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TDK Life On Record TREK Max (A34) Review
UPDATE [January 2022]: This product is no longer available. Have a look at these Bluetooth speakers instead.
If you were born in the 80s or earlier, chances are fairly good that when you think of TDK, you think of cassette tapes. Of course, it’s also possible that you may find yourself thinking of CD-Rs or DVD-Rs as well. Whatever it is, you probably think of them as a company that deals in the products that store the audio, not the products that deliver it to your ears.
TDK Life On Record was born in 2010, three years after the company was acquired by Imation, who seemed set on expanding the company’s horizons. While the company still makes the media many of us originally knew them for, the Life On Record brand has taken on a life of its own. The TDK Life On Record TREK Max A34, the somewhat confusingly named follow-up to the TREK Max A33, is a speaker that makes a lot of promises, namely great sound and IP64-certified dust and liquid resistance. That all sounds great, but does it deliver?
What’s In The Box?
In what is increasingly par for the course when it comes to Bluetooth speakers, there isn’t a whole lot packed inside the box. Open it up and you’ll find the TREK Max speaker itself, the AC adapter, and the manual. If it works for Bose, why not TDK Life On Record, right?
Build & Design
To paraphrase Henry Ford, the TREK Max comes in any color you want, as long as it’s black. Given that black is normally our choice of color when given the option, that was fine with us, but if you’re looking for something to match your white phone, you’re out of luck.
As mentioned above, the TDK Life On Record TREK Max is IP64 rated sand and liquid resistant. In that number the first digit (6) is the sand resistance, and the second (4) is the liquid resistance. What it breaks down to is that the Max is pretty tough when it comes to even the finest sand or dust, but while it will stand up to splashing water, being submerged is too much for it to take.
Rugged speakers usually look rugged, which is rarely an upside. On the occasion that a tough speaker still manages to look like a normal speaker – this speaker or the Fugoo Style, for example – we’re always happy to see it. The TREK Max may not be the picture of elegance itself, but it certainly looks more like a speaker than a piece of outdoor equipment.
Pairing the TREK Max to the device of your choice is simple, no matter how you do it. The quickest way is NFC: just wave your NFC-enabled device over the icon on the top of the speaker and you’re good to go. If NFC isn’t an option, just power the speaker on, hold down the Bluetooth button to enter pairing mode, and then pair from your device. Bluetooth range is the standard 33 feet and moving around in this range I didn’t notice any halts or skipping in the audio. If you’d rather not use Bluetooth, a liquid-resistant cover on the side can be peeled back to plug in via the 3.5 mm aux in jack.
The button layout of the TREK Max is slightly strange. It has an on / off switch on the side, beneath the panel, but there is also a power button on top of the speaker. It seems that the sliding switch on the side is to prevent the speaker from accidentally being turned on, but in testing we didn’t find alternate uses for either of the buttons.
Regarding the rest of the buttons, they’re plentiful and clearly labeled. You’ll find dedicated volume, Bluetooth and call buttons in addition to the three playback control buttons. The integrated microphone offers speakerphone functionality, and call quality was decent by speakerphone standards.
TDK Life On Record states battery life for the TREK Max as 8 hours and our testing proved this to be a fairly accurate claim. In our testing we got slightly under 8 hours, but this did include pairing multiple devices and running the speaker at fairly high volumes. With normal use and average volume, battery life should improve. Charge time was around 2 hours.
There is a slight downside in that the TREK Max only charges via the included AC adapter – no USB charging option is available. This isn’t a major failing but it does mean you’ll have to be sure to keep the AC adapter handy for longer trips. On the upside, the TREK Max has a 1.0A full-sized USB port on the side that can be used to charge your mobile devices.
Due to their small size and the nature of their use, the sound quality of Bluetooth speakers changes wildly depending on where they’re placed. The surface, for example, can have a huge effect on how much bass is present. To reflect this in our testing, we placed the TREK Max in a variety of settings and on different surfaces during testing.
While it’s not as heavy on bass as other speakers we’ve seen this size (the Bose SoundLink Mini comes to mind), the TREK Max does a respectable job of reproducing bass frequencies. Placing the speaker on a wooden table or desk is the best way to get the maximum amount of bass, but even holding the speaker in the air, it held up fairly well.
The midrange is certainly a bit forward when compared to the lows and highs, but it isn’t boxy sounding. At most volumes the balance is decent, but as the volume increases, the upper midrange begins to take on a slightly harsher character.
The highs offer plenty of detail, and somewhat strangely, even as the upper mids take on a harsher character as the volume heads towards the max, the highs remain mostly unchanged.
If you get close enough to the TREK Max, you can indeed discern some stereo separation, but at most distances it’s not very noticeable. While this isn’t surprising, the sheer volume this speaker can pump out before distorting is. Even at around 75% volume, I could hear the music very clearly on the other side of my house, which can’t be said about a lot of Bluetooth speakers.
The TDK Life On Record TREK Max may not be as feature-packed as some other speakers we’ve seen, but given the price, that’s hardly surprising. The speaker does what it sets out to do: it sounds good and it’s pretty tough without looking like it belongs in the back of a pickup truck. We’d have liked to see USB charging included, but this is far from the only speaker we’ve seen with the same AC-only charging setup. If you’re looking for a rugged yet nice-looking speaker that won’t break the bank, the TREK Max is certainly worth a look.
Buy now from Amazon ($149)