Review: Empirical Labs Distressor, Upgraded

I reviewed Empirical Labs EL8 Distressor in Pro Audio Review back in October 1998 (p. 36). The company's release of two new modifications for one of its strongest recent products promises great new adventures in recording.
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I reviewed Empirical Labs EL8 Distressor in Pro Audio Review back in October 1998 (p. 36). The company's release of two new modifications for one of its strongest recent products promises great new adventures in recording.

I had both modifications installed on two of my Distressors shortly after discovering them at AES '99 last fall. Now, after several months of use, I'm ready to discuss my results.

Features

The Stereo Image Link and British Mode modifications can be purchased separately or together. ($100 for one mod per Distressor; $175 for both mods on one unit.) The only cosmetic changes accompanying the modifications are a small switch and an LED on the front panel for each mod.

A frequent (but usually the only) complaint about the original Distressor had to do with the stereo link operation. The original link used a summing and phase detection method for stereo linking. This failed to completely lock the linked channels.

Image shifting was the result and, while this is not prohibitive to some stereo sources, it is often undesirable and can make stereo bus compression impossible. The Stereo Image Link modification changes all of this by completely locking the two channels.

When using the Stereo Image Link, attack, release and ratio can be set differently on each Distressor and the linked units will still compress identically. Finally, the number of Distressors that can be linked together is unlimited - but it is important to avoid long cables for linking purposes, as they will cause noise and degradation of operation.

Although lack of adaptability has never been a complaint of Distressor connoisseurs, the British Mode modification adds even more versatility to an already flexible machine. The concept for the British Mode comes from the sound of the Urei LN1176 with all four ratio buttons pressed. This very aggressive sound, with elements of the 20:1 ratio - with an unusual knee and a new envelope shape - has become known as the British sound. The Distressor has the ability to apply this aggressive tone to any of the ratio settings by simply flipping a switch.

In use/Summary

I have had excellent results with both mods. Having the ability to link two Distressors with no image shift is wonderful, and there is no limit to the number of units that can be linked. Five Distressors may be the perfect solution to surround-sound compression.

The British Mode opens a whole new realm of sonic personalities for the Distressor. Every time I record through it, I listen to the British Mode. It is almost like having an entirely new compressor. It gives the box a new sonic character that was not possible without the British Mode.

Empirical Labs' new modifications resolve a common complaint and create an entirely new realm of sonic possibilities with the Distressor.

Contact Empirical Labs at 973-728-2425.