On Stage II, by JBL Harmon Audio
Posted: 8-Apr-2006

4 1/2 out of 5 Mice

Vendor: JBL HarmonAudio Type: COMMERCIAL

Reviewer: Bill Catambay Class: HARDWARE

Overview
Okay, so you just bought your mother an iPod, now what? The iPod craze has spread to people of all ages and all lifestyles, many of which are receiving them as gifts. As popular as they are, not everyone is going to immediately know what to do with this magical little music box. My mother, for instance, is very unlikely to use the headphones, nor would I even want to encourage her to. I could get her a connection kit that allows her to connect her iPod to her stereo, but what if she wants to listen to the iPod in the next room, or her bedroom, or her den? What she really needs is a nice quality portable iPod speaker system, such as the JBL Onstage II.

The JBL On Stage II is a portable speaker system that fits all iPod models with dock connectors. A stereo mini jack connection also allows you to enjoy high-quality audio from those iPod models without a dock connector as well as from desktop computers (all platforms) and laptops. The On Stage II includes a wireless RF remote control that lets you control the On Stage and iPod from up to 50 feet away. The controls let you play/pause, forward track, reverse track, increase or decrease volume, mute and more. And a convenient belt clip keeps the remote handy as you move about your environment.

The JBL On Stage II combines many proprietary technologies to provide high quality sound. Powerful neodymium magnets drive the four aluminum-domed Odyssey Transducers. This design is intended to provide a full, rich frequency response, from the lowest bass to the highest highs. COE (Computer Optimized Equalization) offers a rich, complete soundstage, and OCT (Optimized Compression Topology) is a proprietary compression technology that ensures clean, accurate sound at high output levels.

Specifications

  • Main connection: iPod dock connector;
  • Auxiliary connection: 1/8-in. (3.5 mm) mini stereo jack
  • Drivers: Four Odyssey neodymium
  • Power: 6 Watts per channel
  • Frequency response: 80 Hz-20 kHz
  • Input impedance: >5k ohms
  • Signal-to-noise ratio: >80 dB
  • Voltage input: 120 VAC
  • Dimensions (Height x Diameter): 7 x 2 in./175 x 50 mm
  • Remote control

Features

  • Compatible with all iPods with dock connectors
  • Lightweight, compact sound station lets you bring it wherever you go
  • Remote control for adjusting volume, changing track and mute
  • Every time you dock your iPod, you have a single connection for synchronizing and charging
  • Provides power to charge your iPod even if On Stage power is off
  • Includes adapters for different dock iPods, and an auxiliary audio input cable for other players


Price

$169.95


In Use
Much unlike the box-like style of most iPod speaker systems, the JBL On Stage II is in the shape of a donut, a stylish and cool cylindrical loop, with the iPod dock in front, and the power button and power cord in the back. The outside of the loop is a slanted grill, and is where the primary speakers are located. Beneath the grill, you can see two speakers on both sides of the unit. The On Stage only comes in white, originally intended to match the white iPod, which it does so perfectly. I think it looks fine with the black iPod as well, but a black version, or even a neutral color, would give people with varying tastes more choices. The picture below shows the On Stage II with my black Video iPod.


The JBL On Stage II with my black Video iPod

On the bottom of the On Stage are surface-gripping rubber feet that help keep the unit in place. On the left side of the interior of the unit is a whole (the iPod is covering it in the picture above) where you can feel a blast of air when the speaker is playing. The specifications mention Computer Optimized Equalization and Optimized Compression Topology, but I won't pretend to know what any of that means. What I can tell you is that the sound that comes out of the On Stage with my iPod playing is crisp and rich. The JBL On Stage II is one of the smallest iPod speakers I've seen, yet the quality of music that comes out of it is quite impressive. I tested the unit with my 3G iPod and my Video iPod.

I've heard varying suggestions on how to set your iPod volume when playing in an external sound system, but what works best for me has always been to have it set between 60% and 70% of its native volume. I found this to work the best with the JBL as well. At that setting, I can crank the volume of the On Stage up to it highest setting, and I don't get any distortion.

I've been playing the On Stage in my bedroom for weeks, sitting right next to my clock radio/CD player. Since the On Stage has been there, I've not once bothered with listening to the CD player. Not only does my iPod carry my entire CD collection (hence, no need to change a CD), but the On Stage sound is so much nicer than the CD Player - in fact, there's really no comparison. The On Stage fills the room with rich sounding music, with crisp highs and deep lows. The quality surpasses anything I've ever used in my bedroom before.

