First Look: The Runwell Turntable from Shinola Audio

Politicians can be extraordinarily annoying.

Every election season, we hear something misleadingly optimistic (or not) about “American Jobs”, specifically focusing on topics such as: manufacturing in the USA, the state of the states in the Rust Belt, the fact that those “good jobs” are now overseas and are/are not coming back. This is usually followed by a screed that includes commentary on how everything is going to Hell seventeen different ways to Sunday but that a vote for their plan will change that future and Completely Fix Everything. Yeah.

Which is why Shinola is so interesting — because “American manufacturing” is actually happening. Sure, it may seem like a white whale, but when you’re actually faced with the reality of it, you kinda get why Ahab might have gone so thoroughly ’round the bend.

Because, as it turns out, reality can be altogether … inspiring.

I want to say that Shinola, as a brand, isn’t really about just “making stuff”. Sure, the do “make stuff.” And while the “stuff” in question — whether bicycles, watches, leather goods, whatever — are all the kind of thing you wish you could find in Walmart, you never will. At least, not stuff like this.

Everything carrying this brand’s logo will have all of those little touches that fairly shout “upscale”. Leather trim. Extra heavy-duty parts or stitching or grain. Luxury finishes and flourishes and flair. It’s all rather … fine. No shortcuts. No apologies. Just … quality. When they can make it, they do. When they can’t, they partner. But every single stitch, every single cog, every single motherloving element shines with care and love and attention. All of it. Again, faced with the reality of the in-person and hands-on experience, this devotion to quality is as obvious as my mother’s nose astride my face, or a giant, glaringly gaudy white-as-snow whale crashing through the mizzenmast.

I want to say that the prices Shinola charges reflect those deliberate high-quality choices, and even a quick glance through their online catalog will quickly cure you of the notion that anything they’re offering is in any way cheap (in any sense of the word). But there’s something very deep about a company that has deliberately chosen to make everyday products in a non-everyday way, and make them (or at least assemble them) in Detroit, Michigan, using a labor force of locals to staff the factory floor, training them in those alien skills necessary to fabricate unabashedly luxury goods. Walking around, this entire operation inescapably feels like an investment. Maybe it is a bet that someone else (i.e., “the market”) will care, that there is profit and success at the end of the road, but also that this may well be secondary to the primary enterprise — which is the people. Someone here very clearly gives a HUGE flying fireworks-filled f*** about people. And it’s a beautiful thing to see.

Speaking of seeing, Shinola has shops across the country (and world). Their online shop is very cleverly kitted out, and it’s worth a visit, but if you have the option, go to one of their stores. It all feels rather hipster, but in a way that knits itself together visually. In short — if you have any curiosity about the brand, find the time to visit. In many ways, it’s like a visit to an Apple Store — it’s another world entirely — but far more “organic” feeling. I can spend far too much time wandering these aisles.

The Runwell Turntable

All of which brings me to the new Runwell Turntable.

As we mentioned before, the new turntable is a collaboration with VPI. The inverted bearing, the gimbaled tonearm, the platter assembly — all are VPI inspired and informed, and manufactured by MDI, a long-time manufacturing partner of VPI. For the audiophile, those are all familiar stories. But the plinth, the wood surrounds, and the overall aesthetic chic — those are new. Those are pure Shinola — and we have Alex Rosson to thank. If that name sounds familiar, you might remember him as the co-founder of audiophile headphone phenom Audeze.

Here’s the short form. The Runwell is a belt-drive turntable, with an integral motor system buried under the massive aluminum platter and plinth. On the plinth, you’ll find two “towers”, one for the “on/off” and one for the wide flat belt (no, not an O-ring). It’s a two-speed ‘table — that is, it does the standard 33rpm as well as 45rpm — and switching speeds is a matter of moving the belt up or down on that post. If this sounds very reminiscent of the VPI Scout, it should.

Manual speed control — just move the belt up or down to change the platter speed.

The platter, as you’d expect, floats above the massive aluminum top plate and some fancy isolating footers lift the entire ‘table off of whatever you have it sitting on. They offer reasonably good isolation, too — a running ‘table, in the middle of the kickoff event, was chugging merrily along entirely skip free despite my not-so-mild efforts at surreptitious malfeasance. Little f***er is a robust sumb*tch — if I recall correctly (and there’s no good reason to assume that I am), I think the Runwell will tip the scales at just shy of four stones. Like I said. Robust. Plan on having a friend help you move it, or better still, plan on pulling the platter off first if you need to lug it about.

I like big knobs and I cannot lie

Some general notes about the impression of the table — aside from its massiveness, it’s also deceptively elegant. I’ve yet to see a photo (mine or theirs) that really does justice to the sheer quality that its physicality conveys. Like everything else Shinola does, the ‘table is impressive — and even more so “in the flesh” (as it were). And yes, I’ll qualify that a bit — while the $2,500 price tag doesn’t sound “inexpensive”, remember that nothing Shinola sells is inexpensive. That’s just not the point. No, this isn’t going to be your first turntable. Well, okay — it may well be for that rare, exclusive few; but even so, it very well may be your last turntable. It’s a significant step up from — again, on sheer aesthetics — from the entry-level offerings from Pro-Ject, Rega, or even VPI. That’s not nothing — not by a long shot. Me likey.

Yes, that *is* a leather record mat!

Another interesting point — the Runwell currently is shipping with an Ortofon 2M Blue phono cartridge. That’s a $250 element, right there. Most “entry-level” turntables ship with crap carts — this is not that, and again, not by a long shot. It is a moving-magnet cart, but the output, characteristics/specs, and whathaveyous aren’t really all that important. Why? Because the Runwell comes standard with a phono preamplifier on a modular/sled-assembly on its ass-end. And yes, there are plans to come up with a bypass (for those that want to use their favorite outboard phono-pre) and a moving coil phono. That latter will be rather interesting, as it hints at some plans that Shinola may be pursuing with their own ground-up approach to the rest of the components required in a phono playback system. Stay tuned.

There are two color schemes currently being offered. The standard version features a light-wood, “natural” bead-blasted aluminum finish top plate. The Black Friday version is exactly the same … except everything is all Johnny Cash. I like Johnny Cash. If it were me, I’d be getting the Johnny Cash. Your mileage may vary.

My understanding is that the Runwells are shipping now. And just in case you were wondering what I wanted for Christmas, well let me offer that Shinola would be an excellent place to start looking. Even if that special someone in your life isn’t me.

Anyway, enjoy the photo tour. I have some more from my time at Shinola, so expect a follow-up soon. I will say that I’m expecting a Black Friday Edition of the Runwell Turntable at some very near future, so stay tuned for that as well. In the meantime, feel free to check out Analog Planet for Michael Fremer’s factory walk-through video. I may have photobombed here and there. Ahem.