The Shinola Runwell Turntable

I can’t tell you how many times friends and readers have asked me the same question, “I just want a nice turntable. I’ve been getting back into vinyl a bit, and I’d like something better than an entry level deck.”

The minute I point them in the direction of one of my favorite $1,200 turntables, start discussing cartridge choices and a decent phono preamplifier, the next comment is “I don’t want to get carried away with it, I’m only going to buy a couple of hundred albums.” If this sounds like you, the Shinola Runwell might just be the answer to your needs.

Opening the Shinola Runwell turntable reminds me of the first time I unpacked my Shinola watch. Well done, with high attention to detail, and confidence inspiring execution. I’ll be the first to admit; I don’t know a thing about watches. If you’re a watch aficionado, you can stick your nose in the air at my lowly Shinola watch all day long, and you won’t offend me. I love it.

The next thing I noticed was an Andrew Bird album (excellent choice) with a note saying “Thank you from Shinola.” When was the last time anyone thanked you for buying something? When was the last time a hi-fi store salesperson was even kind to you, period?

Steve Jobs once said, “If we don’t make technology as easy to use as putting a bagel in a toaster, no one will use it.” Laurie Anderson once quipped that she had “A drawer full of techy items she couldn’t figure out.” Shinola gets a 10 out of 10 for including a large, well-written, easy to read, quick start guide. I wish every other turntable company on Earth would follow this example. (To be fair, Rega comes pretty close, but that’s it.) If you can’t set it up, you’re not going to play any records, right? This stuff should not be daunting and exclusionary.

It’s an all-inclusive analog vacation

A good friend of mine that is a high-level IT professional said to me once, “we don’t realize just how immersed in all this stuff we are until we talk to someone that isn’t.”

Most of the people that go to Club Med, or any of the other all inclusive vacation spots do so because it’s a no brainer. They want to go on vacation, after all. That doesn’t mean those of you that want to sniff out more exotic locations or cuisine are bad Smurfs. But I can tell you this; the main thing that keeps the average music lover away from vinyl is the perceived hassle of setting up a turntable.

I’ve never had an easier time getting from box to spinning records than I have with Shinola’s Runwell. I’d give them an award for that alone. My nagging audiophile sensibilities got the best of me, and I just had to check the stylus force. Spot on at 1.85g. Attach the belt, plug it in and roll – there’s a power cord and a pair of interconnects in the box, so everything you need to roll is there. Or spin, should we say.

It’s probably taken you a lot longer to read this far than it will to set up a Shinola Runwell turntable. And that’s a good thing. Once spinning, the Runwell turns in an honest performance. The Ortofon 2M Blue works well with the internal MM phonostage. Mated with the exciting Atoll amplifier and preamplifier that we just reviewed last issue and the Focal Sopra no.1 speakers, this all makes for an incredibly pleasant analog experience. The Runwell is so easy to use, playing record after record is a breeze.

But is it an “audiophile” turntable?

Yes and no. From a sonic standpoint of comparably priced turntable/tonearm/cartridge/phonostage combinations – definitely. From an infinitely adjustable/tweakable analog deck, no. The only unfortunate part of the Runwell is that you can’t bypass the onboard phono preamplifier without getting your soldering iron out, but you can adjust VTA, etc., so you can swap MM cartridges if you like. But then that defeats the purpose of this turntable. Considering the modular nature of this table and the fact that this is Shinolas first table, I wouldn’t be surprised that future models may have more versatility.

For those of you that just have to tweak something, consider upgrading the Ortofon 2M Blue to a 2M Bronze or 2M Black. With a 2M Black on hand (it is the same form factor and weight as the 2M Blue) it only takes five minutes to make the swap and you won’t have to bother with VTA. The Runwell is capable of enough resolution to allow you to hear the difference, upping the price of the whole deck from the original MSRP of $2,500 to about $3,200. And if you just can’t leave well enough alone, swapping the supplied RCA cable for something else will reveal more music too. I’d suggest the Wireworld Equinoxe 7. At $200 a pair, this will also bring more musical enjoyment to your Runwell. While not infinitely geekable, you can still upgrade enough stuff on the Runwell that it’s not a dead end product, in audiophile terms. Hint to the Shinola team if you haven’t already thought of it, consider offering this table with a 2M Black for another $500.

