Empirical Labs EL8 Distressor

Empirical Labs

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Product Code: 2648
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The Empirical Labs EL8 Distressor is a highly versatile compressor/limiter, with multiple curves, a multiple mode harmonic distortion generator, and overall smooth and natural sound that has made it an industry standard - especially for vocal processing and enhancement.

The Empirical Labs EL8 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 28,000 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”).

Empirical Labs EL8 Distressor Features

  • Eight unique and distinctive curves
  • Three distortion modes
  • Stereo Linking

Empirical Labs EL8 Distressor Specifications

  • 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 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".

Empirical Labs EL8 Distressor Includes

  • EL8 Distressor
  • Power Cable
  • Manual
  • 2 Year Warranty

1 Review Hide Reviews Show Reviews

  • 5
    Do everything compressor
    Sean Foley

    I’ve been using the Distressor on guitar, mixes, and even vocals (sparingly) for 15 years. Every studio must own 1, or 3. I highly recommend, especially for the opto setting.

What We Think


The Empirical Labs Distressor is the ultimate swiss army knife compressor. It's got just about all you could ask for out of a single channel compressor. There are a ton of ratio options including a smooth 10:1 optical setting, and the famous "Nuke" setting for an aggressive sound. I love the Nuke setting on a mono drum room tracks. It's also a great setting to use for parallel compression when you want to smash something and blend a little in. Speaking of aggressive, there are three distortion modes you can select from on this unit. These are great for adding character to your tracks if they're a little flat or couild use a push to help stand out in the mix. Another really helpful feature I love is the bell detector. I believe with this engaged, the compressor is focusing and reacting more to the 1k area of your tracks and helps to tame that area. This can be great for things like vocals or guitars that are a little harsh in that area and helps to smooth or even out your tracks. It almost works like a dynamic EQ. The attack and release controls are very flexible and I consider this to be the ultimate tracking compressor. I absolutrely love using this as my first vocal compressor. It's so smooth and in my opinion, a MUST BUY!

Wes DeLoach, Pro Audio Sales

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