Shi­nola Book­shelf Speaker

Sound with a Spit Shine

Sound & Vision - - SOUND & VISION - BY BOB ANKOSKO

Ex­quis­ite—that was the first thought that popped into my head when I cued up one of my go-to test tracks: a 24/96 down­load of Holly Cole singing “Larger Than Life” from 2007’s Holly Cole. Her rich, sul­try voice was in the room, ac­com­pa­nied by the gen­tle un­der­pin­nings of an ac­com­plished quar­tet. Ev­ery­thing sounded just right: the sparkling pi­ano, sump­tu­ous bass, un­der­stated brush­work, and taste­ful sax fills.

Okay, I ad­mit to hav­ing been skep­ti­cal about re­view­ing speak­ers from a com­pany spe­cial­iz­ing in pre­ci­sion-built watches, leather goods, and a smat­ter­ing of other lux­ury prod­ucts, in­clud­ing retro-styled bi­cy­cles and a small col­lec­tion of au­dio gear. And I wasn’t sure what to make of the whim­si­cal la­bel Shi­nola— bor­rowed from the long-de­funct shoe pol­ish brand— an un­usual name for an un­usual com­pany that prides it­self on build­ing its prod­ucts in the U.S.

Turns out the Shi­nola Book­shelf Speaker is the prod­uct of a part­ner­ship with Bare­foot Sound, a Port­land, Ore­gon-based maker of pro­fes­sional stu­dio mon­i­tors. Shi­nola’s speaker pairs the same wide-dis­per­sion 1-inch “dual ring ra­di­a­tor” tweeter used in Bare­foot’s $3,742-a-pair Foot­print01 mon­i­tor with a cus­tom 6.5-inch al­loy-cone woofer in an oak­com­pos­ite cabi­net.

Shi­nola is Bare­foot’s first con­sumer ef­fort and it’s an im­pres­sive spec­i­men in terms of build qual­ity and fit and fin­ish. All con­nec­tions and con­trols are on the back of the left speaker. Along the top are four in­puts— a 3.5mm mini­jack, stereo RCA, coax­ial dig­i­tal, and

Type- C USB— plus a coax­ial dig­i­tal out­put, a Blue­tooth Pair(ing) but­ton, and a small source­s­e­lec­tion but­ton sur­rounded by a ring of tiny LEDS. Near the bot­tom of the panel is a vol­ume knob, Re­mote Vol­ume mini­jack, power switch, power-cord con­nec­tor, and banana-type con­nec­tors for the ca­ble that runs be­tween the speak­ers.

The only ac­ces­sory Shi­nola in­cludes is a USB ca­ble. Re­mark­ably, no re­mote con­trol is pro­vided, so un­less you’re stream­ing over Blue­tooth from a mo­bile de­vice, se­lect­ing in­puts and ad­just­ing vol­ume is a strictly man­ual (and in­con­ve­nient) af­fair. When I in­quired about the mys­te­ri­ous Re­mote Vol­ume in­put, which is not ref­er­enced in the owner’s man­ual, the com­pany re­sponded: “We ‘ fu­ture proofed’ the speaker by adding this jack, know­ing that we were go­ing to de­velop a so­lu­tion for source select/vol­ume that would elim­i­nate hav­ing to reach be­hind the speaker,” but of­fered no in­di­ca­tion when this might hap­pen or what form it will take.

To set up the Shi­nola sys­tem, you sim­ply link the speak­ers us­ing the pro­vided ca­ble, plug in your sources, and you’re ready to go. In my case, I con­nected a CD player to the RCA in­puts and my lap­top to the mini­jack via a Cam­bridge Au­dio Dac­magic XS USB DAC for hi-res lis­ten­ing.

In keep­ing with my ini­tial im­pres­sions, the Shi­nola Book­shelf Speaker proved to be a ca­pa­ble per­former, de­liv­er­ing su­perb sound qual­ity and solid bass over sev­eral weeks while lis­ten­ing to a wide va­ri­ety of mu­sic in dif­fer­ent formats—from Blue­tooth/aptx and MP3 at 320 kbps (stream­ing via Qobuz) to CD and FLAC down­loads at 24/96. The speaker tells it like it is, re­veal­ing the sub­tle nu­ances and in­tri­ca­cies of a good record­ing or the short­com­ings of a poor one, and re­ally shines with out­stand­ing ma­te­rial.

I did, how­ever, ex­pe­ri­ence a crazy glitch when the vol­ume be­came un­re­spon­sive af­ter switch­ing sources. It re­mained stuck at high vol­ume (!) un­til I turned the speaker off and on a cou­ple of times. Shi­nola’s tech sup­port team said they had never heard of this is­sue and were at a loss to ex­plain it. If it had hap­pened only once or twice, I wouldn’t be con­cerned but it hap­pened four or five times.

The Shi­nola Book­shelf Speaker is well-built and sounds great, but it’s also ex­pen­sive, lacks the wire­less mul­ti­room ca­pa­bil­ity many ex­pect in a sys­tem of this cal­iber, and is less than user-friendly if you plan to do more than stream via Blue­tooth. The even­tual ad­di­tion of re­mote con­trol ca­pa­bil­ity will be a big plus and may be enough to con­vince you to take it for a test drive.

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