Extensive compressor reviews and FAQ

Empirical Labs Distressor EL8-X: This is a rackmount mono line-level unit, designed to emulate many classic vintage studio comps. I haven't used most of those high-end pieces myself to compare, but I can clearly hear a distinct variety of chunky old-school sounds and compression actions at the various settings they recommend in the manual. It is also capable of an endless range of its own unique settings, from smooth to punchy, from soft to balls-out aggressive.
 
In addition to providing all those styles of compression, it is designed to provide modulation (subtle and not-so-subtle distortion) ranging from a "warm fatness", to a saturated-tape clipping, to a furry old 18" speaker tone, to an outright gritty overdrive. The distorted qualities can also be switched off for clean tone. All of the tones and compression actions have a funky, edgy quality. It can also be set at a 1:1 ratio so you can apply the EL8's tone-changing qualities to your signal without compression.
 
There is no inherent loss of highs or lows, except at settings which emulate devices that would have had some rolloff (to be clear, that does mean there can be some perceived high or low rolloff on some settings). There are no unwanted artifacts even at the highest settings. However it should be noted that this unit was designed to have "musical" desirable artifacts and coloration, so the tone is not always transparent--it's not supposed to be. Also, it can have a little bit of noise, although I'd bet it is far less noisy than the older devices it is modeled after.
 
The "X" version of the EL8 has two additional features: a setting to improve the stereo spread when using two of them, and a switch which emulates pushing in all four "mode" buttons on an 1176. Those two features are neat, but not particularly useful for bass.
 
The construction quality is excellent. It has both 1/4" and XLR in/outputs, but it is not designed to get good results from direct connection with a guitar or bass, you need a preamp. The bypass is transparent.
 
It's an expensive piece--is it worth it? I'd say it is beyond overkill for almost any live gig, where most of the tonal subtlety would be lost anyway, and some of the saturated tones might sound muddy through a PA. The aggressively noticeable sound of it may not be something you'd want to use all the time. And if all you want is clean transparent compression, several other rack comps I recommend will do just as good of a job, with easier setup, for much less than half the price. But if you are in the recording studio, and you want a broad spectrum of punchy vintage tones from a single unit, there is very little else on the market to compete with this Pandora's box of compression effects. Plus it is far more reliable, consistent, and versatile than the older gear it claims to emulate. And for certain purposes, it sounds freaking awesome!
 
Price in USD: new $1150-$1500, used $900-$1250 (the "X" version is the higher price)
 
or on Amazon
 

 
 
All text on this page written and owned by Cyrus J. Heiduska, 2006-2014, all rights reserved.
Copying is prohibited, but please feel free to link to this page using the link text "compressor reviews".