The TDK Life on Record A33 Wireless Weatherproof Speaker is a durable, great sounding mid-range bluetooth speaker with crisp highs, deep bass and a huge flaw. The combination of the price point (if you deal-hunt, you can find this speaker around $100), the high quality sound and the attractive design would have earned this speaker incredibly high marks, but with the flawed battery, it’s tough to recommend this speaker. It pains me to say it, because I love almost everything else about this speaker.
This speaker is a solid, affordable alternative to some of the other bluetooth speakers out there, like the Bose Soundlink Mini II that we reviewed last month. While it is quite a bit larger, it delivers room-filling sound, with good bass and pretty good highs. The mid-ranges leave a bit to be desired, but overall, I was pretty thrilled with the sound. Sure, some acoustic tracks didn’t sound amazing, and there is some lost nuance on string heavy music, but for a portable speaker, it sounds pretty amazing. Rap and hip-hop had plenty of bass, and when you crank the speaker up, it holds up well, with little to no distortion except on the highest volume setting.
When I say that the TDK A33 is a solid speaker, I mean that literally and figuratively; this bad boy is heavy, much heftier than the Bose Soundlink Mini II. It weighs 2.8 pounds and is 2 inches wide, 9.5 inches deep and 3.7 inches high. While it does weigh a bit more, this also contributes to a solid feel in the hand and when you pick it up, you know you’re holding a durable, quality product.
And it is definitely durable. During our review, the TDK accidentally fell out of an open window (dammit, Wu-Tang!), and dropped about 5 feet onto hard-packed dirt, but the beats refused to stop. A kickstand on the bottom of the speaker (in addition to the rubber feet and weight of the speaker itself) help to prevent the speaker from moving too much, but on bass heavy tracks this is still an issue. A hard rubber casing protects the two 1.5-inch drivers, 2.5-inch subwoofer and two rear 3-inch passive radiators, and does its job well. The speaker is "splash-proof", not completely waterproof, but it's a nice feature to have and increases its overall durability.
The buttons on the top of the speaker are stripped down and simple. The call button lets you rout phone calls through the speaker and obviously makes the speaker into a speaker-phone. There is a volume up and down and a power-button, in addition to the Bluetooth connectivity button and an on and off switch on the side.
The Bluetooth button gave me problems pretty much right away. It’s not a deal-breaker, but while the other buttons require a firm press, the Bluetooth button hardly ever works on the first press, and I usually had to press it once, then let off and press down harder and hold to get the little icon flashing, indicating that the speaker is ready to pair.
Instead of a charging dock, the speaker is charged via an AC adapter, which is slightly irritating, since most speakers either use a dock or a micro USB, so you will have to bring the wall charger along. Its splash-proof (not waterproof) and its USB and charging ports are shielded with a rubber door to keep them dry and free of debris.
The battery life is where we run into my major problem. Out of the box, the touted 6 hour battery life is ok, but not amazing. If you play your tunes at a reasonable volume and don't blast bass-heavy tracks, you can squeeze some good life out of the rechargeable AA battery pack sealed inside the speaker. I could have lived with the so-so battery life if there actually was any “life” in mine at all. Almost immediately, the battery began to die after almost no use at all. I tried following the directions, which had me turning the switch to “off” while charging, but no dice. I tried it the other way and charged it all day. No dice. Then, a few days later, success! The speaker worked for a few hours just fine. Then the next day, I was back to no battery life at all, turning this speaker into any other run-of-the-mill plugin wall speaker. If the A33 wasn’t plugged in, it would die almost instantly and at a BBQ, I had to run the cord through the open sliding glass door to keep the music going outside. Unfortunately, someone shut the door, severing the cord. I bought a new charger, half hoping that maybe this was contributing to the battery-life problem, but no dice. A replacement battery pack would have presumably fixed the problem, but after spending almost $100 on the speaker (which was an amazing deal), and buying a new wall charger, I was loathe to shell out for the battery pack and replace it myself.
I looked online and saw that this was a problem for some other users as well, and I was just in an unfortunate minority of people who received bum batteries. This obviously killed my impression of the speaker, since portability is the biggest reason to own a Bluetooth speaker in the first place.