However, even if all you do is take the Runwell out of the box, set it up and listen to records, never even thinking about changing anything, it succeeds on every level. The musical experience delivered is more than commensurate with the price asked.

Running through a set of favorite test discs, the massive platter has great speed stability, offering a weighty sound, not unlike what my VPI Classic One delivers.

For those of you that haven’t been following the Shinola story, Mat Weisfeld, and his father Harry, the guys behind VPI have been very involved with the Shinola table, and this turntable shares a lot of visual as well as sonic DNA. Yet, this isn’t just a Camaro rebadged as a Firebird. On one level, the visual styling of the Runwell is a step above the basic VPI tables, with an overall look that is more reserved, yet more sophisticated than the VPI Classic Line. (And I say this as a happy owner of a Classic One and Two.) The Runwell is also more compact than the VPI tables, and even though these tables are brothers from the same father, they each have unique identities.

The machined top plate of the turntable plinth reminds me of a vintage Thorens TD-124, both in color and feel. A massive aluminum platter, tonearm and light wood base (it’s also available in black) rounds out the package, complimented by the medium toned leather mat on top of the platter. I’ve seen plenty of ten thousand dollar turntables lacking this level of fit and finish.

Pure analog ease

Spinning record after record, this is a turntable that even a seasoned audio reviewer could easily live with. No $2,500 record player gives you everything – that costs a lot more money. But judged within its context, the Shinola Runwell is a lovely turntable. Playing more than a handful of very familiar LP’s, the analog magic is here in spades.  Sonics are superb, the soundstage presented is wide open, with more info in the left to right, and while there is some front to back information, not as much as might be expected from higher end decks – and much of this is the limitation of the 2M Blue. When upgraded to the 2M Black, more front to back information is available.

I was consistently impressed by the overall smoothness of the onboard MM phono section. Tonality is excellent, along with snappy transient response, and this baby is quiet! Perhaps the only nit to pick is a slight softening/rolling off of the extreme high end. Again, swapping to a 2M Black takes care of this for the most discerning ears.

Not a poseur

Shinola Audio has come out of the box with an impressive product in the Runwell Turntable. Build quality is exceptional, packaging equally intriguing, but best of all the sound quality is more than what you’d expect for the price. When you head down to a Shinola store and touch one, you’ll see what I mean. The staff at Shinola has built a product that they should be very proud of.

Some will bellyache over the somewhat closed loop system, but most of those types bellyache no matter what. If you want a record player that is a few steps up from entry level stuff, works perfectly and looks magnificent, I can’t recommend the Shinola Runwell highly enough.

For now, the Shinola Runwell is only available through Shinola stores and select Neiman Marcus stores. All the more reason to stop by and see the other cool stuff they have. You might just need a backpack or a watch!

The Shinola Runwell Turntable

MSRP:  $2,500


Preamplifier              Atoll HA120

Power Amplifier        Atoll HD100

Speaker Cable           Cardas Iridium

Speakers                    Focal Sopra no.1

Syzygy SLF-850 Subwoofer

The dictionary says that Syzygy is pronounced siz-i-jee, with the emphasis on the first syllable. A syzygy is defined as an alignment of three or more celestial objects.

Listening to the heavy bass groove in George Michael’s Older, I couldn’t agree more. My Quad 2815s and a pair of the SLF850 subwoofers are blending perfectly; this is not an easy task for any subwoofer. They don’t even feel as if they are on to begin with until the “mute” button on the handy iPhone app shuts them off. Then, the soundfield produced by the Quads merely collapses. This is subwoofer perfection.

