Empirical Labs EL8X Distressor with British Mod and Image Link

Single-channel Analog Distressor with Harmonic Distortion, 8 unique curves, and sidechain EQ
Empirical Labs EL8X Distressor with British Mod and Image Link image 1
Empirical Labs EL8X Distressor with British Mod and Image Link image 1
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Empirical Labs EL8X Distressor with British Mod and Image Link
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A Great-sounding Distressor with a Tough British Side!

The Empirical Labs Distressor EL-8XM single-channel analog compressor adds some distinctive British flavor to an already outstanding unit! The EL-8XM provides the aggressive "all buttons in" characteristics obtained from the classic LN1176, courtesy of an onboard British Mode switch. While the Distressor can function very smoothly and transparently, the addition of the British Mode allows it to take on a very "un-subtle" character, giving you the best of two compressors in one! If you want the functionality of a Distressor plus aggressive "British" vibe, choose the EL-8XM!

Empirical Labs Distressor EL-8XM Single-channel Analog Compressor with British Mode at a Glance:
  • "All buttons in" setting
  • As aggressive as you want it to be
  • Using the British Mode
  • The Distressor

"All buttons in"
The original concept of the "British Mode" came from an unusual setting on the classic UREI LN1176 limiter. The unit was designed to have only four ratios, each ratio being engaged by selecting one of four buttons. However, as early as 1980 (or before), renegade recording engineers, always on the lookout for something a little more "over the top", found that you could make all four buttons stay "in" if you pressed them just right. What resulted was a very, very aggressive sound that had some elements of the units 20:1 ratio, but with an unusual knee and new envelope shape. Somewhere along the line, someone called it a "British Mode" and the name has stuck. It is also called "all buttons in" and some other intuitive names.

As aggressive as you want it to be
The Distressor has the advantage of being able to apply this "aggressive" nature not only to the new British ratio (1:1) but also to all the ratios since a separate switch is installed, which can be enabled with any ratio. One should keep in mind however, that an attack below 3 or 4 is required to maintain the LN1176 character. If you go above an attack of 3 you will also incur a rise in some grunge (distortion) and see the THD indicator lites come on a lot more. The Distressor will no longer behave smoothly, nor like an 1176.

Using the British Mode
Put the unit in the 1:1 ratio and turn on the British Mode Switch (flip it up and the LED should be lit). That enables it. To sound like the 1176 the only constraint is to keep the attack well under 4 on the Distressors - their attack can go much longer than the 1176. Now you will find that the unit has a new attitude! The attack and release will generally be more aggressive and the unit will get in and out of the way very quickly. Interestingly, the unit will be slightly less colored when not compressing. Use this ratio to "skim" peaks. This means that most of the time it may not be doing anything, but when it does "hit" the signal, it will smoothly push back the signal and then get right out of the way again. If you are hitting the Gain Reduction all the time with the British mode on, you are going to be really "squashing" the signal. On the other hand, the Distressor will sound fairly subtle when compressing all the time in 2:1 mode, especially with a slower attack (>6).

The Distressor
The Emprical Labs Distressor is a unique analog compressor that allows the user to add 2nd or 3rd order harmonic distortion to the signal, emulating tape saturation and the classic tube compressor sound of the '60's and '70's. The Distressor also offers advanced sidechain EQ, eight unique curves and Empirical Labs' exclusive "Binary Stepped Interface" providing hundreds of options with just a few control settings.

Empirical Labs Distressor EL-8XM Single-channel Analog Compressor with British Mode Features:
  • "All buttons in" British Mode switch with LED
  • Frequency response: 2Hz to 160kHz 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.
  • 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: 20K ohms
  • Output impedance: < 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
  • Dimensions: 1.75" H x 10" D x 19" W
The Empirical Labs Distressor EL-8XM gives you smooth Distressor performance, plus aggressive British vibe at the flip of a switch!

Additional Media

EL8 Distressor Cue Sheet
EL8 Distressor User Manual
Signal Processing Buying Guide

Tech Specs

Number of Channels 1
Controls Ratio (Button), Input, Attack, Release, Output
Ratio 1:1 to 20:1 (And "Nuke")
Frequency Response 2Hz-160kHz (-3 dB)
Inputs 1 x XLR, 1 x 1/4", 1 x 1/4" (Stereo Link)
Outputs 1 x XLR, 1 x 1/4", 1 x 1/4" (Stereo Link)
Rack Spaces 1U
Height 1.75"
Depth 10"
Width 19"
Weight 12.1 lbs. (Shipping Weight)
Manufacturer Part Number EL8X

Customer Reviews

Based on 8 reviews
Write your review

Makes me want to buy another one

Let's see. I'm a home recorder with big dreams and/or more likely a perfectionist. I do believe gear really can inspire though. Anyway, I've tried a lot of different stuff over the years including an 1176LN, Retro Powerstrip, Retro Sta-Level, FMR PCB, and others. I always wanted to try a Distressor, and finally got the opportunity to get one. It's one of those rare things that actually live up to the hype. It's so flexible/hard to get "wrong". I wish I'd gotten two, one for my 1176 ish sound, and another for the opto sound to follow it, or stereo when the time calls. I love my Sta-Level, but it's kind've a 1-trick poney. The beauty of the Distressor is that it will do whatever you need and sound how your ears imagine it should, in the process.

Wish I Bought 2

As the title states I can't wait to buy the 2nd unit for the studio.. I already have the rack space dedicated. One of the most versatile compressors out there. Must have for snares, great on bass, & if you're doing EDM or any Electronica you need this!!
Music background: Producers/Engineers/Musicians

Absolute perfection

I currently only own one of these but I can say that it's my main vocal compressor. The brit mode adds that perfect "IT" factor to vocals. I love the efficiency of this unit and the ratio button on the front of the box. It makes it easy to dial in a basic range when you're in a hurry and more interested in capturing the magic than over engineering. Instant tone in a box and brings everything that you run through it to the next level. Get one for sure and get two if you have the money. You won't regret it.
Music background: lots of recording and touring. Current studio owner

Buy one, two or maybe three!

This is not a one trick pony! Great piece!
Music background: Recording Engineer

The Studio I Go To Just Recorded a engineered a Platinum Hit, and used this.

I'm an intern and client at a studio in Hartford, CT . I always sit in live on sessions and see the engineer turn these knobs and just make the signal a amazing in a matter seconds ... If you know how to use these they can be a valuable asset to any professional / home studio..
Music background: Recording Engineer, Hip-Hop Artist , Producer

Sweetwater Advice

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.
See also: Compressors, Empirical Labs, Empirical Labs Compressors / Limiters, Empirical Labs Compressors / Limiters