Empirical Labs Distressor EL8 — Mono Compressor
Digitally controlled, analog knee compressor that incorporates the sonic characteristics of classic compressors
In an industry saturated with me-too products, you might justifiably ask, “Do we really need another compressor,” but in the case of the Empirical Labs Distressor EL8, oh yes we do. In fact, once you have a Distressor, a more relevant question, is do I need any other compressor other than the Distressor? The answer, according to most high-profile engineers is that if you can only have one compressor, make sure it’s an Empirical Labs Distressor. Besides providing a wide range of control and a unique feature set, the Distressor offers a warm, vintage sound by using a custom-designed gain control circuit. Not only a highly versatile compressor, the Distressor is also a distortion generator, capable of producing the effects of tube and tape saturation. The Distressor is also available as the modified EL8-X, which offers two additional functions: British Mode, and Image Link.
Empirical Labs Distressor EL8 key features:
- Over-designed power supplies - Runs cool, allowing cabinet to be sealed without heat vents
- Long-life components
- Single height and light weight - Classic sound in a small, extremely reliable package
- True bypass - Know what it's really doing. All contacts doubled up for maximum reliability. No internal audio connectors
- XLR and 1/4" phone ins and outs - XLR fully balanced, transformerless design, pin 2 hot. Changeable by user to pin 3 hot!
- All metal film and Roederstein resistors in the audio path, top quality components including military-spec parts
- Stereo linkable
- Switchable 115/230 volt operation; extra fuse provided inside unit
- Discrete and integrated combination; the best of speed/linearity with repeatability
- Hand-tested and selected components
- Hand-wired and calibrated in USA
RSPE Audio Solutions’
Virtual Distressor ELX-8 Compressor
, created in collaboration with designer David Derr, lets you mouse over the controls of the Empirical Labs Distressor ELX-8 and take it through its paces, from punchy open drums to “nuking the room,” for which the Distressor ELX-8 is famous.
INSIDE THE BOX — Empirical Labs Distressor EL8
Since the Distressor is based on the oldest compressor topology, it can be made to sound very similar to older classics. The nonlinear nature of the older gain control elements of opto-couplers, FET's, pentode (or triode) tube bias or "mu" modulation, etc., can be closely emulated if proper settings are used. A special "Opto" mode has been provided in the 10:1 ratio.
All eight of the Distressor’s curves are unique and distinctive, from the 1:1 mode that simply warms up signal with low order harmonics without intentional compression, to the “Nuke” setting—a brick wall limiting curve that shines on live drum room mics. Each curve has its own personality and several actually use different circuitry, and are effectively different compressors. Most exceptional is the 10:1 “Opto” ratio which uses separate detector circuitry to emulate the oldest (and valued) “light controlled” devices, such as the LA-2A.
Another large part of the Distressor’s personality and power derive from three modes that color the signal, even without compression. These extended audio modes were designed to allow emulation of some very old and expensive vintage compressors and limiters, and let the Distressor deliver a classic “knee” sound all its own by providing user programmable, warm harmonic distortion. In addition to the basic distortion mode, Distort 2 emphasizes tube-like 2nd order harmonics, while in Distort 3 setting the distortion becomes dominated by 3rd harmonics more closely resembling tape. Two HP filters – one in the audio path, one in the detector path - are also available to help with low frequencies that can cause pumping and breathing.
The High-pass mode (HP)
The first mode cycled to after normal is HP (or High-pass). With the HP LED on, the unit rolls off low "sub" frequencies below 80Hz in the audio. It is a very smooth Bessel filter, about 3dB down at 65Hz and -12dB @ 30Hz. Its final slope is 18dB per octave, but is below all but the very exceptionally low vocal tones. Rolling "subs" off of a singer’s mic is an excellent use for this filter. This can also be selected along with either Dist 2 or Dist 3 modes.
The Distressor stereo link implementation uses a summing and phase detection method, which allows stereo image shifting. "Image shifting" occurs when the inter-channel balance (the relative volume between Left and Right channels) changes during compression. Although known for its phase correction, and its "thickening" on open room mics and other stereo sources, the Distressor EL8 phase link approach on stereo program material, may not maintain absolute left/right balance at all times. With the Stereo Image Link option found on the EL8-X [Link], the Distressor has three link options; the original "phase" link, the Image Link, which maintains left/right balance, and the combination of the two, phase and image linking. This has never before been offered on any compressor or limiter. The Distressor is available as a stereo pair, the Empirical Labs Distressor
OUTSIDE THE BOX — Empirical Labs Distressor EL8
Perhaps the most distinctive feature of the Distressor’s front panel is the oversized knobs with high-resolution numbering for easy readability and repeatable settings—they also go to 10-1/2. The knobs control input, attack, release, and output. The Distressor also has a 16-segment horizontal gain-reduction meter, underneath which are LEDs that indicate ratio settings selected by a pushbutton. There are also pushbuttons for Audio and Detector modes and Bypass.
Distressor Distortion Modes
By using a design that allows pinpoint control of nonlinear analog devices, the Distressor is trimmed to produce three controllable distortion modes:
1. Normal (Clean) No induced distortion THD hovering between .025 and .3%
2. Dist 2 THD hovering between 0.05 and 3% Emphasized 2nd Harmonic
3. Dist 3 THD hovering between 0.1% and 20% 3rd Harmonic increased
Distressor Audio Modes:
To switch between the "Audio" modes, press the button labeled Audio. The LED's above the switch will cycle through 6 states. In order of occurrence:
- Norm - (No LED's lit) Low distortion and full frequency range
- HP - High-pass (Green LED) Smoothly cuts low "mud" audio frequencies
- Dist 2 - (Yellow LED) Emphasized 2nd harmonic distortion
- Dist 2 & HP - Combination of 2 and 3 above
- Dist 3 - (Red LED) 3rd harmonic emphasized
- Dist 3 & HP - Combination of 2 and 5 above
The sound and unique features of the Empirical Labs Distressor have made it a staple for audio engineers all over the world. For more information, call or chat with an RSPE representative today.