Finished in a textured, matte black 12.5-inch cube, these subwoofers get the job done without drawing attention to themselves and can be used in a downward or front-firing configuration. In my room they prove to work best in the front firing configuration, but I have no pups of the two or four-legged variety to interfere with all things audio. Should you, the down-firing option will be greatly appreciated.

The main man at Syzygy, Paul Egan is by no means a stranger to the world of high-end audio, having spent 13 years at KEF and nearly as many at API, working with Mirage and a few other well-known speaker brands. So, when the time came to create his product, he not only knew what he wanted but where to procure everything. Leveraging his past relationships, he’s been able to pack a lot more into a sub-thousand dollar subwoofer than someone starting at ground zero. Keeping things lean and mean, he’s even eschewed putting grilles on his subs to keep them all business. Discussing the background of his products, Egan makes an excellent point when he says “I’m trying to democratize good sound at a reasonable price.” At $799 each, the SLF850 is a steal.


While there are two other 8-inch subs and a 12-inch in the product mix in addition to the SLF-850 reviewed here with a 10-inch carbon fiber driver, all but the smallest model are acoustic suspension with full wireless capability. While one sub is better than none, if you’re trying to extend the LF response of your speakers, a single sub can take a little more effort to place.

Which is why I enjoy wireless subwoofers so much. No worrying about running long cables to the proper placement. The DSP optimization functionality of the SLF850 takes this a step further, because the EQ makes it easy to place and integrate the woofer. Should you want to use your SLF-850 in a traditional, wired configuration, supplying signal from either your surround sound receiver’s LFE channel or the high level outputs from your preamplifier, that is no problem.

Setup couldn’t be more painless. These compact cubes unpack quickly and Syzygy includes an excellent manual to get you rocking in no time at all. If you are proceeding in wireless mode, the tiny Bluetooth receiver/interface needs to be plugged into a variable line-level output with traditional RCA cables. Once the SLF-850 is placed where you need to put it, download the app on whatever device (iPhone or Android) you possess and run a few processes.

First, the Syzygy Sub app finds and measures your woofer(s), with your smart device about a foot from its output. Then, moving to your listening position and running another sweep adjusts the woofer to your listening environment for optimum bass performance right at the sweet spot with the “Auto EQ” function.

This will get you about 90-95% of the way home and a bit more fine tuning will bring it all to perfection. Depending on the type of main speakers you are using, the Low Pass feature allows adjustment of the crossover from 40 – 150hz.

After everything is adjusted to taste, you can control the output level from your phone, and choose “normal,” “music,” “cinema,” or “night” settings, which are more like a preset bass level control. As I don’t have neighbors close by anymore, I just let the SLF850s rip in normal mode with excellent result, regardless of program material. The mute button helps you fine tune, making it easy to cut the woofer(s) out of the loop. The better you have it all dialed in, the less you notice the woofers, until a deep bass passage – as it should be.

A versatile performer

Though Egan sent me a pair of SLF850s for this review, I started with one, because not everyone will jump off the cliff for a pair right off the bat. Three sets of speakers were used, all presenting different perspectives. My Graham LS5/9 speakers go solidly down to about 40hz, with useable output to 30, making them a good speaker that can be run full range. The KEF LS-50s are strictly a satellite, being a challenge for any subwoofer because it will have to go sufficiently high without coloration to mate well with the little monitors. Lastly, the Quad 2812s are equally tough, but for different reasons; the difference in dispersion characteristics of the ESL panel and a piston woofer (not to mention the lightning speed of the ESL panel) is usually near impossible to get right, where you aren’t hearing speakers here and woofers there. But it can be done.

The short story is that the SLF850, both singly and as a pair mates flawlessly to all three of these combinations. In single woofer mode, the SLF850 was placed just slightly off center of the main speakers (all three) back against the rear wall in front firing mode. Thanks to the fine tuning allowed by the app, there were no issues at all integrating the SLF850 into the system and for the most part, if I were in a smaller space, I could probably get along just fine with one woofer.

