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High-end audio as a fashion statement: The Shinola Runwell turntable

Shinola is passionate about making great looking and sounding audio products in the US.

Detroit-based Shinola has made a splash with its stylish watches, bicycles and bags, but I wasn't expecting them to produce a high-end turntable, and certainly not one as beautiful as the Runwell. I listened and played it at Shinola's NYC store and trust me on this, the Runwell looks even better in real life. It's a stunning piece of industrial design.

The turntable project was spearheaded by Shinola's Head of Audio Alex Rosson, who was formerly with Audeze, the headphone company. For the Runwell, Rosson enlisted noted turntable maker VPI Industries to design some parts, but it looks and feels better built than VPI's turntables around the Runwell's price, which is $2,500.

Most of the Runwell's parts are sourced from US companies, and the turntable is assembled and tested in full view of the public at the Shinola flagship store in Detroit. The Runwell weighs 40 pounds -- like I said, build quality is superb.

The Shinola Runwell Turntable.

Lee Shelly Photography/Shinola

The Runwell is 19 inches wide and 14 inches deep, and it's currently available in two finishes, standard and black, future limited-edition models with different color schemes are in the works.

The turntable is just the first product in Shinola's audio line. A Shinola moving-coil phono cartridge and headphones will arrive next year. Right now, the Runwell comes prefitted with an Ortofon moving magnet cartridge. Shinola's powered bookshelf speaker is just starting to ship, and wireless speakers are also being planned.

I'm not sure the Runwell turntable will appeal to traditional audiophiles looking at Pioneer, Technics or VPI turntables -- the Runwell is aimed at a younger, more affluent style- or fashion-oriented clientele. That's not to imply the Runwell's beauty is skin deep, it's anything but.

I'm just saying the Runwell was conceived for a wider crowd than just us audiophiles. For one thing, the Runwell has a built-in phono preamplifier so you can hook the turntable up directly to pretty much anything that accepts analog audio signals, like a set of powered speakers or any stereo amplifier. The phono pre was designed in-house by Shinola, and it's a modular design for easy upgradeability. It works with moving-coil and moving-magnet phono cartridges.

Shinola set out to sell high-end audio in its 20 US stores, which up til now have just sold watches, bikes and bags. I'm intrigued by the idea of selling high-end audio in stores that aren't audio stores. The Shinola New York store feels radically different than any audio shop I've seen, and the salespeople barely know anything beyond the basics about turntables or speakers, or anything in-depth about audio. Maybe Shinola's strategy is to have customers and salespeople on a level playing field, so the customers won't feel intimidated.

Devialet is another high-end audio company trying to reach a wider than just audiophile market. I noted the same vibe at its flagship store in New York. Its salespeople were friendly, but pretty clueless about the details of Devialet's Phantom ($1,990 each), Silver Phantom ($2,390 each) and Gold Phantom ($2,990 each) wireless speakers. The salespeople's primary skill set was being able to play tunes over their phones, so I suppose they were less intimidating than the average high-end sales guy who lives and breathes audio. I was one of those guys -- I sold high-end audio for 16 years, and I was certainly trying to be a helpful guide for my customers. But that, as they say, was a different time.

As for the Devialet Phantom speakers, they could play loud and made lots of bass, but sound quality was only so-so. You can get vastly better sounding wired speakers for a lot less money. Apparently style sells.

At Shinola, its salespeople are currently being trained on the finer points of audiophile tech, but it's a steep learning curve. I'm looking forward to see what Shinola cooks up next.