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Empirical Labs EL8 Distressor Reviews

5.0 stars based on 12 customer reviews
Questions about the Empirical Labs EL8 Distressor?

Questions about the Empirical Labs EL8 Distressor?

Or call us at (800) 222-4700

Sweetwater Advice

  • Mike Arango

    Whether you're shooting for the speed of a VCA, the personality of an FET, the warmth of an opto, or the coloration of a tube compressor, the Distressor never falls short. Add to this the Distressor's unique "Nuke" ratio and programmable 2nd- and 3rd-order harmonics and you have an instant studio classic!

  • Thomas Leahy

    I use my Empirical Labs EL8 Distressor on every type of sound source. It's not just one of the most versatile compressors I've used, it has a unique tone. While the Distressor can be clean, when I drive it, I get some of the most musical sounding distortion possible. Even when I run it at 1:1, it adds a nice fatness to my sound, which also makes it excellent for DI applications.

  • from Dayton, OH March 11, 2013Music Background:

    My fav comp

    I have 2 of these. I pretty much track everything I can through them. They also live on my drum buss when mixing. Can't say enough good things about this unit. www.intheredrecording.com

  • from Birmingham, AL October 5, 2012Music Background:
    Studio Engineer/Singer/Songwriter


    This piece of equipment has become a vital part of my recording process! All of my friends in the Nashville area use this piece for recoding just about everything! If figured that if Nashville is using this then I should be using it! The controll over the vocals that I've been able to record with the Distressor has just been unbelievable!! I can't believe I went all this time without it! I can literally set it and that's it!!

  • from Tulsa, OK February 25, 2012Music Background:
    Recording Engineer / Mixer / Musician

    Hearing is Believing

    This has got to be the most versatile, best sounding, most intelligently built compressor on the market for under $2k. There's nothing like it at this price point, and it is SERIOUSLY worth every penny. After running bass, vocals, acoustic guitar, electric guitar, and room mics through it, I've realized "how did I get by without this before?"

    Not even the best VST compressor I have (and I have tons of em) can compete with ONE pass on this thing. It could take fifteen minutes for me to find compression settings on a VST comp that really grabbed the sound in all the right ways, tightening it up just enough, making it pop and have some attitude. Yeah--takes about 2 minutes with the EL8, AND it sounds better. Sometimes I'd chain multiple VST compressors doing less reduction each to get a smoother sound, to some avail. However, ONE PASS though the Distressor and it all became clear - analog compression truly sounds better. In all ways.

    The distortion modes are fantastic, the Dist3 sounds great on guitars, I love the bandpass detector for acoustic guitars and picked basses and certain snares. It's a monster. I mean, truly a monster. It blows other compressors out of the water that are twice and three times its price. Versatility, quality, and just straight up SOUND. It's my new favorite piece of gear.

  • from Union City, TN July 8, 2011Music Background:
    Traditional Country Singer, Songwriter, Musician, Live Sound and Home Recording Engineer.

    EXCELLENT! Compressor.

    A few months ago I bought a new Distressor and it didn't take long to decide that 1 was not going to be enough. As a Result I just purchased my Second Distressor. I have these paired with a set of Vintech x73i MicPre/Eq's and the sound is nothing short of AMAZING! The Distressor is so easy to use and the Sound is Completely Professional. You can go from Very Smooth to Extremely Hard Compression withing seconds. I can easily understand why every major studio has at least one pair of these units in there racks Turned On and In Use. Highly Recommended!

  • from ky February 3, 2010Music Background:
    Recording/mixing engineer, producer

    Could be my favorite!

    This is a piece of gear that can make you a better engineer. Really hard to make it sound bad, and really easy to make it sound amazing. Love it on snare, gtrs, and drum overheads/rooms. Definitely worth the investment and then some. In fact, get two.

  • from kansas city September 22, 2008Music Background:
    recording engineer

    Crazy Good

    This thing sound good on everything, vocals, drums, guitar. It is definitely worth the price.

  • from Australia August 2, 2008Music Background:
    Recording engineer, hobbyist

    Quite simply insane!

