We present new, high-to-intermediate spectral resolution stellar population models, based on four popular libraries of empirical stellar spectra, namely Pickles, ELODIE, STELIB and MILES. These new models are the same as our previous models, but with higher resolution and based on empirical stellar spectra, while keeping other ingredients the same including the stellar energetics, the atmospheric parameters and the treatment of the thermally pulsating asymptotic giant branch and the horizontal branch morphology. We further compute very high resolution (R= 20 000) models based on the theoretical stellar library MARCS which extends to the near-infrared. We therefore provide merged high-resolution stellar population models, extending from ∼1000 to 25 000 Å, using our previously published high-resolution theoretical models which extended to the ultraviolet. We compare how these libraries perform in stellar population models and highlight spectral regions where discrepancies are found. We confirm our previous findings that the flux around the V band is lower (in a normalized sense) in models based on empirical libraries than in those based on the BaSeL–Kurucz library, which results in a bluer B−V colour. Most noticeably the theoretical library MARCS gives results fully consistent with the empirical libraries. This same effect is also found in other models using MILES, namely Vazdekis et al. and Conroy & Gunn, even though the latter authors reach the opposite conclusion. The bluer predicted B−V colour (by 0.05 mag in our models) is in better agreement with both the colours of luminous red galaxies and globular cluster data. We test the models on their ability to reproduce, through full spectral fitting, the ages and metallicities of Galactic globular clusters as derived from colour–magnitude diagram (CMD) fitting and find overall good agreement. We also discuss extensively the Lick indices calculated directly on the integrated MILES-based spectral energy distributions (SEDs) and compare them with element ratio-sensitive index models. We find a good agreement between the two models, if the metallicity-dependent chemical pattern of the Milky Way stars is properly taken into account in this comparison. As a consequence, the ages and metallicities of Galactic globular clusters are not well reproduced when one uses straight the MILES-based indices, because subtle chemical effects on individual lines dominate the age derivation. The best agreement with the ages of the calibrating globular clusters is found with either element ratio-sensitive absorption-line models or the full SED fitting, for which no particular weight is given to selected lines.