/> ED I T O R S C H O I C E IN N O V A T IO N A W A R D
X

CNET editors pick the products and services we write about. When you buy through our links, we may get a commission.

TDK Life on Record TREK Max A34 Wireless Weatherproof Speaker review: A splashproof indoor/outdoor speaker that plays big and is priced right

carnoy-headshot-2019-2

The Trek Max A34 is the successor to TDK Life On Record's highly rated A33 Wireless Weatherproof speaker , which I thought was an excellent value at $150. (Availability outside the US hasn't been announced yet, but that price converts to just over £87 or slightly less than AU$160, for purposes of comparison.) This new Trek Max A34 looks very similar to the A33 and costs the same, but it has slightly improved sound and adds a few new features. Those include NFC tap-to-pair technology, as well as a pause/play button and transport controls on the speaker itself.

tdk-life-on-record-trek-max-product-photos06.jpg
8.2

TDK Life on Record TREK Max A34 Wireless Weatherproof Speaker

The Good

The well-priced TDK Life on Record Trek Max A34 Wireless Weatherproof Speaker offers slightly improved sound over the earlier A33 and delivers very good sound for its size. It has a sturdy, water-resistant design, speakerphone capabilities, and a USB charging port to charge your smartphone or tablet. It also has transport controls on the unit itself, as well as NFC tap-to-pair technology.

The Bad

You must recharge the speaker with an AC adapter rather than a common Micro-USB cable. While battery life has improved to 8 hours, it still isn't stellar.

The Bottom Line

The TDK Life on Record Trek Max A34 Wireless Weatherproof Speaker delivers very good sound for its size and affordable price, and it's well suited to both indoor and outdoor use with a sturdy, splashproof design.

Like the A33, the first thing you notice about the Trek Max when you pick it up that is that it's got some heft to it. It weighs in at 2.7 pounds (1.2 kg) and measures 3.7 inches high by 2 inches deep by 9.5 inches wide (94 mm x 51 mm x 241 mm), which makes it more of a midsize wireless speaker than a true mini Bluetooth speaker. If you're looking for something really portable, this isn't it, but the extra size -- at least in this case -- means better sound.

tdk-life-on-record-trek-max-product-photos07.jpg
Sarah Tew/CNET

Design and features

While it has a pretty straightforward, boxy design, I liked it. It's got clean lines, and the buttons on the top of the unit are nicely indented and clearly labeled with LED lighting. As I said, this model has some extra buttons on top, and that's where you'll notice the main difference in design between this and the older model.

The speaker is equipped with two 1.5-inch drivers plus a 2.5-inch subwoofer on the front and two rear 3-inch passive radiators on back. It's splashproof, has speakerphone capabilities, 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), a power on/off switch, and a 12-volt DC-in 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 Micro-USB cable.

tdk-life-on-record-trek-max-product-photos08.jpg
The speakers adds a pause/play button along with transport controls. Sarah Tew/CNET

It's worth noting that I initially found it a little tricky at first to power on the speaker. If you're using the speaker off the AC adapter (in battery mode), you have to flip the aforementioned power switch up to "on." You then just need to gently press the power button on top of the unit for a second and let go (you have to wait a second or two for the lights to come on). After you pair your device once with the speaker, it should automatically pair again henceforth (or, if you have a phone that supports NFC pairing, you can tap the phone on the speaker to pair it).

There's built-in speakerphone capabilities (the speakerphone worked well so long as I stood near the speaker) 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. The previous model (A33) has a little kickstand that allows you to prop the speaker up at a slight angle and fire upward a bit. This new model doesn't. Neither the A33 or Trek Max ships with a carrying case or cover.

tdk-life-on-record-trek-max-product-photos02.jpg
The ports are hidden under a rubber gasket. Sarah Tew/CNET

The older A33 sounded very good for its size and price class, but I noted in its review that it fell down a little bit with certain tunes. Well, TDK's engineers apparently read the review and tweaked the sound for the better. It now doesn't distort on any of the tracks I mentioned in my previous review, which doesn't seem like a coincidence.

More broadly speaking, this is a speaker that plays very loudly for its size, has some nice punch to its bass, and offers a reasonable amount of detail, though its treble performance isn't all that great. Overall, it's a fairly pleasant sounding speaker, and it fared better in our tests than many speakers in this and greater price ranges. There's very little stereo separation, but that's par for the course for this type of speaker where the drivers are so close together.

A lot of people wonder how this compares to the UE Boom ($199.99), another weatherproof speaker that I like a lot, and I think their sound is pretty close. The Boom is a smaller speaker, so it's a little easier to transport, and it has nearly double the battery life (15 hours compared to the Trek Max's 8 hours). The other small advantage to the UE Boom is that you can pair two of them together. But the Trek Max does offer that USB charging port and costs $50 less.

tdk-life-on-record-trek-max-product-photos01.jpg
The speaker must be charged with the included AC adapter. Sarah Tew/CNET

I also think the cylindrical Boom and its "360-degree" sound is a little better suited to outdoor use than indoors (it's truly designed to be an outdoor speaker). On the other hand, the TDK's bass performance can be improved by placing the speaker near a wall or something that allows for some reflection. Properly placed, the TDK arguably holds the edge for indoor listening.

If you're willing to give up something in the sound-quality department, TDK also makes the smaller A26, which weighs in at 12.2 ounces and features Bluetooth 4.0 technology (the A33 and Trek Max use Bluetooth 2.1). It charges with a common Micro-USB cable rather than an AC adapter (battery life is rated at 6 hours). I haven't tried that speaker yet, but it's down to around $80 online.

Finally, if you're looking to go even smaller, there's the Trek Micro ($59.99), which is similar to JBL's Clip speaker and other "micro" Bluetooth speakers.

tdk-life-on-record-trek-max-product-photos04.jpg
The back of the speaker with its bass ports. Sarah Tew/CNET

Conclusion

In final analysis, TDK has basically eliminated most of the shortcomings I noted in my review of the A33 and even improved the rated battery life by a couple of hours, upping it to 8 hours. The Trek Max isn't perfect, but at half the price of the Bose SoundLink Bluetooth Speaker III , it's arguably one the best portable Bluetooth speakers for the money, especially if you're looking for a speaker you plan on using indoors and outdoors.

tdk-life-on-record-trek-max-product-photos06.jpg
8.2

TDK Life on Record TREK Max A34 Wireless Weatherproof Speaker

Score Breakdown

Design 8Features 9Sound 8Value 8