The latest compressor from Empirical Labs is similar to Ike and Tina Turner’s classic cover of “Proud Mary,” in that it ranges all the way from nice to rough. Like its older sibling, the Distressor [Tape Op #32], the PUMP makes it easy to dial in smooth and transparent VCA-style compression or aggressively clamp a signal down with an unrelenting wall of 20:1 limiting. I call the Distressor my “chameleon compressor” and often wish I owned several more. The PUMP scratches that itch while taking up significantly less space and at a lower cost. Built for a 500 Series rack, it manages to keep the best features while also bringing on several wonderful new ones that greatly improve on its predecessor. For example, the attack and release controls are digitally stepped, and the PUMP blinks a helpful light as you twist through the settings. It’s not quite as decadent as the physical feedback I get from traditional stepped detent pots, but it’s enough to make recalls faster. When I record vocals, I typically stack multiple compressors with the Distressor regularly parked early in the chain. For the past few weeks, I’ve swapped that out for the PUMP, and I just love the confidence I feel knowing my attack and release settings are exactly what I wrote down in my notes. The other huge new feature is the AtMod. This knob is familiar to anyone who mixes in the box with the Arousor – EL’s closely-related plug-in compressor [Tape Op #117]. It’s my understanding this is the first time they’ve debuted this feature in the analog world. It’s simply a wonderful shortcut knob that allows transients back into a track – when you’re intentionally over compressing – by slowing down the initial slope of the attack envelope. It’s easy to use and sounds great everywhere, especially on drum tracks.

On a recent session, I had a lead guitar play through my Milkman amp, which has a wonderful clean tone, with tons of headroom, but I needed to squeeze that down to push the performance out in front of my mix. A healthy 10:1 compression ratio with a fast attack/release sounded nice and glued the performance exactly how I wanted, but lost some of the guitar’s bite. I twisted that AtMod up to 5, and right at that moment I heard a choir of angels singing “Glory to Empirical Labs” for gifting the world with this divine box. At $700, I expect the PUMP will quickly be a common sight at studios around the world.

Tape Op is a bi-monthly magazine devoted to the art of record making.

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