Pro audio practitioners are no doubt familiar with the reputation if not the actual audio quality of Barefoot Sound studio monitors, but they may be less familiar with Shinola, a luxury goods company founded in Detroit seven years ago. The company’s latest audio offering, a revamp of an earlier product, is named with utilitarian simplicity—the Shinola Bookshelf Speaker—and is the result of a collaboration between the brand and Barefoot Sound, based in Portland, OR.
Marketed to consumers as a Bluetooth bookshelf speaker, the, er, Bookshelf Speaker in fact offers a variety of input options (and even an output). And at less than half the price of a pair of entry-level Barefoot speakers, they do an impressive job of slotting into the gap between pro monitors and high-end luxury home bookshelf speakers in terms of features and performance.
Word is that these speakers share the 1-inch dual-ring radiator tweeter found in Barefoot’s Footprint 01, but the 6.5-inch high-excursion woofer was designed for this product. True to their name, the speakers are a bookshelf-friendly 12 x 8 x 9 inches (HWD), are available in either a black or natural oak veneer finish and weigh an average 17 pounds each. The black open-weave fabric grille, which attenuates the high frequencies only a little when fitted, to my ears, attach via embedded magnets.
A class-D amp rated at 100W RMS per channel powers the drivers. The amp is housed in the left speaker box, which features a single rotary encoder—no detents or markings—controlling volume and links to the right (passive) speaker via a cable fitted with banana connectors.
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The rear of the left speaker is where all the action takes place. Connect the speakers, plug in the very heavy-gauge power cable, flick the power switch and, after a moment, there is a somewhat disconcerting “bong” that signals everything is ready.
The choice of inputs includes analog (a 3.5mm mini-jack or RCA pair), digital (S/PDIF in and, unusually, out), USB (a USB type-C cable is included), and high-resolution Qualcomm aptX-powered Bluetooth. Input sources are selected by stepping through the options using a single button surrounded by LED indicators, above which is the Bluetooth pairing button. In practice, it’s somewhat awkward to change and see the selected source, but it probably gets easier with use.
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How do they sound? First, some context. I’m not a professional mixer but I’ve produced more than a handful of tracks for release on CD and vinyl, as well as numerous tracks for production music library use, all through the same inexpensive 8-inch M-Audio Studiophile monitors, on IsoAcoustics stands, for the past 15 years; they’re my NS-10s, if you will. I played some of my professionally mastered material plus a selection of electronica, jazz, pop and rock CDs, old and more recent, through both sets to compare.
The Shinola speakers, which feature a rear slot port, output plenty of low-frequency energy, in keeping with current tastes. It’s tight and not too flabby, but some of the lower-mid instruments—electric bass and synth, in particular—gained a little prominence in the mix compared to my usual M-Audio Studiophile monitors.
The published response is 60 Hz – 22 kHz, but the high end, even without the grille in place, lacked the sizzle and air of my old faithfuls, which top out at 20 kHz. If anything, it feels like both speakers cover a similar frequency range, but the Shinolas are offset lower, resulting in less treble and more bass.
I wouldn’t choose to mix on the Shinola Bookshelf Speakers, but that’s not their purpose. However, for easy listening, in the living room or elsewhere, paired with a Bluetooth-enabled TV, a smartphone tuned to Spotify or a CD playing out of a computer, they offer an enjoyable experience at $1,500 a pair.
Shinola • www.shinola.com