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Commentary on the TDK Life on Record A33 Wireless Weatherproof Speaker

Posted 10th May 2015 at 03:23 AM by rjm
Updated 11th May 2015 at 04:58 AM by rjm

There is something freakish about a brick-sized block that sits there and plays room-filling music ... with no wires attached whatsoever and no obvious moving parts. It gave me the same "I'm living in the future!" sense of wonder I got buying my first 1 TB hard drive.

It doesn't take too much searching the internet to discover that among wireless portable (bluetooth) speakers, the TDK A33 is highly recommended for its exceptionally good sound quality. That comes with a massive caveat, however: Most of the people writing these reviews only have Bose, Beats, and the internal speaker of their iPhone as references for comparison.

So does the A33 sound good in a hifi context?

Read on to find out...

No, okay don't bother. The answer is "no".

But it doesn't sound bad. I'm listening to it now as I type this, hooked up via the AUX input to my Onkyo PCI-200SE sound card, with the A33 tucked under the desktop monitor. Perfectly clear, solid, pleasant background music. No hiss, no rattle, no boominess. Set against, say my Sennheiser HD600s driven by the Sapphire3 amp there's no stereo, no treble, no air, and no bass either. Sins of omission, all. The worst I can say against it is there is some midrange roughness as soon as the music volume goes above even a fairly low threshold.

Back off a second: this is a sub $100, tiny speaker running off a 6 AA NiMH battery pack!

This page at TDK explains some of the design philosophy, particularly the digital equalization. As you can see (diagram reproduced below) in addition to correcting for the response of the speaker itself, the overall frequency response is drastically re-shaped into something they call "TDK Signature Sound", with a sloping response over the midrange, and early cuts to both the treble and bass.

To which I say: "Give the engineers at TDK who came up with this a raise and a vacation!" Good work guys. If the sound coming out is pleasant and clear, and stands out from the competition, mission accomplished. It doesn't sound grossly manipulated, either. The treble cut gives it weight and smoothness (at the loss of "air") and the slope/bass cut keeps the boominess in check. (I suspect reflections from nearby surfaces compensate against the sloping response anyway.)

The best way I can contextualize the A33 is to frame it against what people would be using for the same purpose 10-20 years ago: ghastly plastic "PC speakers" from Creative, CD radio cassette players, or big, shiny, floppy plastic boomboxes. The A33 is so far ahead in both sound quality and convenience its like its from a different universe.

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