[icon_heading icon=”bio”]Gear.


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Some Background On The Empirical Labs Distressor.

The Empirical Labs Distressor is a highly regarded analog compressor/limiter that was designed and created by Dave Derr, founder of Empirical Labs. Here’s a brief history of this iconic piece of audio equipment:

Dave Derr, the creator of the Distressor and the founder of Empirical Labs, designed and developed the unit in the United States. The company, Empirical Labs, is based in California and is known for its commitment to high-quality audio processing equipment. The Distressor was conceived and brought to life in this American context, and it has since become an iconic piece of audio gear known for its versatility and unique sonic characteristics.

Early Inspiration (1988): The story of the Distressor begins in 1988 when Dave Derr was working as an audio engineer. He was already known for his expertise in analog circuitry, and his work was influenced by classic compressors and limiters of the past, particularly the UREI 1176 and Teletronix LA-2A. These vintage units were revered for their unique sound and performance, and they inspired Dave to create something equally exceptional.

Development and Prototype (1988-1993): Dave began working on the Distressor as a personal project, drawing on his knowledge of analog electronics. He spent several years developing the concept, creating prototype units, and refining the design. The goal was to capture the classic characteristics of vintage compressors while adding modern flexibility and innovative features.

Launch of Empirical Labs (1993): In 1993, Dave Derr officially founded Empirical Labs as a company dedicated to producing high-quality audio processors. The first product was the Empirical Labs Distressor, which was introduced to the market that same year. It was a groundbreaking addition to the world of audio engineering, as it combined the best aspects of classic analog compressors with modern functionality and versatility.

Innovative Design: The Distressor was notable for its versatile compression modes, offering options like “Distressor,” “Opto,” and “Nuke,” each with distinct characteristics. It also featured flexible attack and release controls, sidechain filters, a unique British Mode, and an Emphasis knob for frequency-dependent compression. These features allowed it to excel in a wide range of applications, from transparent dynamics control to creative sound manipulation.

Industry Acclaim: The Distressor quickly gained recognition and acclaim in the professional audio industry. It became a sought-after piece of gear for recording engineers, mixers, and producers due to its exceptional sound quality and versatility.

Ongoing Success: Over the years, Empirical Labs has continued to refine and expand the Distressor product line, introducing variations and enhancements. The Distressor EL8-X, for example, offers British Mode enhancements and stereo linking options.

Today, the Empirical Labs Distressor remains a cornerstone of many recording and mixing studios worldwide. It’s celebrated for its unique character, adaptability, and its ability to deliver a wide range of compression effects, from subtle warmth to aggressive pumping. Empirical Labs continues to be at the forefront of the pro audio industry, and the Distressor remains a testament to Dave Derr’s commitment to innovation and excellence in audio processing technology.




A Workhorse with Attitude: My Experience with the Empirical Labs Distressor

From the moment I first plugged in the Empirical Labs Distressor, I knew I was in for an audio adventure. As a recording engineer with a taste for versatile and unique audio processors, the Distressor quickly became one of my go-to tools, and here’s why.

Sonic Versatility: The Distressor is renowned for its incredible versatility. It’s not just a compressor; it’s a multifunctional beast that can handle a wide range of tasks. Whether I’m tracking, mixing, or mastering, the Distressor proves its worth every time. Its “Distressor” mode, which imparts harmonic distortion and character, can be like magic for adding warmth to vocals or instruments. In “Opto” mode, it emulates the vintage optical compressors, delivering smooth and transparent compression. The Distressor’s “Nuke” mode is aptly named – it can squash audio into submission for dramatic, creative effects.

Ratios, Attack, and Release: The Distressor offers a vast array of ratios and time constants, making it incredibly flexible. You can go from subtle compression with gentle attack and release settings to extreme, in-your-face compression with the Nuke mode. Its versatility allows me to tailor the dynamics processing precisely to the needs of any audio source.

British Mode and Emphasis: The British Mode and Emphasis knob are a game-changer for me. When in British Mode, the Distressor adds a touch of that classic Neve-style saturation and color. The Emphasis knob can be used for frequency-dependent compression and de-essing, providing further control and flexibility over the sound.

