The Empirical Labs EL8 Distressor is an automatic gain (or volume) control device (AGC in engineering terms) designed for pro audio applications. It 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. It is for use in recording studios, live sound situations, movie sound production, and radio broadcast production.
Unlike most analog compressor/limiters the EL8 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 Distressor as will be the case with all Empirical Labs products.
Empirical Labs EL8 Distressor Features :
- Classic knee sound - Delivered with modern noise specs in an indestructible, digitally-controlled, single-height box. Really grabs.
- Programmable analog distortion/warmth - Helpful in the pristine but unforgiving digital world. Three audio modes provide 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 (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.
- 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 most valued) "light-controlled" devices, such as the LA2A. Manual provides complete setting instructions for emulating other compressors of old. Its like getting several totally different compressors in one.
- 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.
- All metal film and Roederstein resistors in the audio path - Top quality components, mostly military grade.
- Unique "Binary Stepped Interface" - Provides hundreds of options with very few controls.
- 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.
- Stereo Strappable
- 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!
- Hand wired and calibrated in USA.
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 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.
The History of Empirical Labs :
Empirical Labs Inc. (ELI), designs and produces professional audio equipment and software. This includes equipment used in recording studios, live sound, broadcast studios and other audio production facilities etc. They also make software for digital signal processors. This product, was designed in 1994, tested and revised for several years, and released in early 1996. The Distressor is the first in a series of audio products from ELI that will offer original features, ease of use, long product life, and a very musical audio path.
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. Dave was part of the core design team for the H3000, H3500, and DSP4000. His experience at Eventide proved valuable for his later work. Dave was exposed to great engineering and the modern world of digital signal processing (DSP).
In 1998, Empirical Labs closed the doors of the recording studio. The sales of the Distressor had flourished after a shining review appeared in the December 1996 issue of Mix magazine. Later that year, the company picked up and moved to a larger facility to meet their increased production requirements.
Another goal of Empirical Labs is to make their products less prone to obsolescence and be easier to update, modify or repair. Instead of entire new products that may be outdated in 2 years, their thinking is to make a few great products that can be supported and upgraded for decades.
Empirical Labs' engineers & technicians are encouraged to play with and use their designs along with other expert beta-testers. The word Empirical in its most positive interpretation means, fashioned from experience. Empirical Labs considers real world use to be one of the best resources in developing innovative, user-friendly and robust designs. Before final release, all of their products will be extensively tested in the environments for which they are designed. They will not throw products out there and see what sticks.
Their Philosophy is very simple - but very hard to live up to :
Empirical Labs wants to make products that work a little easier, a little better, and a lot longer - and make sure they are fun to use.