Frequently Asked Questions

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Distressor

The type of distortion the Distressor produces isn’t supposed to be heavy guitar amp type distortion.  It was designed to sound like the somewhat grungier circuits from the early days of audio, when designers had to kick and scrap to get 1% THD (Total harmonic distortion) out of a tube or transistor.  Whereas today, a 30 cent op amp IC today can get .002% THD  without even trying!  However, the old tube and Class A transistor distortion often had this pleasing “bite” or urgency to it. Our goal with the distortion circuits in the Distressor, was to allow the user to recover some of this vintage “bite”.

There are ways however to make the distortion more obvious.  First, slowing up the attack will let the peaks hit harder and soften the compression, allowing hotter operating levels around the distortion generators.  Quickening the release can sometimes do the same thing since it “sucks” up the signal back to hot levels after it is done compressing a signal.

It is suggested that you set both units to their general expected settings, with Stereo Image link engaged, apply an identical tone to both Distressors, and adjust the inputs nearly the same, then “tweak” the outputs so that the output levels are identical. Use the meters on your board or recorders. This will ensure that the interchannel levels remains unchanged. Also, with the new linking, it is not as critical to match either the input or outputs, since the gain reduction between the two channels is locked, and therefore once the overall throughput levels are matched, they will remain that way. However, the units can respond more to the louder channel if the input levels are not matched closely.

There is no limit to how many units can be linked – in theory. However, you must avoid long link cables since they will cause noise and degradation of operation. To wire up more than two units, go from the link output of the 1st unit’s link to the next units link input, then take that units link out to the next ones input etc. Finally, take the last units link out and feed it back to the first units link in. Again, your must use stereo phone plugs for the new “Stereo Image Link” to work.

Try putting the lower unit into 1:1 mode with attack and release on 10. Then still matching the I/O levels, use the upper unit to select ratio and attack/release times. This will allow a longer attack time then otherwise available, since the top unit must drive both units timing circuitry. The down side is that the units will only respond to the top units signal, unless the original link is engaged. There are a few well known compressors that have a master/slave mode that only looks at the “master units” audio – so this is not unheard of. You may switch the units and have the bottom one control the top unit (which is in 1:1 mode). Also, using the original link will sum both channels partially, so that there is some response to the “slave” units audio. This longer (slower) attack time is sometimes very useful on program material – a la SSL type compression.

By not matching the units front panel controls – whole new ratios can be obtained. For instance, putting the left channel on 2:1 and the right channel on Nuke (pretty radical but..), then setting the left and right levels differently, you can get a combination of two ratio curves. Usually the lowest attack/decay settings will override the higher settings, i.e. if one channel has the attack set to 10 and the other to 3, the units will generally react at the faster 3 setting.

If for some reason no TRS stereo link cables are available, one may use a regular guitar cable to enable the new link. But you only insert the cable part way into the rear Link connectors – so that only the ring is in contact with the tip of phone plug. The normal EL8 link will be sacrificed, however, since it relies on the tip of the link connectors to be connected. It is probably best not to put the unit in normal link (in the Det area) since it will make the unit operate with more distortion without the tip connections – then again this mite be the perfect spice for your gumbo!

Use this ratio to “skim” peaks. This means that most of the time it may not be doing anything, but when it does “hit” the signal, it will smoothly push back the signal and then get right out of the way again. If you are hitting the Gain Reduction all the time with the British mode on, you are going to be really “squashing” the signal. On the other hand, the Distressor will sound fairly subtle when compressing all the time in 2:1 mode, especially with a slower attack (>6).

FATSO

Pots are like snowflakes: No two are exactly alike. We select pots and then improve channel to channel match by offsetting the knobs on the pot shafts.

Check internal voltage select switch for proper settings (115/230). Otherwise, suspect a short or power supply problem. Inspect internal components for burned or bulging parts. Try to make sure there is nothing trapped under the PC board, shorting to the metal case. Attentive visual inspection is still the most effective troubleshooting tool available.

Older units used a Non-Volatile memory cap that could fail after years of use, or possibly have some other type of logic failure. Contact the factory for suggestions or servicing. Newer units have a delay of 6 seconds before storing last control change. Wait 6 secs and turn off to test.

You can alter the standard thresholds of the FATSO by inserting a level control in the Sidechain point. By turning the gain down there, the threshold will move higher, elevating operating distortion. Adding gain there will lower the threshold and lower Distortion/Saturation. You can order a  threshold controller for the FATSO directly from us for $100 USD. Contact hardwaresupport@empiricallabs.com for more info about the FATSO threshold controller.

It is also possible to make the FATSO have frequency dependent compression using the Sidechain insert Jack (was previously labeled INSERT on older FATSOs). Send the tip of the Sidechain jack to an EQ, and return EQ to the ring. The sidechain must not have appreciable delay nor be out of phase since it will affect the response time and possibly comb filter the control signals when in Stereo.

