My Secret Sauce for Early U2: York Audio’s Vox AC30 IR

Want to know how I get that early U2 sound in my YouTube cover videos? The York Audio Vox AC30 impulse response (IR) pack I use with my HX Stomp makes a world of difference! Learn more here.

If you follow me on YouTube, you know that I mostly cover early U2 songs on guitar. It’s common knowledge among fans of The Edge that playing through a Vox AC30 pushed just to the edge of breakup (no pun intended) is key to approximating his early tones. What if you don’t have access to a Vox AC30, however? What if you don’t even use amps anymore, period?

Not a problem!

I’ve used digital modeling units for almost a decade now. My current modeler of choice for replicating U2 guitar tones is the Line 6 Helix family of products. As great as the stock cabinet models are on my HX Stomp, the final piece of the puzzle for me (as far as early U2 goes) was a Vox AC30 impulse response (IR) pack I purchased from York Audio.

What is an Impulse Response?

In the guitar world, an impulse response (IR) is a digital file that captures the unique sonic characteristics of a mic’ed up speaker cabinet (the “response”) relative to a source of audio (the “impulse”). If that’s a little too abstract to visualize, I don’t blame you. Think for a moment about how we traditionally record guitar amplifiers:

To capture the sound of a guitar through an amplifier, we carefully position a microphone or two close to our amplifier’s speaker cabinet, plug in our guitar, and hit record. What we end up with does not just represent the tonal qualities and settings of the amplifier head. Indeed, the sound we capture actually reflects several elements of the entire setup, such as: (1) the unique characteristics of the speaker cabinet itself; (2) the type of microphone we use; (3) how close we position the mic to the speaker; (4) the angle we choose for the mic relative to the speaker; and (5) how dead or reverberant the room is.

Impulse responses are a usable snapshot of all the above elements. When paired with an appropriately dialed amp sim in a digital modeling unit or digital audio workstation (DAW), the result is a highly realistic amplified guitar sound. Thanks to impulse responses, anyone can digitally replicate the sound of any amplifier and cabinet combo. Neat, right? If you’re still finding it hard to wrap your head around IRs, check out Pete Thorn’s great explanation on YouTube.

York Audio’s Vox AC30 IR Pack

During my search for a good Vox AC30 IR a few years back, I came across York Audio. Someone over at The Gear Page forum had described York Audio’s VX30 212 BLUE IR pack as the best replication of a Vox AC30 they’d ever heard, so I was naturally curious. A quick perusal of the product description was promising. A set of impulse responses generated from a Vox AC30 Top Boost with original Celestion Alnico Blue speakers? Sure, I thought, that’s not far off from what The Edge used! Then I got to this section of the product description:

Mix BMAY was designed to replicate tones from one of the world’s most “royal” players, and Mix EDGY was designed to replicate tones that “YOU TOO” will enjoy playing. 

— York Audio

Sold — and not just for the U2 reference. Queen is another one of my favourite bands, so an IR pack with a mix modeled on Sir Brian’s characteristic Vox AC30 tones in addition to The Edge’s was doubly intriguing to me.

So, What Does it Sound Like?

After purchasing the abovementioned IR pack, I loaded the EDGY mix into my HX Stomp, paired it with Line 6’s Vox AC30 model, and loaded up a U2 preset. I was immediately blown away by the sound coming through my headphones. Here’s an example of the IR mix in use on my YouTube channel:

“11 O’Clock Tick Tock” by U2 (Instrumental Cover – New Version)

Now compare that with the original Red Rocks recording available on U2’s YouTube channel:

11 O’Clock Tick Tock (Live From Red Rocks Amphitheatre, Colorado, USA / 1983 / Remastered)

The tone is not identical, to be sure, but it’s pretty darn close. It becomes even more apparent how close it is when you compare the cover above to one I did several years ago on YouTube with a Boss COSM modeler. Ignoring for a moment the fact that I wasn’t really playing the song right, the overall tone in the old version just sounds off. That “offness” is most obvious during the harmonic sections of the song.

SEE ALSO: Recreating The Edge’s Guitar Tone on U2’s Boy (1980)

A real Vox AC30TB responds to guitar harmonics in an airy, chimey sort of way. To hear what I mean, skip to the 3:46 mark in the Red Rocks recording. Compare it to the 3:26 mark in my new cover version, and you’ll hear that the sound is very similar. The Edge quite literally mimics the chimes of an old Westminster grandfather clock during that section of the song. Without a Vox AC30TB — or something close to it — those bells just don’t ring out as they should.

Until I bought that Vox AC30 IR pack, I simply could not get that sound. Since I started using it, viewers have asked me if I’m playing with a real Vox AC30. They never asked me that before, because it was always very obvious that I wasn’t using one, tonally-speaking.

Conclusion

Impulse responses have ultimately changed the digital modeling game for the better. If you use a digital modeler or amp plugins and are struggling to replicate early U2 tones, consider York Audio’s Vox AC30 IR pack. You’ll still need to dial in your amp sim and effects settings appropriately, of course, but the IR mix will make things a little easier.

Disclaimer: I have no affiliation with York Audio and receive no compensation if you purchase the abovementioned IR pack — I am merely a fan of Justin York’s excellent work. Only purchase the IR pack if you have a digital modeler or amp plugin that can load IRs.


Questions?

Do you have a question about the subject matter of this blog post that I didn’t answer above? Feel free to leave a public comment on my YouTube channel by clicking on the button below, and I’ll get back to you there as soon as I can.

See Also: