Shinola Canfield On-ear headphones review

Shinola's Canfield headphones are gorgeous, but the sound leaves us wanting

The Canfield are gorgeously designed, but comfort and performance come up short of their kingly price.
The Canfield are gorgeously designed, but comfort and performance come up short of their kingly price.
The Canfield are gorgeously designed, but comfort and performance come up short of their kingly price.

Highs

  • Sleek and stylish design
  • Excellent build quality
  • Easily driven with a smartphone
  • Warm, powerful bass

Lows

  • Midrange definition doesn’t match up to price
  • Lack of padding wears on ears over time
  • Oddly difficult to adjust size

DT Editors' Rating

In the greater Detroit area, Shinola is a household name. The company has become popular around its home base, and well beyond, for its line of sleek wristwatches and business-class accessories like leather-bound notebooks and handbags. Shinola makes cool and classy things and, these days, that’s enough to mean the brand feels ready to jump into the ever-expanding luxury headphone market. Following its first turntable, The Runwell, Shinola introduced the Canfield headphone series, including on-ear, over-ear, and in-ear models.

Here we check out the on-ear Canfield, which are luxuriously appointed with sparkling cuts of steel and rich leather, and priced accordingly at a whopping $495 per pair in silver and cognac or silver and black (and $550 in gloss black). Those prices put Canfield’s headphones in some very mighty company. But can this watchmaker-turned-audio brand churn out a pair of audiophile cans worth their audiophile price?

The goods

The Canfield On-ear arrive, like a lot of high-end headphones, in an all-black box wrapped in a cardboard sheath with glamour shots of the cans on the front and back. Inside, the headphones rest within a durable hard case secured with foam and accompanied by a removable braided cable with a three-button iOS inline mic. One piece curiously missing from the package is a quarter-inch adapter. Shinola says the headphones are designed “specifically to perform with any smartphone,” and we’ll agree — they’re incredibly easy to drive with any device. But, at this price, we were surprised there wasn’t an adapter supplied for use with high-end components — especially since the instructions explicitly recommend using an amp for “critical listening.” No matter, we’ve got our own.

The Canfield’s design reminds us of a lot of high-end headphones — and that’s a good thing. The cans are crafted from heavy steel components, including chrome insets where the earpieces meet the band and chrome ribbons curled around the earpieces that are matched by sexy matte caps on the earpieces’ exterior with Shinola’s lightning logo set in the center.

The band itself feels rugged yet refined, like a weekend warrior who relieves office anxieties with ample mountain time. The steel skeleton is covered in a coat of sharp-looking leather with a smooth suede underlining. It’s along the band, however, that we find our first couple of design flaws.

A lack of cushioning above and on the sides amounts to a fit that doesn’t jibe with the headphones’ luxurious design.

As classy as the headband’s leather cover is, it doesn’t offer nearly enough padding for a pair of cans weighing three-quarters of a pound. In addition, the angle at which the retractable arms extend from the headband to adjust the fit is awkward. Slide the retractable piece at any angle more than a few millimeters off axis and the earpieces seem to be stuck in place. This is doubly true when wearing the headphones , making it nearly impossible to adjust size on the fly without actually removing the headphones.

Rich lambskin covers the earpads, which are magnetically attached and easily removable in the vein of headphones such as Bowers & Wilkins’ P-series models. But again, we raise a complaint as there’s very little padding. As stylish as the headphones look, the lack of appointed cushioning above and on the sides amounts to a fit feel that doesn’t jibe with the headphones’ luxurious design. Rigid is the word that comes to mind; the Canfield just never quite wear in, even after weeks, leaning into their business-chic design with a fit that feels stiff as a boardroom meeting. Moving back and forth between our similarly priced Audeze Sine on-ears, which we initially wished had more padding as well, we were struck by just how cozy they feel in comparison.

Further, the fact that the braided cable is extremely noisy whenever it ruffles against your clothes doesn’t do the headphones any favors, either.

The sound

We mentioned Bowers & Wilkins earlier, and that’s appropriate again here as, like B&W’s P-series (especially the flagship P9), the Canfield on-ear aim for a bass-heavy flavor that was previously rare to find in headphones priced well above the mainstream. That’s not to say the sound won’t be a popular one. The Canfield do some impressive things in the low end, offering rigid bass response that’s dominant without being all-out overpowering when it comes to the higher registers.

Shinola Canfield review
Bill Roberson/Digital Trends
Bill Roberson/Digital Trends

The sound signature is saturated in darker flavors across the board, which is evident in lighter tunes like Elton John’s Your Song, though there’s also a fair bit of detail to discover in the midrange. John’s gravelly vocals are relatively well exposed in the song, cutting through as the creamy piano is accompanied by the wide range of stringed instruments across a wide soundstage.

While bass lovers will enjoy the gutsy thrills down low, the center frequencies aren’t revealed with the presence or accuracy you’d expect from a pair of headphones at this price. Bouncing back and forth between our go-to Sine headphones and the Canfield with more nuanced music, such as Ahmad Jamal’s percussion-heavy jazz songs Silver and Back to the Future, reveals not only a lack of presence in the upper registers, but also a dearth of several layers of textural definition in the Canfield that we find are free-flowing and readily accessible in the Sine.

Granted, we’re comparing Shinola’s first-ever try in the genre to perhaps the very best on-ear headphones you can find at their price point, and to be fair, the Canfield’s 40mm dynamic drivers have a hard mission in keeping up with the brilliantly engineered planar magnetic drivers Audeze employs in the Sine. Still, when you dive in at the $500 line, you’d better make sure your cans are ready for some fierce competition.

Warranty

The Canfield come with a two-year limited warranty, which can be extended to three years with registration.

Our Take

Gorgeously designed and rugged as any cans you’ll find in their class, Shinola’s Canfield On-ears fit the part from the outset. But a lack of comfort or high-end performance have us recommending you hold your cash for a pair of headphones more worthy of the Canfield’s kingly price.

Is there a better alternative?

The first thing that comes to mind when it comes down to sound quality is obviously the Audeze Sine, whose praises we’ve sung throughout this review. If you’re looking for something that emulates the Canfield’s classy design, we’d recommend checking out the Master and Dynamic MW50, which not only offer a similar build quality, but also great sound and wireless connection.

How long will it last?

While Shinola is new to the headphone game, the company knows how to make well-built products, and the Canfield’s high end components and solid design should make them last a long time.

Should you buy it?

While certainly stylish and well-built, at this price point, we simply can’t recommend a pair of headphones that aren’t comfortable and don’t quite match up with our favorite options when it comes to sound quality.

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