Loudspeaker World

Review: Les Paul Studio Reference Monitors From Gibson

They're great to look at, but how do they sound? An evaluation of both the 4-inch and 8-inch models...

By M. Erik Matlock July 29, 2015

Out of the box, my first impression of the new Les Paul Reference Monitors from Gibson was that I didn’t even care what they sounded like. They’re absolutely gorgeous. My room received an instant aesthetic upgrade just by having them in there.

The active (bi-amped), 2-way line offers 4-inch, 6-inch and 8-inch carbon woofer options, each joined by a 1-inch carbon-coated titanium tweeter in a front-ported, bass-reflex enclosure. The rear panel includes high- and low-frequency trim controls for tailoring, both with settings of -4 dB, -2 dB, -1 dB, 0, +1 dB, +2 dB, and +4 dB.

Input is made with either an unbalanced RCA connection or through a balanced multi-connector that accepts XLR or TRS connections. The rear panel also offers a button for engaging or defeating standby mode, along with the power cord and switch.

As noted, it’s the enclosures themselves that make a strong first impression, with iconic archtop styling with carved flame-maple front. Finish choices include high-gloss nitrocellulose cherry, cherry burst, and tobacco burst.

Once powered up, the lighted Gibson logo on the front was just one more impressive styling aspect. The front panels had my approval before they even received signal. True Les Paul-flavored eye candy.

For my evaluation, I was provided with a set of 4-inch and 8-inch monitors. The design is straightforward and user friendly, a nice complement to the beautiful appearance.

My first test came in unpacking and setting up the 4-inch models. The units came double boxed, well padded and wrapped in their own cloth bag to protect the finish. They were joined by a user manual that I actually read through.

I set them up in my small studio and wasn’t sure if it would be a fair test, considering that my “lie detectors” are still in play. (A pair of vintage Pioneer HPM-100 reference monitors are still my first choice for critical listening.)

My first impression was that the 4-inch models reminded me of Yamaha NS-10m monitors, known for being mid-heavy but also for demanding tight mixes. The old rule was that if your mix sounded good on NS-10m monitors, it would translate well to almost anything.

The 4-inch version of the Les Pauls are definitely mid heavy and darker sounding than I expected from a smaller control room monitor. Anticipating a thinner tone, I found that instead they produced much more low-mid and bottom than might be assumed from boxes this size. Some adjustment to the EQ on the rear panel brightened up the top end and tamed the lows, providing a balanced tone.

The specs state a maximum SPL of 109 dB, which I doubted at first. But it’s there. Plenty of level and, honestly, they sounded much cleaner with the volume all the way up and levels controlled from the system instead of the rear panel.

From there I moved on to the big boys. And I do mean big—the 8-inch models (18.6 x 12 x 13.8 inches each) are much larger than the 4-inch models (10.2 x 6.5 x 9.5 inches each).

There’s a substantial difference in power, too. The little guys max out at 109 dB with a combined 103 watts while the big guys claim 118 dB at a total of 247 watts between the two internal amplifiers. The extra power shows up with gusto. I felt the presence in my room immediately.

As expected, they carry quite a bit more low end than the 4-inch models, much thicker in the lower frequencies. Like the smaller models, they delivered better performance with the internal amplifiers all the way up or close to it.

I had to remind myself that, in spite of the size, these are still near field monitors. Both models utilize the same 1-inch HF driver, which doesn’t seem suited to distances of more than a few feet away to attain a balanced and clean top end. However, keeping them within arms reach supplied a nice blend of highs and lows.

With virtually distortion-free performance, I see the Les Paul Reference Monitors being a solid addition to many modestly sized mixing environments. Specific size should be determined based primarily on the amount of low frequency material being mixed.

For a small studio wanting to make an impression (and/or for a collector of all things Les Paul), these limited edition loudspeakers are worth consideration. They’re available from Gibson pro audio dealers, with published pricing ranging from $599 (4-inch) to $999 (8-inch).

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About M. Erik

M. Erik Matlock
M. Erik Matlock

Senior Editor, ProSoundWeb
Erik worked in a wide range of roles in pro audio for more than 20 years in a dynamic career that encompasses system design and engineering in the live, install and recording markets. He also spent a number of years as a church production staff member and Media Director, and as an author for several leading industry publications before joining the PSW team.


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