The Bluetooth speaker market is becoming aggressive. Companies are figuring out how to pack in a bevy of sought-after features like water-proofing, shock-resistance, NFC-connectivity and more into a smaller form factor. Not just that, the price for a well-stocked, portable option has come down significantly.
A noted example of this is the TDK Life on Record TREK Flex. For $129 (about £119, AU$166), a lot is on the table here. Better yet, I've seen it for as low as $99. You'll find almost every attractive feature under the sun stocked into this speaker. Even if you don't see yourself using its sporty lifestyle capabilities, this Bluetooth speaker is still a smart buy.
The TREK Flex is champion of features that help it stand up to rugged handling and gentle water play, but you'd never guess that based on looks alone.
Its capabilities, of which there are several, are masked in a sophisticated, cylindrical presentation. This speaker is the size of a large coffee mug and also similar in weight to one that's full of delicious joe.
While comprised of several materials, the black grille is the most prevalent on the TREK Flex. Two pieces curve around the speaker, meshing together to form an almost seamless appearance. If you catch the right light, you can see right through the body.
This speaker can stand on end vertically on either end of the cylinder, which makes it perfect for fitting into tight spaces. However, it does seems like there is a correct side and a less correct side. One is more rugged than the other, which displays the spun metal branding.
When laid out horizontally, there's no puzzle involved. There's only one way to lay it. The kickstand protrusion jutting out from the band of rubber that wraps around the speaker keeps it from moving around when laying flat.
The main attraction for the TREK Flex's functionality and design is the button panel. Contained beneath a strip of soft rubber that stretches from top to bottom (or side to side depending on which way you orient the speaker), each button offers a subtle click. Each of these functions are lit up with LEDs to indicate battery life, Bluetooth status and volume level.
To finish the design tour, there are a few ports around the backside of the speaker. Lifting a protective rubber flap reveals the simple array: an on/off switch that allows entering in and out of standby mode, a micro USB charging port and an auxiliary port for wired listening.
In short: the TREK Flex is easy on the eyes and incredibly simple to use.
Just when you thought that the cylindrical design was only for portability and looks, TDK cooked in a bunch of features that leverage the form factor as well.
Let's start out by talking about the rugged build, which is arguably the TREK Flex's main draw. The speaker enclosure offers resistance against shock with a grade of IK07, enough to survive short tumbles. It's also built to resist the elements with a water and dust-resistance rating of IP65. That rating guarantees survivability against dust and a decent amount of water splash – just do not submerge this speaker. It isn't made for underwater expeditions.
As a standalone speaker, the TREK Flex offers plenty to like. Piggy-backing off the pleasing design are a few more desirable traits.
Similar to the way screens have a limited viewing angle, most Bluetooth speakers also suffer from a rather limited cone of sound delivery. Sure, sound can be heard outside of the cone, but not as clearly or with as much definition. Taking advantage of the cylindrical design of this speaker, TDK implemented 360-degree sound to moderate levels of success.
The angles of sound are indeed much wider than that of a strictly forward-firing speaker, but a true 360-degrees isn't what we're getting here. There are few dead zones, areas where sound just isn't emanating from. However, thanks to the open design that the grille puts forward, this emulated 360-degree effect still works pretty well.
The sound performance of the TREK Flex is another of its strengths. Either stood up or laying down on its side, this speaker provides sufficiently deep bass, and it's no slouch when it comes to delivering mids and highs. For also being such a rugged option, I'm impressed with the quality of the sound.
To touch on the rest of the speaker's features, I listened at a wide variety of rather loud volumes and the battery fell roughly one hour short of its advertised eight hour lifespan. I'm confident that the speaker would have surpassed it at a steady (and generally lower) volume.
Bluetooth connectivity is strong, too. In my studio apartment, my tethered device was 30 feet away at times and it operated without a hitch. Connecting via NFC and utilizing the built-in microphone are both issue-free experiences.
This Bluetooth speaker contains quite a large feature set for the price and thankfully, the inclusion of these features doesn't come at the expense of battery life and sound performance. In fact, both this speaker's longevity and sound profile are excellent for just over 100 bucks.
If you're a design nut, you're going to want to pick up and hold this speaker as soon as you lay eyes on it. A design ID this strong and sensible is rare at this price point.
The 360-degree sound, while still rather effective, doesn't fire in every direction. Therefore, it's not really 360-degrees.
Another minor issue is that upon successfully pairing, the speaker will automatically resume paused music. This is great if you intend on it happening, but too often, it's not exactly ideal.
Simply put, the TDK Life on Record TREK Flex is a great value. No matter what you use it for – beachside jamming, hiking, or just on a bookshelf – you're getting a tremendously designed speaker for a sweet deal.