Empirical Labs EL-9 Mike-E

Channel Strip with Microphone Preamp and Compressor/Limiter
Empirical Labs EL-9 Mike-E image 1
Empirical Labs EL-9 Mike-E image 1
Sweetwater Savings: $101.00 MSRP: $1,700.00
Special Order
Special-ordered from Empirical Labs and usually arrives to you within 1-2 weeks. Please note: special orders cannot be canceled or returned.
Note: While most of the items we sell ship for free, this item does not qualify for free shipping due to special circumstances.

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Empirical Labs EL-9 Mike-E
Special Order

A mic pre/compressor combo for any situation!

The Mike-E from Empirical Labs manages to do many things very well! First and foremost, it's a modern digitally controlled mic pre. An extremely low-noise transformer on the input amplifier keeps the signal nice, strong, and clean. The next link in Mike-E's signal chain is the CompSat section, which is comprised of a Saturator, Compressor, Emphasis, and Mix control. These four elements come together to provide your tracks with anything from straight-up classic knee compression/limiting to coloring via compression with the Mike-E channel strip.

Empirical Labs Mike-E EL-9 Channel Strip Features:
  • Amazing mic pre
  • Unique compressor section

Amazing mic pre
Mike-E is above all, a fine example of what a great preamp should be, chocked with unusual features to warm and soften the source, along with an excellent compressor/limiter. Mike-E offers incredible performance via the transformer-coupled mic preamp, whose noise floor is far below any microphone's self noise. This super-low-noise transformer input amplifier section boasts gain that is digitally controlled. This section comes standard with a shielded Lundahl transformer, but provides for a Jensen transformer also. The signal to noise far exceeds any microphone in existence, typically over 130 dB with the input shorted and 40dB of gain. Having used many mic preamps over the years, we have implemented a unique stepped gain control that should be impervious to the normal flakiness that age causes to pots and detented switches. Counting the output gain of 14 dB, a total 74 dB of gain is available to the user with the CompSat section bypassed. A 48 Volt Phantom power is provided for condenser mikes.

Unique compressor section
The one-of-a-kind 'CompSat' section is an uncompromising compressor and saturator circuit that offers versatile 'coloring', and classic knee compression. The exclusive CompSat section sets the Mike-E apart from all other mic preamplifiers. It's comprised of four sections:

  • SaturatorThis is a multi-stage soft clipping circuit. At lower levels, a triode type saturation affects the signal. As the level increases, a second unique clip circuit that includes Germanium semiconductors starts to more severely flatten out the peaks. An LED named "BAD!" indicates harder un-musical clipping.
  • Compressor This is an uncompromising compressor/limiter circuit that allows detented control of attack and release for easy repeatability. You adjust the amount of compression with the Drive knob, which adjusts the level going into the compressor. In ways, it is quite Distressor-like, but has other differing characteristics including a much longer available attack time, and additional circuitry. Four ratios are provided, 2:1 being the gentlest with a long 20dB knee, good for subtle compression such as while tracking or on the Bus. Ratios 4:1 and 8:1 are steeper but still very smooth with long knees. Nuke is very steep (limiter like) and has a different attack & release shape.
  • Emphasis The Emphasis is actually two circuits that surround the compressor and saturator. The Pre-emphasis boosts the high frequencies before the compressor and saturator (CompSat), soft clipping them sooner than normal, while a de-emphasis cuts the frequencies complementary after the CompSat. Emphasis has the added perk of improving signal to noise, and is the reason analog tape decks used emphasis to begin with.
  • Mix Control The modern recording engineer often employs the technique of mixing between the compressed and the dry (or uncompressed) signal. This can often help maintain transients and a sense of dynamic range while enhancing the low level nuances. Mike-E has a built in mix control to submix in the uncompressed signal to the compressed signal. As the user rotates the MIX control from full right to full left, he goes from the full compressed signal to the full dry signal (absent of any compression or saturation).
Empirical Labs Mike-E EL-9 Channel Strip at a Glance:
  • Mic Preamplifier with super low noise & stepped gain switching.
  • Built in Direct Box
  • 'Colored' 80Hz High pass filter emulates the warm low-frequency cut of vintage equalizers.
  • Phase Switch to invert the audio signal 180 degrees.
  • CompSat offers both a musical Compressor/Limiter and a unique tape-like saturation circuit
  • Emphasis high-frequency emphasis system softens high-frequency 'pile-ups' and further the color of the Mike-E
  • Mix Control allows the blending of the Compressed/Saturated signal with the clean unprocessed "Dry" signal
  • Frequency Response: 3 Hz to 200 kHz on (No CompSat), 3Hz - 150Khz (w/ CompSat) Optional Transformer output is 6Hz-80kHz.
  • Signal to Noise - 130 dB signal to Noise.at 40dB gain
  • Maximum output is +28dBu
  • Distortion Ranges between .0006% and 15% depending on mode and settings
  • Transformer coupled Input, Active and Transformer Outputs available
  • High quality audio caps used internally
  • Input Impedance is 600 Ohms. Output impedance is less than 38 ohms
  • Attack/Decay Ranges - .9 - 100mS attack. .15 - 1 Sec.
A mic pre/compressor with cool touches that set it apart with Empirical Lab's Mike-E!

