Empirical Labs EL8 Distressor Audio Compressor

  • Item # 1058532
  • Model # EL8
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The EL8 Distressor from Empirical Labs is an automatic gain (or volume) control device (AGC in engineering terms) designed for pro audio applications. Basically, the compressor electronically controls… Learn More


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Control your volume levels while adding musicality, intelligibility, and excitement.

The EL8 Distressor from Empirical Labs is an automatic gain (or volume) control device (AGC in engineering terms) designed for pro audio applications. Basically, the compressor electronically controls the volume of just about any source in a very pleasing, and "musical" manner - adding fullness, intelligibility, and especially in the Distressor's case - excitement. This type of device is often called a "limiter" or "compressor" by audio industry people. The Distressor Compressor's most probable use will be in recording studios, live sound situations, movie sound production, and radio broadcast production.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. Years of beta testing and redesign went into the EL8 Distressor as will be the case with all Empirical Labs products.Besides offering a wide range of control and unique features, the Distressor offers a warm, vintage sound by using a custom designed gain control circuit. This "warmth" or vintage sound has become an important issue in the last 15 years, as the super clear and linear digital technology does very little (or nothing) to soften "harsh" sounds nor emphasize the bass frequencies in music sources. Older analog tape, vinyl records and tube equipment on the other hand, could not be prevented from coloring the sound, often to the frustration of recording engineers. However, many people have now realized that this coloring can be extremely pleasant and "musical". The current digital technology is often referred to as "cold" and "brittle" among other terms, although we prefer the term "unforgiving" to describe the negative side of the "linearity". The Distressor compressor offers several modes that color the signal, even without compression (or gain control). These extended modes were designed to allow emulation of some very old and some very expensive vintage gain control units (compressors & limiters) and deliver a classic "knee" sound all its own.About Empirical Labs:Empirical Labs was started in 1988 and functioned mainly as a recording studio and electronics consulting firm. The founder, Dave Derr, was also employed at the time by Eventide as an audio engineer and was one of the core designers of their legendary H3000. EL's first product, the EL8 Distressor (#501578) immediately took the recording industry by storm and hardly a record has been made without it since. With a mission "to make products that work a little easier, a little better, a lot longer, and are fun to use," Empirical Labs continues to create unique and innovate products that quickly find homes among the top professionals of the audio industry (and anyone else who wants in on the Empirical Labs sound).Empirical Labs Users:Aerosmith - Joe Perry (8 Distressors)Al SchmidtAlanis MorrisetteAngela Piva - Mary J Blige, Naughty by Nature, Janet JacksonAshes dIvide Billy HowerdelBilly Sheehan (Mr. Big, Niacin, David Lee Roth)Bob Clearmountain - Journey, Bryan Adams, Stones, Springstein, etc, etc, etc!Bob DylanBob PowersBon JoviBrendan O'Brien -Producer Mixdown EngineerBruce Calder - (Electric Lady Studios, Degeneration)Butch VigCherChimeraChris Lord AlgeChuck AinlayClair BrothersCold PlayCraig Melvin (Gloria Estefan)Creed - Eight Distressors on their 2003 tourD & D Studios NYCDaniel Lanois (U2)Dave Hewitt - Remote Recording ServicesDave Matthews -David KahneDeath Cab for CutieDisturbedDolly PartonDon WasDust Brothers (John King)Ed Cherney -Ed Kowalcyzk - LiveEddie Kramer (JimiHendrix)Effanel Remote recording - Randy Ezratty, 2003 GrammysElton JohnEminemEric Schilling - Gloria Estefan, John SecadaFinn Halle - GermanyFiona AppleFive Towns College (6 Distressors)Fleetwood MacFletcherFull Sail School for the Recording ArtsGeorge MassenburgGoo Goo DollsGreg Calbi - Sterling SoundGungi PattersonHoleJason Slater - Snake River ConspiracyJay Baumgartner - NRG StudiosJay Gordon - Producer, Lead Vocalist of OrgyJerry Harrison - Live, Verve Pipe, (12 Distressors)Jerry Only - The MisfitsJoe BerisiJoe Chicarelli - Hole, Beck, U2, etc!Joe SatrianiJohn Agnello - Producer, Engineer, MixerJohn Kurzweg - CreedJohn McBride at Blackbird Studios - 8 Distressors, 4 Fatsos, 2 Lil FrEQsJohn PaternoJohn Patterson -John SicketJosh Abraham (Orgy, Staind, Korn, Limp Bizkit)Judy SaiyaJulien - KKevin KillenKip WingerKooster McAllister - Record Plant RemoteLinkin ParkMarc Costanzo, LenMark AnthonyMark Plati - David BowieMaroon 5Matt WallaceMegadethMetallicaMichael BienhornMichael Wilton (Queensrych)Micheal Brauer - Sony Studios NYCMick Gazauski - (Mariah Carey, Boyz 2 Men, Toni Braxton, etc.)Mick Hughes - Metallica FOH EngineerMike Keating (Sting, Bush, Springstein live)Mike ShipleyMillbrook SoundMitch GoldfarbMutt LangeN SYNCNatalie MerchantNate KunkelNikki Sixx (Motley Crue)Nine Inch NailsOutsmarting SimonPaul Tennebekk (Norway's Midwest Audio)Peter DenenbergPhil (the Buther) Nicolo (The Stones, Amy Grant, Sting, Aerosmith, Judy Saiya)Phil Ramone/John PattersonRammsteinReal World Studios - (Peter Gabriel's facility in England)Ricky Martin Roey Shamir - Information Society, Al B SureRoss Hogarth - (Jewel, Coal Chamber, Grade 8)Ryan Hewitt - Engineer ExtraordinareScott Anthony - Dessau recording, Beastie BoysSeal - on tourSean Beresford (3rd Eye Blind)Shania TwainSheryl CrowSound KitchenStaindStingStone Temple PilotsSue Shoemaker - Blues TravelerTchad Blake - Sheryl Crow, Richard Thompson, Crowded House, Pearl Jam, Bonnie RaittThe Academy IsThe PoliceThe Voyager Remote Truck in ParisThe WhoTom Lord AlgeTony LevinWheatusWhitney HoustonWoodland Studios - Robert Solomon


