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TDK Three Speaker Boombox review: TDK Three Speaker Boombox

TDK Three Speaker Boombox

Donald Bell Senior Editor / How To
Donald Bell has spent more than five years as a CNET senior editor, reviewing everything from MP3 players to the first three generations of the Apple iPad. He currently devotes his time to producing How To content for CNET, as well as weekly episodes of CNET's Top 5 video series.
Donald Bell
4 min read


TDK Three Speaker Boombox

The Good

The TDK Three Speaker Boombox delivers a finely tuned, powerful sound in a portable system with an unforgettable design. Features such as AM/FM radio, as well as RCA and instrument input, set it apart from the competition.

The Bad

There's no way to secure your iPod/iPhone or other connected device; support for Bluetooth is absent; radio antennas are handled by two dangling wires; no remote; hefty weight and battery-hungry design make portability impractical.

The Bottom Line

TDK's Three Speaker Boombox is as beautiful as it is powerful, but the hefty design does not travel well.

The TDK Three Speaker Boombox is a jaw-dropping monolith of metal, leather, and glossy acrylic that is impossible to ignore. It is the Bose SoundDock's Harley-riding, chain-smoking, evil twin. As such, it's not for everyone, but this $499 speaker box is a welcome change of scenery in the otherwise dull landscape of lookalike iPod/iPhone speakers.

The real show-stopper of TDK's boom box 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 '80s boom box 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 such as Altec Lansing and Harman Kardon--but the TDK box raises the stakes.

Materials are a big part of the appeal. The top of the TDK boom box is framed with a wide slab of thick aluminum--not a facsimile. The back is covered by a smooth matte black plastic, broken up with three 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 leather 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 oversize aluminum knobs that control volume, radio tuning, and other functions. Oh, and by the way, the volume knob goes to 11 (yes, we're serious).

In spite of our enthusiasm, there are some design disappointments on the TDK boom box. Instead of offering a proper dock or enclosure for your connected iPhone or iPod, the speaker system gives you little more than a padded indentation on the top. In fairness, TDK's design decision makes it easier to use with a broad range of audio devices (heck, you could place an old Walkman up there), and leads to a more future-proof design. Still, a secure space to dock your precious iPhone would be nice.

Another design decision we're not thrilled about is the use of dangling antenna leads for the radio instead of a proper retractable antenna. Granted, anyone who thinks they'll be lugging this behemoth around is delusional, but there's just something about a telescoping antenna that makes a boom box feel legit.

The TDK Three Speaker Boombox offers iPhone/iPod support (via USB), AM/FM radio, and USB stick media playback (MP3, AAC, WMA). You also get a slew of auxiliary input options, including RCA, minijack, and a quarter-inch instrument input that can be blended with the other audio for instant karaoke/block party high jinks.

It's worth noting that TDK's unique support for iPhone and iPod takes its audio signal from the dock connection's digital output, leaving the digital-to-analog decoding to TDK's 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 oversize aluminum knobs.

Radio junkies will appreciate TDK's inclusion of both AM and FM bands, along with five presets for each. Using the dial on the right, you can tune stations using either a manual control or a seek mode, both of which are a bit slow if you're the type who really likes to blaze through the dial. For supporting broadcasts, station ID and song info text scrolls across the speaker's smaller OLED screen on the left, near the volume knob.

We're a little disappointed that a speaker system in this price range doesn't offer a remote control (even as an accessory). We also think that TDK's device agnostic, everything-but-the-kitchen-sink approach stopped short by not including support for Bluetooth. Had it, we wouldn't need to worry about perching devices on the top of the speaker, since they could simply stay in our pocket.

Under the hood, the TDK Three Speaker Boombox includes three 5.5-inch 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. Altogether 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.

With its dedicated woofer, it's no surprise that the TDK Three Speaker Boombox delivers serious low end. That said, it's not gratuitously bass-heavy and offers a surprisingly balanced, refined sound that falls more in line with Bose than Creative.

TDK also must have done some nice work with the internal DSP, since the system holds its sound quality sweet spot well through the first half of the dial. To our ears, this three-driver beauty sings best with the volume dial pegged midway at 12 o'clock--loud enough that you can really see the woofer pushing some air, but not so loud that the police will show up. Of course, if it's your intention to get noticed, the TDK Three Speaker Boombox has volume to spare. After all, there's a reason the volume knob goes up to 11.


TDK Three Speaker Boombox

Score Breakdown

Design 8Features 8Performance 8