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.