Power to the people – that’s the central idea behind TDK’s 3-Speaker Boombox. We know what the people want, they say. They want loudness, and they want to be able to take the loudness wherever they go, to spread the gospel of the decibel far and wide. And on that day, verily, the corporate office said, “Let there be sound.” And it was good. (Mostly.)
To give credit where it’s due, with the Boombox, TDK has created a speaker system that marries form and function well. The sleek lines and sparse ornamentation work practically wherever you decide to hook it up; the set just plain looks cool. A couple of the accoutrements are unnecessary – I certainly can do without a dedicated LED readout that alternates between the company’s logo and corny motto. For the most part, though, the design is a win. You won’t be ashamed to plug your iPod into it.
On the plus side, this speaker system can best be described with one word: LOUD. Even at moderate volume levels, the bass on this unit really thumps, and when you turn it up to 11 – oh, yeah, the volume knob actually does have an “11” as its highest setting. The “goes to 11” joke has probably become a bit dated, along with references to Ghostbusters and the first two Terminator films, but the TDK Boombox earns the right to reiterate solely because of the sheer amount of power these three speakers put out. It’s almost like they have actually invented a new level of loudness just to make the gag fit. These 5.5 inch drivers and built-in sub simply do not fool around. What’s probably more important than just the volume, though, is the sound quality, and it’s also at the upper end of the spectrum where this system really shines. Turning it all the way up produces no discernible distortion or warping; at the highest possible setting, you might have to worry about things falling off shelves (not really a joke, that!) but you won’t have to worry about the output getting scratchy or raw. Every bass kick and treble punch remains crisp and delightful, provided your eardrums can endure through the first couple of tracks. It’s really quite remarkable.
The list of built-in features is comprehensive, with a USB connector for iPods (no actual dock, but a 30-pin connector cable does the job acceptably) or external hard drives. When you connect a storage device, one of the three front-panel LCDs lights up with track info and playback controls. 3.5mm and RCA audio inputs, as well as a built-in AM/FM tuner with quite good antenna-less receptions, round out the feature set. One of Boombox’s coolest capabilities is its ability to be used as a standard amplifier for electronic instruments; for budding musicians or garage bands, this might soften the blow from the unit’s $500 price tag. As has been mentioned to death already, the volume available means that using the Boombox in this fashion will hardly disappoint.
There are, unfortunately, a few negatives to go along with the generally positive experience of hooking up this system. TDK isn’t particularly famous for high-quality portable systems, and a by and large the disappointments seem like rookie mistakes, hopefully things that will be learned from and corrected in future systems. The biggest gaffe is the potential dealbeaker, so let’s get that out of the way. That wonderful crisp fidelity at super-high volumes doesn’t persist in the medium range; there is inconsistent, but definitely present, distortion audible when songs are played from connected digital devices. Numerous theories abound as to why this is the case, the most likely-seeming of which is a flaw in the unit’s digital sub-processor. The low range of the volume knob somewhat abruptly terminates into a “mute” setting, making it seem like they never expected anyone to play music at a reasonable volume on this thing at all. Parking lots, abandoned shopping malls, Occupy protests, yes – living rooms or quiet candlelight dinners, get outta here. But that brings into focus another rather lopsided consideration concerning the Boombox’s portability – it weights 26 pounds. That’s not light! You’re not going to be Radio Raheeming this thing down the block (hey, I can make dated film references too) unless you’ve been seriously abusing anabolic steroids. As before, if you’re throwing a block party and just need to take it from point A to point B, that’s one thing, but you’re probably not going to haul this thing down to the park every day to aid in your outdoor calisthenics (although you could run around the whole park and easily hear every note of whatever song gets your blood flowing).
The power requirements for this thing are no joke either. You’re better off running an extension cord from an outside breaker or indoor outlet than coughing up the dough for the 12 – yes, twelve, as in one dozen – D-cell batteries that this monster consumes in lieu of an electrical hookup.
Most of the other minuses are relatively minor in comparison, although a smart and responsive company (hint hint) would put in the small amount of time and effort needed to fix them. While the on-screen playback controls for external storage devices work just fine, they aren’t available for connected iPods, and without a dock, remote, or Bluetooth, this forces iPod users to use the buttons on the player to control songs. Counter-intuitively, while the Boombox automatically powers itself down after a few minutes of not receiving data, it won’t wake up when you start playing tunes again; for example, pausing playback on the iPod will cause the Boombox to eventually go into sleep mode, but before hitting “play” again, you’ve got to remember to power up the speakers first. This inconsistent dependence on the connected device for controlling playback is a little irritating in practice.
If they could somehow fix the distortion issue, despite its other flaws, the Boombox would get an uninhibited endorsement. As it is, anybody who wants something kind-of portable and especially compact, who doesn’t happen to have any desires on using their ears into their mid-30s – you could do a lot worse. This device will surely kick your house party up at least a couple of notches. Just don’t be surprised if there’s an eviction notice for disobedience of noise ordinances posted to your door the next morning.