Empirical Labs Distressor EL8-X — Mono Compressor 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
The Distressor EL8-X offers a warm, vintage sound by using a custom designed gain control circuit. Unlike most analog compressor/limiters the Distressor is a digitally controlled audio device and actually incorporates several products into one by utilizing digital controls to switch totally different circuits in and out.
Empirical Labs Distressor EL8-X key features:
Over-designed power supplies - Runs cool, allowing cabinet to be sealed without heat vents
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
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-X with British Mode
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-X is available as a stereo pair, the Empirical Labs
OUTSIDE THE BOX — Empirical Labs Distressor EL8-X with British Mode
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