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Friday, October 30, 2020

Shinola Detroit Barefoot Bookshelf Speakers (TheaterByte Gear Review)

The Performance
Design/Ergonomics
Value

This is the second audio product that I have received from Shinola Detroit, an innovative company that makes everything from watches to bicycles to electronics. My experience with their Canfield in-ear monitors, reviewed last January, was quite positive so I eagerly awaited the arrival of the Shinola Detroit Barefoot bookshelf speakers.

These new mini-monitors resulted from collaboration between Shinola and Barefoot Sound, a Portland, Oregon-based company, well-known for their professional audio recording monitors.  The excitement mounted when I found out that these powered speakers could play music from hard-wired analog and digital sources as well as tunes from Bluetooth® enabled devices.

Set Up

I was surprised by the heft of the compact package containing two black-oak veneered beauties individually housed in their own cloth carrying bags.  The pair consists of an “active” left speaker that houses a 100Wx2 Digital Class D amplifier and a “passive” right speaker, the former weighing in at 17.5 pounds and the latter at 16.3 pounds. In the box were a braided power cord, a pair of banana cord connectors between the speakers, and a USB C-type connector. It is also possible to use components requiring 3.5 mm mini-plugs (not included).

Shinola Detroit Barefoot Bookshelf Speakers (Black) Rear View
Shinola Detroit Barefoot Bookshelf Speakers (Black) Rear View

The rear of the active speaker has all the connections: a power on/off switch, a press/hold button to establish a 4 aptX Bluetooth®connection, and another small button that toggles through the other analog and digital devices. Analog connections use either a RCA or mini-plug ports while digital connections are made through S/PDIF or USB-C ports. There is also an S/PDIF output port.

Both speakers have 1” Dual Ring Radiator tweeters, which are the same drivers that Barefoot uses in their Footprint01 monitors — a design the company also claims  results in a wider dispersion of the highs — and custom 6.5” Ultra-Linear Motor woofers. Barefoot contacted us and said the “Ultra-Linear” Motor Woofers operated like a piston of a car and “is responsible for the punchiness and immediacy of the mids”. The speakers have a nominal impedance of 4Ω, an input sensitivity of 2Vrms and a stated frequency response of 48Hz to 22kHz at -3dB and 40Hz-22kHz +10dB. Completing the package are unobtrusive black grilles that are magnetically attached to the front of each cabinet and can be easily removed. There are hard rubber feet that isolate the speakers from the environment. The banana plug cables allow the speakers to be placed up to seven feet apart. The recommended distances from the listening position is nine feet, with speakers located two feet from the rear and sidewalls.

Bluetooth®, Bookshelves, Bam and Boom

After reading the concise, well illustrated user manual provided by Shinola Detroit, it took me all of five minutes to get the show on the road, making this an ideal speaker system for beginners as well as audio pros.  For this review, Bluetooth®devices included an Astell & Kern AK-240 portable digital player, an iPhone 7, and a MacBook Air.  Analog connections were made to a PS Audio PerfectWave DAC mated with a PerfectWave transport and an Oppo BDP-95 universal digital player. I connected a Logitech Touch streamer via S/PDIF. All musical sources were in the digital domain, either CDs or SACDs, and FLAC, DSD or mp3 files. I listened to the Shinola speakers with grilles on and off, and ended up preferring to hear them uncovered for the critical sessions.

Shinola Detroit Barefoot Bookshelf Speakers (Natural) Side View
Shinola Detroit Barefoot Bookshelf Speakers (Natural) Side View

Feeling like the proverbial kid in the candy store, I started with Bluetooth®streamed sources from the above-listed devices.  From the get-go, this was unquestionably the best streaming playback that I have ever heard via Bluetooth®.  Granted that this mode limits resolution to 44.1kHz/16-bit, the sound exceeded any previous Bluetooth® speakers that I have used. Voices were spacious and clear in cuts like Little Anthony and the Imperials’s a capella rendition of “Two People in the World” (48kHz/24-bit FLAC) or Radka Toneff’s intimate delivery of “The Moon is a Harsh Mistress” (48kHz/16-bit FLAC). Even lowly mp3 files on my iPhone sounded pretty damn good and that is saying something, as I listened to “Hey, Soul Sister,” “Get Down,” and “Somewhere Down The Crazy River,” in rapid succession. When I switched over to higher-res files like Jeremy Monteiro’s “A Song for You,” (DSD 2.8), the improvement in sound quality of the source was obvious, again remembering that I was hearing it through the limitations of Bluetooth®aptX-codec streaming.

As good as the Bluetooth®listening sessions were, going directly into the Shinola bookshelf speakers from either of my digital disc systems was a lot better in terms of space, dynamics, and treble and bass extension. A recent Reference Recordings SACD release of John Williams at the Movies  in glorious brass, woodwind and percussion from the Dallas Winds created a soundstage that totally belied the fact that these were still mini-monitors. The Star Wars main title was startling in its size and presence and while I would not ditch my room’s reference system of Totem Mani-2 Signature speakers powered by a Pass Labs INT-60 integrated amplifier, the sound was room-filling and free of distortion at high volume levels.  If not as airy as my reference speakers and with bass response a bit limited at the speakers’ rated low end cutoff, these powered mini-monitors still managed to provide enjoyable sound with all the sources that they were fed.

The Final Assessment

We are living in a digital Age of Aquarius when it comes to powered bookshelf sized speakers, as most high-end speaker manufacturers are getting on this bandwagon. For those inhabiting small spaces and with limited budgets, the Shinola Detroit bookshelf speakers offer terrific sound for the money. The $1500 price tag still represents kind of a bargain since a good class D amplifier gets tossed in with the speakers. Highly recommended.

Specifications

  • Enclosure: Hand finished, uniform density, Oak composite cabinet
  • Power Output: 300W peak power total (100W RMS per channel)
  • Inputs: 3.5mm Stereo Jack, RCA L/R, S/PDIF, USB Type-C, Bluetooth®
  • Outputs: S/PDIF
  • Input Voltages: 100-240V, 50/60Hz (requires fuse change)
  • Tweeter Type: Dual Ring Radiator Tweeter
  • Tweeter Size: 1” (x2)
  • Woofer Composition: Alloy cone woofer with ultra-linear motor • Woofer Size: 6.5” (x2)
  • Impedance: 4Ω
  • Frequency Response Acoustically: 48Hz to 22kHz at -3dB
  • Analog Input Impedance: 10kΩ
  • Input Sensitivity: 90 dB at 1 meter with -15 dBV input signal
  • Amplifier Type: 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)

For more information visit Shinola Detroit online

[Editor’s Note: This article was updated to correct the specifications and add references to the 1″ Dual Ring Radiator tweeters, Ultra-Linear Motor woofers, and 4 aptX.]

Shinola Detroit Barefoot Bookshelf Speakers (TheaterByte Gear Review)
4 / 5 Reviewer
{{ reviewsOverall }} / 5 Users (0 votes)
Shinola DetroitBrand
www.Shinola.comWebsite
$1500.00MSRP
Pros
  • Excellent build quality
  • Ease of installation
  • Multiple music sources
  • Satisfying overall sound
  • Cons
  • Not as transparent as the best mini-monitors
  • Bass a bit limited
  • Somewhat pricey
  • Summary
    These powered mini-monitors provided an enjoyable listening experience and were by far the best Bluetooth-capable loudspeakers that I have heard to date.
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