Shinola Runwell Turntable Follow-Up

Last March AnalogPlanet reviewed Shinola's Runwell turntable. Designed and built in conjunction with VPI Industries, the Shinola is a solidly built truly American product that's intended as a "plug-and-play" turntable, complete with a built-in MM phono preamp and supplied with an installed and calibrated Ortofon 2M Blue cartridge.

All the end user has to do is unbox, follow a few simple steps and the Runwell is ready to play records. Even the VTF (vertical tracking force) is pre-set.

The original Runwell sample sent for review had a few problems. The pulley had a visible wobble that shouldn't have made it through the inspection process. The 'table ran slightly fast (3150Hz tone was reproduced at 3165Hz) and most disturbing was that the arm occasionally "stuck", indicating high horizontal friction. VPI uses a similar arm, which unusually features a platter bearing for horizontal movement. A company spokesperson says VPI hasn't encountered this issue. However the review sample had it, so we were duty-bound to report it.

Shinola recent sent a second sample for review and here's what we found: the build quality, and "fit'n'finish" remain extremely high. The Runwell is a beautifully designed and constructed turntable, using a heavy, well-damped aluminum alloy platter riding on an inverted ball-type bearing. Read the review for the sonics, because the second sample sounded the same.

The second sample's pulley spun true, the speed remained identically slightly fast but the horizontal bearing never "stuck". That said, there was some alarming distortion on the first record. A check of the "out of the box" vertical tracking force indicated 1.97g, which is ideal. The next record had the same issue. A closer examination of the cuing platform indicated it was not correctly set at the factory (or perhaps it came that way from the manufacturing facility and no one at Shinola checked it).

The set height caused the arm to come into slight contact with the platform's rubber surface. This is something the average customer will never notice or diagnose. What's more, Shinola does not provide the tool necessary to adjust the platform height.

Therefore it's critical that this and every other arm parameter be carefully checked before the 'table leaves the factory. The "plug'n'play" ideal here is laudable, including not burdening new vinyl customers with all of the possible variables that can affect playback. However, if you're going to ship a product this way it's 100% essential that everything is perfectly adjusted before the product is packaged and shipped.

Once that problem had been corrected I was hoping for smooth sonic sailing but for the first five or so records after the cuing platform adjustment there was considerable distortion that indicated the horizontal bearing was not altogether "free". After those first few plays the problem resolved itself, even playing complex orchestral music so perhaps there's a short "break-in" period?

To be certain the issue wasn't chronic, dozens of records were played over a week-long period, resulting in no audible distortion. The Runwell produced the rich, full-bodied sound described in the original review and no doubt first time vinyl listeners will be thrilled by the full-throated harmonic presentation and solid bass this turntable can produce.

For those in need of a dustcover, one is now available from Gingko Audio. It's $399 and looks appropriately well-made. Not "cheap" but a curious finger or klutzy cleaning person in a few seconds could produce a few hundred dollar's worth of damage.

Overall then, this second sample was 99% there. Since the second sample ran slightly fast like the first, I assume that's design choice. It's not sufficiently "off" to produce pitch issues, so not a big deal. Once the platform had been adjusted and the arm had "broken in", there were no distortion and/or "sticking" issues, so I think the Shinola Runwell is now "good to go". However I hope the factory pays greater attention to every arm parameter including cuing platform height, before boxing and shipping.

COMMENTS
Jack Gilvey's picture

I was researching alternatives to the Ginko while considering the Marantz TT-15S1 (also cover-free) and found this place in Woodland Park, NJ: http://www.shoppopdisplays.com/CS001/5-sided-clear-acrylic-box-custom-si.... Seems more reasonable for a plastic box.

antonmb's picture

That's two review samples (which you'd think would get extra attention) with serious flaws out of the box about which the average newbie would be clueless. Isn't that enough to generate a negative review and recommend avoiding this product?

fetuso's picture

I second that

thorenssme's picture

For $2500 they should get full functionality. That includes a cue mechanism that works and that most people will have no idea what to do with.

