Writing reviews of consumer electronics can get a bit predictable. Cellphones, TVs, and even headphones from established manufacturers will receive iterative updates and only occasionally manifest as something truly new. Occasionally a lifestyle brand puts their name on a headphone, but you can always tell when their involvement doesn’t go any deeper than the logo. Sometimes, however, a company can surprise us. Recently, Detroit-based Shinola — a watch and leather goods manufacturer named after a shoe polish company — released a series of headphones. We got a chance to try their Canfield On-Ear; they’re quite good.
If you grew up in America and had baby boomer parents, you’ve probably heard the name Shinola. We certainly did, but certainly not in the context of headphones — our parents would occasionally use a pejorative phrase (which we won’t repeat) that referenced the original WWII-era Shinola, a now-defunct company that made shoe polish. The new Shinola adopted the name as part of an ambitious project to create manufacturing jobs in America. With factories in Detroit, Michigan, Shinola primarily offers watches, leather bags, belts, jewelry, and other lifestyle goods. For Shinola, the “Canfield” line is “inspired by the mid-century modernists who used design to shape the way a generation imagined the future.” This year, they added over-ear, on-ear, and in-ear headphones to the line, and we’re one of the first to receive a review sample.
On paper, the Canfield On-Ear is much like other headphones in this form factor. It uses a pair of 40 mm dynamic drivers, quite sensitive at 105 dB, with an impedance of 32 ohms. It comes with a semi-rigid zippered canvas storage case, and its drivers fold flat for portability. The Canfield On-Ear uses an excellent (if a little short) fabric-sleeved detachable 3.5 mm cable which includes an iOS-friendly three-button control pod at the Y-split and a microphone just below the right ear.
Like other on-ears we’ve tried, comfort is not stellar with this headphone — pressure directly on the ears can become annoying and our ears became warm with prolonged use. We’ve never thought of on-ear headphones as the type to wear all day, but we think the Canfield On-Ear’s relative heft (332 grams), high clamping force, and somewhat stiff memory foam ear pads will surely be felt during long listening sessions. These basic observations are common to on-ear headphones; what makes the Canfield On-Ear interesting is the striking level of craftsmanship obvious in its design.
The Canfield On-Ear is probably the best-looking on-ear headphone we’ve yet seen. The only branding on this headphone is the small, tastefully-placed Shinola lightning bolts on each ear cup. Its metal driver housings are available in black/silver and cognac/silver colorways, but we think our gloss black review sample is particularly striking. They can be fingerprint magnets, but they’re worth cleaning. Each driver housing is connected to substantial metal yokes that allow for some limited swivel and yaw adjustability. The headband sizing mechanisms allow for about 15 millimeters of height adjustment, and feature the same gloss black metal as the driver housings with exposed fasteners.
The Canfield On-Ear’s headband is beautiful, featuring essentially the same materials (leather and suede), construction (exposed stitching), and quality of a high-end watch band. Some padding is built into the headband, but it’s minimal and not terribly soft. Canfield On-Ear’s lambskin ear pads feature memory foam, but are also minimal — a little more cushion would have been appreciated here. To us, the Canfield On-Ear is a headphone built like a watch: delicate, but not fragile, with a solid feel and beautiful details all around.
If the Canfield On-Ear is designed for a luxury feel, it is definitely designed for a luxury sound. Shinola describes the Canfield On-Ear as having a “warm” sound, and that was definitely borne out in our testing. Though the drivers have a claimed frequency response of 20–20,000 hz, we found the Canfield On-Ear to be relaxed on both ends of the spectrum. Vocals and higher frequencies come through relatively soft, and bass doesn’t hit particularly hard. The Canfield On-Ear isn’t picky about its genres; essentially everything we listened to sounded smooth, if a bit veiled at times. We found that the low-end can be made to hit slightly harder with better amplification, but not by much. This is by no means an analytical or “audiophile” sound; the Canfield On-Ear instead offers a generally easy-listening sound.
Though we’re not sure how much of Shinola’s American manufacturing goals are reflected in this headphone — Shinola says only that their headphones are “tuned and balanced” in Detroit — we like what Shinola is doing with the Canfield series. Regardless of where it’s manufactured, the Canfield On-Ear does not feel like Shinola is just another lifestyle brand slapping their name on a generic headphone. Though there are plenty of headphones available at lower prices that offer a sharper, more resolving sound, the Canfield On-Ear has a beautiful, high-quality design and low-fatigue sound that we think sets it apart. We didn’t expect this from a company like Shinola, but they’re definitely one to “watch.”
Company and Price
Model: Canfield On-Ear