Moving to dual woofer mode, the little KEFs worked great with the SLF850s slightly behind and off to the side of the stands. The Grahams a bit further in both directions and with the Quads, I ended up with the woofers fairly far back, almost behind the listening couch. This made for the most seamless integration. Not only did I notice even better integration, but a pair provides wider dynamic range and better low-level linearity as well. The bulk of the listening sessions were with two woofers in place.

You don’t realize you need it till you have it

If you’ve been predisposed to thinking that you don’t need low-frequency extension, prepare to be surprised. Even with the LS5/9s, which I previously thought had plenty of bass in my 11 x 18-foot listening room, came alive with a pair of SLF850s added to the mix.

They certainly made for a lot more fun with my favorite Dubstep and hip-hop tracks as well as the entire Genesis catalog, yet even when playing music that you might not think has a ton of LF content, the soundstage in the room opens up considerably with the woofers in place. Tracking through the classic Roberta Flack & Donny Hathaway hit, “Where is the Love?” the pair of SLF850s gives both singers voices more depth and breath. Ditto listening to Miles Davis’ Tutu. Yes, the heartbeat at the beginning of Dark Side of the Moon was pretty rocking too. Again, just hit that mute button to see what you are missing.

The LS-50s took the longest to optimize (about 15 min as opposed to about 5 min with the other two), but again, once the sweet spot was located, things jelled tremendously, and these small but mighty monitors could now light up the room with heavy rock music and play considerably louder too.

Skeptical as I was that these speakers would not be able to keep pace with the Quads, (and Egan assured me that they would) they succeed brilliantly with these pesky panels. The current crop of Quads is much livelier than models past, but they are still Quads. You won’t get much enjoyment out of Metallica without the woofers, yet once in place, hard rock can now be appreciated. Grooving through TIDAL’s “favorite dance tracks of 2016” proved equally entertaining. With some serious bass happening, I’ve been able to enjoy the Quads like never before. Purists be damned.

56 pounds of sheer fun

That is if you take two. But regardless of whether you add one or two of the SLF850s to your system, fine tuned, low-frequency extension is easy and affordable. Thanks to the wireless, DSP configuration and the small form factor, I can’t think of anyone not being able to integrate at least one of these into your listening room. You’ll be glad you did. I’m adding the review samples to my Audiophile Apartment system, so you’ll be seeing and hearing more of them in reviews to come.

Our compliments to Paul Egan and the staff at Syzygy for delivering an outstanding product at a very approachable price; earning them one of our first Exceptional Value Awards for 2017.

The Syzygy SLF850 Subwoofer



Amplification        Esoteric F-07 Integrated, PrimaLuna HP Integrated

Analog Source     Soulines Kubrick Turntable/ZYX 1000 cartridge

Digital Source        Gryphon Kalliope DAC, ELAC DS-101G Server

Speakers        KEF LS-50, Graham LS5/9, Quad 2812

Cable            Cardas Iridium

The Modwright SWL 9.0 Anniversary Preamp

Tracking through Radiohead’s newest album, A Moon Shaped Pool, the sonic landscape painted by ModWright’s entry preamplifier is impressive – even after I’ve just removed a big-bucks preamplifier from a system consisting of a CJ LP125sa+ power amplifier, the dCS Rossini DAC featured on our cover and my reference GamuT RS5i speakers, all cabled with Cardas Clear. Yep, this $2,900 preamp is getting the job done in good company.

Thanks to Tidal, running through 20 or 30 familiar favorite tracks requires much less time than when the original 9.0 arrived 13 years ago. Oddly, one of the things that impressed me most about the original ModWright preamp was Wright’s labeling the inputs both right-side up and upside down, making it easier to peek behind your equipment rack and facilitate connections. A small attention to detail, but one that convinced me that this guy had some insight.