Keen Observer's picture

With a name like "Shinola," what is your expectation?

malco49's picture

i guess the difference between this and a VPI is largely cosmetic.
either are out of my price range
i top out around $1000 and that is stretching it.
i do like the looks of that new pro-ject classic. i have had a debut lll for 12 or so years and with upgrades serves me well.i dampened the motor to stop the noise updated the stylus to an OM 20 and added a speed box and acrylic platter and a record clamp and have a nice $800 or so TT.

isaacrivera's picture

The VPI upcoming Clifford player, will retail for $900 with an Ortofon 2M Red.

malco49's picture

Interesting. Wasn't there last "budget" TT a bust? A local audio shop really likes VPI and have tried to get me to buy one. Will search for the new one. Thanks for the heads up.

isaacrivera's picture

The Nomad was not a bust. They had problems with their part suppliers and they decided to withdraw. That forced them to reconsider and improve the design. The new Player and the upcoming Clifford are much improved both sonically and form maintenance as a result not in small part due to the hiring of electrical engineering genius Michael Bettinger. If you care to discuss further contact me at info@livingacoustics.com. Cheers!

Michael Fremer's picture
The chassis is far different from VPI's, as is the drive mechanism.
Ortofan's picture

... Jelco tonearm instead?

$399 just for the dust cover? Rega charges less than $100 for theirs.

With a budget of $2900 for turntable, dust cover, phono cartridge and phono stage, I'd be looking at the standard model Technics SL-1200/1210GR (dust cover included), with the same Ortofon 2M Blue cartridge and a Schiit Mani preamp. That would still leave almost $1K to buy a stack of "more new rekkids."

Michael Fremer's picture
The dustcover is from another company that has nothing to do with Shinola
Ortofan's picture

... but you did mention its availability in your review.
Regardless of the supplier, $399 is still an absurd price for just a dust cover. There are complete turntables selling for well under that price which include a dust cover at no extra charge.

dcbingaman's picture

Check out http://www.jmkdisplays.com/turntablecovers.html. You can get a custom dust cover direct from these guys for about $ 100.00. Their product is as good or better than anything else out there.

fetuso's picture

I've had my Pro-ject 2xperience SB for about 6 months now and i couldn't be happier. Dust cover included.

AudioFileZ's picture

I've been interested in this table but not so much for purchasing. If I had been on the verge of doing so I must say information like this would be critical. I, too, wonder why this simply doesn't get a fail as a product in the price range so much excellence exists? I get trying to support American made audio but this is clearly not a contender for performance and value minded audiophiles. It's like audio jewelry to my way of thinking. Impressive visually and lacking in critical audio parameters. Granted it may appeal to a certain "target" segment whose means exceeds their audio smarts, but until it matures into a real out-of-the-box righteous table I can't see it. Right now I'm thinking the Project Classic just keeps looking better with mucho spare change left over.

isaacrivera's picture

Firstly on the cost: This table is made of solid wood and metal. I saw one of the prototype at VPI during a dealer training and spoke to Mat about it. Shinola had a lower target price in mind originally, but would not compromise on materials. It had to be solid wood and metal, so the price had to be adjusted accordingly. None of the tables you have mentioned are built of solid wood and metal and they can be produced at cheaper price points with perhaps an even greater profit margin.

This leads me to the second point: Solid wood is not a good plinth material. It is not dimensionally stable under varying levels of humidity and temperature.

This table is made as a LIFESTYLE table, not an audiophile table. It is not made to compete with VPI or Rega, but with Sonos and Bose. It is intended for people who care about image, fashion and design. It is interesting that Shinola asked Mr. Fremer to review it. I suppose it means that they feel their fashion product is actually up to audiophile standards, but I guess the review shows that it is not quite there. And more importantly, that the makers of it are not obsessing over details like the lift platform, because they are not turntable makers, they are watch makers.

