By adding modern touches such as Bluetooth functionality and a built-in amplifier, the Shinola Bookshelf Speaker system has the flexibility to integrate into a modern audio system.
There’s always a thought that ‘studio’ monitors provide excellent sound, and there’s a good deal of truth to that. Recording studios want high power amplifiers and very robust speakers that can fit into a control room and give an accurate portrayal of the original recording.
The Shinola Bookshelf speakers certainly have recording studio DNA because they were designed by Thomas Barefoot of Portland, who has been building increasingly popular studio monitors since 2004.
Shinola brings very high quality industrial design to this collaboration. If you check out the Shinola website you’ll see a variety of drool worthy products from watches, bicycles, and most recently headphones and even the Shinola Runwell turntable.
- Superb build quality
- High quality cabling
- Flexible inputs (USB, Bluetooth, analog)
- Powerful 100 WPC amplifiers matched to the speakers
- Solid bass without a subwoofer
- Ease of hookup
Shinola is an interesting company, and a real American original. Named after the now defunct shoe polish company, Detroit headquartered Shinola often partners with high quality brands to redesign and market highly desirable products. For the Shinola Bookshelf Speakers they’ve joined with Barefoot Sound to create a high quality bookshelf speaker system that would be at home in a recording studio, or in a home where the buyer has high sonic aspirations in a smaller space.
Hand finished, uniform density, Oak composite cabinet
300W peak power total (100W RMS per channel)
3.5mm Stereo Jack, RCA L/R, S/PDIF, USB Type-C, Bluetooth®
100-240V, 50/60Hz (requires fuse change)
Dual 1” Ring Radiator Tweeter (x2)
Alloy cone 6.5” woofer with ultra-linear motor (x2)
Frequency Response Acoustically:
48Hz to 22kHz at -3dB
Analog Input Impedance:
90 dB at 1 meter with -15 dBV input signal
High Efficiency Class D
Speaker Dimensions (Active & Passive):
8” x 9” x 12”
Active Speaker Weight:
17.55 lbs (7.9 kgs)
Passive Speaker Weight:
16.35 lbs (7.41 kgs)
Powered speakers, Bluetooth, bookshelf speakers, Shinola, Barefoot, Bookshelf Speakers Review 2018
The packing of the speakers was superb. When my review sample arrived I did not think that the box could have contained bookshelf speakers because the packaging was so heavy. For a moment, I thought Shinola had sent me the wrong item.
When I got the inner box open, I could see it was the speakers I had expected. The weight was due to the high quality amplifier. Each speaker weighs over 16 pounds. Only the left speaker contains an amplifier, but they are of similar weight, due to the high density oak enclosure. The speakers are packed in a big quality cloth bag opened and closed with a drawstring.
The package also contained a heavy duty power cord, connecting speaker cables to activate the matching right channel speaker, and USB connectors for equipment like a DAC. The box does not contain RCA cables or a 3.5mm cable and plug for analog sources. The box also offers a quick start guide and a longer operating manual, along with a toll-free phone number for support, as well as email for Shinola’s audio support techs.
The speakers were hooked up in my mid-size master bedroom. I did not have bookshelves to place them on, but set them up on individual stands 2 feet from a back wall, 6 feet apart, and angled toward my listening position.
I listened to music from my Astell & Kern Kann high definition digital audio player and my iPhone X. I also connected my Oppo BDP-103 player using the analog outputs on the Oppo to check out movie playback, as well as SACD and CD sound.
For the Astell & Kern Kann I could not pair it to the Shinola Speakers, so I listened via analog inputs to the speakers. The Kann seemed to pair fine with other devices I have, so not sure what the cause was. A Shinola product manager said they did not test their speakers with any of the Astell & Kern digital audio players, but did test several others. They are looking into it. The Shinola’s paired fine with my iPhone X.
In the same room I have a pair of KEF LS50 speakers to make comparisons. The KEF LS50 speakers are not self-powered, so I listened to them hooked to a Denon AVR S530BT receiver, and made some quick back and forth switches to compare music that was familiar to me.
I have a lot of excellent music tracks around to test speakers and I proceeded to play music while taking notes on what I heard.
A great disc to test any audio playback device. My favorite track is Disc Wars, which contains electronic music with strong bass as well as percussion to test frequency response and dynamic range. The Shinola’s acquitted themselves quite well, with no subwoofer to help with the low end.