A lot has transpired in 13 years. A quick drive up to Amboy, Washington proves fruitful, picking up one of the first SWL 9.0 Anniversary Edition preamplifiers from Dan Wright. The original SWL 9.0 (named for the 9.0 pound birth weight of his son Spencer) was Wright’s first product 13 years ago, after a four-year career of modding other people’s gear for higher performance.

That original preamplifier was well thought out revealing a lot of sound for the $1,999 asking price. At the time, tube moguls Conrad Johnson, Audio Research, BAT and McIntosh didn’t have anything in this price range, and the ModWright compared favorably with a few of their more expensive offerings. But Wright was a young manufacturer with only a few years under his belt and relatively low overhead. Yet now with a manufacturing facility, employees and considerably more inventory, he’s managed to not only grow, but also stay lean and keep prices in line.

Fast forward to now

Today, Wright has earned his stripes, proving himself in an industry that isn’t always easy to compete in, and over 400 units of the original SWL 9.0 were produced. When one occasionally pops up on the secondary market, it is usually snapped up rather quickly, proving that this initial product is still very desirable. Those still possessing the original, take note: the mother ship can still service these preamplifiers.

Like the BMW 3-series, Wright’s products are evolutionary, rather than changing direction every couple years. They just keep getting a little better, sonically and visually, with every iteration. In his office, Wright jokes about how much he’s learned about shipping as well. While the casework of the SWL 9.0 Anniversary Edition has been simplified somewhat to hit the price point, the machined aluminum top plate from the more expensive models has been tastefully replaced by a stamped piece of metal, and the faceplate is still thick, with equally robust control knobs, all machined with care. Carefully placed in an equipment rack, you’ll never know the difference and this is a great example of putting the money invested where it counts – in the sound quality. Also gone, much for the better, are the paddle switches of old, now replaced with gentle push buttons. I remember breaking one of the switches on my original 9.0, just as I did on my Audio Research and BAT preamplifiers of similar vintage, so this is a nice touch. The 9.0 SWL Anniversary feels like a far more expensive preamplifier, especially when you pick it up. This thing has to weigh about 25 or 30 pounds.

Nothing unessential

The SWL 9.0 Anniversary is a model of simplicity. Inputs on the left, volume on the right. Just like the original, it still “goes to 11,” so we can see that success hasn’t gone to Wright’s head and dissolved his sense of humor – though you’d never turn it up that far. About 12 o’clock was all any of my single-ended power amplifiers needed to achieve full output. Running a wide range of amplifiers, from a vintage, restored SAE 2200 amplifier all the way up to the Pass Xs300 monoblocks that are my current reference, compatibility is superb. It’s worth noting that this preamplifier easily drives a 20-foot pair of interconnects without sonic degradation, a plus for the audiophile in a more compact space who wants to segregate a power amplifier from the rest of the system.

Around back are four sets of RCA high level inputs and a pair of variable level outputs along with a fixed level output for those of you using a tape or digital recorder. I took the time to connect my VPI Classic 1/Lyra Kleos and Rega phonostage along with a Revox B77 to make a mix tape and can assure those who love to make their own recordings that the SWL 9.0 Anniversary Edition performs flawlessly in this capacity as well. While not ready yet, Wright has mentioned that in the future, the SWL 9.0 Anniversary will be available with a built-in, solid-state MM phono option for $300. And of course, you’ll be able to upgrade it if you purchased without initially.

The original circuit of the SWL 9.0 was a hybrid Mu stage and the current version still takes advantage of the 5687 tube, which Wright likes for its “linear and dynamic sound.” However, today’s SWL 9.0 Anniversary is a pure tube design with no solid-state devices in the signal path. Only the headphone amp relies on discrete MOSFETs in the output.

Initial listening was done as a drop-in with my main reference system, yet the smiles were equally huge in the context of a bit more reasonable system. Final listening was done with a Pass XA30.8 amplifier and the Simaudio 260D CD player/DAC, all cabled with Cardas Clear Reflection cable. Both the Rogers LS5/9s and the Quad 2812s were used as reference speakers.

