Empirical Labs Distressor EL8X

Empirical Labs Distressor EL8X

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Distressor EL8X, Studio compressor from Empirical Labs.

6 user reviews
Prices starting at $1,669 Average price: $2,464

Empirical Labs Distressor EL8X tech. sheet

  • Manufacturer: Empirical Labs
  • Model: Distressor EL8X
  • Category: Studio compressors
  • Added in our database on: 01/26/2009

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Buy new Empirical Labs Distressor EL8X

Amazon Empirical Labs EL8X Distressor with British Mod and Image Link $1,669
Sweetwater EL8X Distressor with British Mod and Image Link $1,669
Amazon Empirical Labs EL8X-S Distressor with British Mode and Image Link - Stereo Pair $3,259
Sweetwater EL8X-S Distressor with British Mode and Image Link - Stereo Pair $3,259

Empirical Labs Distressor EL8X user reviews

Average Score:4.8( 4.8/5 based on 6 reviews )
 5 reviews83 %
 1 user review17 %

briank's review"A masterpiece"

Empirical Labs Distressor EL8X
The Distressor EL-8X is a digitally controlled analog compressor. The stereo Distressor model ships as two matched Distressor units along with a short pair of good quality stereo link cables intended to connected between the two units' Stereo Link TRS connections on the rear panel. Additional connections are parallel 1/4" TRS and XLR balanced input and output connections. The power cord connection is a detachable IEC socket and of course standard power cords are included. The Distressors also come with a short yet helpful manual which, in addition to covering utilization basics, also has suggested settings and "pet tricks." The fun, laid back style of writing makes the manual enjoyable to read and indeed, I keep a manual on my rack for occasional reference even though I've had my Distressors for years and am very comfortable with their operation and characteristics. Of note, the "X" and stereo designations in the model number indicate the presence of the Brit Mode and Stereo Link features which are optional on the basic, mono versions of the Distressor. The Distressor also has a very nice color coded 20-segment LED bargraph for gain reduction, and does not have any input or output level metering. You also get true Bypass selectable with a pushbutton switch on the front panel.


Empirical Labs lay their equipment out similarly across their model range, but differently from other gear manufacturers. If you've used other EL gear, the Distressor's front panel layout should be familiar if you haven't, you'll want to spend some time getting the hang of how they do things. Scrolling through the compression ratios (1:1, 2:1, 3:1, 4:1, 6:1, 10:1, 20:1) are familiar territory for anyone who's used a compressor before. In 1:1, you use this unit for its filters rather than compression. There is also a special "Nuke" ratio which creates an extremely aggressive, heavy, radical compression characteristic that works especially well for super-compressed room mics. Another area where EL differs is in their Input, Output, Attack and Release knobs. The I/O do not have your typical markings referenced to dB levels (there is not 0dB unity marking, for example), but I think this is good because if forces you to listen to what you're doing. Of course you can reference your I/O levels to any metering you might have on your signal source or destination as well, which, again, is just as well since those are really the important reference levels. Likewise, the attack and ratio knobs do not have the usual markings in seconds and milliseconds, but instead arbitrary numbering from 0 to 10.5 as with the I/Os, which, again, happily force you to set the units by ear rather than sight. I love that the knobs are large and easy to read, with hash marks that make it easy to recall settings as tight as half a tenth of a point. You use the input knob to drive the compressor. The more you crank the input knob, the harder you're compressing and the more gain reduction you're going to get.

One catch when operating a pair of Stereo Linked Distressors is that it's the compression that gets linked--one unit's compression settings will slave to the other, but you must still take care to set the ins and outs just the same to avoid shifting the stereo image. I'm sure EL did this to make linked operation more flexible, but for the sake of efficiency I would have liked perhaps a toggle switch to allow the I/O's to get linked along with the comp circuits, especially since there is no 0dB unity reference marking on those big ol' knobs. Let's be honest, if you're stereo linking compressors, you probably want to retain a stable stereo image along with the compression characteristics!

