Best impulse response loaders 2024: professionally recorded guitar tones on the go

Amp and cab simulation is now firmly in the mainstream of modern guitar thanks to their improved usability and nigh-on indistinguishable sound from the real thing. Using one of the best impulse response loader pedals, you can take your favorite tone from the studio to your next show, then back to the practice room without compromising your sound. 

An impulse response simulates the sound of a guitar cabinet recorded with a microphone in a space. You can get them with the classics like a Shure SM57 or Sennheiser MD421 or something more exotic like a ribbon microphone, and there’s a variety of speaker combos from 1x12 right through to 4x10. Instead of taking up space in your home or studio space with cabinets and microphones, an impulse response loader pedal gives you all the tone options digitally.

They’re a great way to get consistent and high-quality sounds both for recording and playing live, without having to deal with bad room acoustics or venue-owned cabinets and microphones that have seen better days. If you don't want to carry a laptop around with you, then impulse response pedals are the way to go.

Impulse responses can be a complicated topic, so if you’re looking for more info make sure to check out our buying advice section. For those who just want to get started with the best impulse response loaders, just keep scrolling.

Guitar World author Matt McCracken
Matt McCracken

Matt is a Junior Deals Writer at Guitar World and has been playing guitar as his main instrument for well over 20 years. He also plays drums, bass, and keys producing out of his home studio in Manchester, UK. He has previously worked for Dawsons Music, Northwest Guitars, and freelanced for various magazines and blogs, writing reviews, how-to's, and features. When he's not downloading the latest VSTs or justifying yet another guitar pedal purchase, you'll find him making a racket with Northern noise hounds JACKALS

Best impulse response loaders: The quick list

Want to get to the good stuff without walls of text? Here you'll find our top picks of the best impulse response loaders available today, with links to read more if you wish.

Best impulse response loaders 2023

You can trust Guitar World Our expert reviewers spend hours testing and comparing guitar products so you can choose the best for you. Find out more about how we test.

Here you'll find full writeups of all the best impulse response loaders available today.  Many of these products have been directly tested by the experienced musicians here at Guitar World, so you can rely on our recommendations.

Best overall

Best impulse response loaders: IK Multimedia Tonex Pedal

(Image credit: IK Multimedia)
AI power for incredibly accurate impulse responses

Specifications

Type: Amp Modeling Profiler
Connections: 1 x 1/4" In, 2 x 1/4" (L/R) Out, 1 x 1/4" (expression), 1 x USB Type B, MIDI In/Out, Headphone out
Power: 9V DC power supply (included)

Reasons to buy

+
Super realistic cabs
+
Loads of presets
+
Free models on ToneNET

Reasons to avoid

-
Overkill if you only want loading

After a long stint at the top of the guitar VST game, the makers of Amplitube dropped the much anticipated IK Multimedia Tonex Pedal to many plaudits. Combining some of the best amp models out there with a thriving community of user made presets, Tonex is a powerful way to load and create your own IRs.

You get Tonex MAX and Amplitube 5 when you purchase the pedal, opening up literally thousands of tonal possibilities for your pedalboard. The onboard cab sounds are absolutely unreal, and there’s loads of choice in terms of speaker configurations, mic placement, and room sounds. 

You can tweak all of the settings onboard, but to be honest, it was a bit too long-winded for us and we found that editing through the app was a million times easier. Considering the size and flexibility of the connection options, Tonex is a no-brainer for the gigging guitarist, allowing you to take painstakingly crafted tones from the home studio to your local stage.