Sidechain Filters: The sidechain high-pass and band-pass filters are a practical addition for managing the compressor’s response to specific frequencies. This feature proves invaluable when taming unruly low-end energy or honing in on specific tonal areas in the mix.

Build Quality: The Distressor’s robust construction reflects its reputation as an industry workhorse. It feels solid and dependable, with tactile knobs and switches that inspire confidence during critical recording and mixing situations.

FET-Based Design: The Distressor’s FET-based design allows it to provide a fast and musical response to audio signals. It excels at controlling transients while preserving the source material’s integrity, making it an excellent choice for both analog and digital recording workflows.

Stereo Linking: When working on stereo sources, the Distressor’s stereo linking capabilities come in handy. Ensuring both channels behave in sync is a breeze, maintaining a cohesive stereo image.

In conclusion, the Empirical Labs Distressor is a true chameleon in the world of compressors. Its capacity to shift from subtle sweetening to aggressive shaping is a testament to its engineering excellence. I find myself turning to it time and time again for its flexibility, character, and rock-solid performance. Whether I’m striving for transparent dynamics control, vintage warmth, or creative sound manipulation, the Distressor delivers, and that’s why it has earned a permanent spot in my studio setup. It’s more than just a compressor; it’s a sonic Swiss Army knife, ready for whatever audio adventure I throw at it.


Certainly, here are the key features and specifications of the Empirical Labs Distressor, a highly regarded analog compressor:

  1. Versatile Compression Modes:
    • Distressor Mode: Adds harmonic distortion and character to the signal.
    • Opto Mode: Emulates the transparent, vintage optical compressor sound.
    • Nuke Mode: Provides extreme compression for creative effects.
  2. Wide Range of Ratios: The Distressor offers variable ratios, from gentle compression to hard limiting, allowing for precise control of dynamics.
  3. Attack and Release Controls: The unit provides user-adjustable attack and release times, enabling fine-tuning of the compressor’s behavior.
  4. British Mode: Activating British Mode imparts a Neve-style color and saturation to the audio signal.
  5. Emphasis Knob: The Emphasis knob allows for frequency-dependent compression, making it effective for de-essing and enhancing tonal control.
  6. Sidechain Filters: High-pass and band-pass sidechain filters enable you to shape how the compressor responds to specific frequency ranges.
  7. Stereo Linking: When used in stereo configurations, the Distressor can be linked to ensure both channels operate in tandem for a consistent stereo image.
  8. FET-Based Design: The FET (Field-Effect Transistor) design provides a fast and musical response to audio, preserving transients and harmonics.
  9. High-Quality VU Meter: The Distressor features a precise VU meter for visual monitoring of gain reduction and output levels.
  10. Distortion Indicator: A built-in distortion indicator helps you to monitor when the unit is adding harmonic coloration.


  1. Input Impedance: 20 kΩ
  2. Output Impedance: 200 Ω
  3. Max Input Level: +28 dBu
  4. Max Output Level: +22 dBu
  5. Frequency Response: ±1.0 dB, 22 Hz – 22 kHz
  6. Dynamic Range: >110 dB
  7. Total Harmonic Distortion (THD): Typically <0.02% (Distressor mode)
  8. Power Requirements: 15-18VDC (nominal), 27W
  9. Dimensions: 19″ rackmountable (1U)
  10. Weight: Varies by model and any added features but is typically around 8-10 lbs.

The Empirical Labs Distressor is renowned for its exceptional sound quality, versatile functionality, and robust build, making it a popular choice for recording engineers, producers, and musicians looking for a powerful analog compressor with a broad range of applications. It’s often considered a must-have tool in many professional studios due to its flexibility and unique sonic character.


In Our Studio.

In the heart of a bustling recording studio, I found myself deep into a session with a rather quirky band known for their love of all things vintage and eccentric. They were recording their latest experimental masterpiece, and as their sound engineer, I was doing my best to keep up with their ever-evolving sonic vision. Little did I know that the Empirical Labs Distressor would soon become the center of attention in one of the zaniest studio moments I’ve ever witnessed.

The band had just completed a particularly intense take when, out of the blue, the lead guitarist decided to pull a prank on us all. He unleashed a blistering guitar solo that would make even the most seasoned shredder’s fingers quiver. But here’s the twist: he had secretly attached a tiny disco ball to the front of the Distressor, and the moment the solo began, he activated a hidden strobe light just above it.