In addition to the excellent compression facilities, the Distressors have two great filter banks: Detector and Audio. The Detector filters are an adaptive high pass filter which really cleverly follows the signal characteristics and works brilliantly with heavy compression where you don't want the signal's low freqs to get too weird or pumpy; also in this bank is a band emphasis setting that can help smooth over the upper mids so they don't get too shrill as you compress more aggressively, and finally, there is a "Link" mode which, along with the Stereo Link toggle switch, links two Distressors together. The other filter bank, Audio, features a different high pass filter which functions like any other HPF like you'd find on a mic or preamp, with a rollof frequency of 80hz. Then you have two Distortion filters: Dist2, which adds second order harmonics to the signal, which can help digital signal sources sound a bit more like they're passing through analog tape or classic transformer gear and is more or less a very subtle, general purpose filter; Dist3 takes things a bit further with more aggressive third order harmonics which can add a little "hair" to your signal. It's especially handy for rock bass sounds. Common to both filter banks is the ability to select between one filter, or to stack multiple filters on each other, so for example you could have the Detector HPF and band emphasis working together to keep weird modulations out of a heavily compressed signal, of you could have the Audio HPF and Distortion modes working together so that you're not adding too much THD under 80hz.

The last feature to discuss on the EL-8X model is the special "Brit Mode," selectable by a toggle switch on the front panel. This setting is intended to evoke and extremely fast, aggressive compression characteristic similar to the classic 1176 "all buttons in" trick. The Brit mode is, in my opinion, of limited use. I've used it a couple of times on rock bass for a certain, super-quick "clamp down and let go" type of characteristic, but this is the one feature on the Distressor that I could take or leave. I really like having it as an option on the pallet, but I try it a lot more than I end up using it. This feature can be used along with any ratio you want, but even in 1:1 when you're letting it do its own thing, it's still very aggressive, and if you're wanting the "all buttons in" emulation, you'll want to keep attack and release settings under 4 on the dial. That said, you can get a clearer sound and less aggressive clamp-down by keeping the attack higher than that and not hitting the compressor so hard with the input.


Well, let me say that I normally don't believe in "perfection" when reviewing a piece of audio equipment, I mean, there's ALWAYS going to be something that leaves a tiny scrap to be desired with any gear, and generally speaking, the best I ever believe in rating some aspect of a piece of gear I'm criticizing is a 9--to me, that's just about as good as it gets...but the Distressor is the exception and I want you to know that I don't take my rating of a "10" here lightly. The fact is, what EL really knocked out of the park with the Distressor is just how incredibly MUSICAL this freakin' thing is, practically regardless of how you set it. Once you get the hang of how the compressor and filters handle, you really can't go wrong with this unit in terms of sonics. While a given setting may be the right one for a given source, hence all the ratios and filter options, it's almost impossible to make a signal completely unlistenable with the Distressor. This is what makes these units truly general purpose, and indeed, I have yet to encounter any signal source that the Distressor simply couldn't flatter! It's really that good. You can SLAM a signal in nuke mode right off the meter, we're talking past 20dB of reduction with a super thick, brutal, massively hairy, pumpy, breathy sound, and if it's the right setting for the source, it will STILL SOUND AWESOME. If all your source needs is a tender little kiss in 2:1 with a dB or two of reduction tops, say maybe on a vocal with a pretty good dynamic range but you just want to smooth it out and get it a little silkier, that will sound wonderful as well--and really anything in between. If you want a classic DBX-ish sounding comp characteristic, try 6:1, this is a great ratio for snare drums and sometimes vocals or bass. If you want a good, smooth characteristic that can still push things forward a little, 4:1 is a good one. 20:1 is my least-used setting, mainly because I don't use full-on limiting all that terribly much, but of course you can still get a good sound with it, something that takes 10:1 up a notch or two but doesn't have Nuke's maniacal, over-the-top insanity.

My favorite setting bar none, and my most common go-to setting for just about anything from vocals to bass to guitars to percussion to kicks or snares or even drum overheads would have to be 10:1 "opto mode" which is a relative emulation of the classic opto compressors such as the venerable LA-2A. What you do is set the ratio to 10:1, attack all the way up, release all the way down, and you get this special circuit. Keep the input lower and you can a really nice, clear sound that clamps down late to just keep the signal in check, but if you want, you can crank the input just about as far as you want and the characteristic gets more aggressive, more in your face, more muscular--you can take the gain reduction meter into the yellow or red, and doggoneit if the thing doesn't just stay so completely musical sounding.

