Empirical Labs EL8X-S Distressor Stereo Pair
MPN #EL8X-S Stereo Pair
A pair of single Channel Harmonic DISTortion & classic Knee compRESSOR. Digitally controlled Analog knee compression and British mode.
The Distressor is the product that started it all for Empirical Labs. Born of founder Dave Derr's love of classic compressors like the 1176, LA-2A and Gain Brain (among others), the Distressor incorporates his favorite sonic characteristics of these, along with other unique and interesting features that have made it a staple for audio engineers all over the world. With over 22,000 units in the field, it's safe to say that the Distressor is one of the best selling high end compressors of all time....if not THE best selling. A prominent recording engineer recently wagered that there probably was not a top 40 record made in the last five years that didn't have at least one Distressor on it.
Besides providing a wide range of control and a unique feature set, the Distressor offers a warm, vintage sound by using a custom designed gain control circuit. This "warmth" or "vintage sound" has become a major issue in the last few decades, as the super clear and linear digital technology does next to nothing to soften "harsh" sounds, nor emphasize the bass frequencies in music sources. Conversely, older analog tape, vinyl records and tube equipment could not be prevented from coloring the sound, often to the frustration of recording engineers. However, many people now realize that this coloring can be extremely pleasant and musical. Digital technology is often referred to as "cold" and "brittle" among other terms (although we prefer "unforgiving").
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 & 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 Distressor is available in either its original form (EL8), or in a modified version (EL8-X) with two additional functions - British Mode, and Image Link.
The concept of British Mode came from an unusual setting on the classic UREI LN1176 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 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 "British Mode", and the name stuck.
The EL8-X has the advantage of being able to selectively apply this aggressive characteristic - not just to the new "British" ratio (1:1) - to any of the ratios, simply by engaging the dedicated "British Mode" switch.
The original Distressor stereo link function used a summing and phase detection method, which allowed slight stereo image shifting. Although frequently desirable for its phase correction, and its "thickening" on open room mics and other stereo sources, this approach can sometimes be a problem on stereo program material where the producer/engineers want to maintain absolute left/right balance at all times. With the new "Stereo Image Link" option, the EL8-X now has three link options - the original "phase" link, the new Image Link and the combination of the two, phase and image linking - something never before offered on any compressors or limiters.
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 ohmsTime 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 dependant on ratio.Metal Chassis - single height 1.75" high, 10" deep, 19" wide.Shipping info - 12.1 lbs mono, 24.2 lbs Stereo pair. Mono box dimensions 22.5" x 18.5" x 3 1/4".
Write a review about the Empirical Labs EL8X-S Distressor Stereo Pair
September 9, 2021
I have the UAD plugin and really enjoy it - so much so I decided to take it up a notch and buy the real thing. The plugin in good...really good...that being said I am amazed by the real thing. It is so versatile and sounds so good on anything I throw at it. Read more
(yes much better than the plugin)
So far on the few mixes I have done since receiving the unit it has been incredible on... individual drums, the drum bus, bass, guitar and even vocals... I choose it over our 1176 LN on one mix which surprised me as the 1176 has always been my favorite vocal compressor.
The British Mode 1:1 does sound different than an 1176 with all buttons in (or 4 and 20 ratio in)... but not necessarily better or worse. I am happy with this feature and glad I got the upgrade.
The versatility of the unit is mind-blowing and I would highly recommend to both commercial studios looking to expand their collection or home studios looking for their first compressor (or compressor pair).
Specifically on the stereo unit... it came in a dual box with sequential serial numbers and the hook up cables. This is not just two units... they are matched and I am happy with the decision to get the pair.
Only negative feedback is not a secret... you have to keep hitting a button to cycle through all the choices... for example if you are on 3:1 ratio and want 2:1 you have to tap the ratio button 7 times to get there...definitely not a big enough negative to lower this unit from 5 stars.
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