Unlike the older units, the FATSO is uniform and predictable from one unit to the next. Precise factory calibration assures that if you go from one FATSO to the next, these settings will all sound the same. The only big variable is the input and output pots, which is why we use high resolution knobs, for recall. Differences in the new X version and the Older FATSOs The FATSO Jr was redesigned to lower power consumption and heat, as well as make the interface operate more like it was originally envisioned. The controls can now step backwards one setting by holding the associated button for less than a second. This enables the Bypass to be accessed with one button press from any state, as well as compare compressor and WARMTH settings more easily.

A “soft knee” is a compression curve where the first few dB of gain reduction occur at very low ratios, gradually increasing as the signal increases (gets louder). This makes the onset of compression very hard to detect. The knee usually extends for a few dB and gradually flattens out toward a final ratio. All the FATSO compressor types have dominant knees except for SPANK. The BUSS Type Compressor has a knee that can be as long as 15 dB, It was setup for 3 – 5dB to sound HOT like tape.

Place the FATSO at the output of your mixer before your power amps to level and fatten up the whole show. The BUSS compressor can level out volume differences while keeping the “smack” intact. Some house engineers use more aggressive FATSO compressors. The TRANNY may help on smaller systems to get the low freqs clearer, but it does gently roll off subsonic content, whereas many venues want to “show off” subs below 40Hz. There are dozens of clubs around the world warming their House PA systems with FATSOs.

By placing the FATSO immediately before a digital mixdown recorder such as a Hard Disk, RAM, or CD recorder, you should be able to get the sweet high end and low frequency fatness that you would get mixing to an analog tape recorder. Compression should usually be the BUSS type, use the warmth to soften the high end and the TRANNY to add some definition and warm harmonics to the low frequencies.

This is because potentiometers never match perfectly. We test them at the factory and try to make them all match within two small tics of each other. Pots will change with use over the years. Also, in 2002, Clarostat discontinued pots that had been made for 50 years, forcing us to change to conductive plastic pots that have a different curve also. We can match pots on older units for a very small fee. New units are covered under warranty.

You really need several of each! Actually there is only a little in common between the two units. If you need a fully controllable compressor, that sounds like it has tubes and can emulate some famous older compressors, get the Distressor. If you do a lot of work in the digital domain and miss some of the smooth round bottom and softened high end of analog tape recordings, get the FATSO Jr. The FATSO does have some kick butt compressors in it but they are not fully adjustable. The Fatso was really intended to help get a good analog tape sound without analog tape… we just happened to have enough room to put in some really good compressors too.

Mike-E

Yes, you can! You will probably put the Mic Gain on Line (0dB Gain). Generally you would use a low ratio (2:1), with the slowest attack (100mS) on such a mixdown compressor. However, the MIX control offers a whole other approach to Stereo Buss compression. More on that later. For now lets assume the MIX control is full CW (10) and you are hearing only the compressor output. For the loudest MIX, keep the release fast also (.05S). With the Slow attack and fast release, the transients will come through without over compression, and the fast release will keep the music from pumping after an attack. 1 – 3 dB is usually enough gain reduction.

Put the CompSat on 1:1, and adjust drive so the warm light is on often, and the Toasty LED lights on peaks. Set the Mix Control to full CW (10) and the user will gain a dB or two of “heat” and headroom. The Mike-E will be flattening the peaks out gently with its saturation circuit. Engaging the Emphasis will make the high frequencies clip earlier and soften peaky and possibly harsh “build-ups”. It has the added benefit of decreasing noise. Emphasis was used in all modern tape recorders to improve Signal to Noise and dynamic range. Going to another compressor after this will give you a familiar tape like vocal sound. Compressors react differently after a signal has been soft clipped, or on tape.

THE PREAMP GAIN IS THE MOST CRUCIAL CONTROL TO SET PROPERLY ON THE MIKE-E! Set initial levels by using the following CLIP- TEST. Turn CompSat Drive to 0 and Output to 5 so those sections don’t clip. Have the source produce a loud “peak” sound repeatedly, and adjust input mic gain till BAD! LED just lights. Then adjust mic gain down one (sometimes two) 5dB step(s) from this CLIP TEST to allow headroom. The Mike-E has a huge “sweet” spot. Most mics operate well at 30 to 40dB of gain for voice level sources. If not using the CompSat, you can set output level to 7 or 8 for initial level.

Using the CompSat circuit is a world unto itself, offering some unique processing for the otherwise pristine Mic Preamplifier. Enable the CompSat by pressing the Ratio taking it “out” of Bypass to 1:1 or an actual compression ratio. With so many options, lets make it simple by using the CompSat as a soft knee compressor only. Set the MIX control to full CW COMPRESS (10 on MIX knob), and set the compressor to 4:1 attack 8mS, release .1S. Use the DRIVE control to adjust how much compression you want. Until you are really experienced, its best to be conservative at first when tracking, keeping the Gain Reduction below 13dB. Because of gain reduction, you may have to make up the gain on the output control. There is tons of headroom once the compressor is engaged, and running the output knob higher, or even all the way to 10 is perfectly fine, as long as no Clip indicator (BAD!) lights. If the CompSat is bypassed, it’s best to keep Drive at 0.

