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Empirical Labs

Empirical Labs

Today Empirical Labs has made a notable name for itself, designing and manufacturing professional audio signal processing equipment for use in recording studios, broadcast studios, and other audio production facilities, as well as live sound applications, from its US base in New Jersey where everything is rigorously calibrated and tested by hand. It also produces plug-ins for DAWs and software for digital signal processors.

At the time of its founding back in 1988, Empirical Labs was primarily operating as a recording studio and electronics consultancy firm. Founder Dave Derr was employed at the time by Eventide as an audio engineer where he was exposed to state-of-the-art engineering and digital signal processing as part of the core design team responsible for the revolutionary H3000 and H3500 Harmonizer® multi-effects units — good grounding for his later work with Empirical Labs.

Released in 1996, the Model EL8 Distressor — born of Dave Derr’s love of classic compressors like UREI’s 1176 and Universal Audio’s LA-2A — is the product that started the ball rolling for Empirical Labs by offering digitally-controlled analogue knee compression with a warm, vintage sound using a custom-designed gain control unit. With over 22,000 units in the field, it’s safe to say that the Distressor is one of the best-selling high-end compressors of all time — possibly even the best-selling of all time! A prominent recording engineer purportedly wagered that there’s probably not a Top 40 record made in recent years that didn’t have at least one Distressor on it!

More recently, a modified Model EL8-X version is available with additional British Mode — enabling a very aggressive sound with an unusual knee and new envelope shape that can be applied to any of its ratios — and Stereo Image Link functions. Empirical Labs also offers the EL8-S, a factory-matched pair of Distressors with accompanying cabling to lock them together.

Other signal processing products used by many more notable users include the Model EL7x FATSO (Full Analog Tape Simulator and Optimizer), Model EL-Q Lil FrEQ, and Model EL-9 Mike-E (mic preamp), together with a couple of well-thought-through API 500 Series format-compatible units: Model EL-DS DerrEsser (dynamic high frequency fixer) and Model EL-Rx DocDerr (multi-purpose tone module).

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