Fig. 1. The Les Paul 8 Reference Monitors provide high-quality sound and a look reminiscent of their namesake guitars.
The Les Paul brand is iconic and enduring, and now Gibson has extended it into the recording market with the Les Paul Reference Monitors. Available with 4", 6", or 8" woofers, these powered monitors feature flame-maple front panels reminiscent of the tops of Les Paul guitars (see Figure 1). In this review, we’ll focus on the flagship Les Paul 8 Reference Monitors ($999 each), and see if their sound and performance live up to their snazzy look and lofty price.
If I had any doubt that Gibson was marketing these as premium-quality monitors, opening up the boxes would have dispelled it. Arriving in gold-colored boxes branded with the Gibson logo, the speaker cabinets were wrapped in black cloth covers with drawstring tops. I was initially puzzled as to their purpose, but Gibson informed me that they’re designed to protect the front-panel paint job during shipping or when moving the speakers from one room to another. The company also touted them as dust covers, although if you put them over the top of the speakers (the only way possible if the speakers are set up), the Gibson logo appears upside down. That aside, Gibson has clearly put some effort into packaging the monitors in a way that keeps your investment well protected, which is a good thing.
I received the Tobacco Burst model with a painted flame-maple front panel, black around the edges and a light-orange flame maple in the middle. Also available are Cherry Burst, which looks like your prototypical sunburst Les Paul finish, with red around the edges and yellow inside; and Cherry, a rich cherry red. The front panel has a nitrocellulose finish.
The woofers are protected by metal mesh grilles, with Les Paul’s signature printed on them. There’s even a small sticker on the back of each monitor with a holographic image of Les Paul himself with multiple Gibson logos behind him.
Once you get used to seeing monitors with guitar-like front panels—which is a bit jarring initially—they’re actually quite nice looking. That opinion isn’t shared by all, however. Rolling Stone put them on their worst-products list from the CES show, stating that they were “destined for cautionary design school lectures.”
By leveraging the Les Paul brand, Gibson has made an interesting marketing decision. It appears that the company is not only going for the recording professional and the musician’s homestudios, but also hoping to appeal to high-end music listeners, who can afford to add these monitors to their audio systems or home theater setups.
A LOOK AROUND
If you recall, Gibson acquired studio-monitor manufacturer KRK back in 2011. My initial assumption when I first heard about the Les Paul monitors was that they would include at least some KRK technology. But according to Gibson, that’s not the case. “These are not KRK products, nor are they built on existing KRK platforms,” says a company spokesperson. “However, expertise in their design and manufacture is from the KRK team of Gibson Pro Audio in Chatsworth, Calif.”
The monitors are bi-amplified, and this particular pair equipped with 8" non-woven carbon-fiber woofers and 1" carbon-coated titanium tweeters. Each cabinet has two ports on the front panel near the bottom. Front-facing ports are particularly useful in small rooms such as home studios, because it allows you to place the speakers closer to walls than you can with rear-ported speakers.
Fig. 2. In addition to versatile connectivity, the rear panels offer EQ and volume controls and a Standby button. The connectivity options on the monitors are plentiful. Inputs include XLR or 1/4" TRS balanced/ unbalanced (via combo jacks), and unbalanced RCA jacks. The back panel also offers knobs for Volume, Bass, and Treble. The latter two are detented, with the choice of flat, and plus or minus 1, 2, or 4 dB. I wish the volume controls were detented, as well, because it would be easier to balance left and right that way.
For studio applications, it’s always useful to have EQ controls to counteract the acoustic quirks of your studio. Those who buy the monitors for home audio and home theater applications will find the Bass and Treble controls useful for dialing in a more “hyped” frequency response.
A Standby button is included on the back, which lowers the power consumption of the monitors when engaged. Gibson says that feature was added because of their commitment to green technology. And according to the manufacturer, a Standby mode is also a European Union requirement for all electronic gear. Unfortunately, no documentation came with the pair of monitors I received for review (and I couldn't find any online).
Rounding out the back panel are power switches and inputs for the included IEC power cables. A Gibson logo on the front panel lights up when the monitors are on and slowly blinks when they are in Standby mode. Each monitor puts out 247W of combined power, with a crossover frequency of 2.7 kHz and a stated frequency response of 37 Hz to 47 kHz (no tolerances given).
ALL FIRED UP
I placed the speakers on monitor stands, decoupled with Primacoustic Recoil Stabilizers. From the first time I used them, I was very impressed with their sound. They’re clean, loud, and offer reproduction that’s extremely well balanced, frequencywise. In addition to tight bass and crisp highs, the midrange is well-represented, so you don’t get that hole-in-the-middle sound that plagues some monitors, especially those with large woofers. Because my studio tends to eat bass, I was glad to have the bass EQ knob to compensate.
I was also impressed with their transient response. For instance, drum recordings sounded extremely realistic through them, as did acoustic guitars.
I used the monitors for a variety of mixing projects, and for long stretches of time without much ear fatigue. The mixes I did on them translated well to other systems.
LES IS MORE
While the concept of a Les Paul studio monitor might be considered gimmicky by some, that notion shouldn’t detract from the product’s sound quality, which is excellent. The 8" monitors provide a good representation of the frequency spectrum, have a smooth and non-fatiguing sound, and are suitable for mixing and even home mastering. They’re well-designed with excellent connectivity and features.
My biggest concern is the price, which, especially for the 8" model, places them out of reach of many home-recording musicians. However, to achieve high-end performance, Gibson says it had to put quality components—power amp, drivers, and cabinet—into these monitors, which is reflected in their premium cost. And they succeeded in their aim because the Les Paul 8 reference monitors really sound great.
Balanced sound across the frequency spectrum. Unique look. Detented bass and treble controls. Protective soft covers included.
Expensive. Unconventional aesthetics.
$999 each, street
Mike Levine is an editor, writer, and multi-instrumentalist who lives in the New York area.
The Other Les Paul Monitors
The other models in the line include the mid-sized Les Paul 6 Reference Monitors ($799 each/street) and the desktop-sized Les Paul 4 Reference Monitors ($599 each/street). Both offer the same three finish choices as the 8” model.
The 4" and 6" monitors are also bi-amplified systems with 1" tweeters. The big difference between the 4" and the 6" models, other than the size of the woofers and cabinets, is in the power amp specs and bass response.
Interestingly, the frequency response, power output, and Max Peak SPL are virtually the same between the 8" and 6" models. Without having tested the 6" model, I cannot compare the two, but on paper, the 6" appears to offer the best combination of price, power, and frequency response.
Below is a comparison of selected factory-stated specs for all three monitor models.