Read the IK Multimedia TONEX Pedal review 

Best compact option

Best impulse response loaders: Two Notes Torpedo C.A.B. M+

(Image credit: Two Notes)

2. Two Notes Torpedo C.A.B. M+

Impulse loading that’s perfect for busy pedalboards

Specifications

Type: Preamp, Cabinet Modeling, IR Loading
Connections: 1 x 1/4" (Hi-Z/line/amp), 1 x 1/8" (aux in), 1 x 1/4" (speaker), 1 x 1/4" (line out), 1 x XLR (DI out), 1 x 1/8" (headphones), USB Micro-B
Power: 12V DC power supply (included)

Reasons to buy

+
Fits on busy ‘boards
+
Easy to load IRs
+
Third-party IR support

Reasons to avoid

-
Hardware controls are fiddly

It looks like a regular stompbox but the Two Notes Torpedo CAB is in fact a pedalboard-friendly version of their highly regarded Torpedo hardware, giving you awesome amp modeling and a preamp in a compact unit.

With its individual sections, you get power-amp and guitar cabinet modeling, as well as various room types with the ability to add EQ in post. There are 32 cabinets pre-loaded and 8 microphone types to choose from and you can load in your own IRs if you wish. Two Notes also include their free Torpedo BlendIR software for capturing your own rig.

The hardware encoders are a little fiddly to use, to be honest, and with the depth of tweaking on offer, it can get a little overwhelming doing things this way. Thankfully there’s a Torpedo Wireless Remote app available that works via Bluetooth, allowing you to wirelessly set up your cabinets to your taste. If you want to load your own IRs however, you’ll need to plug it in via the USB Micro-B socket.

Best budget option

Best impulse response loaders: TC Electronic Impulse IR Loader

(Image credit: TC Electronic)
The best budget cab loader available today

Specifications

Type: IR Loader, Cabinet Modeling
Connections: 1 x 1/4" in, 1 x 1/4" out, 1 x USB Mini-B
Power: 9V DC power supply (sold separately)

Reasons to buy

+
Excellent value for money
+
Will fit on pretty much any ‘board
+
Pedalboard power supply compatible

Reasons to avoid

-
No headphone out

If you’re wanting an easy introduction to the world of IR loading, or you just need something that doesn’t cost loads of money, the TC Electronic Impulse IR Loader should do the trick. Its compact format makes it great for stacked pedalboards and there’s a surprising amount of versatility inside its small enclosure.

It comes loaded with 12 genuine Celestion IRs, so you’ll have some of the most famous speakers in the world at your fingertips. There’s an option for bass guitarists, acoustic guitars, and even a few pedalboard settings that are a blend of an amp EQ and a cabinet IR so you can run an ampless setup for live use or recording.

The best thing about the Impulse IR Loader is its simplicity. We found that changing settings via the hardware knobs and buttons were really intuitive, and its small size makes it easy to fit on your pedalboard. Plus, it has a Snake mini-game on it if you’re bored whilst your bassist messes with their settings.

Read the TC Electronic Impulse IR Loader review 

Best for versatility

Best impulse response loaders: Boss IR-200

(Image credit: Boss)

4. Boss IR-200

A powerful IR loader with lots of in-depth options

Specifications

Type: Amp Emulation, Impulse Response Cabinets
Connections: 1 x 1/4" (input), 1 x 1/8" (aux in), 2 x 1/4" (A/mono, B), 1 x 1/4" (send), 1 x 1/4" TRS (return), 2 x 1/8" TRS type-A (in, out), 1 x 1/4" TRS (control 1, 2/expression), USB Micro-B, 1 x 1/8" headphone
Power: 9V DC power supply (included)

Reasons to buy

+
Does amp and cab sims
+
Versatile routing
+
Does stereo sounds

Reasons to avoid

-
Takes some learning

Despite its moniker, the Boss IR-200 can do a whole lot more than just replicate your favorite cabinets. It’s a fully-fledged rig in a box with loads of options for guitar players who want to downsize or record at home easily. Boss has a decent history of amp modeling, and they’ve packed a lot of functionality into this pedal-sized powerhouse.

It features a hefty 154 IRs from both Boss and Celestion, as well as eight guitar amps and three bass amp models. You can also load stereo IRs, making it that much easier to run a stereo rig without having to cart around multiple amplifiers with you. 