The user should plug in a short 1⁄4” mono phone cable to both unit’s Link jacks, and match the controls on the two Mike-E’s for Stereo Buss use. Turn on the LINK setting on both units. Matching the front panel controls will yield highly accurate response between the two channels. You do not have to remove the cable to use them as two independent “mono” units. Footnote: If linking two Mike-E’s, gain reduction will differ if one has an attack of 100mS, and the other doesn’t.

Lil FrEQ

Pull out the power plug from the AC outlet, open unit, and ensure fuse closest to rear of the unit is blown. (Note: The fuse closer to the front panel is a spare fuse and is not connected to anything). Gently pry out one end of the fuse and then the other, replacing it with extra fuse provided near front right of unit. A small screwdriver may be helpful. Lay the top cover over unit, temporarily plug in AC, and turn it on to ensure that the fuse doesn’t blow again, indicating a possibly more serious problem (see troubleshooting). If OK, unplug unit, replace spare fuse in front of PCB if possible, screw down top cover and return the unit to normal use. Any fuse from .5 to .75A should be safe, but .5A (1/2A) is what is specified and used at factory.

Yes it is! We based the de-essing circuit in the DerrEsser off of the DS section in the Lil FrEQ.

Absolutely! Emulate analog tape by using the DS section set to HF LIM, frequency at 6KHz. Adjust so that when the frequencies harshly pile up, the DS section kicks in, integrating and smoothing out the high end.

We have provided markings on the front panel that accurately emulate the frequencies and curves of the NEVE1073 Preamp EQ. You will find two symbols to guide you. One is an “N” and the other is a small “donut” symbol. The two mid frequencies allow two 1073 frequencies and the N and donut are used to show the proper combination of frequency and bandwidth (Q). Use the “N” frequency with the “N” bandwidth mark, and the donut with the donut. The Low Mid uses the same Bandwidth setting for both Neve Frequencies, and thus only one symbol, the donut, is shown on the Low Mid bandwidth knob. We suggest using the transformer output to complete the emulation, since the 1073 used a transformer on its output also. Our Highpass can also be used as you would on the 1073.

Yes! Just plug in your instrument (bass, guitar, synth etc) into the “Inst In” on the front panel, push in the INST IN button, adjust level, and VOILA… an unparalleled Direct Box!

The units with the silver knobs are a very early revision of the Lil FrEQ, and they tend to get very hot. If you have one of these, have no fear! These older Lil FrEQs work great, but they have a tendency to get very hot if they are left of for too long.

DocDerr

Yes, indeed! There is a unique soft clipper in the DocDerr that can be used heavily by disabling the compressor. Press the two outside buttons (LF and HF) to toggle the compressor on and off. Then turn Mix 100% and adjust saturation with input knob.

The ratio is about 5:1 but has a huge 5dB knee. With an attack under 1mS, it could be considered a “limiter”. It has been compared to an LN1176.

Yes, but it is not on by default. There is a jumper on the circuit board of the unit that needs to be switched. Refer to the user manual for the location of this jumper because there are a few!

Typically, instruments that are plugged in direct will not have enough signal to trigger the built-in compressor. You will need to pull out the unit from your 500 series housing and move the input gain jumper to the right (away from the faceplate). Check the manual to help you locate this jumper. This will provide 16 dB of single ended gain when input pin3 is shorted to ground, as a normal cable would do. This gain is usually enough to bring up electric instruments to line level, while still providing a margin of safety for certain active instruments. It will also help the mix control by making the dry level closer to the compressed level, so the level difference won’t be so drastic when swept from dry to wet.

DerrEsser

Yes it is! We based the de-essing circuit in the DerrEsser off of the DS section in the Lil FrEQ.

If there is just an occasional peaky note, the normal DS mode can be tame specific notes, taking the harsh frequencies out surgically. You can also use the DS dynamic HF limiter to get a very tape like effect if used judiciously. We have found it to be very useful on overly crunchy plucky guitars, and “spitty” vocals alike.

Bandlimiting the top end can tighten up and quiet the hiss of electric guitars, especially “heavy” ones. Put the DerrEsser in LP Mode and close down the top end to 8 – 10KHz. You will usually find you don’t miss these frequencies on heavy distorted guitars at all. It lets the cymbals and vocals etc have more clarity up there.

Arousor

Yes and no. The Arousor is more of an evolution of the Distressor than it is an emulation because it has much more advanced features like the AttMod and the Soft Clipper.

We have a couple of articles in our Support Articles with some troubleshooting guides. Here are a select few of those.

Troubleshooting the Arousor on Pro Tools for Mac

Troubleshooting the Arousor on Logic Pro

Check out this support article about uninstalling the Arousor.

Nope! The Arousor is backwards compatible thanks to our text based presets.

Upgrades are free! All you have to download the newest version from the downloads page and install it.