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AXPONA 2015: Gibson Les Paul Reference Monitors

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by Josh Emmons

Here’s the thing, Gibson and I got off on the wrong foot.

I have many more fingers in the guitar world than the audio enthusiast one. And there is, perhaps, no guitar “look” more iconic than a Les Paul with maple flametop, cherry sunburst, and that signature off-white binding.

Releasing speakers with these exact distinctive features and the Les Paul name smacks of a scheme to make quick money off aging and nostalgic rockers. It has all the brand-authenticity of Pac-Man Cereal. When I see Gibson is showing off the Les Paul Reference Monitors at AXPONA, I don’t even want to visit the room. My mind’s already made up.

Two things convince me to change it. First, remembering Gibson’s purchase of KRK, maker of some of my favorite monitors of all time. Second, the steady stream of impressive buzz and word-of-mouth coming from the room.

So visit the room I did. And I’m glad, because, if you’ll forgive the guitar pun, I’ve changed my tune.

The Gibson Les Paul Reference Monitors come in three sizes and three finishes. The LP4 has a 4″ woofer, the LP6, a 6″, and the LP8, an 8″. The finishes are cherry, tobacco burst, and cherry burst, the three most popular finishes of the Les Paul guitar.

These speakers are very good, but they’re not magic. The LP4, with its tiny 4″ woofer, grows distinctly distorted when wrestling heavy bass. And even when not distorting, it starts to feel a little crowded when something even mildly rockin’ is played. I suspect they’re intended for computer use, and would likely perform dutifully for desktop listening.

The 6″ LP6 opens this right up, handling bass with ease and bringing some real clarity to the upper-mids. Near as I can tell, tweeters are identical across the line, but with the extra depth below them, the highs on the LP6 have room to shine.

Frankly, the LP6 is what I would consider entry-level for anyone who’s not just buying a Les-Paul-themed conversation starter for their desk. I half-suspect Gibson feels the same, and that the existence of the 4″ is a little contextual pricing strategy at work.

The LP8’s sound is gorgeous and wide open, taking full advantage of that large 8″ woofer to pack extra space into the sound. At louder volumes I really start to feel the physicality and power behind it. But for all its punch, it’s still a monitor. It’s expected to have balanced response and I would say it holds up its end of that deal with aplomb. It really is an exceptional 2-way. Detailed and clear mids and lows, and happy highs. I would hold it up against any bookshelfs present at AXPONA today.

Which is an interesting position for Gibson to be in. At $2,000 for the pair I’d say, in the high-end audio market, the LP8 is successfully competing with speakers twice its price. More so, when I consider that the extent of the front-end in the Gibson room is a Tascam DA-3000 playing through a channel switcher.

But in the world of studio monitors, that price is steep. The top-of-the-line 8″ KRK I spoke so highly of in the opening is $1,200/pair. And yet, it has a face only a mother could love. It’s not the sort of thing I’d want on display in my living room.

And so, unexpectedly, I come back to the signature maple-top burst Gibson has put forward as the face of its Les Paul monitors. It’s a classic in the guitar world for a reason; namely, it’s beautiful. If that beauty speaks to you, I really love these speakers. I think you’ll be quite happy with them.

If, on the other hand, you feel as one show-goer does, that “They look like something you’d get at HotTopic,” I might hold off. For all the beauty and craftsmanship on display, reducing the signature style of a Les Paul guitar down to the rounded-rectangle shape of a smartphone app is a little cloying. And there are better deals to be had if you’re going to cover with a paper bag, anyway.

For my part? I’m crossing my fingers that Gibson releases a line inspired by the SG.

Prices

  • Les Paul Reference Monitor LP4: $599/ea.
  • Les Paul Reference Monitor LP6: $799/ea.
  • Les Paul Reference Monitor LP8: $999/ea.

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About Scot Hull (975 Articles)
Founder, Editor and Publisher at Part-Time Audiophile and The Occasional Magazine.