There are a lot of different settings so it will take some time to learn, but if you put in the effort you’ll be rewarded with some phenomenal tones. 128-user memory slots mean you can have lifetime’s worth of guitar rigs at your disposal, and a boatload of connectivity options ensure it will fit into even the most complex of setups.

Best for simplicity

Best impulse response loaders: ENGL Cabloader

(Image credit: ENGL)

5. ENGL Cabloader

An easy-to-use cab sim with lots of different sounds

Specifications

Type: Amp Sim/IR Loader
Connections: 1 x 1/4", 1 x 1/4" TS, 1 x 1/4" (thru), 1 x XLR (DI out), USB Micro-B, 1 x 1/8" (headphones)
Power: 9V DC power supply (not included)

Reasons to buy

+
Lots of tone options
+
Load your own IRs
+
Compact size

Reasons to avoid

-
PSU not included

As well as being an excellent IR loader, the ENGL Cabloader features power amp sims and various microphones that make it a great all-in-one solution. Whether you want to play live going straight to the desk or use it at home into your DAW, it offers great sound an easy usability.

There are 12 pre-loaded cabinet settings, all from ENGL with 1x12, 2x12, and 4x12 options. Each one has a different variation of Celestion speakers so you’ve got plenty of options. There are ten microphones to choose from, as well as four different power amp models including EL34, EL84, 6L6, and 6V6. 

It’s a comprehensive selection that will certainly suit the vast majority of guitar players and we love the ENGL Cabloader as an all-in-one solution for practice, recording, and playing live. The presence knob is also super useful for sculpting your preamp tone if you’re using it.

Best for tube amps

Best impulse response loaders: Suhr Reactive Load/IR

(Image credit: Suhr)

6. Suhr Reactive Load/IR

A rugged cab sim for players who don’t want to give up their tube amps

Specifications

Type: Reactive Load, IR Loader
Connections: 1 x 1/4" In, 1 x 1/4" Thru, 1 x 1/4" DI unfiltered, 1 x 1/4" IR out, 1 x ⅛” headphone out, 1 x ⅛ Aux in
Power: 9V DC power supply (included)

Reasons to buy

+
Rugged build quality
+
Excellent feel
+
Works with tube amps

Reasons to avoid

-
No digital outputs
-
No editing software

Designed by John Suhr in conjunction with legendary amp designer Jim Kelley, the Surh Reactive Load/IR is a fantastic option for players who want a rugged cab loader and reactive load that will hold its own live or in the studio.

You can store 16 different cabinets and it comes pre-loaded with Celestion IRs designed specifically for Suhr. It was the feel that impressed us most about this unit, with the lifelike response of the built-in IRs immediately noticeable. There’s no amp sim in sight here, so this is one for guitarists who want to utilize their existing amplifier.

The toggle switches give you a 6dB signal boost or act as a high cut. The latter doesn’t cut the EQ, but rather the impedance curve making it perfect for use with amp heads. It’s not quite as full-featured as others on this list, and there’s no digital output and no cab editing software, but the rugged build quality and feel help it stand out amongst others.

More options...

Best impulse response loaders: Mesa CabClone IR+

(Image credit: Mesa/Boogie)

7. Mesa CabClone IR+

An IR loader, reactive load, and attenuator all in one

Specifications

Type: IR Loader, Reactive Load, Attenuator
Connections: 1 x 1/4" (Hi-Z/line), 1 x 1/4" (powered signal in), 1 x 1/4" (to speaker), 1 x XLR (DI out), 1 x 1/4" (dry line out), 1 x 1/4" (headphone), MIDI In, MIDI Thru, USB Type B
Power: 18V DC power supply (included)

Reasons to buy

+
Excellent IR sounds
+
Doubles as attenuator
+
Can be used as reactive load

Reasons to avoid

-
No direct to digital output

If you’re a lover of tube amps then the Msea CabClone IR+ is designed for you. As well as containing an excellent selection of cabinet IRs, it also features an attenuation option for taming your loud amp on stage, as well as a reactive loud for silent recording that won’t disturb the neighbors or anyone else at home.

