Review: JBL On Stage II

by on November 11, 2005

Usually when a company takes an already solid product and changes it, something bad happens. In the case of JBL’s new On Stage II speakers, it was a matter of combining the existing On Stage speakers with another familiar product, Griffin’s AirClick. The On Stage II is a small dockable iPod speaker system, shaped like a flying saucer. This product is so new, however, that the only place you can find it (that we know of) is the Apple Store for around $170, a bit less than its predecessor.

Usually the dockable speaker systems are a mixed bag, as the sound is never as good as a larger 2.1 speaker system. They’re also more expensive than using regular speakers and an iPod Dock. The benefits are that systems like the On Stage are small enough to be taken anywhere, and everything is in one compact package. Also, the Dock Connector charges your iPod.

On Stage II
On Stage II

On Stage II
On Stage II + iPod

On Stage II
On Stage II Back

The speakers resemble other products from JBL—they’re white and grey, and feature two buttons on the front for adjusting volume. Pressing them together mutes the system. On the back, there’s a Dock Connector port for synchronizing with a computer, an auxiliary input jack for using the On Stage with older iPods, and a power switch if you want to fully turn the system off.

The included RF remote looks identical to Griffin’s AirClick, but doesn’t need some sort of receiver that sits atop the iPod. The other difference is that the volume controls adjust the speakers and not the iPod’s output. If you already have an AirClick, you can use the remotes interchangeably, or pair one specifically to the speakers.

The Dock Connector works with all compatible iPods made since the 3rd-Generation, with the exception of the shuffle. Various inserts fit in place to ensure a secure fit. Ours did not come with one for the nano or the newest full-sized iPods, but even another insert should be fine until JBL releases the “update”.

In terms of sound, the On Stage II system sounds much better than one would expect from something of that size. The sound is clean, and there are few controls. For further tweaking, we suggest you use the iPod’s built-in equalizer.

The only downside is that the On Stage speakers are not battery powered, like Altec Lansing’s offerings. If you can put up with having an electrical outlet nearby, the sound is better, due to the speakers being further apart. This gives the On Stage II better stereo separation.

Overall, the On Stage IIs are a great product and an even better value than their predecessors. If you’re looking for something in the “small iPod dockable speaker” category, these are our new favorites.

The One-Sentence Verdict™

The On Stage IIs take an already good product, but add a remote and drop the price.

Pros: Simple design, small, surprisingly good sound from small speakers, doubles as an iPod dock, AUX input, stereo separation better than many other products

Cons: Sound not as good as a full-sized system, no battery power

The Facts

4.5/5Product: On Stage II
Company: JBL (part of Harman Multimedia)
Platform: iPod (1* 2* 3 4 M N S*)
Price: $169

*must use auxiliary input

Update: This accessory works with, but does not charge the iPod Touch 2G or iPhone 3G.

This post has been filed in iDevices, iPod and Reviews