I'm sorry to gush here, if you've read my other reviews then you know I like to stay pretty balanced and critical even on gear that I really like because, as I say, you can suss out the pro's and con's of anything no matter how good, but the Distressor sonic abilities really are a 10 out of 10 in my book. Hey, there's a first time for everything!


There's really nothing I'd change about the top of the line, fully optioned Distressor EL-8X save maybe for a switch that allows slaving of the I/Os in Stereo Link mode as mentioned above. That's really it. Everything else about the Distressors is just as I like it and I never go wanting otherwise. My Distressors get used literally on just about every session I do. If there's only one thing I'm compressing, it's probably through a Distressor. Also currently at my disposal are the Empirical Labs Fatso Jr (a different animal completely) as well as classic compressors from DBX, Altec and JoeMeek, FMR Audio RNCs, and more, the Distressors are bar none the kind of my racks. If I had a rack full of Distressor and nothing else, I'd a) be a happy camper and b) not be wanting for compression characteristics, thanks to the huge variety of sounds that can be attained by all the compression options and filters available. This is my desert island compressor without question, bar none my favorite compressor for tracking with comp on the way in, and hugely versatile come mix time (in fact, I routinely serial compress a given signal with Distressor on the way in, then a little more on the mix perhaps in a difference setting, say 2:1 or 3:1 kisses on one round, then 10:1 opto on the other). It's a jack of all trades, master of many compressor, certainly worth every penny, and comes with my highest recommendation.

moosers's review

Empirical Labs Distressor EL8X
The Empirical Labs Distressor EL8-X is a hardware single channel compressor. I believe that it is analog and has nice LED metering that makes your signal easy to follow. It has XLR inputs and outputs and it is a rackable unit.


The configuration of the unit is somewhat easy to follow. It is pretty straightforward and easy to get a nice sound out of it. The Distressor seems to have a distinct sound to it. While it isn't the most versatile compressor in terms of different sounds you can get, it does work well in a few different situations. It isn't too hard to figure out what everything does on this unit and while I haven't seen the manual, one should be able to figure this unit out somewhat easily.


The compression produced from this unit is clean and it definitley has its own sound to it. I have used it on guitars, bass guitar, back up vocals and drums. Of these applications I would say it probably sounds best on drums to me. My favorite thing about this compressor is that it is hard to get the same kind of compression from anywhere else. It has become treasured by engineers because of this unique tone and works in a number of different situations.


I've been using the Empirical Labs Distressor EL8-X for about three years and I have grown quite fond of these when trying to mix. I always hope to have a few of these on hand as I like to use them on a few different things at once - sometimes on both kick drum and snare drum and bass guitar. These are very reasonably priced and for such a high end compressor. The Distressor has made a name for itself in the industry as one of the go to compressors in modern recording.

JackLudden's review

Empirical Labs Distressor EL8X
This unit is a fantastic analog outboard compressor. It has very editable controls, so you can easily customize your compression to the source material. There are standard 1/4" connections for bringing your dual mono or stereo audio in and out. It is rackable, and takes up two units of rackspace.


The configuration is simple on the surface, but you really kind of have to use this for a while to get a sense of what it's doing. This compressor has a very unique sound to it. Editing the way the compression works is easy, but it is quite versatile so some sessions of careful listening to see how the sound changes is advised. The manual is fair - it will get you up and running but you definitely will want to learn by trial and error the best way to use this piece of equipment.


The compression this unit provides is really good. It does an amazing job at bringing individual tracks or your whole mix to life. It makes them so uniquely fat and punchy, it's like nothing else. You really have to hear it in action to get a sense of the improvement you will get on any source that needs compression - and even on sources that you wouldn't normally think should be compressed. It really is almost a secret weapon for improving sound. That said - this is when it is used properly. If you don't take the time to learn the nuances of it, it can wreck your tracks as well. I've used it on almost anything - from vocals to bass to guitar, to whole mixes, drums, and everything in between. It very rarely disappointed sonically.


I have been using this for about 6 months. The thing I like most about it is the fantastic job it can do of bringing a really unique, great sounding punch and fatness to almost any source. It is a bit hard to get the hang of at first however, so you need to put a little time into getting to work it right. I have used a variety of compressors, and this one is definitely one of my favorites. At the price it's going for now, it's a steal. Definitely a great value. I would absolutely buy it again if something happened to my current one.

blackle's review (This content has been automatically translated from French)"DissSSstressSSiisSuussor ..."

