Loading IRs Into the TAE

I've spent many hours over the past several days working with IR Loader and the user IR feature in the Tube Amp Expander and I've made a few small discoveries and developed a lot of strong opinions about it.

The Good

It works! You can load commercial and homegrown IRs into the TAE and it will use them like it does its built-in cabinet IRs, for the most part. And that’s nothing to sneeze at.  Custom IRs are an incredibly powerful capability because they make the TAE open-ended! If what the TAE offers is not quite right, between IRs and the FX loop there's a very good chance you can expand it to your needs. It's a very powerful capability.

I should also point out that there’s no rule saying your IRs have to be speaker/mic IRs. You can create an IR for virtually any audio treatment you can imagine and record. You can do some pretty sick and twisted things to your sound with custom IRs if that's the way you roll.

The Bad

However, using the IR Loader app is incredibly tedious.

It takes a long time to convert and load IRs. Actually it's less about the time than it is the fact that you have to load IRs one at a time – you can’t load them in bulk.

I get that it simply takes IR Loader some processing time to convert the IR file. But I do wonder how much of the total time is spent simply transferring the IR to the TAE. IR Loader communicates with the TAE via MIDI over USB (it requires you to select the TAE as the input and output MIDI device on start-up). If IR Loader using MIDI SysEx to transfer the IRs, that is almost certainly a lot slower than what the USB connection can support. It reminds me of the bad old days of loading samples into my hardware sample player using SysEx. It was excruciating.

Other things bog down the process too:
  • The name field for TAE IRs isn’t long enough to accommodate the typical long file names of commercial IRs. So you have to rename every IR. That not only slows you down, but a lot of useful information is packed into those vendor names and it's very useful to use them as-is.
  • The default destination slot where the TAE is going to put your new IR is always the first user slot. So for the 31 other possible locations, you have to manually designate the destination. More tedium. Worse, if you’re not paying good attention, it’s way too easy to overwrite the first slot and there’s no confirmation or undo. I made this mistake twice already and I'm sure I'll do it some more because it's just too easy to do!
  • You can’t undo, rename, move, or delete IRs once they're loaded into the TAE. You can only overwrite them. So the process is very unforgiving of mistakes.

The Ugly

Does this sound like a lot of griping over nothing? Let's do the math.

I actually timed it and it takes an average of 1 minute and 47 seconds to convert, load, rename, and designate a destination slot for an IR. The vast majority of that time is waiting for the TAE to convert and load the IR. By the time I started timing it, I’d gotten pretty efficient at my part of the process, so I don’t think more than a few seconds can be shaved off that time. Now, 1:47 doesn’t seem very long, but it really adds up! Doing the math, it means you’ll spend a minimum of 1 hour loading a full set of 32 IRs. And it's not like you can go watch a movie or something while it's happening. You have to be there every minute and 47 seconds to queue up the next load.

Given that a commercial IR pack can easily include 2X to 10X as many IRs as the TAE can load, all of this makes for a real long slog to audition IR packs! We’re talking 2 to 10 hours of overhead time just sitting around waiting for IRs to load so you can try them all out!

I think this problem goes back to IR Loader's origins: It looks exactly the same as the IR Loader app for the GT-1000 and is clearly a close derivative of that software. The GT-1000 only supported 4 user IR slots, as did the TAE when it was first released. IR Loader would be fine if you were only managing 4 slots. But now that the GT-1000 supports 16 and the TAE supports 32 slots, the devices have simply outgrown the basic app. Boss really needs to release an update to both IR Loader apps with support for bulk import.

A Fistful of Tips

All that said, here are some tips to save time if you want to use commercial IRs with the TAE:
  • If you intend to buy more than a couple of IR packs, I suggest buying a software IR host for your computer to make the auditioning process easier and faster. It would be worth the money because life is too short to sit around waiting for data to move from one place to another.
  • Make a plan for exactly which IRs you are going to load and what slots you're going to put them in before you start. Otherwise, the loading process will be even more bogged down by you making these decisions.
  • As I said, having to rename every IR is a pain. One way to speed that up is to copy a "template" name (e.g. "Mesa 4x12 SM57-1"), double-click on the name that IR Loader chooses, paste your template name into the name field, and then make whatever small changes you need to it. This will save you some typing when the IRs you're loading are all variations on each other.
  • If you accidentally overwrite one of your IRs the only way to correct it is to re-load your overwritten IR. So obviously avoid that. Duh. But the point is: Keep your head on-task and you’ll make fewer mistakes.
  • Take good notes! A commercial IR pack will have so many small variations on the same cab that it's impossible to keep track of things in your head: the IRs currently loaded in your TAE; how to decode the vendor’s file naming scheme; your impressions of the IRs that you’ve auditioned in the past; high-level tonal differences between mics, speakers, and other elements, etc. I created a spreadsheet to track it all. I'll post that spreadsheet as a resource soon.