Empirical Labs Distressor EL8-X by BioMichanical
This is an amazing compressor that does everything well. I would go as far as saying its a jack of all trades compressor. About the only thing I can't imagine putting it on is the two buss. But how many compressors are there that you would utilize for everything? First thing I noticed was just how fast thing thing can react. It has super fast attack and release times. Whats more is that it emulates compression behaviors such as 1176, Opto (think LA-2A and LA-3A). But it has a sound of it's own. Despite being without a transformer, it actually has a very warm feel to it. So far everything I've put through it, it just seems to fatten up. My personal favorite things to crush with the Distressor are kicks, snares, vocals (especially metal vocals, singing and screaming/growling) and bass. Although many have claimed it's great on acoustic guitar I have yet to have the opportunity to try that out.
The Distressor can do anything from subtle to absolute snot crushing compression. With brit mod on and set it to 1:1 you can really color your sound till its mangled. Another thing I'd like to point out is how well it keeps the character of the sound even when hitting hard compression of say 6:1 and 11 Db of reduction.
Controls - you have nice big knobs for easy of use, I really love that about the elx-8 because it makes it easy fine tune what your after. Switching to the brit mod is as easy as flipping a switch. There are 2 types of distortion modes bringing you the ability to add a 'tube type' distortion or tape distortion, along with high pass and a nice detector circuit which can be used for many things including clacky bass players, and sibilant singers. You can even chain two of these together!
Looks- it's a sexy beast! Black face and white knobs and the word "Distressor" means business. Many large format studios have a pair of these in their rack, I would like to have 4 of them, 2 with brit mod, and 2 w/o. A pair for kicks and snare, and a pair for whatever else, especially bass and vocals.
Ease of use, I gave it an 8 because, while the manual does come with quite a few settings, and there is plenty of advice on the internet about how to use the Distressors, there is a bit of a learning curve. There are just so many options to use these, and so many different characters you can get out of a Distressor, it really takes time to learn it, and learn it well.
Sound - in a word AMAZING! You can severely flatten out anything you want with this, or you can simply "chop off the edges" depending on how you want. All the while choosing different characters such as opto mode, fast attack and release, and different distortions with high pass circuits and detecter circuits. I will say that the distortion modes can get 'dark and fuzzy' especially distortion 3, but that is why it's called a Distressor (distortion-compressor). I like distortion 2 for metal vocalists and distortion 3 for bass (although this is not set in stone and have changed this up a bit).
Conclusion, the hardware compressors I have worked with are LA-2A, MC77 (purples version of the renown 1176) Rolls super stereo, and RNC, and none of these compressors can touch the Distressors in terms of versatility. This should be a main stay staple in any studio. While other compressors have tons of usage and most notably their characters, the Distressor can do it all. For the hobbyist to the professional the Distressor should be in every studio. And for someone looking to buy their first hardware compressor, they really should consider getting a Distressor first, even if it's just one for its versatility and usability on just about anything. I have yet to hear a software compressor that sounds remotely close to what he EL8-x can do. Get one, you won't regret it!