Arousor Review – a Distressor Compressor by Empirical Labs

  • By: Thorsten Meyer
  • Date: Monday, 10 June 2019
  • Time to read: 4 min.

Arousor by Empirical Labs Review

Arousor by Empirical Labs is the closes compressor you get that does not require a hardware (unit or DSP) for the very well known Distressor sound. Arousor is an unofficial Distressor emulation with additional features.

distressor UNIT 1

Empirical Labs Inc., designs and manufactures professional audio signal processing equipment used in recording studios, live sound, broadcast studios and other audio production facilities all over the world. Empirical Labs also producers plug-ins and software for digital signal processors. Empirical Labs did send a review copy with no strings attached.

Empirical Lab was started in 1988 and functioned mainly as a recording studio and electronics consulting firm. The founder, Dave Derr, was also employed at the time by Eventide as an audio engineer where he was part of the core design team for the H3000, H3500, and DSP4000. His experience at Eventide proved invaluable for his later work. While working alongside Ken Bogdanowicz and Bob Belcher (both now at Soundtoys), Dave was exposed to state of the art engineering and the modern world of digital signal processing (DSP).


You install the product, and through your iLok account, you get a license issued that you need to activate.


The hardware unit Distressor was released in 1996. With over twenty thousand units sold, it has matured into a modern classic. Arousor was built after these Distressor units.

Arousor provides a warm character and owns with a very analog sound tone.There are also options to dial back the analog sound and get a more digital characteristic. Officially this plugin is not called a Distressor or an emulation of it. However, it sounds like a Distressor. This sounds to me like a product positioning by Empirical Labs.

I tried it extensively on drums which are the natural instrument the Dis­t­ressor was used on. The compressor and saturator produce great sounding tone especially excellent on bass and drums.

Arousor with DrumCore 4
Arousor with DrumCore 4

You even get the Nuke setting from a Distressor in the Ratio setting; it is just called RIVET. When a 1:1 ratio is used Arousor is a true saturation unit, without dynamic compression.

arousor ratio setting
Arousor ratio setting

There is a primary integrated feature to share presets. You can go to Empirical Labs Arousor Preset Sharing Community and copy a preset a presets of a limited number of shared presets from there and quickly past it into the plugin. Copy the preset text posted and paste it into an Arousor in the Help menu. The sharing or presets in both ways would get a boost when it would use a different method, much more integrated and rewarding when sharing a preset.

Empirical Labs Arousor Preset Sharing Community
Empirical Labs Arousor Preset Sharing Community

With the recent update, new features have been added. NEW REV 2.0 FEATURES

  • AAX-DSP for the MAC. Windows version to follow shortly, pending copy protection repair.
  • Much greater efficiency, especially in Pro Tools AAX.1/3rd of the CPU usage.
  • Greatly increased Bargraph accuracy. You will find it makes matching a Distressor sound much more accessible.
  • Preset Sharing Function – Works across all platforms and makes it easy to share, even with emails.
  • Graphic and Interface Improvements – New colors, and 3d Depth
  • Our first “Expert Panel” Button appears for the BLEND Section.
  • New Presets from Famous Engineers
  • Refined markings for matching Distressor Detector settings. New Mark on Det HP Freq, Det BP Gain
  • Higher resolution readout on Det BP BW. Reads to .01 places.
  • Better support for Control Surfaces, including the older Avid D-Command
  • MAC only, for now, Windows support coming within a month or two.


  • Empirical Labs Classic Knee Compression in a Plugin
  • Reliable operation – It is almost impossible to get a bad sound.
  • Empirical Labs Famous White Knobs, with parameter readout and direct entry.
  • Proprietary Empirical Labs Detector modeling. High resolution.
  • Broadband Saturator, controllable by the user. A novel approach was used to allow control over peaks.
  • Unique AtMod™ Attack Modification Control. Changes the shape of the initial attack, and can lengthen attack times differently than the ATTACK control.
  • HP Sidechain EQ
  • BP Sidechain EQ
  • Rivet, a brick wall ratio excellent on room mics, and for skimming peaks.
  • Linkable with the stereo version.
  • BLEND Control – Mix in the dry signal with the compressed one.
  • 18 Lock n Load Presets, finely tuned and named intuitively. More coming down the line.

More features are coming, including new processing and interface and you get these updates for free until 2020. I wonder what happens after that year in two years.

User interface & Usability

The intuitive interface makes it very easy to adjust for the tone you want. The preset sharing could be improved and is not as easy to do. The interface of Arouser appears very close to Empirical Labs EL-8X Distressor.

Arousor Main UI

Rating:  Five out of five stars

Arousor applies phenomenal character compression and saturation. Arousor is very close to the Distressor and added many features and continues to add more that are not available in the raw model it is built after. The Arousor is a superb sounding compressor that injects any sound with enhanced vibrancy and appearance. The price for a perpetual license is position at the higher end.

Empirical Labs has developed a fantastic emulation of what has been a very successful hardware unit. For a professional mixer, this is a must-have. I used Arousor on drums and other instruments myself and could plainly hear the enhanced sound that Arousor can generate.

Screen Shot 2017 12 16 at 07.41.13

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