What Does "Special Order" Mean?

A special-order product is one that we don't normally keep in stock. We order it from the manufacturer as soon as you order from us. We have great relationships with all the manufacturers we carry, so we can get your special order to you as fast as or faster than anyone else. Remember that special orders are non-returnable and non-cancelable, so make sure the item is right for you. A Sweetwater Sales Engineer can help you decide — call (800) 222-4700 for assistance!

Additional Media

EL-9 Mike-E Cue Sheet
EL-9 Mike-E User Manual
Studio Preamp Buying Guide

Tech Specs

Number of Channels 1
Frequency Response 3Hz-200kHz
Phantom Power Yes
Compressor Yes
Other Processing Compressor, Saturation
Analog Inputs 1 x XLR. 1 x 1/4"
Analog Outputs 1 x XLR, 1 x 1/4"
Rack Spaces 1U
Height 1.75"
Depth 10"
Width 19"
Manufacturer Part Number EL9 MIKE-E

Customer Reviews

Based on 10 reviews
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Stunning on all sources.

I just picked one of these up from a friend who no longer needed it. All I can say is that this thing is magnificent. I reach for this preamp over my Neve 1073dpa, Focusrite ISA Two, UA610, and API 3124+ for vocals and snare drum. I haven't found something it didn't sound great on, but on Vocals it excels! A really beautiful and transparent compressor section, with all that transformer goodness (mine is trannys in and out). The HF Emphasis and CompSat pair so well with my brighter mic's like the U87 and st6050s, but even my darker TLM170 sounds great with this preamp. Come mix time, I send my snare to this bad boy with compsat on nuke and blend wet to dry until I hear what I am always looking for but rarely heard before owning this unit. I might just need another one... or 3...
Music background: Recording Engineer

Killer Preamp!

This was way over my budget but after weeks of research I went for it. All buttons and dials are easily accessible and almost idiot proof :) - Setting the gain is very easy with the option of a 80Hz high pass filter (useful for guitar, vocals etc).- Ratio, attack and release also very easy to set with a nice dry - wet compression dial to blend. Apart from the distressor style compressor which can smash audio and still retain transparency the two things that impressed me most we're;- CompSat - if your looking to fatten up your digital signal and give it some analogue vibe this is your dial- Manual - This is probably the best educational source of recording / compression techniques with detailed explinations I've ever come across in the decade I've been doing this. Google "Mike E Manual" and download it for free, you won't be disappointed!I've used numerous preamps and channel strips and this is still my favourite to date! Excellent purchase.
Music background: Audio Engineer - 10 years

Instant Mojo!

This is my new favorite in the studio. The comp/sat is amazing. The color it imparts on my tracks is great. I love this box on almost anything.
Music background: Recording & Live Engineer


Tons of gain out of the preamp. Its got a very big clean sound, that stays nice and tight. The saturation cicuit is divine, and will fatten up anything you run through it without sounding harsh or too edgy. I love the compressor as well. It can be super transparent, or squash the crap out of whatever you run through it. The cool thing though is that it just never sounds bad! This is definitely a characteristic of the empirical labs products. They cover so much ground so well! A swiss army knife in the studio, and one of my new favorite toys.

Wow - Time to Sell Some Other Gear!

Truly blown away by two things with this product - the audio quality and the ease of use/workflow. First, the workflow - I spend hands down the least time dialing settings and tweaking and the most time actually recording with this unit than any other preamp/compressor combination I have evry owned. The premap is awesome - as transparent as they come, and very very sweet sounding without adding color. The comp section sounds just like the distressor but with a more streamlined workflow with easier settings recall. The HF focus option is very useful, and the saturation circuit is just what the doctor ordered more often than I could have imagined. I own Vintech x73's, API's, LA-610's, Focusrites, and Chandler Germs, and the Mike-E is getting more use right now on acoustic, vocals, and mic'd electrics than all the rest combined, and the DI is spectacular on bass with the comp and sat. I really hate to say it, but the saturation circuit is so musical and useful that I think I'm going to unload my 610's and buy another. The analog warmth is so authentic and controllable that I just can't see myself using the LA-610 instead of this on anything, given the option to use both. This is a game-changer for me - the range of sounds available and the lightning fast workflow to compare different sounds is second to nothing I've ever used.

Sweetwater Advice

Nate Edwards

The Empirical Labs EL-9 Mike-E is a hidden gem. Everybody knows about the Distressor and the Fatso, but this piece is a secret weapon, and every studio needs at least one secret weapon. Its beauty lies in its simplicity and quality. The pristine preamp has tons of gain, and the CompSat section has tons of mojo - and the ability to give a warm gentle squeeze to those sounds that need a little love before hitting your DAW. Great for gently hugging vocals and crushing synths and drums. It has quickly become the busiest workhorse in my studio.
See also: Empirical Labs, Empirical Labs Channel Strips, Empirical Labs Preamps