After making its name in watches, Shinola moved into bikes, journals, bags, gloves, wallets, jewelry, phone cases, and more in just the past six years. Last year, the company began moving into audio gear with its first turntable, and today Shinola is announcing its very first headphones. It’s starting with four pairs: a wired over-ear and a wired on-ear, both of which go on sale right away, and two wired in-ear pairs expected to launch next month.
Like Shinola’s watches, final assembly on the headphones is done in Detroit. And like Shinola’s watches, its headphones are first and foremost something nice to look at and hold, prioritizing style and build quality over remarkable technology.
The two pairs launching today, the Canfield Over-Ear and the Canfield On-Ear, have a similar look and a similar sound. Both are a stylish mixture of stainless steel and leather, and they each have a trustworthy heft to them — not so heavy as to be uncomfortable, but heavy enough to feel well-made. I particularly like the thick pieces of metal that attach the earpieces to the headband; they look sturdy and functional and evoke the style of older audio gear that was made with metal parts by necessity. My one gripe: the headphones are a little small; even at full extension, they barely fit my head, and I don’t think I’m all that big.
Shinola left a pair of the On-Ears with me for the last few days, and I’ve been using them to listen to the new St. Vincent album and some of my other favorites. The headphones sound good: instruments sound close by, but still distinct; there’s a nice little bass kick that lets you feel it without overdoing things; and the tone feels accurate to the recordings coming through them.
If the best headphones you’ve heard are something like a pair of entry-level Beats, these will definitely overtake them. But if you’ve tried other higher-end headphones before, I don’t think either Canfield will be much of a standout. It seemed to me that both were lacking a certain sharpness that would have punctuated their sound; and while they seemed accurate, neither felt truly lively and fun.
I haven’t spent a ton of time with these headphones (and in fact, I only listened to the over-ear model for about two minutes), so take these as initial impressions only. But I’m not particularly surprised by what I’m finding, as it shows Shinola using the same formula that it’s found great success with when it comes to watches: Shinola’s watches are stylish and well-made — they look like high-end mechanical watches. But the reality is that they’re quartz watches (which get as cheap as, say, a Swatch) inside a really nice package. Shinola’s bet is that the style and story of something matters as much or more to many customers than the function.
That bet really comes into focus when you see the price on these headphones. The Over-Ears sell for $595 and the On-Ears sell for $495. There’s also a glossy black model of each, which looks very nice, available for a $55 premium. Those aren’t outrageous prices for headphones, but you can find models that sound great and look just as good for far less.
Like its other products, Shinola is pitching these headphones as a high-quality item you can buy and have last a lifetime — except, that seems unlikely given the shift that’s going on in the headphone world right now. Both Canfield models terminate in 3.5mm connectors, which aren’t supported on many of today’s top phones, including the iPhone. The cable can be replaced (a Lightning version is planned), but alternatives aren’t available yet. A wireless model is also planned for next year.
Neither of Shinola’s in-ear headphones were ready for testing yet, so I wasn’t able to see them in person. They both have a similar look, but one is supposed to provide much better sound. The Canfield In-Ear Monitors are the entry level model, selling for $195, and the Canfield Pro In-Ear Monitors are the high-end model, selling for $495. Both were made in collaboration with Campfire Audio, an in-ear headphones startup that’s only been shipping products for a little over a year now but has earned a glowing reputation among audiophiles. Both are supposed to be available starting in mid-December.
Correction November 14th, 12:08PM ET: The Canfield Over-Ear headphones start at $595, not $650. Only their glossy black model costs $650.