In the lineage of "hot" knives, Shirogorov took the throne from Hinderer. After that, the knife world exploded and there is no longer a single "hot" knife. But before the splintering, Shirogorovs were incredibly hot. It wasn't uncommon to see a Hati or a 95 hit $2,000. Prices have come down a bit, but Shiros still command a premium. In part this because of their simple, refined designs, but it is also a result of the legendary "Shiro smooth" opening. Having handled a few, I can tell you they are uniformly great. The action is so unique, so kinetic that it is unlike any other knife. It is a visceral, tactile experience that your hands rejoice in and your brain is fascinated by. The fidget factor on a Shiro is off the charts.
But the majority of Shirorogovs are too big to interest me, and thus they went unreviewed. But when the Neon came out in 2016, it was too perfect for me to ignore. Luckily a reader sent me a review sample to carry and use. This has been a long time coming. I am writing, in part, so that there is a Shiro review in the archive, but also because I want to have what I consider to be the benchmark in production flippers. This is a hard to find knife, often produced in small numbers, with different steels (there have been M390, S30V, and S90V versions, to my knowledge). They aren't cheap, but they are worth the hassle. Whether they are worth the money is a different consideration.
Here is my review sample:
Twitter Review Summary: As good as you have heard.
The Neon, technically NeOn Lite, which is a silly wordmark and hard to write over and over again, is one of the most straightforward designs out there. It and again, each of the design choices was the right one--the blade shape, the handle, the grind, the flipper shape, the clip. Like the Sebenza, everything is JUST right. And really, this knife is the flipping Sebenza, a brilliant and beautiful blade that is the result of impeccable design, materials, and execution. I can't imagine the knife being any different and as effective, its just that good.
Also, if you have to have an exposed rear tang, this is exactly the way to do it. The chamfer and reduced point, make this a delight in the pocket and in the hand. I'd prefer something different, but for what it is, the Neon's tang couldn't be better. Its good enough that I am not willing to dock it point, but it would keep the knife from getting a perfect score if this was the only issue.
The performance ratios are: blade:weight: 1.08 and blade:handle: .76. Both are quite good, especially the b:w in a metal handled knife. Like with everything on this knife, the Shirogorov's know how to get things just right.
Fit and Finish: 2
If you are trapped in a dungeon for the rest of your life and need something to occupy your time, you could spend those years looking for a flaw on the Neon and still never find one. I am not sure how the Shirogorovs manage to do this so consistently. The blade was dead centered, the finish on both blade and handle was spotless, the chamfering was perfect. Again and again, there were touches with this knife that made me think that this is the best fit and finish I have seen on a production knife. Al Mar makes some damn good knives. Chris Reeve does as well. But the Shirogorovs are worthy of a mention in that same breath, this knife is that good.
Given this knife's price and flipping action it is far more likely to live its knife life as a bit of pocket frosting than it is to do any real cutting which is why it is so unusual for this knife to have such a good in-hand feel. First, the curve for the index finger is perfect--right where it should be but not too pronounced. Second, there is a real palm swell here, something that would not look out of place on an ergo-first fixed blade. And finally, the top of the spine is just right for your thumb. In all, I am a bit surprised on how nice this knife really is in use. The Shirogorov Brothers prove that they are real knife makers and not just creators of fidget spinner alternatives.
The Neon is slim, just the right weight, and chamfered everywhere. Its quite good in the pocket. The flipper tab is a friendly size and shape, preventing the knife from being what the Nick Shabazz calls a pocket pecker.
S90V is a great choice for steel, a bit exotic, certainly high end, and capable of taking and holding a ridiculous edge. If you are going to charge a premium for your knife, its good to have premium steel to back that up. It makes consumers feel like they are getting more than the norm. That said, let me warn you--S90V is one of the worst steels I have ever tried to sharpen. This knife was a loner so I did not try to sharpen it, but I have sharpened my Benchmade 940-1, which also ran S90V steel, and it was a chore. Perhaps that is not fair. It was a job, like building the pyramids in Egypt without power tools or earth movers level job. Do not let it get dull. Have a strop. Use it regularly. Or you will be cursing your knife.
Blade Shape: 2
This is a classic and simple drop point blade. Like with a lot of things on the Neon, this is simple and done right.
There is not much to complain about here and a lot to rejoice in. This blade has that ineffable beauty that is referenced, but not explained, by Bob Loveless's term visual tension. For the majority of us, we can just call the blade shape sex-ay.
The grind here is exceptional. As you can see the grind is immaculate in appearance. The look is matched by the cutting edge's clean perfection. The flat main grind gets the cutting edge down to an especially thin edge. Also, note the impressive tapered plunge line. I am not exactly sure how they pulled that off, but it is very cool and looks amazing.
Deployment Method: 2
This the reason to buy this knife over other high end production blades. Nothing flips like a Shirogorov and the Neon doesn't disappoint in this regard. I have handled hundreds of flippers and this is clearly the best out there. There are many customs I have handled that don't come close here.
Retention Method: 1
This is a decent sculpted titanium pocket clip, which, by definition, means it is worse than a good wire clip or a stamped spring clip. I found it to be a bit pokey and somewhat difficult to get over the lip of bulky materials. Hopefully one day, the sculpted clip trend will move on and we won't have to endure these feats of machining that aren't all that good. There are SOME good sculpted clips, but they are few and far between. This one works, but barely.
The blade is extra stable and easy to engage and disengage. There was no up and down blade play at all. But there is one negative thing that gives me pause--the lock could push over a great deal even after engaged. It is not something that caused a problem, but it does give me a bit of pause.
Overall Score: 19 out of 20
Its not a perfect knife, but the Neon is definitely a superior knife. The niggling issues with the pointy clip and the slightly gushy lockbar hold me back from dropping the Perfect Seal on this review, but make no mistake, this is one of the better knives that you can buy for the price.
For me the real question isn't whether this is good, but whether its price is proportional to the increase in performance over something like the Mnandi or the Sebenza or one of the other two knives in the shootout (the Mini Bodega and the Wayfarer). In the end, at the retail price of $600 I just don't see the knife being worth nearly twice the price of a Sebenza. If I were to go all in and get what I think is the best configuration of the Sebenza--the KnifeArt.com Insingo blade shape, small Sebenza with CF handles--I'd be hard pressed to think of how the Neon is better, other than that liquid pivot.
And for me, that's the thing with this knife and all Shiros. If that kinetic, almost telepathic opening is what you want, then the knife is worth the money--there is nothing else out there in the production world that can match a Shiro's smooth opening. If nothing else can do what this knife can, then there is some rational basis upon which you can justify the price increase. For me, though, I don't think that butter smooth pivot, as amazing as it is, is worth $270, comparing this knife to the Knife Art Insingo Sebenza.
I probably like the Small Carbon Fiber Insingo Sebenza better, but if I was a flipper addict, the Neon would win out. Among some of the nicer frame lock flippers out there, the Neon competes nicely. Now that this review is finished, I can do the high end TTF shootout between this, the Wayfarer 247, and the Mini Bodega.