While the TDK Life on Record A33 Wireless Weatherproof Speaker has a few small shortcomings, it delivers very good sound for its size and price (around $150) and is well suited to both indoor and outdoor use with a sturdy, splashproof design.
With so many portable Bluetooth speakers on the market, we sometimes end up being tardy reviewing certain products that we should have reviewed sooner.
Such is the case for TDK Life on Record's A33 Wireless Weatherproof speaker, which has been on the market for a while and received mostly favorable reviews from consumers. It's pretty easy to see why. The A33 is sturdily built, delivers strong sound for its size, and most importantly, can be had online for just less than $150 -- or about $100 off its list price of $249.99.
It's not without a few small shortcomings, but in all it's one of the better values in the portable Bluetooth speaker arena.
Design and features
The first thing you notice about the A33 when you take it out of the box is that it's got some heft to it. It weighs in at 2.8 pounds and measures 3.7 inches high by 2 inches wide by 9.5 inches deep, which takes it more of a mid-sized wireless speaker than a true mini Bluetooth speaker. If you're looking for something superportable this isn't it, but the extra size -- at least in this case -- means better sound.
While it has a pretty straightforward, boxy design, I liked the look of the speaker. It's got clean lines and the buttons on the top of the unit are nicely indented and clearly labeled with LED lighting.
There are volume controls on the unit but no pause/play button or transport controls (skip track forward/back), so you'll have to control playback through your smartphone, tablet, or other Bluetooth-enabled device. Some people don't mind the lack of transport controls, but others like having at least a pause/play button.
The A33 has two 1.5-inch drivers plus a 2.5-inch subwoofer on front and two rear 3-inch passive radiators. It's splashproof (not waterproof) and its ports are covered by a removable rubber door that keeps moisture and dust out.
Behind that rubber cover you'll find an audio input for non-Bluetooth devices, a USB charging port (for charging your smartphone from the speaker's internal battery), power on/off switch, and a 12V DC charging port. Alas, like some of these more powerful compact speakers, you have to charge the unit with a separate AC adapter and not with a standard USB cable. That's fine except it can be easy to misplace a generic AC adapter and, if you lose it, you won't be able to charge the speaker.
There's built-in speakerphone capabilities (the speakerphone worked well) and the unit has rubberized feet on the bottom to help keep it from moving around when the vibration kicks up when you play louder music. On the bottom you'll also find a little kickstand that allows you to prop the speaker up at a slight angle and fire upward a bit. The speaker doesn't ship with a carry case or cover.
All of these smaller Bluetooth speakers have their limitations as far as sound quality goes and the A33 is no different. But it acquitted itself better than a lot of speakers in our tests.
It had some punch to its bass, offered decent clarity, played loud for its size, and sounded fairly natural, which is one of the more important traits you can ask for in a Bluetooth speaker.
It was able handle most of today's simpler pop and techno music without distorting and had a pleasant enough vibe to it with relatively well-balanced sound. However, it fell down a little bit with certain tunes. For instance, with Nirvana's "All Apologies" there was a little background buzzing and it became apparent that speaker simply lacked the dynamic range to be able to handle more nuanced/complicated tracks gracefully. That's par for the course for these types of speakers, but as I said, the A33 fared better in our tests than many speakers in this price range and higher.
I put it up against the new Jabra Solemate Max, which is a bigger speaker that lists for $399.99. The Solemate Max could play louder and certain tracks had more depth, but the A33 had the overall more appealing sound signature. It just sounded more natural.
If you're wondering how this compares to the Bose SoundLink Mini, the Bose is smaller and has slightly smoother sound with slightly deeper bass. But sound quality is subjective, and to some, the A33 will be right there with the Bose and such speakers as the UE Boom ($199.99), another weatherproof speaker that I like a lot.
The advantage of the UE Boom is that you can pair two of them together, and it does offer better battery life -- 15 hours compared to the A33's 6 hours (battery does vary according to volume level). In other words, if you're cranking the A33 at the beach or by the pool, don't expect to get through a full day unless you have it at lower volumes.
If you're willing to give up something in the sound quality department, TDK also makes the newer and smaller A26, which weighs in at 12.2 ounces and features Bluetooth 4.0 technology (the A33 uses Bluetooth 2.1). It charges with a common Micro-USB cable rather than an AC adapter (battery life is also rated at 6 hours). I haven't tried that speaker yet but I have a feeling I'd opt to spend the extra $30 on the A33.
While the A33 has a few small shortcomings (battery life isn't great, must be charged with an AC adapter, no pause/play button on the unit), it delivers very good sound for its size and price. Combine that with a sturdy, splashproof design, and the inclusion of speakerphone capabilities, and this becomes are solid speaker for the money. It may not be a steal, but it's a good value.