In my smallish room, the bass was solid and never muddied the music in the upper registers.
This was a high resolution file with piano recorded at a live concert. Piano is very difficult to reproduce well so it sounds realistic. The Shinola Bookshelf speakers were able to capture the subtleties of the recording, and I could even hear the hammers strike to produce the notes.
Ambiance from the hall was well reproduced and the piano was placed magically between the two speakers.
This is an interesting contemporary classical piece. I listened to the Blu-ray audio recording with the Shinola Bookshelf speakers hooked up to the analog outputs of my Oppo BDP-103. There’s a lot of orchestral color here, along with deep bass and massed instruments.
When everyone was playing at once the Shinola speakers never sounded congested or strained.
Another great test of audio quality is the human voice, especially a female voice. I use this track from the album The Raven whenever I have to test speakers or headphones. These high-res tracks are a mini torture test for speakers.
When I play it, I ask if this sounds like a real person singing in a real space. The Shinola Speakers rendered this recording in a very satisfying fashion.
Comparing the Shinola Bookshelf Speakers to the KEF LS50s was interesting. The KEFs are the same price as the Shinola Speakers, but the KEFs lack amplifiers. I thought the KEFs had a marginally more pleasing sound, but KEF didn’t have to put a costly amplifier in these speakers.
As the SHINOLA BOOKSHELF SPEAKERS include high quality power amplifiers capable of clean output, I find them an excellent deal for the price. They continue a trend in audio of matching speakers to amplifiers for the best output, and that goal is accomplished in this system. The inclusion of USB, analog, optical inputs as well as Bluetooth connectivity makes the Shinola Bookshelf Speakers a really attractive option.
- Build Quality
- Well-designed connectors and heavy duty power cord
- Room filling sound
- Speakers are heavy and as a result free of resonances
- Clear instructions, a quick start guide, and contact information for help or questions
- A remote control for volume and input switching
- Better pairing software. The Shinola speakers would not pair with one of my Bluetooth devices.
- Included cables for all the inputs types
There is no shortage of bookshelf speakers, and we are seeing more and more powered speakers on the market as well, at both the high end and the low end. Amazon offers them, Apple has them as well, and most of the major hi-fi brands are jumping in too.
The Shinola Bookshelf Speakers are in more rarified air. They are a speaker that is reaching for the high end, but that slightly confuses the use case. Most people will have receivers, and these speakers are designed to get streaming music from a Bluetooth device, a turntable, disc player, or a preamplifier. However, most people who have preamplifiers already have amplifiers, so the built-in amplifiers on these speakers are not useful in such a setup.
On the other hand, paired with a good small pre-amp or a DAC, or a high quality Bluetooth device, these speakers have carefully matched amplifiers to extract the best sound possible from a bookshelf speaker. In that regard, these speakers succeed and succeed well. The sound image expands nicely beyond the speaker cabinets, and offers a very nice three dimensional image on well recorded material. High frequencies are smooth, but I did not find them quite as well extended as my KEFs. The KEF LS50 speakers are the same price, but don’t include amplifiers so it’s not a surprise they might sound a bit better. However, the differences are not gigantic, and the Shinola Bookshelf Speakers are of reference quality and not just another mid-fi Bluetooth speaker.
The only nit I have to pick with the Shinola Bookshelf Speakers is the lack of a remote control. The volume knob is on the back of the speakers, and the button that allows you to select the inputs is also on the back of the left speaker. It doesn’t make much sense to have to pull the speakers off a bookshelf or rotate them on stands to be able to switch inputs. A remote is needed and is not available even as an option.
I asked the Shinola people about the lack of remote, and the response from a Product Manager was that the goal of the speakers was to have a clean aesthetic, free of visible controls. Their product testing indicated the speakers would be used mainly with Bluetooth devices, which do offer remote volume control. The company does say they will be offering a remote control solution to give a user volume control and source switching, and that the solution will work with the model that I tested.
I understand their point, but the Shinola system has multiple inputs. To switch from a Bluetooth device to a disc player, for example, still seems a pain without a remote. Well, a remote is coming, but all their user testing aside, I think it needed to ship with a remote to cover typical user situations.
Because of the way they may or may not attach to your current electronics, the Shinola Bookshelf Speakers may or may not be the perfect solution for you, but for many they are going to be an easy solution for a small to medium size room.