most flexible, user-friendly 500 series rack on the market.

The 500ADAT can also function purely as a 500 series analogue rack simply by using the XLR ins and outs behind the corresponding channel. The XLR input for the channel can accept mic, line or HiZ input types depending on the type of unit inserted into the slot. Many modules that support HiZ inputs will often feature this input on the front of the module.

The rear panel XLR can also supply phantom power where supported by the module. Below each input XLR is a TRS insert jack for connecting additional studio equipment to help you build your perfect processing chain; the insert follows the 500 series module prior to the A/D converter. Should you have two 500 series modules that you want to use together, if they follow each other in the correct order, simply click the chain switch to the right.

If they don’t, just use an XLR to connect the rear analogue output to the rear input of your next 500 module to build your desired signal chain. Simple. If you do build a chain of several modules that you are returning to your DAW via ADAT, again, just use the Plugins, Utility, I/O option in your DAW to select your ADAT send and return channel numbers.

The 500ADAT also features a high quality eight-into-two analogue summing mixer. You can send eight signals from your DAW via ADAT to the eight mixer volume and pan controls below each slot. The slots can be populated with EQs or compressors, or whatever you like - but if not, there is a handy bypass switch just above each slot inside the housing to route audio directly to the mixer volume and pan section.

There are two dedicated 1/4-inch jacks on the rear to provide routing from the summing mixer directly to the line-in jacks on your interface or alternatively, another mixer. The mix controls along the bottom also have a second function and are used to provide zero latency monitoring during recording.

The rear panel features L/R input jacks to feed two stereo aux sends from your interface which can be blended together with signals from the 500 series modules. The front right panel features the Aux 1 and 2 blend pots together with level pots which feed two stereo headphone jacks to the artists. The headphone amp is noticeably impressive and again lives up to (and then some) Cranborne’s claim of reference quality.

So if your audio interface supports Talkback to Aux, like my UAD does, then it makes sense that this would continue via the mix blend through the 500ADAT to its headphone outs.

There are also a number of options on the rear panel to send these signals out to additional headphone amps in: for example, a studio space or the next door bedroom/vocal booth(!), all of which can be controlled via the front panel pots.

The back panel I/O [mentioned above] is duplicated on a single RJ45 CAST port on the back of the 500ADAT for connection directly to Cranborne’s own 500R8 interface should you have one. These two monitoring outputs and stereo headphone sends are also duplicated remotely via Cranborne’s CAST system.