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The Empirical Labs EL9 Mike-E is a digitally-controlled preamplifier with a slew of unique features that allow it to both warm and soften external audio signals. If that’s not enough, the unit also contains a compressor/limiter.
The preamp section features a low-noise transformer input amp with digitally controlled gain. Additionally, the unit includes a unique stepped-gain control that reduces the chances of flakiness that normally occurs with pots and detented switches.
The EL9 is comprised of four separate sections. The first is the Saturator, which consists of a multi-stage soft clipping circuit. When at lower levels, the signal is privy to a triode-style saturation; however, a second clip circuit joins the mix as the level increases—only this one includes germanium semiconductors!
Next up is the Compressor section, which consists of a compressor/limiter circuit with detented control over AR parameters. A dedicated drive knob lets users effortlessly adjust the compression amount. The EL9 provides four different compression ratios.
The Emphasis section consists of two circuits encompassing the compressor and saturator. The pre-emphasis ups the high frequencies before they hit the compressor and saturator, causing preemptive soft clipping. On the other hand, the de-emphasis parameter cuts complementary frequencies after the compressor and saturator.
Additionally, the emphasis section is capable of improving the signal-to-noise ratio in the spirit of a classic analog tape deck.
The final portion of the EL9 is the Mix Control section. This section allows for mixing between dry and compressed signals in order to maintain transients, enhance dynamic range, and add low-level clarity.