Empirical Labs Distressor EL8X-S — Compressor Stereo Pair with British Mode
Digitally controlled, analog knee compressor that incorporates the sonic characteristics of classic compressors plus the aggressive all-buttons-in sound of the LN1176 limiter
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 EL8X-S, the answer is a resounding, “oh yes we do.” In fact, once you have a Distressor, the 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 via its 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 available in mono, the EL8, or the modified EL8-X, which offers two additional functions: British Mode, and Image Link.
Empirical Labs Distressor EL8X-S unique features:
- Interface and features found nowhere else
- Classic knee sound with modern noise specs and improved performance
- Programmable analog distortion/warmth: helpful in the pristine but unforgiving digital world. Three audio modes providing user programmable, warm harmonic distortion. Emphasized tube- like, 2nd harmonic in clean and Distort 2 mode. In Distort 3 mode, the distortion becomes dominated by 3rd harmonic, more similar to tape
- Distortion indicator lights: A 1% LED and a "Redline" (3%) LED. No hard clipping until a few dB past "Redline"
- Advanced built-in sidechain EQ: High mid band emphasis prevents harsh, edgy guitars or vocals from hurting innocent ears. Low cut keeps the low "sum and difference" frequencies from pumping the upper frequencies of source material
- Combination of phase and image linking, which has never before been offered on any compressors or limiters
- Foolproof operation: Even though there are 384 possible settings (not counting knob settings), it's almost impossible to get a bad sound. Keep all knobs on 5 or 6 (around middle) with ratio at 6:1 and you won't go wrong
- Eight unique curves: 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 release shape. Most exceptional is the 10:1 "Opto" ratio, which uses separate circuitry to emulate the oldest (and highly valued) "light controlled" devices, such as the LA-2A plus other historic compressors
- Huge knobs with high-resolution numbering for easy readability and repeatable settings—they also go to 10-1/2
- Locked, calibrated, output level allows speed in setting tape and live mix levels
Empirical Labs Distressor EL8X-S 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 EL8X-S Stereo Pair
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.
Distressor British Mode
The original concept of the "British Mode" came from an unusual setting on the classic UREI 1176LN limiter. The unit was designed to have only four ratios, each ratio being engaged by selecting one of four buttons. However, as early as 1980 (or before), renegade recording engineers, always on the lookout for something a little more "over the top", found that you could make all four buttons stay "in" if you pressed them just right. What resulted was a very, very aggressive sound that had some elements of the unit’s 20:1 ratio, but with an unusual knee and new envelope shape. Somewhere along the line, someone called it a "British Mode" and the name stuck. It is also called "all buttons in" and some other intuitive names.
The Distressor has the advantage of being able to apply this "aggressive" nature not only to the British ratio (1:1) but also to all the ratios since a separate switch is installed, which can be enabled with any ratio.
Distressor Stereo Link Option
The original Distressor stereo link implementation uses a summing and phase detection method, which allowed 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 original Distressor phase link approach has sometimes been a problem on stereo program material, where the producer/engineers want to maintain absolute left/right balance at all times. With the Stereo Image Link option, the Distressor user now 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 EL8 is also available as a stereo pair, the Empirical Labs
OUTSIDE THE BOX — Empirical Labs Distressor EL8X-S Stereo Pair
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. The EL8-X also has toggle switches for British Mode and Stereo Link.
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:
- Normal (Clean) No induced distortion THD hovering between .025 and .3%
- Dist 2 THD hovering between 0.05 and 3% Emphasized 2nd Harmonic
- 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
Who’s using Empirical Labs:
“The most impressive and versatile compressor I have ever used” — Michael Brauer
“Dear Empirical, I’m an LA based producer and an owner of a Distressor. The unit is really awesome! I've used it on guitars, bass, room mics, vocals it works great on everything. I've used it on records I've made with Beck, U2, Etta James, Hole and lots of others." — Joe Chicarelli
"One piece of gear I definitely recommend is a compressor called the Distressor. It's really great for just about everything and if you had to use just one compressor you could probably get away with just using that." — Mitchell Froom
“I sold a couple of 1176's and have replaced them with the Distressors, which do a great job of emulating the 1176's. — Michael Wagener “(Ozzy Osbourne, Extreme, Metallica)
“In general, I really like where Dave Derr’s ear leads him; one of pro audios truly independent thinkers, I’m a huge fan of the box (the Distressor): I use it for bringing up the “goosh” on ambient sources, and for saturating snares, toms, and kicks.” — George Massenburg
“A really good sounding vocal compressor—guitars, drums, everything.
You can’t have too many Distressors.”
- Tchad Blake, Tape Op Magazine
“I have two of them (Distressor), but I should have six of them. I’m going to get some more.” — David Kahne, Producer
“It’s one of the most user-friendly, easy-to-read, best sounding compressors.
I’ve had for ages. There’s nowhere I wouldn’t use it!”
— Mike Keating, FOH Engineer-Sting Tour
“ The Distressor would be the last piece of hardware many engineers would relinquish; you’d have to pry it from their cold, dead hands, as the saying goes” — Pro Sound News
“ The Distressor is the one thing that I know I can put on everything . . . anything . . . and it’ll sound better than ever.” — Recording Magazine
Every once in a while a product comes along with “classic” written all over it.
And in a certain sense of the word, this product actually is a classic already.”
— Barry Cleveland, MIX Magazine
About Empirical Labs
Empirical Labs Inc. (ELI), designs and manufactures professional audio signal processing equipment used in recording studios, live sound, broadcast studios, and other audio production facilities all over the world. ELI also produces plug-ins for digital audio workstations (DAWS) and software for digital signal processors.
ELI was started in 1988 and functioned mainly as a recording studio and electronic consulting firm. The founder, Dave Derr, was also employed at the time by Eventide as an audio engineer where he was part of the core design team for the H3000, H3500, and DSP4000. His experience at Eventide proved invaluable for his later work. While working alongside Ken Bogdanowicz and Bob Belcher (both now at Sound Toys), Dave was exposed to state of the art engineering and the modern world of digital signal processing (DSP).
The first Empirical Labs product, the Distressor, was designed in 1994, tested and revised for several years, and released in 1996. With over twenty thousand units sold, it has unquestionably become a modern classic. In 1998, Empirical Labs closed the doors of the recording studio to focus on the growing signal processing business.
Today, all Empirical Labs products are still manufactured in the USA and rigorously calibrated and tested by hand. Empirical Labs takes great pride in the quality, workmanship and robustness of everything that leaves the factory. It’s important to ELI that their gear works as well years from now as it does the day you open it for the first time.
Empirical Labs’ philosophy is extremely simple, but very hard to live up to: "We want to make products that work a little easier, a little better, and a lot longer—and make sure they’re fun to use."
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.