You can't compare this table in price to a Project. Anything made of solid noble materials will be more expensive because the materials are more expensive and they require more human labor to put together. Further, Shinola is purposely making products in the Detroit with fair salaries to help unemployment there and that is simply more expensive than making them in China or the Check Republic. Regas and VPIs tables around this price range are made of MDF. But MDF is actually a better plinth material if the aim is sonics and not looks.

atomlow's picture

Yeah, this makes a lot of sense. The more I read the reviews and comments I think you are spot on. It's an amazing looking turntable but that doesn't mean it's going to out do much cheaper Rega's. I bet a Rega p3 at a third of the price would smoke it.

Fsonicsmith's picture

cheaper and far less prestigious, non-artisan Ronda quartz movements. But be that as it may, anyone who knows anything about audio recognizes that arm and knows that VPI builds the table and shame again on VPI for not having it's act together. I blame perfectly well-meaning all-around nice guy Matt. With expansion comes the need to organize, develop solid management, and delegate. I suspect VPI's small size makes this exceedingly difficult. Uber is 100 times larger and can't get it done.

isaacrivera's picture

The Shinola Runwell is not made by VPI. The table is built in Detroit by Shinola's own factory. VPI designed the table. There had been conversations about the table being fully made by VPI, but Mat would only do that in NJ and Shinola was set on Detroit jobs. Regardless of the build quality of their other lifestyle products, which I do not know nor have anything to do with my point, this table is made in the USA of metal and solid wood and that carries a price tag along with it. I regularly visit the VPI factory and was there for the dealer training two weeks ago, where a Shinola rep was present to talk about the table with the dealers attending the training. I have seen the Runwell deconstructed and it is solidly built. Be all of that as it may, it was not conceived, nor made to be an audiophile table, but a lifestyle product which is what Shinola does. People do not need watches anymore as everyone has a better clock on their phone, yet they sell watches by the million because people LIKE wearing them as fashion. And before Shinola was Shinola it was Fossil, which they sold, so I am pretty sure they know a thing or two about quality. The Runwell is for people who want a fashion stereo.

isaacrivera's picture

I know him pretty well and he is way more than simply a nice guy. As a martial artist he knows discipline and focus and as a computer scientist he has introduced computer-aided 3D design and agile methodologies to the manufacturing team. He is also, in true Weisfeld fashion, one of the most family-oriented people I have ever met and his employees are his close family--it is really amazing--they belong, they are trained, given power, responsibility and creative input. He is also a very smart manager who has made very smart decisions like hiring Mike Bettinger-who has introduced testing equipment for tight tolerances at every work station and trained all employees on using it. Mat has streamlined the product lines so that we all benefit from economies of scale and that trickles down to all models. For instance, the 300 RPM motor is now used on ALL models, because he is the one who realized that if he ordered more of those the could save a ton on them. Now almost everything in every model can be user serviceable if necessary. He really has made tons of good decisions that are making a huge difference in their products and will continue snow-balling into the future. The Prime was fully designed by Mat and 3D printed tonearm--the best sounding version that VPI has ever made--was his idea. And he is definitely not an expansionist, and specially not at the cost of quality. He has avoided going into electronics for instance, because he does not think they could continue focusing on quality if they kept adding new things to their plate. Mat is the best thing that has happened to VPI in a long time. His father being limited to experimenting and him running the management is a great combination.

