Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Empirical Labs EL-8 Distressor

The ELB Distressor from Empirical Labs is probably the most recognizable and consistent piece of gear you'll ever see in any music production studio.  If you look at videos or pictures of professional dance music producer's studio you'll see at least one EL-8 and most of the time you'll see two!

Empirical Labs EL8 Distressor is an analog compressor that integrates digital control over separate analog circuits.  This design gives the user total flexibility and makes the Distressor one of the most versatile compressors out there.  The Distressor is really a handful of units all rolled up into one single rack space unit.  Even without any compression applied there is a treasure trove of harmonic tricks & character you can apply to your material using the various harmonic/distortion modes built into the Distressor.  Most of these modes model vintage sounding gear that today would cost you an arm and a leg to afford. (more on this at the end of the article)

The Distressor offers 8 different compression ratios from a subtle 1:1 ratio to Empirical Lab's "Nuke" setting (200:1)  These ratio's aren't selected with a knob like on most compressors, you use a switch, this switch digitally engages different analog circuits based on your chosen compression ratio.  Thus giving each compression curve it's own personality and release character.  The more subtle curves add just the right amount of low order harmonics while the intense ratios provide the user bright and shiny sound characteristics perfect for livening up drum groups or room mics.  The most sought after curve the Distressor possesses is no doubt the 10:1 "opto" curve.   In this setting the analog circuits are switched to a different set designed to emulate the famous opto LA2A of yesteryear from Universal Audio.  Professionals will tell you that the Distressor's "opto" mode sounds a bit harsher than the LA2A but, they will also tell you the Distressor does a damn good job of emulating on of the finest compressors ever built.

Another very handy feature of the Distressor is it's "fool proof" operation, you don't have to be an compression master for this beast to help your work.  According to Empirical labs if you leave the knobs towards the middle and the ratio set around 6:1 you can't really go wrong.  The large knobs with high resolution numbering in small steps makes it very easy to adjust settings, furthermore this feature makes recalling previous settings when coming into the studio with fresh ears in the morning a breeze.

The last feature I'll touch on is the Distressor's three harmonic/distortion modes.  The first two modes; Clean & Distort 2 are designed to add warm 2nd order harmonics similar to the sound achieved when using classic tube gear.  The third mode; Distort 3 provides 3rd order harmonic distortion much like the warmth & sound achieved when using an analog tape machine.

The Distressor isn't built cheap, it's built like a tank and housed in solid and sturdy vent-less single rack unit.  The components are all top quality and most are military grade.  You don't hear of Distressors breaking down too often because they have been designed and built with an immense amount of care.  The power supplies are designed to run cool and all the components were selected in part because of their long life.  Rest assured, you're investment is quite safe when you purchase a Distressor, no need to worry about quality issues with any of Empirical Lab's gear.  If you ever do have an issue they will surely get it resolved for you as quickly as possible.  The people behind Empirical Labs are passionate about audio and this shows in their products and services.

Fact is, I could go on about the Distressor for days, like I said in the introduction to this article, you will be hard pressed to find a professional production studio without at least one Distressor.   I feel like I've said enough for you to get the basic idea though.  The EL-8 Distressor is an extremely versatile and flexible piece of gear perfect for almost any tracking or mixing situation.  If you're making music completely inside of the box and looking for something to add a little magic to the brittle and linear sound of digital music get yourself a Distressor.  It is one of the most unique sounding and multifaceted pieces of professional audio gear you can buy without spending 6 months salary.  To learn more about the Distressor check out Empirical Labs website and scope the video featuring the founder of Empirical Labs!

PS: All of Empirical Labs gear is currently 15% off to celebrate their 15 years in the audio industry.

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