The Best Free And Paid Guitar Impulse Responses (2022)

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Impulse responses– the term seems to be everywhere these days! Are you a guitarist? Do you record from your home studio or like to tinker with amp sims and plugins? If you’ve spent a little time researching online, there’s a good chance you’ve come across impulse responses (or IRs, for short). In this beginner’s IR guide, we’ll break down what guitar impulse responses are, how to utilize them in your recording process, the differences between impulse responses and amp sims, where you can find the best guitar impulse responses (free and paid), and where you can download IR loaders.

What are impulse responses (IRs)?

Technically, an impulse response is the captured output measurement of a response to an input signal (or impulse) over time… Makes sense, right? In simple terms, just think of IRs as samples of an acoustic space that you can immediately recall and use in recording and live settings. They can be used in a variety of ways including calibrating headphones or capturing reverbs of specific acoustic spaces but in terms of guitar, this typically refers to the cabinet, mic and mic placement, and room.

Note: Mic preamps, cables, power amps, subtle reflections, and a bunch of other variables that can affect the sound when capturing guitar cab impulse responses. But for the sake of simplicity, let’s think about them in terms of cabinets, speakers, mics, and rooms.

A guitar amp with mics in various positions
An amp with two different mics. Impulse responses allow you to capture mic placement, cab, speaker, and room combinations and store them in an easy to use .wav file | Photo by Takahiro Sakamoto on Unsplash

If you’ve ever had to mic up up your cabinet to record, you know there are plenty of things that come into play (outside of your actual guitar and effects) that can affect the sound that gets recorded. For example, a recording of a Marshall cabinet in an acoustic-treated room with an SM57 placed directly on the grill is going to sound completely different than a recording of a Fender Twin in an open studio with a Shure SM7B placed a foot away.

Guitar cabinet impulse responses are snapshots of these combinations of cabinet (and speaker), mic and mic placement, and room. This means that in a live setting or recording, you can recall these exact settings to get your preferred tone by simply using an impulse response! This also means that we have access to a multitude of cab/speaker/mic/room configurations without actually having to own a ton of gear or without having to painfully set up physical combinations of gear to find that perfect tone. We can simply swap out configurations on the fly by using IRs.

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Impulse responses vs. cab sims

While both impulse responses and cab sims can be used (sometimes together) to create versatile tones, they are not the same thing. As we previously stated, impulse responses are actual snapshots of the acoustic environment while cab sims are a type of emulation created digitally with software. For graphic designers, you could think of guitar impulse responses as bitmap (or a snapshot) while cab sims as vector (or a digital recreation). You have more options for tweaking with cab sims but IRs tend to sound better and are a more accurate recreation of an acoustic environment. However, it’s important to note that the quality of the IR greatly impacts the tone (i.e., using a badly captured IR will result in a bad tone). Check the video below for a short demonstration of a cab sim vs. an impulse response.

How do you use an impulse response?

Impulse responses are stored as .wav files. You can create your own impulse responses, find free ones online, or buy them from companies or artists. These files can be loaded via an IR loader plugin (discussed later on).

Best free guitar impulse responses

The easiest (and cheapest!) way to get started with impulse responses is to start with some of the free options. You can find some high-quality free IRs but there’s also a ton of not-so-great ones (you get what you pay for). To get started, I recommend checking out some IRs from the following libraries:

  1. Free Celestion Impulse Responses
  2. Allure IR pack by Line 6 (requires email signup)
  3. God’s Cab by Wilkinson Audio
  4. Kalthallen Cabs
  6. Overdriven
  7. Free Redwirez IR Library (requires email signup)
  8. faIR Modern Rock (requires email signup)
  9. SNB Impulse Response Files
  10. Albrecht Productions

Best paid guitar impulse responses

While free impulse responses can sound great, you’re more likely to find higher quality IRs with the premium, paid options. The following are some tried and tested premium impulse response libraries:

  1. Celestion
  2. Lancaster Audio
  3. Ownhammer
  4. Eminence Digital
  5. Tone Junkie Store
  6. Audio Assault Cab Sims
  7. Premium IRs by Constantine Studios
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How to use impulse responses in your DAW with an IR loader

Assuming you have already have a recording interface and DAW, guitar impulse responses can be used during recording via an IR Loader. You can record a direct input of your guitar and then use an IR loader like any other plugin to swap between various IRs to get the sound you’re looking for.

Best free IR loaders

  1. NadIR by Ignite Amps
  2. Pulse by Lancaster Audio
  3. FenrIR Impulse Loader by Aurora DSP
  4. Boogex by Voxengo
  5. IR Loader by ChopTones
Screenshot of pulse IR Loader
Pulse by Lancaster Audio is a popular and free IR Loader that includes it’s own Pulse impulse response

Best paid IR loaders

  1. IR Loader Impulse Response Tool By Nembrini Audio
  2. Ignite: Libra by STLTones
  3. TRVE Cab by Ugritone
  4. faIRmageddon by Forward Audio
  5. aIR Impulse Rack by Audio Assault

Note: Some AMP simulators like Amplitube feature their own IR Loaders. You can disable their cabinet simulator and instead load your own custom guitar impulse responses. The general consensus online is that this is a much better alternative to Amplitube’s built-in cab sims (although this is debatable). You can also disable Amplitube’s cabinets and IR loader altogether, and instead load IRS using a separate IR loader plugin from the lists above– I’ve had to do this in the past due to issues with Amplitube crashing when trying to load my custom impulse responses.

Save time and money with guitar cab impulse responses

If you made it this far, then you’ve learned the basics and should have no trouble testing and trying out different guitar impulse responses on your own. Impulse responses are a quick, cheap, and fast way to experiment with a variety of tones during your recording process. There are also options to use impulse responses in a live setting but that’s a topic for another day (and an entirely separate blog post!). Sign up for a newsletter and be the first to know when our latest blog post drops!

Impulse Response FAQs

What is the best impulse response loader?

There are plenty of free and paid impulse response loaders to choose from. Pulse is a great free IR loader to start with! However, check out our full list of free and paid IR loaders for more options.

How are impulse responses used in a DAW?

Impulse responses can be loaded in a DAW with an impulse response loader plugin. Check out our list of IR loaders to find the perfect one for your DAW.

What is an impulse response pack?

Premium Impulse responses are commonly sold in packs. An IR pack will typically contain related impulse responses that are genre-specific or artist-specific to the type of pack. For example, Lancaster Audio offers multiple genre-specific packs ranging from Pop to Rock packs to artist and producer-specific packs.

Check our list of best paid impulse responses to browse a variety of IR packs.

Are the Celestion impulse responses good?

Celestion impulse responses are among some of the best IRs to date. They’re highly versatile with plenty of options and are reasonably priced. You can get individual IRs for as low as $11.99 and IR collections ranging from $19.99 – $37.99. You can even own the complete collection of all IRs released for $499.99 to really dial in your guitar tone.

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