Fsonicsmith's picture

Thx for your input and insight. But does any of that change the source of blame for the sticking problem? Does any of that change the source of the problem for the table running fast? And now let's discuss watches-huh what? Are you saying that since phones tell one the time, all watches are nothing more than life-style choices and by extension that there is no meaningful difference between a ten buck watch and a Patek Phillipe? Hooboy! And btw, I have an iPhone 7 and it's the last resort when I want to see what the time is.

isaacrivera's picture

Because, unless you can assert that both problems with the table are in fact, design and not manufacture related problems, you can't blame VPI for them as they are not in control of manufacture tolerance, just like they do not control manufacture of the Mark Davidson Turntable, which they also designed. Additionally, the table running slightly fast may be a conscious design choice by Shinola, a break-in period issue (When Fremer reviews a high-end product, it is allowed to run for weeks before the review is complete, not so here.), a manufacture tolerance issue with the factory, a total fluke. Hell for all we know Shinola is sourcing the pulley or the belt from an unreliable supplier. (By the way, more expensive tables will often be that off, but are adjustable.) None of these scenarios would be VPI's fault and these are just a few I come up with here quickly.

Clearly there are differences in quality between a Rolex or Patek Phillipe and a Swatch. Nothing I said challenges that. It is also clear that SOME people really do need watches. I worked in a Cruise Ship for 2 years, the Captain, the Chief Engineer and the Bridge Officers all needed good watches, they all had Rolex. And for the average person it may be more convenient to look at their wrist than to reach for their phone. But in general they do not need a watch, they could perfectly fine get by without one and not have to change batteries or belts etc etc and still have access to accurate time. They choose to have one. It is a lifestyle choice. We may agree or not on this last point, but Shinola describes itself as a lifestyle brand and the Runwell as such.

I have an iPhone 6+. It has replaced my watch, my alarm clock, timers, compass, turntable RPM meter, and all purpose level to name a few for a few years. I have not needed or missed any of them.

isaacrivera's picture

Mark Levinson table.

TubeDriver2's picture

I buy USA products often (and pay more for it) and the Shinola's concept is engaging. But two (review) samples have issues? No way is this acceptable....period. My choices in watches are not crazy extravagant, sure I have swiss and German made automatics but typically I'll be wearing a ~$200 Seiko 5. I'll not be getting a Shinola watch based on what they sent Michael Fremer. I can't imagine recommending the Shinola table to a friend loooking to get a nice looking AND sounding turntable, can you?

isaacrivera's picture

If quality of sound is important then I would recommend a Prime Scout. But then again, I am a VPI dealer.

Dorian Workman's picture

The fact that you even use the qualifier "If quality of sound is important..." says it all right there! When is sound quality NOT important?

I also agree with the sentiment expressed by other posters that this table appears be a fail, based on the TWO samples Michael was sent! If MF has these problems not once, but twice, imagine what the rest of the tables must be like.

isaacrivera's picture

I think it was quite bold for Shinola to approach Michael to review the Runwell... and not just once, but twice. This leads me to believe that they really want to bring this product to spec for audio at it's price point. As any company that is starting on a new enterprise, there will be hiccups. And this is what we are seeing. But again, their market is fashion. So in a way, this is the wrong audience for the Runwell. Now either Shinola goes back and finds a way to improve these issues or stays off the audiophile market.

This is not a new situation. There are many companies out there making "high-end" audio products for those more concerned with interior design than sound. Bang & Olufsen comes to mind, or at least part of their history. Of course these companies spend good marketing dollars convincing the uninitiated that these products are the cutting-edge of audio performance, but upon critical inspection, the performance is not there. These products are not cheap either. And I have friends who would prefer these products and feel visually pleased and happily compromise on sound. The point is that we need to understand what a product is made for. What is its intended market. Who is a Hummer vs. a Humvee made for? There are some similarities and marketing claims, but they are not the same.

The Runwell is made for the fashion concerned. Shinola asking Michael means to me they aspire to more. Hopefully they will follow suit. If you are an audiophile and want your dollars to go to sound quality first, jewelry second if at all, and American-made is important to you, for the same budget you have truly outstanding products from VPI. But I would not call the Runwell a "failure", more like a work-in-progress. Realize this is not unusual. I just finished reading Michael's review of the Acoustic Signature Ascona Mk. 2 turntable in this month's issue of Stereophile. This is a $18K turntable which was reviewed again by Michael in December 2016. Similarly to the Runwell, this table was underperforming at its price point. Costs of production and economies of scale dictate its price, but the sound quality was not there. AS listened to Mikey and now on the Mk. 2 they improved on all issues making it a serious player in that tier. They've also provided free upgrades to it's existing customers. Developing a product is expensive and sometimes the curve to success is rocky.