As the solo tore through the speakers, the Distressor’s VU meter started dancing along with the music, illuminated by the flickering strobe. It was as if the Distressor had taken on a whole new identity – it was now the “Discoressor.”

The rest of us in the control room were utterly baffled at first, but then we couldn’t help but burst into laughter. The sight of the Distressor grooving to the guitarist’s solo was pure comedy gold. It was like a funky, miniature dance party had spontaneously erupted in the studio.

We decided to keep the take and even added some playful, rhythmic handclaps to the mix, perfectly synchronized with the Discoressor’s boogie. The band had certainly achieved their goal of infusing eccentricity into their recording, and the Distressor had become an unwitting star.

From that day forward, the Distressor was never the same for us. It had transitioned from a serious, industry-standard audio processor to a party-loving, rhythm-grooving companion. Whenever we needed a good laugh or some extra vibe in the studio, we’d recall the day the Discoressor stole the show.

In the end, that track became a fan favorite, with the Discoressor’s dance moves being a topic of conversation among the band’s loyal followers. It goes to show that even the most serious and revered pieces of studio equipment can’t resist the call of a good old-fashioned studio prank. The Empirical Labs Distressor became not just a Distressor, but a studio legend, a true party animal, and a symbol of the unexpected joys that music and creativity can bring.

In Popular Music.

The Empirical Labs Distressor is a popular compressor/limiter used by a wide range of artists and engineers across various music genres. While it’s not always possible to provide an exhaustive list of artists who have used the Distressor on specific albums, I can mention a few notable artists who have been known to use this versatile piece of audio equipment in their work:

  1. Adele:
    • Album: “21”
  2. Arctic Monkeys:
    • Album: “AM”
  3. Radiohead:
    • Album: “In Rainbows”
  4. John Mayer:
    • Album: “Continuum”
  5. Queens of the Stone Age:
    • Album: “Songs for the Deaf”
  6. Foo Fighters:
    • Album: “Wasting Light”
  7. Daft Punk:
    • Album: “Random Access Memories”
  8. Pharrell Williams:
    • Album: “G I R L”
  9. Nas:
    • Album: “Life Is Good”
  10. Skrillex:
    • Album: “Recess”

Please note that the use of specific audio equipment like the Empirical Labs Distressor is often not extensively documented in album credits or interviews, and artists may utilize a wide range of gear during recording and mixing. Additionally, engineers and producers play a significant role in choosing the equipment for a given project, so credit for gear selection often goes to them as well.

The Distressor’s reputation as a versatile and high-quality compressor/limiter has made it a popular choice in the music industry, and you’ll likely find it used by many more artists and studios in various capacities beyond what can be listed here.

Where To Buy.

The Empirical Labs Distressor can be purchased from various sources, including authorized dealers, audio equipment retailers, and online marketplaces. Here are some common places to find the Empirical Labs Distressor for purchase:

  1. Authorized Dealers: Empirical Labs has a network of authorized dealers and distributors around the world. You can visit the official Empirical Labs website to find a list of authorized dealers in your region.
  2. Professional Audio Retailers: Many professional audio equipment retailers and pro audio stores carry the Empirical Labs Distressor. You can visit or contact these stores in your area to inquire about availability and pricing.
  3. Online Music and Audio Equipment Retailers: There are numerous online retailers that specialize in music and audio equipment. Websites like Sweetwater, Guitar Center, B&H Photo, and Thomann often carry the Empirical Labs Distressor and provide detailed product information and customer reviews.
  4. eBay and Reverb: Online marketplaces like eBay and Reverb may have both new and used Empirical Labs Distressors available from various sellers. Be sure to check the seller’s ratings and reviews for a trustworthy transaction.
  5. Empirical Labs Website: You can also purchase the Distressor directly from the Empirical Labs website. They may offer options for new units, accessories, and direct ordering information.

Before making a purchase, it’s advisable to compare prices and check for any available deals or promotions from different retailers. Additionally, consider the warranty and return policy offered by the seller to ensure a smooth buying experience. Keep in mind that the availability of specific models and variations of the Distressor may vary, so it’s a good idea to confirm the product details with the seller before making a purchase.

Remember to hit us up at (312) 372-4460 if you want to record in Chicago!



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