The playing feel of these Mesa cab sims is second to none, and there’s none of that dreaded, muffled sound that plagues some IRs here. There’s a variety of options like the 2x12 with Creambacks and a 4x12 Recto cab that makes it pretty versatile, but if you do want to load your own impulse responses you can do that too.

The CabClone IR is available a little cheaper if you don’t need the attenuator, and having the reactive load is a godsend for recording your amp at home. Each cabinet has a dedicated version for live and studio use, so you can always be sure you’re sending the right signal to FOH or to your DAW

Best impulse response loaders: Sonicake Sonic IR

(Image credit: Sonicake)

8. Sonicake Sonic IR

The best cheap impulse response loader

Specifications

Type: IR Loader
Connections: 1 x 1/4" In, 1 x 1/4" Out, XLR balanced out
Power: 9V DC power supply (not included)

Reasons to buy

+
Incredible value
+
Easy to use
+
Super compact design

Reasons to avoid

-
No editing app
-
Too simple for some

Don’t the obscure name fool you, the Sonicake IR is actually manufactured by Hotone so despite the bargain bucket price, you’re getting a quality bit of gear. It’s super simple and compact, making it a great option for first-timers and those who don’t want loads of bells and whistles.

The Sonic IR comes pre-loaded with 11 IRs, 9 for guitar and two for bass. Pretty much all sonic ground is covered from 1x8 to 4x12 and the sound quality is fantastic considering the price. There is a little more latency than some of the other loaders on this list, but it’s barely noticeable.

There’s no EQ section so you’ll be relying on the base EQ from the IRs in question, which may or may not suit your tastes. If you’re loading your own IRs, you may want to apply some low or high cuts depending on the sound before you import them.

Best impulse response loaders: Buying advice

What is an impulse response loader?

An impulse response loader replaces your guitar cabinet, by simulating the sound of a guitar speaker. They can be software or hardware-based and are typically used with a physical preamp, amp head, or with plugins. A pedal-based impulse response loader prevents you from having to carry your guitar cabinet around with you, allowing for much easier transportation of your rig. 

How do you use an impulse response loader?

Most impulse response loaders come pre-loaded with sounds, so they’re typically plug-and-play pedals just like any other. However, they do differ in that you can load your own impulse responses, whether that’s one you’ve made yourself, or one you’ve purchased from elsewhere. Part of the brilliance of impulse response loaders is you can capture the sound of your rig and take it with you wherever you go. 

How do impulse responses work?

An impulse response is a measurement of the sound of a guitar cabinet, usually through a microphone and then sometimes into a desk. When you record a guitar in the studio it goes through lots of different processes and hardware before you hear it coming out of the monitors, impulse responses allow you to capture that sound and play it anywhere.

They’re rapidly gaining popularity because it allows you to overcome the limitation of carrying amps around with you, as you can have a 1x12 or a 4x12 in your rig, and switch between them in the same song if you really want to. Just like convolution reverbs have been used for years in the recording industry, so to impulse responses for guitar are becoming a go-to for their inherent versatility.

How we choose the best impulse response loaders

At Guitar World, we recognize the pivotal role that impulse response loaders play in allowing you to take your painstakingly dialed-in guitar tone on the road with you. Our team of seasoned musicians has used many IR loaders, rigorously testing them in real-world scenarios to provide you with practical and dependable reviews and recommendations.

Our curated selection of the best impulse response loaders embodies exceptional functionality, intuitive interfaces, and seamless integration into your existing rig. We meticulously assess factors such as ease of use, compatibility with various platforms, sound quality, and versatility to ensure that these loaders stand out as prime examples of impulse response loader pedals.

With Guitar World as your trusted guide, explore our recommended impulse response loaders, all meticulously evaluated by fellow musicians. Whether you're a studio wizard, stage performer, or home player, our expertise ensures that you'll discover the IR loaders that streamline your workflow, amplify your creativity, and empower you to shape your guitar sound with precision.

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