Mat Weisfeld's picture

As always we are appreciative of the review, even if it doesn't hit the mark. I certainly appreciate all of the comments and feedback, and especially appreciate what Isaac has been responding with! Isaac is one of our trained and certified VPI dealers and can put together a table as well as any of my technicians!

Regarding the Runwell, we are Shinola's partners/consultants but we do not make or check the Runwell Turntable onsite at VPI in New Jersey. The majority of the parts are made by our team in Jersey but then sent to Detroit for final assembly, QC, and shipping. That being said, there is no finger pointing because regardless of where the Runwell is made VPI is still a part of it. We will make efforts to either improve upon the production and QC process in Detroit, or move all Runwell production back to New Jersey.

I agree, based off of this review I wouldn't recommend this table either, but that doesn't mean we give up on it. When things get tough a company can either run away and forget about a problem, or double down, embrace it, and forge it into something greater! We are VPI, we are the American worker, and we will not give up on up the Runwell. Anyone who has a Shinola Runwell and has a problem VPI will always be here to service it.

Dorian Workman's picture

And for the record I own a VPI Prime and love it, never had any issues with it. VPI is an excellent company.

TubeDriver2's picture

While MW's comments have not changed my mind about the Shinola table in the here and now, I do appreciate his commitment to stand behind a product he is connected to. I hope for a future follow-up piece documenting the steps taken to get this table....right.

genesplitter's picture

I gotta say I find that a manufacturer checking out user forums and commenting is both rare and impressive!

Dorian Workman's picture

To add one more, admittedly snarky, comment (I can't help myself and I'm surprised no-one else has made this crack already), shouldn't they change the name of the table to the Not So Runwell!? ;D

Mat Weisfeld's picture

Still "Runwell" just needs a touch of TLC for the audiophile audience. :)

rwwear's picture

A dustcover.

TOOL's picture

I have over 20 CD/SACD players, various brands, none cost $2,900. Everyone is pitch perfect, that's why records are...obsolete.

isaacrivera's picture

And all 20 of them sound like under $2K transports with ADCs with their own set of limitations and distortions. Digital music players such as CD, DAT, or MP3 use electronic clocks to deliver samples, which suffer from an analogous effect called jitter:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jitter

Enjoy your preferred distortions and let others choose theirs.

TOOL's picture

But what happens if I am using them to output digitally into an EMMLABS DSD unit, or Teac, AVA,or a few other assorted DACs, your reasoning is flawed, and of course your hearing acuity can discern this inaudible jitter stuff, snap crackle pop, and off speed platters are audible...$2900, with defective arm bearings, off speed, is a defective over priced product, why didn't he call it out as no recommended, like make it legit, not recommended. $2900 such poor QC, they ain't making a 1000 a day, it's obviously a poorly made product, with no regard for actual purpose.

isaacrivera's picture

Jitter has to do with the clock in DAC, outputting would not make a difference. DSD is another beast and there are other issues with it. But wait, you are suggesting you are playing digital physical media that contains DSD files? Hmmm... The point is, music reproductions is always a compromise compared to natural acoustic sound. There will be shortcomings of one type or another. Recently I read a review of the DCS Vivaldi DAC stack. The reviewer concluded that it was the closest DAC to analog sound. Hah! You choose your distortions and let others choose theirs. This is the point. You can be your usual slippery, character assassinating, argumentative self all you want. All you ever achieve is ridicule. Concern yourself with enjoying your preferred compromise and let the rest do the same.

TOOL's picture

I thought Framer hated BLOSE, why is he reviewing a BLOSE TT?