Empirical Labs Distressor COMPRESSOR

September 23, 2013

The EL8-X Distressor Compressor is one of the most coveted pieces of modern studio equipment available today. It builds on the foundations of various vintage compressors such as the 1176, LA-2A, and GainBrain; original versions of which are difficult and expensive to acquire. Read further if you want to know why every electronic music producer loves this compressor.

What does a compressor actually do? The intended purpose of a compressor is to reduce the dynamic range (distance between the loudest and softest sound) in an audio signal. Once the signal goes over a certain volume level (threshold), the device squashes the dynamic range. The intensity of this “squashing” is controlled with a ratio. eg. a 10:1 ratio means that for every 10 decibels over the threshold, one db is returned. The speed of how fast the signal is squashed and un-squashed after the signal is gone are controlled by the “attack” and “release” of the unit. The signal is then raised back to a desirable level by way of “make-up gain”. The audible effect is a fuller, louder signal.

Many sound engineers seek out vintage compressors for the way their circuitry colors sound, sometimes not even using the compression feature at all. The Distressor excels on this front due to a couple of sound shaping settings, adding convincing emulations of either tube distortion or tape saturation. The intensity of these settings depends on how hard the audio signal is driven into the input. Another useful feature is the high-pass filter, which cleans up muddy frequencies from the low end without sacrificing warmth or punch.

The Distressor also has different modes of signal detection. In high pass filter mode, compression is only triggered by higher frequencies, which is useful for avoiding the sucking effect, which occurs on hi-hats when running an entire drum group through it. A less common feature is a 6Khz boost on the signal detector, useful for smoothing out harsh tones on guitars, or sibilance on vocals.

Arguably, the crown jewel of the Distressor lies in its various compression ratios. There are 7, ranging from 1:1 (no compression), to 20:1, and of course, the famed NUKE ratio, which is a brick-wall limiter. But it doesn’t end there. The unit can be switched between “British” or “Opto” mode. British emulates an 1176 compressor when all its ratio buttons have been pushed in - a brutally aggressive, punchy sound for drums & percussion. Opto emulates the smoother compression of an LA-2A compressor, which is great for vocals and strings.

Finally, the Distressor has the ability to be linked to another Distressor, allowing all of these possibilities to be experienced in stereo. The 1500 euro price-tag may seem a bit hefty, but compared to the price you’d pay for the originals that it’s based on, it’s well worth the money.