It’s rare when a modern compressor becomes a standard, but after 20 years, the Empirical Labs Distressor can be found in every major studio, as well as many smaller and home studios, and is as widely used as any of the “classics.” The Distressor has a sound that’s different from everything else, and is one of the few hardware units that’s never had a digital plugin emulation. Until now, that is, as the new Empirical Labs Arousor comes about as close as you’ll ever get to the esteemed Distressor.
The Arousor has a similar look to the distressor, but there are a few things that jump out immediately that are different. For one, there are two new choices for gain reduction – 1.5:1 and 8:1. The much used Nuke setting is gone and Rivet can be found in its place instead (although they do much the same thing). There’s also a control called Attack Modification, which changes the envelope of the attack, as well as a new Soft Clipping control, which adjusts the amount of distortion from none up to plenty. Then there’s the new variable hi-pass filter and a sidechain EQ section (both were fixed on the Distressor). Finally there’s a Blend control that allows you to perform parallel compression with ease.
Does it sound exactly like the Distressor? Even Empirical Labs says that it’s close, but not exactly. According to their webpage, “We say “close” because most of Empirical Labs’ analog gear will pass 150KHz easily, and that is something that is impossible with current digital technology.” Another thing is that the ratio controls don’t exactly line up, according to the helpful online manual, which states that you should always use a ratio on the Arousor that’s one higher than you’re used to using on the Distressor. In other words, if you’re used to using 4:1 on the Distressor, use 6:1 on the Arouser to get close to the sound.
That said, it’s rare when a software emulation compares 100% to its hardware counterpart. We’re in the realm of “really close” and for the most part, that’s been good enough even more the most hard-core of golden ears, so the Arousor is definitely in the ballpark here. The fact of the matter is, it’s great to have a Distressor-like compressor plugin now available, and the fact that Arouser comes from the same company ensures that you’re getting software with its seal of approval.
The Empirical Labs Arouser isn’t inexpensive at $349, but it currently carries an introductory price of $299. There’s a free 14 day trial, and you can get it directly from the Empirical Labs Arouser webpage. Check out the video below for a sample of how it sounds.