  • Classic knee sound - With modern noise specs and improved performance. Really grabs.
  • 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 & difference" frequencies from pumping the upper frequencies of source material.
  • Fool proof 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 valued) "light controlled" devices, such as the LA2A etc. See manual to emulate other compressors of old.
  • Discrete and integrated combination - the best of speed/linearity with repeatability. Hand tested & selected components.
  • 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.
  • Stereo Strappable
  • Switchable 110/220 volt operation - Extra fuse provided inside unit.
  • Over design 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. Many mil spec. parts.
  • Interface and features found nowhere else.
  • Hand wired, calibrated in USA. Shipping weight 11.25Lbs.

Technical Specification

Empirical Labs EL8 Distressor Audio Compressor

  • Freq. response is 2 Hz to 160 kHz in clean audio mode (+0, -3 dB). Response is shaped in distortion modes (Dist 2, Dist 3).
  • Dynamic range 110 dB from max. output to min. output in 1:1 mode. Greater than 100 dB signal to noise in distort 3 mode.
  • Distortion ranges between .02% and 20% depending on distortion mode and release times set on front panel.
  • DC coupled output - High quality input caps.
  • Input impedance is 20K Ohms, Output impedance is < 75 ohms
  • Time constants - Attack range 50uS - 50mS. Release range .05 sec to 3.5 seconds, normal modes and up to 20 seconds in 10:1 opto mode. Time constants are dependent on ratio.
  • Metal Chassis - single height 1.75" high, 10" deep, 19" wide.
  • Shipping info: Weight - 12.1 lbs, box dimensions 22.5" x 18.5" x 3 1/4".