Empirical Labs Distressor. Is it still relevant?

Empirical Labs Distressor. 

Is it still relevant?



We think YES... and No... 


The Emprical Labs Distressor Comes in two variants. The EL-8 and the EL-8X. Both units have a Balanced XLR input and output, and also an unbalanced Jack Input and Output. They also have stereo link connections to run pairs of the units which are connected via jack sockets on the back, although there is no limit to how many units can be linked - in theory. However, you must avoid long link cables since they will cause noise and degradation of operation. 

The EL8-X has the advantage of being able to selectively apply an aggressive characteristic - not just to the new “British” ratio (1:1) - to any of the ratios, simply by engaging the dedicated “British Mode" switch. With the new “Stereo Image Link” option, the EL8-X now has three link options - the original “phase” link, the new Image Link and the combination of the two, phase and image linking - something never before offered on any compressors or limiters.

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.


1176, LA-2A and many others mixed up in one box!


The Distressor incorporates Dave Derr's favourite 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...

The distressor has 8 unique curves, 1:1, 2:1, 3:1, 4:1, 6:1, 10:1, 20:1 and NUKE. You can add subtle through to crushing compression. 

The Universal Audio Plugin

Universal Audio have "Exactingly" recreated the Distressor with end-to-end circuit emulation which provides the entire circuit path and control set of the original Empirical Labs hardware for UAD and Apollo. It is the only authentic distressor plug-in endorsed by Dave Derr himself. Offering wet / dry parallel processing and Headroom for customising user operating level, and one purchase of the plugin allows for use over many channels. 

Take a listen to the samples below!

Our thoughts


I’m sat here thinking about where I would use a distressor, I mix a lot of Jazz, Blues, and Rock music so I could use the distressor on drums, snare, bass guitar and guitars in fact…. Anything, but when I come to think of it id be running many different settings for each instrument. If I was running one on a drum bus I would also need a stereo pair. I find the clients that I mix for usually want a mix returned as quick as possible so time is of the essence, and if I have a stereo pair of EL8s I would have to print the stems back in with processing then adjust accordingly for the guitars, then the bass and so on. I’d be happy to run a stereo pair, but I would also purchase the plug-in so I could use a faithfully recreated emulation across many different channels and busses (which also makes recall much quicker)

Having said that if I had a nice wedge of cash, I would happily fill a rack up with plenty of the units, and have them set up ready for their specific use, but it is just simply not feasible for me to do this… SADLY!!

On the other side of my thoughts, and the opposite side of mixing I asked Mark where he would use the Empirical Labs Distressor and as it turns out, he wouldn't!

Mark mixes mainly Pop, Dance... well basically everything within the electronic genre. In his words "It's a driven sound that I don't need in my kind of recordings and it doesn't give the vibe I want with the music that I produce. I certainly don't need aggressive types of compression either as they don't suit my mixing style".


The Empirical Labs Distressor really is very popular selling over 28,000 units worldwide which really does speak for its self. 

If you are in two minds about it, I would recommend (if budget allows) investing in a stereo pair of EL-8X giving you a matched pair with the mods. You won't be disappointed. I would also recommend (if you are a Universal Audio user) purchasing the plug-in emulation for easy recall-ability and running multiple instances across many channels.

I have used the distressor for many years and demoed units in studios over the UK, its sonic qualities are amazing! You can compress subtlety or absolutely smash through it with heavy compression and get a sound like no other.

Is it still relevant in the modern-day studio? Well, 50/50... but that is just two peoples opinions and both Mark and myself mix very different styles of musc! It all depends on what you want to achieve but owning one certainly won't do any harm!

THIS PRODUCT IS WIZARD GEAR (so is the UA plug-in)