During my testing, I also played the On Stage in my living room next to my Klipsch iGroove and my surround sound stereo system. The living room is the biggest room in the house, with high vaulted ceilings. I didn't expect this little speaker to do much in this demanding environment, but I was very surprised to hear how well the On Stage performed. It did a great job of filling the room, perfect for background music when you have guests over. Of course, it did not have the range or power of my surround sound system, but then again, we're comparing a speaker system that I can hold in one hand, versus 5 speakers, a woofer the size of a bed stand, and an expensive power-hungry stereo amplifier. Comparing the On Stage to the bigger and more expensive Klipsch iGroove, they both sounded equal at the lower volumes, but as I cranked up the sound, the Klipsch simply had more power and a lot more bass than the On Stage. This meant that I wouldn't be using the On Stage for any dance parties, but for casual get togethers, or just enjoying music in my leisure, the On Stage performs wonderfully. Family and friends will be impressed with the quality of your music, and they'll be further impressed when you show them the small device that's creating the sound.

There are several attachments that come with the On Stage II, allowing you to custom fit every iPod size. The On Stage dock is designed to support only the iPods with dock connectors. However, there is an auxiliary audio cable that can be used for a 1st generation iPod or any other MP3 playing device.


On Stage iPod attachments and auxiliary audio cable (not pictured is the Video iPod attachment already in use)


The other big advantage of the On Stage II is that for iPods that are plugged into the dock, with just a single connection, you are not only connecting your music library to an external speaker, but you are also charging the iPod. What's really nice is that even when you turn off the power button on the On Stage speaker, it will continue to charge the iPod. That's a great way to ensure your iPod is always charged - hassle and worry free.

The primary difference between the On Stage and the On Stage II is the remote control. Having used a remote, I would find it difficult to go back to not having a remote. It makes it so convenient to control your music from the other side of the room, or even from a different room. Whether you are on the treadmill, reading the paper, or in the kitchen eating, with a simple push of a button, you can turn down the music, change the song, pause, etc.. The wireless remote operates up to 50 feet away. On the face of the remote are 5 buttons: play/pause, next song, previous song, volume up, and volume down. The remote was also designed so that you can press the volume up and down keys at the same time to mute the music. Personally, I prefer pausing the music so that it continues where it left off. Using the mute function, the song keeps playing, so you're missing your music. There is a slider switch on the side that allows you to lock the functions on the remote to help prevent pushing any buttons by accident. The remote does not offer a button to power on and off the On Stage speaker. To turn off the speaker you have to manually press the power button in the back of the unit. Having the function on the remote would make the remote that much more handy. Also, the remote is very small, so there is a high risk of misplacing the remote.
The remote does come with a convenient belt clip that can help with keeping the remote at your side. I would like to have seen some method for tracking the location of the remote from the base unit just in case you do lose it.

Summary
The JBL On Stage II is a portable iPod speaker system that delivers remarkable sound quality. It utilizes all kinds of JBL technology, but the bottom line is that it provides an amazing amount of rich sound from a very small unit. It is designed for iPods with dock connectors, but can also be used with other MP3 players using the auxiliary audio cable. It comes with various attachments to make it the perfect fit for your iPod, whether it's an iPod Mini, 3G iPod, 4G iPod, Nano, or Video iPod. It also charges your dock connecting iPod even with the speaker power turned off, making it a handy tool for keeping your iPod always charged.

The On Stage speaker unit comes in a very sleek and stylish design. It currently only comes in white, themed for the white iPod, but still looks good with the black iPod. The On Stage II comes with a wireless RF remote control that works up to 50 feet away. The remote gives you the ability to play, pause, go to next song, go to the previous song, and increase or decrease the volume. This provides the convenience to control your music while reading the paper or running on the treadmill. The only thing missing from the remote is a button to toggle the speaker power. Although the On Stage II does not deliver the same power and bass that you might get from a bigger system, such as the Klipsch iGroove, it is also much more affordable. The JBL On Stage II delivers clean and accurate sound, providing the best price for performance, and making it the perfect iPod companion gift.


Pros

  • Stylish design
  • Great sound in small package
  • Wireless remote control
  • Always charging iPod
  • Attachments to support various iPod shapes and sizes

Cons

  • No power button on remote
  • Bass not as powerful as bigger speaker systems
  • Only comes in white


Overall Rating

4 1/2 out of 5 Mice