Music Gear Review: Empirical Labs Arousor Compressor Plug-In

Empirical Labs’ Arousor Compressor plug-in is based on Empirical Labs’ fantastically successful Model EL8 classic knee Distressor hardware compressor. The Arousor has significant additional features because it runs as a Native plug-in within VST/AU/AAX DAW host systems.

Arousor has large Input, Attack, Release and Output controls like the Distressor. I liked that all the controls knobs display their currently running parameter values. Arousor has 10 ratio choices including 1.5:1 and 2:1 and Rivet aka “NUKE” from the Distressor—a brickwall limiter ratio.

The Distressor has been a reliable tool to re-sculpt harmonic coloration and carefully add saturation. Arousor’s Soft Clipping section does this using a broadband Saturation control for soft clipping peaky sources. This is as organic as any saturation/coloration I’ve ever heard from a plug-in.

Similar to tube saturation or analog tape recorder compression and combined with a particular Attack knob setting and using higher compressor ratios, I found on clean electric guitars the Saturation knob produced more noticeable odd-harmonic distortion on hot levels. With lower signal levels, the distortion is said to be more even-harmonic for a more subtle, warmer tone.

The Arousor’s Attack time control ranges from 50-microseconds to 40ms at the slowest and
there is the clever Attack Modification control. It changes the “shape” of the attack’s rise time curve whereas the Attack time control changes the overall attack time.

Somewhat like the way an envelope generator works, the AtMod control makes it easy to recreate the attack characteristics of classic, vintage compressors and limiters—the very reason many mixing engineers own and use so many different vintage units.

The bottom third of the GUI has controls for: a variable 6dB/octave high pass filter set up in the sidechain; a single frequency parametric Detector Sidechain EQ that works amazingly to “chop out” a band of audio such as a single frequency de-esser or low frequency de-popper.

Finally, there is Wet/Dry Blend control; only run this at full “10” for 100% of the Awesome Arousor! Highly recommended!

The stereo version is linkable and there are 18 valuable presets. With an AAX DSP update/version coming soon, Empirical Labs Arousor sells for $349 download.


BARRY RUDOLPH is a recording engineer/mixer who has worked on over 30 gold and platinum records. He has recorded and/or mixed Lynyrd Skynyrd, Hall & Oates, Pat Benatar, Rod Stewart, the Corrs and more. Barry has his own futuristic music mixing facility and loves teaching audio engineering at Musician’s Institute, Hollywood, CA. He is a lifetime Grammy-voting member of NARAS and a contributing editor for Mix Magazine. barryrudolph.com