The Empirical Labs FATSO is a unique device that combines tape emulated saturation and compression in one box. It is a complex unit that works and behaves in a class of its own. Despite this, it is intuitive and geared towards creativity, opening up possibilities for a whole range of analog-style colours and effects.

FATSO is an acronym for Full Analog Tape Simulator and Optimizer. It is described as being primarily a tape simulator, although this label strongly undermines its full capabilities. It’s somewhat unfamiliar an imposing interface can be broken down into four separate stages of processing. 

Firstly, it is a harmonic distortion generator. Just passing through the unit at low settings introduces the subtle harmonics associated with recording to analog tape, slightly softening transients and increasing apparent volume. Increasing the input increases distortion and simulates the effect of hitting tape hard, creating more of effect-like distortion. 

Next in the chain is a compressor. Unlike most compressors that offer control over parameters, the FATSO has four ‘pre-tuned’ compressor styles, with fixed time constants and ratio settings. These settings each produce a different style of the compression, with the ‘Bus’ compressor emulating the characteristics of SSL-style bus compression, the ‘General’ setting designed more like a dbx-style compressor, the ‘Tracking’ compressor set up like an 1176 with fast attack and release and the ‘Spank’ option offering a high ratio for peak limiting which can be used on its own or following any of the other settings. The most recent revision of the FATSO, the EL7x, replaces the ‘General’ setting with the new ‘ELEVEN’ one, approximating the famed ‘all buttons in’ mode of the Urei 1176. Each of these compressor settings are designed to have a distinct flavour that can be either turned up or down depending on how hard the input is driven, rather than tweaked precisely by the user.

The ‘Warmth’ function is quite a complex process applied by a switch that increases its severity in seven stages. This applies compression to high frequencies, an effect that is, again, similar to analog tape. This interacts heavily with the compressor and be used to tame shrill or harsh content that can sometimes become overbearing in digital recordings. The final process is the ‘Tranny’ setting. This switches in a simulation of input and output transformers in older equipment, further softening transients and adding low frequency harmonics.

The Empirical Labs FATSO is really like nothing else out there. Itcan add subtle analog character right through to intense distortion, providing a multitude of tape-style aesthetics without the need for tape!

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