In Focus: Cranborne Audio – Carnaby HE2 2-Channel Harmonic EQ

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In Focus: Cranborne Audio – Carnaby HE2 2-Channel Harmonic EQ

Cranborne Audio Carnaby HE2
Words by Andy Lloyd-Russell

With the continual demand for more sophisticated EQ and saturation plugins, it’s super refreshing to see some genuine innovation of these essentials in pro audio hardware.

Relative newcomers Cranborne Audio are certainly not ones for resting on their laurels when it comes to pushing the boundaries of pro audio hardware design. Having burst out of the gate with some of the most exciting hardware the industry has seen for quite some time in the form on their revolutionary 500ADAT series expanders, the sleek Camden preamps, CAST networked audio solutions and their colourful Carnaby 500 – the brand’s latest offering the Carnaby HE2 redefines what a 2U 19” rack 2-channel Harmonic EQ can really do.

Cranborne Audio

As any hybrid mix engineer or recording engineer with an ethos of committing to sounds will appreciate, a piece of outboard with genuine analogue character can be worth its weight in gold when placed in an outboard rack. Striking a balance between vintage vibe and modern studio flexibility, the Carnaby HE2 is one-of-a-kind in its approach to both EQ and saturation, marrying these two essentials of the recording and mixing process into one familiar and incredibly intuitive layout – a 3-band parametric EQ. As Simon from Cranborne Audio explains “over the last few years we’ve seen a genuine shift towards more Hybrid workflows for both Mixing and Mastering.”

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This has been at the forefront of the HE2’s design, pushing the possibilities of integrating this piece of hardware into any studio space even further with its dedicated plugin, making recall literally as easy as selecting a preset. But without wanting to give too much away straight off the bat, let’s explore the ins and outs of the Carnaby HE2 and its rather mysterious circuit design.

Carnaby HE2 2-Channel Harmonic EQ

Seamlessly picking up from where the Carnaby 500 Harmonic EQ left off, the new HE2 takes this innovative circuit and design concept into new territory. But firstly some may be wondering what on earth a Harmonic EQ is, and you’d be forgiven for doing so. The incredibly complex circuit that lays beneath the simple and intuitive front panel of the Carnaby HE2 is one that is altogether unique. Combining the familiar tool set of a parametric equaliser and the tantalising sonic flavours saturation offers us, the HE2 effortlessly allows one to more precisely sculpt the harmonic character of the audio that passes through it – be it on a whole mix, on stems or individual sound sources when tracking, or at the mastering stage. As audio is fed into the circuit, harmonic content is extrapolated from the source material and based around the specific settings dialled in at each frequency band of the EQ, harmonics are then fed back into the signal for an enhanced, harmonically enriched end result ranging from subtle to dramatic. But unlike a traditional parametric EQ, something is always gained harmonically whether boosting or cutting at a particular frequency due to the inherent design of the Carnaby – with its circuit naturally reacting in a far more organic, dynamic and musical way than other analogue hardware signal processors. 

With such an elegant and engaging front panel, anyone even remotely familiar with an EQ (be it hardware or plugin based) should feel right at home and it’s clear this has been carefully considered by the Cranborne Audio design team. The finely stepped potentiometers are smooth, precise and easily recallable, each accompanied by an LED ring indicating the precise settings on each pot. The carefully chosen frequencies of each respective band is well chosen with plenty of cross over on both the low and mid bands as well as the mid and high bands. Both the low and high bands are shelves with a boost or cut range of +-10dB and frequency ranges of 20Hz – 420Hz and 5kHz – 25kHz respectively, whilst the mid band is a fixed Q with the same -+10dB boost/cut amount and 200Hz – 6.2kHz frequency range, making for some interesting EQ (and harmonic) shapes between crossover frequency values. Each band can be individually bypassed for lightning fast auditioning of processing applied to specific band processing and enhanced workflow. If this wasn’t enough, even more refined shaping is possible with the  switchable low and and high pass filters with variable ranges of from 18Hz – 180Hz and 8kHz – 40kHz respectively. 

Further integration into a hybrid mixing and analogue tracking workflow comes in the form of switchable fully balanced TRS inserts, allowing the HE2 to seamlessly connect with other outboard equipment, particularly useful when used in a rack or in a dedicated chain either before or after the HE2. 

Having three dedicated modes of operation is where the HE2 stretches its legs, being wildly flexible in its ability to be utilised in the studio in near endless ways. Dual mono is a superb option for splitting out to multiple sources or having dedicated control of each side of a stereo source or overall mix – giving being able to push that stereo image out to where it feels just right. However the mid-side mode is where the HE2 really gets exciting and talking of stereo image, operating in this mode allows one to really sculpt the centre with some low end saturation for example, whilst really being able to push the sides, adding some air and sheen to content in placed wider in the stereo field. Between these three modes, there’s pretty much endless sonic sculpting possibilities for mono and stereo sources in a multitude of approaches. 

Cranborne Audio HE2 rear

I mentioned the HE2’s dedicated plugin earlier, and this is really the icing on the proverbial cake, demonstrating just how seamlessly the HE2 integrates into any hybrid workflow, with Simon adding obviously that’s where a lot of our gear sits, but across the industry as a whole there appears to be a massive increase in interest for a lot of people-getting out the box and incorporating small (or large) amounts of analogue gear into what would be otherwise exclusively digital workflows.” 

Being able to pull up as many instances of the HE2’s plug-in required for any given session, settings and control of the HE2 are instantly recalled via USB or NET connections, with the HE2 hardware instantly flicking straight back to a recalled setting dictated by the selected plugin. This is absolutely massive for potential mix revision scenarios or even during the mixing processing, if needing to jump back into a printed track to tweak settings and reprint through the HE2. Doing this with traditional outboard hardware requires photos, precise manual recall of settings, which not only takes up valuable time, but doesn’t ever guarantee it will be exactly the same. The beauty and the cure of human error!

The Cranborne Audio HE2 is a perfect marriage of fully analogue signal processing and digital control very much demonstrates how a modern piece of pro audio hardware can effortlessly integrate into the modern day studio workflow making it an essential part of any audio engineer’s tool set, with Simon summarising “I think we are seeing the maturation of the modern home studio happening right in front of us. It’s exciting to see.”

For local enquiries, visit Mixmasters Pro Audio.