    I was looking for a compressor to add some warmth and punch to my mixes, as the digital realm of audio production could not provide enough of this by itself. After a lot of research I went with the Distressor. I am quite simply blown away by the warmth and fatness of these machines!! As I produce loads of different genres of music, I have found that they shine wherever I apply them! And the fatness! Youll never diet again! Do yourself a favour and get a Distressor, whether its your first or last compressor. The flexibility is amazing, and theres a reason you'll hardly find a professional studio without one today. The Distressor for President '08!

  • from Michigan June 23, 2017Music Background:
    Writer , artist, and home studio engineer

    What a game changer

    Dang this el8 is dope. Just got it yesterday and after a night of running vocals tru it im pretty impressed. I dont ever write a review but for this one i had to. Very versatile compressor. Really good if u cant afford 1176 . And if you had to buy one out board compressor first , this unit is the one. Put it this way, aint no uad compressor plugs come even close and you will hardly use plugins after running anything tru this el8 or any hardware. Thanks Sweetwater, and thanks to my sales rep Ryan Wiltermood....

  • from July 14, 2015Music Background:
    Bass Player and Composer

    Amazing compression for bass!

    I was looking for a new compressor for my home studio and after several research, test and opinion, I decided to get the EL8.
    After few days and test tracking down different type of bass, 4-5 and 6 strings, active and passive, directly in to the EL8 or, after different type of DI or Preamp, I can definitely say that I purchased the right tool.
    If you're looking for a versatile compressor that's the answer, the EL8 in my opinion, can be transparent or can colour a bit your bass, it works well with every thing, if your make the right set for each instrument there is no limits of what this machine can do it.
    Great release time on low strings and his attack on any kind of playing technique is amazing. I love on passive jazz bass, the second detector mode is awesome as the same the first and the second audio mode for some bass lines.
    Another great thing about this tool is that the two outs work both great at the same time, as well for the true bypass even when the machine is off.
    I will use it mainly for bass recording so, highly recommended for it.

  • from NJ April 3, 2007Music Background:
    Studio owner

    Distressor Review

    What's good: The distressor is by far the most versatile compressor on the market. If you're only going to buy 1 high end unit this is your best bet. It really helps add tone and some analog color if your recording straight into a computer. The opto mode gives you that "set it and forget it" feature. You just adjust the reduction to taste and you can't go wrong on guitars, bass and Vocals. The high pass is very useful as opposed to using a side chain just to prevent the low end from getting to boomy when compressing.

    What's average: The harmonic thing adds some color but is no match for a real tape machine. The idea that it emulates other vintage compressors is just not true. The example settings for emulation they list in the manual work well and have similar attributes to the real units however they really don't have the tone or character of the originals.

    Overall a great unit for the price. There's nothing out there for less money that will cover all your needs. It hard to get a bad sound out of this unit, even with extreme gain reduction. There are better compressors that will cost about the same and beat out the distressor for certain applications. The ADL or Manley for opto, the dbx 160 VU, original UA 1176, LA 2a, to name a few.

  • November 1, 2005

    Good for percussion tracks

    I'd have to say I disagree with the review above. The distressor sounds great on drums, yes, but you can have a whole percussion track with kicks, snares, tambs, hats, etc. and the distressor still works great. In fact I consider the main strength of the EL8 is that it morphs a dry, flavorless perc. track into a great one. Ideally you'd need two distressors but with a little more work, you can survive with only one. A top choice and every studio I've ever seen has at least one.

  • from CT October 1, 2004

    Double-Edged Sword

    This is a great compressor for the following reasons: Adjustable harmonic stages and range of compression stages. You can really morph a sound into something else or something usable with these tools. It sounds great on a kick or snare because of the variability of your harmonics. You can get the dynamics to have a "feel" to them opposed to a "sound". Snares and kicks have so much presence and punch after you run it through this box. The negatives? It's pricey to own and sounds horrible when you use it on more than a few things in a mix. Tracking with it is a godsend, but mixing with it is deceiving. It is tempting to use it on a lot of tracks because it really helps you feel the music, but it completely destroys all dynamic coherence of your mix. There certainly IS too much of a good thing here. However, I wouldn't blame it so much on the box as I would the mixer, but still, you should know that if you have one, it's only going to sit on one or two tracks and NOT be a workhorse. THIS IS NOT THE SHURE SM57 of compressors...more like a mint condition, completely restored Model T of dynamics-- using it has a time and place, and it is not your daily driver.

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