Wright claims the headphone stage should be able to drive anything and mentions he used Mr. Speakers Ethers to voice this part of the circuit. It sailed through driving the Audeze LCD-2s and my Oppo PM-1s with ease. While not the last word in headphone amplification, this should more than do the job for the moderate headphone listener who doesn’t want to spend $400–$600 on an outboard headphone amp, the necessary interconnect and power cord. Personally, in the tradition of the best vintage preamplifiers, I really like having a good phonostage and headphone amp all on the same chassis. This will serve 90–95% of the users perfectly. And it makes this preamp even more of a killer value.

Keeps the pace

Extended listening keeps bringing one thing to the forefront with the SWL 9.0 Anniversary Edition; it has exceptional pace. Whether listening to something flawlessly mastered, or something dense and compressed like my favorite Monkees tracks, this preamplifier keeps the beat nailed down, never wavering. The bottom end is strong – neither overbearing nor thin – and the overall sound feels somewhere between natural and a few molecules on the warm side of the spectrum, but barely so. As it was thirteen years ago, the SWL 9.0 Anniversary Edition adds precious little sonic signature to the music presented and that’s a good thing.

It has enough depth and inner detail to convince you that this is not a solid-state preamplifier, but it is never overly warm, tubey, or euphonic. You won’t be confused that it might be a vintage tube preamp either.

Head-fi friendly

In addition to the sonic and aesthetic improvements, the biggest change to the SWL 9.0 Anniversary is the addition of a headphone amplifier. Considering that even a so-so headphone amplifier is going to set you back at least $400–$500, the cost of this preamplifier has really only gone up about $400 in over ten years. Not bad, considering how much Wright’s organization has grown.

Yes, we have a winner

Investing ten to twenty thousand dollars in anything, whether an automobile or a music system is still somewhat of a luxury in today’s world. Some of the most intriguing audio systems I’ve heard over the years have fallen in this price range, because if you want great sound at this price point, great care is required both in system setup and component choice. I can’t think of a better preamplifier to round out a system in this price point than the ModWright SWL 9.0 Anniversary Edition and am happy to award it one of our Exceptional Value Awards for 2016.

The five-figure preamplifiers still reveal more music, as they should. But the ModWright SWL 9.0 Anniversary Edition preamplifier nails all of the musical fundamentals, giving you a large enough portion of what the high end is all about. Unless you’ve got buckets of cash to spend, you can spend the rest of your life with this baby and not want for more. I’m certainly going to write Mr. Wright a check for one; half for old times’ sake and half to use as a reference in this neck of the woods. Here’s to thirteen more years. These days Spencer is tipping the scale at 100 pounds. Time flies indeed.

The ModWright SWL 9.0 Anniversary Edition Preamplifier

$2,900 (phonostage $300 additional)


Digital Source                        dCS Rossini DAC w/Rossini Clock and Paganini Transport

Amplifier                    Pass XA 30.8

Speakers                    Graham LS5/9 and Quad 2812

Cable                          Cardas Clear

Power                         Running Springs Dmitri

A Tidy Power Solution

After cable, one of the top audiophile arguments is about the need (or lack thereof) clean power.

The forum pundits like to quip, “I’ve got clean power, I live at the end of the street/out in the burbs/out in the country…” But the truth is you don’t have clean power.

The good news is this is easy to sort out, and I’ve found power products the easiest to demo. You plug it in and if you aren’t blown away, don’t buy it. No straining to hear if the magic fairy dust is doing it’s job or not. But once you’ve settled on a solution for your power needs, you head straight back to arguing about cables!

Fortunately, the folks at Core Power Technologies have made it easy for you, with their EQUI=CORE 300. This 300 watt power conditioner features a high quality power cord hardwired on the input and output side, which in the end makes for a bit better sound. Those needing more outlets can go with a Matrix 2 power strip from the folks at Wireworld.

Price is $799 – $899, depending on the length of cable required. Full review in process, but our initial response is “just go buy one.”  :)