Empirical Labs Distressor EL8X
It is basically a compressor and a limiter .. this is true .. but it is also and above all a distortion generator able to dynamically add and intelligent * odd and even harmonics.
The bike is pro, there's no doubt. Heavy. Well built. The connection is XLR inputs and outputs, and doubled in jack.


This device is a convenience copy job. Everything falls readily to hand. The eight large wheels: "Input", "Attack", "Release" and "Output" which respectively control inputs, time attacks, the release time and the outputs are very pleasant to use. Keys sequentially engaging additional and complementary to the eight knobs functions are indicated by LEDs. What is strictly required on the Distressor.
To report the commissioning of each option, an LED color choice with information on the different colors. It is simple and effective.
For reporting the gain reduction scales are dilated enough to be able to work accurately.

It is also possible, for example, in addition to generating distortion, to insert in the control loops VAC, by suitable "Detector", more or less serious medium key and without the addition of an external bike. The obvious benefit is to make more or less sensitive to a frequency band Distressor, avoiding, for example, triggered by a kick every time the bat pumping ..


Once will not hurt I'll start this chapter with a warning: The Distressor is capable of generating harmonics in large numbers on the higher frequencies. So absolute distrust if you happen to insert the beast in a digital audio chain of second order .. some digital converter input range do not like, but then do not like it at all, and can get literally saturate without warning .. you have been warned ..

To return to the subject, basic compression mode, the Distressor delivers what happens what we used to call "a good big his own." The sound is never packed or crushed, even when the gain reduction is highly solicited. It sounds well and quickly. At this point, on some sources, it makes me think inevitably these illustrious colleagues well appointed dbx 160 L and Amek 9098 CL .. just that .. obviously being understood that however lacks their power settings ..

When different functions disSstorsSsion are started there, the sounds obtained are quite another. One likes or dislikes. The Distressor turns into a compreSsSuSSiSSeur that compresses as well but "distorssionne" (I promise I will not do it again) so the signal that all applications are already found. For example on a simple voice thickens it with uncommon strength signal. As against the side of the coin is that it is often difficult to get the treaty in a mix become difficult by the growth of some sources to manage the complex harmonic content (bowed string or brass for example) signal.

On sources other than voice, it is also capable of transfiguring such a simple battery and "multiply" the drums .. make a simple little tambourine "big and dirty." It is also possible to destroy its simple and effective way by the deliberate addition of the sum of moultes small defects, which are the essence of Distressor, and put together, form the sound characteristics of the compressor. .

I've never had a real opportunity to compare directly and in situ several colors for some compressors highly tubes, but I'm pretty sure the noise footprint is still less colorful and perhaps less recognizable. on the other hand there is no doubt that many will Distressor perennial high rates of compression, since there or tube collapses, the VCA is doing irreparable better anyway ..


Do not expect me to praise excessively machine. After all, other people will no doubt in my place .. the huge fault this bike is making his forte. Namely its extreme versatility and creativity pair off .. and finally, unfortunately, many users are / will be more qu'abusive and mindless use.

* Those who have never heard of too SssSSiflantes highlighted in a mix up their hands. Those who have never heard cymbals sharp as razor blades also raise their hands. Users of this Distressor generally have the tendency to want to put anywhere, but this is the perverse effect of the Distressor. The ear gets used as a palace and force-fed by an oriental pastry, request more candy to finish inevitably sickened and find all other compressors bland or worse irrelevant.

Given this, I really like the Distressor. As stated above it is versatile, easy to use if not always easy to place in a mix. It is also complete and very excellent point of view audio. It can evolve and turn around or transform a discrete signal in seconds. Just know that with him it will be essential to learn to master, otherwise some severe disappointments ..

Empirical Labs Distressor EL8X news

Christmas comes early at JST

Christmas comes early at JST

Published on 11/10/15
Joey Sturgis Tones organizes a special Christmas giveaway.

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Other names: distressorel8x, distressor el 8x, distressor el8 x, distressorel8 x, distressor mono el8 x, distressormonoel8 x, distressormonoel8x, distressor mono el 8 x, distressor mono el8x

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