After we talked about virtual amp simulators in the past, the next logical step is to have a look at guitar cabinet impulse responses (in short: IR). Those so-called impulse responses are sound measurements that contain information about the guitar cabinet speaker, the room where everything is recorded as well as about the used microphone and microphone preamp in the particular situation. That set of information is stored in one single .wav file with that you can recreate the recording situation by loading it into a convolution plug-in - or in an easier term - IR loader. Once you have an IR created, it always recreates the same sound you initially captured, and you do not need to set up a bunch of equipment anymore every time you want to get this unique sound. Important to keep in mind is that an impulse response can recreate the signal chain elements coming AFTER the guitar amp head, but does not include sound characteristics of a guitar amp. Therefore, the combination with a virtual amp simulator or a real guitar amp head and a load box is required to get the guitar sound you want (explained more in detail by Pete Thorn here in one of his great Youtube videos). Impulse responses can also be used to recreate room sounds to be used later as reverb in your mix. However, we will focus on the guitar cabinet IRs in the following and where to get those if you do not want to create your own.
The Best Stores For Impulse Responses
I have listed my favourite IR stores that offer - from my point of view - the best guitar cabinet impulse responses available on the market. I do not want to bore you with excessive descriptions of the different stores and their sounds. Hence I included some demo videos in here so you can directly have a listen ;)
- ML Sound Lab
- 3 Sigma Audio
- Lancaster Audio (former Rosen Digital Audio)
- Kalthallen Cabs Pro
- Celestion Impulse Response
- Red Wirez
Now we probably have some impulsive responses, but still need the IR loader to use and work with them. My go-to IR loader is a product resulting from a collaboration between amp simulation brand TSE Audio and the above-listed IR creator 3 Sigma Audio called Impulsive. It supports AAX, AU and VST hosts as well as windows and mac. For 20$ you get the IR loader and a few free cabs on top. A significant benefit of Impulsive is that it gives you the option to blend two different IRs that facilitates the work of finding exactly the guitar sound you are seeking for.
An alternative to 3 Sigma's Impulsive is mixIR2 by Red Wirez (49$ for the plugin) that you may find in a lot of Youtube videos about impulse responses. Pulse by Lancaster Audio is a free alternative that also runs in Pro Tools (AAX) that can be a good start to become more familiar with the guitar cabinet IR topic at first before buying a more complex plugin if needed. If you like to be far more flexible with blending more than two impulse responses, you might take a look at STL Ignite Libra (49,99$) that can mix up to eight different IRs together, or Forward Audio's faIRmageddon (139$, up to four IRs simultaneously). faIRmageddon gives you even more options to tweak the resulting impulse response you can export later as a single IR for further use in studio productions or your live performance. Forward Audio also included a tone matching feature that helps you to get closer to the tone of a target guitar source (works best with mono guitar signals). The entire tone matching process takes only a few seconds.
Many virtual amp simulators also include the option to load external IRS as well. But sometimes, they lack in control options to adjust the IR and are therefore not the best solution in a professional production environment. So if you already own virtual amp simulators, have a closer look if they offer you a well-controllable IR loader or not.
Last but not least, here are some IR freebies from different manufacturers that can be used to start playing around and get more familiar with the impulse response game. Enjoy the freebies and have fun testing them out!