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Shinola Bookshelf Speaker Review: Our New Favorite Lifestyle Speaker System


July 9, 2018 Reviews By Photo by Hunter D. Kelley
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Shinola’s audio division — Shinola Audio — has been slowly building out its product line since it announced the Runwell Turntable back in 2016. Since then, it’s released the Runwell active bookshelf speakers and a series of over-ear and on-ear headphones. The company is now replacing its original active bookshelf speakers with new ones, simply called the Shinola Bookshelf Speakers, which have been re-engineered from the ground up with the help of Barefoot Sound, a leading manufacturer of pro-audio recording monitors. The new speakers are designed to sound even better than the older Runwell speakers, while also having built-in Bluetooth. Like Shinola’s first bookshelf speakers, these have numerous analog inputs.

The Good: This is powered active speaker system so you don’t need to connect them to a receiver/power amp play music — it’s hi-fi made easy. There’s no app to deal with, either. The speakers have numerous inputs and ways to connect, including Bluetooth, so pretty much anybody can walk up to the speaker and figure out a way to play music. There’s also a USB Type-C audio port, which is rare and an ideal option for those who have Android smartphones that have ditched the traditional headphone jack. The speakers look great and are entirely made and assembled in the US.

Who They’re For: These are beautiful lifestyle speakers, designed to bring high-resolution sound into your home while also matching the rest of your interior decor. They’re really optimized for people who are just getting into high-end audio as they’re basically plug-and-play speakers. If you have a turntable, especially Shinola Audio’s Runwell turntable, these wooden speakers look and sound great with that, too.

Watch Out For: Like Shinola’s other audio products, these speakers blend reference-quality audio with premium materials and therefore they aren’t cheap. There’s no app or wi-fi connectivity, so the only to wireless stream music is via Bluetooth. It could be an issue that specific to our review units, but there’s a pop/thud/boom sound every time the speakers would power on or connect to an audio source, which was frustrating and made me feel like I was going to blow them out.

Update: According to Shinola, the above-mentioned “pop” was a known bug with early review units and it has been fixed for production units.

Alternatives: Powered bookshelf speakers with Bluetooth streaming are en vogue right now. Take the new Audioengine A5+ Wireless ($499+). They aren’t as powerful as these Shinola Bookshelf Speakers, but they sound terrific and are only $500. If you’re looking for the ultimate speaker system, check out the KEF LS50 Wireless ($2,200). Each speaker has its own power amplifier and is able to handle 230-watts per channel, so it’s a step up from Shinola’s offering, but it’s not that much more expensive.

Review: To be fair, right before reviewing Shinola’s new Bookshelf Speakers I had been listening to what may be the pinnacle of stereo sound in an all-in-one speaker system — the KEF LS50 Wireless speakers. I know that’s a different beast, being a dual-powered speaker system instead of the one-active-one-passive speaker system, like the Shinola Bookshelf Speakers (and many other powered monitors), but I was still pleasantly impressed. Shinola’s latest all-in-one speaker system doesn’t have the same power or wi-fi connectivity (or modern/intimidating aesthetic), but still sounds accurate and can still make the room — even large rooms — tremble.

The clarity of the audio is a credit to Shinola Audio’s collaboration with Barefoot Sound, makers of some of the best reference studio monitors out there. The Shinola Bookshelf speakers actually mark the first time that Barefoot Sound has worked on a speaker pair that wasn’t exclusively designed for music professionals. Compared to the original Runwell bookshelf speakers, these new speakers have been re-worked entirely and, according to the company, deliver wider dynamic range and better bass extension.

As I haven’t listened to the original Runwell speakers, I can’t accurately compare the two. Instead, I can just tell you that the bass on these new speakers hits hard without killing the rest of the track. It’s really noticeable in “This Is America” by Childish Gambino and “Devastated” by Joey Bada$$. Still, soothing tracks by Enya and tracks by Gareth Coker, which is what I listen to while working, sound polished even when played loudly. The piano and other instruments, as well the vocals, all sound great.

The majority of my time listening to these speakers was via Bluetooth and connected with included USB Type-C audio cable. The latter of which was pretty satisfying. In some ways, this “future-proofed” the speakers, as many smartphones going forward won’t have a traditional 3.5mm audio jack, but I was able to connect the speakers directly to my Galaxy S9+ and play Spotify. Pretty neat.

As mentioned above, there was an issue with my review units; there was a pop noise every time I turned them on, which my editor and I tried to find a solution for (making sure the volume on the speakers and audio source was turned all the way down, and so on…), but ultimately we think the speakers need a manual firmware update.

Verdict: Shinola’s latest offering is a beautiful and excellent-sounding active speaker system, but it’s pricey. The lack of wi-fi connectivity and companion app is both a blessing and a curse, meaning that the system is easy to use — the addition of Bluetooth and a USB Type-C port means that anybody can figure out how to play music on them — but updating the speakers requires a manual update. Still, if you love the look of these speakers, as well as the sound (you will), these are lifestyle speakers worth paying for.

Key Specs

Type: active bookshelf speakers
Power output: 300-watts total
Connectivity: 3.5mm stereo jack, RCA L/R, SPDIF, USB Type-C, Bluetooth
Tweeter: 1.5-inch soft dome tweeter
Woofer: 6.5-inch custom high-excursion surround
Impedance: 4 Ohms
Frequency response: 60Hz – 22kHz (-3dB), 40Hz – 22kHz (-10dB)
Amplifier: High Efficiency Class D

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