Do you believe that producing music should be fun? If not, then why are you online right now — get back to work! The UAD Empirical Labs Distressor is fun…
Now, having said that, it is also an amazing tool. It’s sometimes a pain to dial in the right setting, but it’s always cool getting there. (Although I always have a serious personal problem when an input control, and not a variable threshold, is what activates the compression. I keep meds next to my 1176 for that same reason.)
The attack and release obviously will tailor your sound, especially a slower attack time which makes for a somewhat gentler curve. This is true about any compressor with those controls, but everything you adjust on the Distressor will be audible and apparent. That is part of the fun.
- Before you do anything else, set the input and output to unity gain
- Set the compressor set the way you like it and then play with the “AUDIO” (Distortion) settings. You may have to adjust your setting a couple of times back and forth, but you end up with a great sound. More distortion, even if not in your face, will add slightly more compression.
- Don’t neglect the 1:1 ratio setting. Add some “analog” to your sound with no compression. (Just fyi, even at 1:1 there is a tiny amount of compression going on.)
- The high pass filters make quite a difference. Just saying.
- The tiny “HR” (headroom) knob can be really helpful, it keeps the Distessor in a middle ground if the input signal is extremely soft or overly loud. You can also push it to make everything go crazy!
Here are some free presets you can use for the UAD EL Distressor. These presets are meant as a starting point. They simply set up the UAD Distressor plugin with a unity input and output at -18 dbfs RMS and a gain reduction of -2db. They do not provide some kind of magic or celebrity compression setting—those are dependent on the source material and your desired outcome and no one can give you a preset for that. Again, all these do is fix you up with unity gain. (At -18 dbfs input level and a slight compression.)
You may find these handy if setting up a “Brauer”-style mix with calibrated aux/mix bus compressors. You can google it if you are not familiar or want to learn more.