If you’re not using impulse responses in your workflow, you’re missing out on an entire world of consistent, accurate sound that you can replicate over and over again. There’s a level of sonic accuracy and detail in a well-captured IR that you’re going to be hard-pressed to find in an amp simulator.
Maybe you’ve never used impulse responses. Maybe you’ve tried some, but couldn’t find the quality you were looking for in them. Maybe you’re using them all the time and want to make sure you’re maximizing their effectiveness.
Whatever the case may be, everyone’s got concerns about best practices with impulse responses. This guide is made to share some of the lesser-known secrets of my IR workflow – a workflow that’s proven to work for major labels and independent acts alike. Find out how I conquered IRs in my studio, and how you can do the same:
Start at the Source
As with almost everything – shit in = shit out. You can try to fix a bunch of tracking errors in the mix, but it’s never going to be the same result as a well-tracked DI in the first place.
I don’t care if it takes a hundred repetitions to get the take, because getting it right at the source is going to make my job easier later in the process. Simple edits are going to exist no matter what, don’t waste your time worrying about a bit off fret noise that can be muted – we’re after the performance.
A well-tracked guitar DI going into your signal chain & impulse response should react to the processing the same way it would in a live rig, so it makes sense that a good performance is key. It’s one less thing to distract the listener, and leads to a more immersive mix.
Documentation is huge when it comes to recalling a process, and chances are that you’re going to find your favorites in any IR pack. Packs like Conquer All come with 35 impulse responses to provide flexibility and variations at a great value. But just like our music tastes differ, we’re all going to like different cab/microphone/preamp combinations.
Once you find your favorites, make a note of the qualities you like, why you picked that IR over the others, etc. These notes will make it easy to quickly recall a specific sound when you need it in later sessions.
How you document your IRs is completely up to you. Some engineers will use the notes section right inside their DAW or a pad of paper at their desk. Others will make a “Favorites” folder right on their computer, making it easy to navigate to the best of the best later on. That approach also makes it super easy to grab-and-go if you find yourself bouncing between computers; just dump your favorite IRs on a flash drive and load them in any session using an IR loader.
Never Stop Searching
Every time I think I’ve found the holy grail of guitar tone, one of two things happens:
I load the IR that I think will work great in a particular track, and wonder how the hell I ever thought it sounded good in any mix, because it certainly won’t work in this one.
Another cab/mic/pre combo comes around that rocks my world with a tighter bass response or more focused mid-range than anything I’ve captured before.
Our options are constantly growing and it would be irresponsible of us to disregard those changes. A decade ago, we didn’t have Kemper or AxeFX (or anything remotely similar in the hardware realm). Now there are full marketplaces trading presets and IRs made from those modelers.
On top of that, our IR capturing process is constantly changing. Things like phase aligning and level matching make for an easier A/B experience while also allowing a more consistent sound when stacking layers of guitars. As new tonal options become available, we put out these revisions to build on the originals. In the case of Conquer All V2, we nearly doubled the IR count from what was available in the original Conquer All IR Pack.
Nail Down Your Process
Finding a consistent approach to using impulse will make their use nearly effortless. Once you understand the basics of using impulse responses, you open up a lot of personal preferences in regards to their use.
The end result for every engineer and musician should be the same: a more flexible workflow.