As guitarists and bass players, we’re often directed towards the benefits of impulse response (IR) or IR loaders, virtual cabs and Cab Sims by those who have decided to go ampless with their guitar or bass rig. When you look at their benefits, it’s easy to see why: they can contain almost every guitar amp sound you’d ever want.
In the world of ever-evolving pedalboards, amp setups and the endless pursuit of the perfect tone you can’t always afford to buy every amp, pedal or microphone you want – you might not have the room in your house either.
If there’s a particular signature sound that you like, for example, Killswitch Engage’s Rose Of Sharyn, or Tony Iommi’s sound during the 90s, Cab sims and IR units can help you get there, allowing you to replicate the exact cabinet qualities, amp settings, pedals and microphones used without costing a fortune.
This is really where Cab Sims (or cabinet simulators) and guitar amp Impulse Response (IR) pedals and plugins come in handy!
But, to fully understand the benefits you’ll need to know what they are and what the difference is between Impulse Response and a Cab Sims.
In this blog we’ll look at the following subjects:
An Impulse Response or IR / IR Loader in the world of guitar is a sonic snapshot of an amplifier setup. Think of it as a polaroid picture capturing the exact sound of your amp in that second, including the microphone placement, speaker sound, pedals, rack-mounted gear and room sound. It’s the most accurate recreation of a particular guitar sound across the entire 20Hz to 20kHz frequency range.
If you’ve found your perfect sound, you can use an IR to take that sonic snapshot and recall it later on as the IR loader mimics it.
Most IR pedals these days are set up with preloaded IR sounds as recording your own version can be extremely difficult, costly and time-consuming.
A pre-recorded IR in music allows you to sound EXACTLY like the sound source intended at any given time. This could be Tony Iommi’s guitar sound in the middle of recording ‘Sabbath Bloody Sabbath’ or the exact solo settings for Steve Vai in ‘For The Love Of God’ including mic placement, room sound, pedals and guitar cab depending on whether the company responsible for your IR plug-in has recorded that setting.
The major benefit of an Impulse Response is that it captures the sonic snapshot of a mic’ed guitar amp and cabinet including mic placement, amp settings, pedal settings and room sound for later recall.
But there are 7 more benefits of an Impulse Response for guitar and bass players!
We’ve mentioned it already but the ability to either record your ideal set-up or recall an existing, historical amplifier + cabinet + speaker + pedal + mic + room sound is incredible. If you’ve hit your sweet spot when recording, you can take a line-level snapshot of your sound with an IR and ensure you have the exact same sound live or in the studio every time. If you want to recreate the sound of an artist, you can as long as that company has created that sonic snapshot.
For example, if you need to recreate the sound of Tony Iommi’s Laney TI412S with closed-back Celestion G12H 75 speakers, you can use the Two Notes DynIR virtual Laney cabinet library and sound almost exactly like the man himself.
If you want to recreate the sound of Electric Ladyland’s studios or the Liverpool Motor Museum’s stone room, you could use an IR to capture the sonic qualities of the amp in that room, take a direct recording, and save it for use later. You can then effectively recreate the sound of that particular room when you record with your DAW or IR pedal like the Two-Notes.
However, almost all IR systems and libraries have a selection of amazing rooms to be used allowing you to turn a somewhat stagnant recording from your bedroom into a studio-quality sonic masterpiece complete with all the quirks and qualities of a particular recording studio. We’ve actually recreated the sound of multiple rooms on our Laney virtual cabinet library.
You can go completely ampless on bass or go ampless on guitar by setting up a fly rig using the Impulse Response to recreate the sound of your ideal amp and feed it directly to the PA system. This removes any mic bleed from other instruments as you no longer actually need a mic to hear your guitar – everything is fed directly into the PA system and it allows you to gig without a cabinet.
You may not be able to collect every amplifier you want, but an IR pedal like the Two Notes in conjunction with something like the Laney DynIR library will allow you to accrue a myriad of different amplifier snapshots and store them in your chosen IR pedal. This means you can effectively have the sound of 100+ amps ready to use at any time for live and studio use.
You can’t always crank your valve amp as loud as you want at home. Impulse Response pedals and plugins allow you to hook a set of headphones up to your IR pedal or DAW and recreate the sound of a Laney Lionheart for example at full volume – without anyone else hearing you!
You may prefer the sound of your Laney Lionheart head but want to mix it up with a Laney TI412S cab as used by Tony Iommi. An IR allows you to mix and match those sounds giving you unlimited versatility when it comes to guitar and bass setups.
It’s not always possible to crank your amplifier to get that lush valve saturation you want in smaller venues. The Impulse Response lets you recreate the sound of your cranked amp at any volume – like an attenuator, but with a pitch-perfect sonic quality that doesn’t squash your tone.
A guitar cab simulator or Cab Sim as it’s otherwise known is a piece of hardware or DSP (digital signal processor) that faithfully recreates the sound of a guitar or bass cabinet, along with the mic placement and room sound. It recreates the sonic qualities of the wood, the speakers and the EQ qualities of the cabinet in minute detail.
You can use a cab sim to recall a huge variety of vintage and modern-day cabinets and specify which mic you want to use with it, the distance from the cab and the room sound.
