TDK survives '80s, rekindles boombox wars

TDK revives its brand, starting with an upscale iPhone-compatible boombox with a 2.1 speaker arrangement, AM/FM radio, and a stunning design.

Photo of TDK three speaker boombox.
TDK is back in the game with a drool-inducing portable stereo. And yes, it's heavy. Donald Bell/CNET

Before today, the TDK brand meant only one thing to me: mixtapes. Just the mention of it makes me nostalgic for peeling the cellophane off a 5-pack of cassettes, like a fresh pack of cigarettes.

It's been at least 15 years since I dubbed a tape, and honestly, TDK has been off my radar ever since. That is, until today, when they dropped by CNET to show off the coolest-looking portable speaker I have ever seen in my life.

When I saw TDK's latest Three-Speaker Boombox (seriously, that's their name for it), I think I may have squealed a little. Priced at $499, set for unveiling at CES, and due out in January, this sonic beauty hits on all cylinders--combining sound, features, and design in a way makes my audio nerd heart swoon.

Under the hood, you have three drivers: a 15-watt woofer at the center, flanked by two 10-watt stereo speakers with edge-driven tweeters at their center. Because the speakers aren't covered by a grille, TDK utilized woven carbon fiber speaker cones that can stand up to the elements. All together it's 35 watts RMS, which doesn't sound like much--but you feel every watt. Turned up just halfway, it's a house party.

Feature-wise, you're looking at iPhone/iPod support (via USB), AM/FM radio, USB stick (MP3, AAC, WMA), and a slew of aux input options, including RCA, minijack, and a 1/4-inch instrument input that can be blended with the other audio for instant karaoke/block party high jinks. The unique audio support for iPhone and iPod takes the digital signal from the dock connection and decodes it to analog using TDK's own integrated converters. The company also throws in an EQ with 5dB of cut and boost, represented on an OLED display on the front and controlled using the system's oversized aluminum knobs.

Photo of Donald Bell holding TDK boombox.
They had to pry this thing out of my hands. Donald Bell/CNET

But the real show-stopper of TDK's boombox is the design, which strikes a balance between retro hi-fi, '80s nostalgia, and a Syd Mead-like futuristic look. We've seen the retro, machined knob hi-fi look done before on systems like the Soundfreaq Sound Platform, but the materials were all plastic. We've seen '80's boombox nostalgia nailed with the Lasonic i931, but again, the materials were plastic and the sonics were awful. Even the whole daring futuristic speaker design has been trudged out before by companies like Altec Lansing and Harman Kardon--but I'm telling you, the TDK box has them beat.

A big part of the appeal is the materials. From top to bottom, the TDK boombox is framed with wide slabs of thick aluminum--not a facsimile. The back is covered by the same aluminum, broken up with three metal screws that conceal a compartment for 12 D-cell batteries (wall adapter also included). For the handle, the metal plank includes a cutaway for your hand and padding across the whole length--which you'll appreciate if you ever try to pick this behemoth off the ground.

The front is covered with a piano-black gloss acrylic that smudges easily, but looks great. Not helping the smudge factor is the fact that the buttons for audio source, station preset, playback control, and other functions, are accessed using illuminated capacitive touch controls located above the speaker array. To the left and right of these buttons are two gloriously oversized aluminum knobs that control volume, radio tuning, and other functions.

We'll have a formal CNET review wrapped up closer to the product's release, but we think it's fair to say that if you're looking for a powerful, high-end portable speaker, the TDK Three Speaker Boombox is probably worth waiting for.

In the meantime, check out our TDK boombox photo gallery .

 

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