The Two Notes DynIR virtual Laney cabinet library for example, features 10 guitar and 5 bass cabs from the Laney Collection that were meticulously captured at Hop Pole studio in Manchester, England, offering accurate capture of some of the industry’s most revered guitar and bass cabinets. Check it out below:
We’ve actually talked about the benefits of the Two Notes DynIR virtual Laney cabinet library, which summarises why it’s one of the greatest Cab Sims for Laney fans and fans of good tone, alike!
All sounds in the collection were recorded using an exhaustive range of industry-standard microphones, including:
This particular cab sim allows you to sound like you’ve walked into a studio and plugged into an amp from the comfort of your own home.
A cab sim allows you to step back in time and recreate the sonic qualities of your favourite artists’ amplifier cabinets, without having to actually buy the cabinet! This is extremely useful if you already have the amp sound you love, but want to add a unique quality that only certain amplifier cabinets offer.
For example, if you want to mix the sound of your modern-day amp head with a vintage cabinet, a cab sim enables you to do so. They’re also very easy to use as you have a streamlined selection of EQ options when compared to an IR – you get the sound you want faster!
Here are a 7 more benefits of Cab Sims:
Again, you can go ampless with a cab simulator. Just plug your pedalboard into your cab sim pedal at the end of the chain and then the front-of-house engineer can take a line level signal from that – you don’t need a cab or an amp!
Most cab sims have the option of mic placement and room sound features which means your FOH engineer won’t need to mic up your cabinet – because there isn’t one! There’s no bleed from the other musicians and your cab sim pedal might actually have a better microphone sound built-in than the venue has in real life! They just take a line-level sound from you.
Cabinets can react differently depending on the room they’re in, the temperature of the room and the speakers may start to degrade – with a cab sim you don’t ever have to worry about that as you’re recalling the exact same sound for every gig and playing it through the PA system.
If you’re like me and you have your pedal sounds dialled in exactly how you want, then a cab simulator allows you to retain that sonic quality and complement your settings. You don’t have to mess around with amplifier settings, just set the cabinet you want, room sound and mic and you’re good to go!
An IR can be a little daunting when you’re trying to dial in your perfect sound. When we’re presented with too many options we can get decision paralysis. A cab simulator or virtual cabinet streamlines the decision process by only offering us the cabinet, mic and room options with slight tweaks of EQ. This way we retain the quality of our effects, and our amp head and can start playing quickly through pro-level sounding cabinets straight away.
You may want to switch between different cabinet settings depending on the song. A cab sim lets you flick between multiple virtual cabinets in an instant. It’s like taking multiple cabinets on tour with you! If you’re in different bands, you may like the sound of a vintage-style cabinet for one and a modern-style cabinet for another. As the rise of low-wattage amps continues to take the world by storm, people are looking slim down their rig, so cab sims are super handy when you’re already happy with your amp sound. You can also recreate the sound of your favourite artists. For example, I show you how to sound like Billy Corgan using the Laney LA-Studio‘s cab sims.
Many DAWs do not come with a cabinet simulator as standard. With a cab sim, you can either use the hardware version or the software version to record your signal using a professional-level cabinet. Plugin cabinets often lack the “real” feel of a cabinet, but the likes of the Two Notes DynIR virtual Laney cabinet library allows you to record directly to your DAW and sound as if you’re using a real cabinet, real microphones and a real studio environment.
This is actually one of the main benefits of the new Laney LA-Studio amp head – you can record straight to DAW with a host of word-class mics and cabinets.
In summary, Impulse Response recreates a whole amplifier sound, including the guitar amp tone, effects, rack mount gear, mic and room sound. A Cab Sim will recreate the sound of any chosen guitar cabinet including the EQ qualities e.g. wood, speaker quality/series, and mic placement.
Impulse Response provides a sonic snapshot of an amp across the full frequency range which is typically 20Hz to 20kHz. The sound you hear has been physically recorded and measured and is then accurately recreated via the plugin or hardware.
Both are very similar, except the Cab Sim is a streamlined version. When they’re used in conjunction, you essentially step into any guitar sound captured in the history of the electric guitar.
So why would you need a cab sim or Impulse Response, and which one would should you choose?
If you already have an amp head that you like, then a Cab Sim is the easiest way to gig without a cab but retain high-quality sound onstage as you also have mic placement functionality. For recording, you can use a Cab Sim in conjunction with amplifier plugins to record lush guitar and bass sounds that effectively recreate the feel of a guitar or bass cabinet in a studio environment, all through your interface. You don’t need to mic up a cabinet in real life!
However, if you want to go completely ampless on guitar or record guitars without relying on stock standard plug-ins, then an IR loader or Impulse Response unit would be the way to go. IR offers more complexity of tone – but you may not need this.
A cab sim allows you to reduce the amount of gear you need to tour, allowing you to get on the road with just an amp head and pedalboard, or record high-quality guitar cabinet sounds that a LOT of DAWs seem to leave out.
An Impulse Response unit or IR Loader streamlines the amount of gear you need even further, allowing you to effectively tour or gig with just a guitar and pedalboard, but can take a little getting used to. Both have their benefits depending on what you want to gig or record with/without.
As always you need to choose which option is right for you. Maybe you want the complexity of tone that an IR can offer. Maybe you want the streamlined functionality of a Cab Sim in conjunction with your own amplifier and pedals – there’s no right or wrong answer. Just choose what works for you!