JBL OnBeat Review by Rod Accornero
The JBL OnBeat iPad speaker dock offers a pleasing combination of style, functionality, and fine sound. True, it can’t offer the kind of sonic experience a set of full-sized speakers do; no speaker dock can. But it comes tantalizingly close in some important areas.
Whopping Good Sound
That good sound starts with a frequency response that is exceeded only by high-end stereos: 70Hz – 20kHz. The dock offers fine treble detail and a surprisingly good stereo separation.
That last is a common weak point of most docks due to the close proximity of the drivers. In this model, the front-facing Dual Phoenix transducers deliver a nice 3-D image. That’s helped along by the ability to crank up the volume without enduring any noticeable amplifier noise. It’s a little surprising, given that the OnBeat amplifier is only dual-channel 7.5 watts, but it delivers where it counts: the ears.
The bass response isn’t quite what some might hope for compared to a pair of audiophile-level speakers, but no one should expect that from an iPad/iPod/iPhone dock. Until there’s some unexpected advance in speaker design (really tough to do at this stage), the sound from a dock simply isn’t going to match a pair of full-sized GNP Valkyries.
That said, the bass from the OnBeat is certainly respectable. The characteristic “thump” and “boom” that some prefer may not be present, but to me that’s actually a good thing. There is some distortion at super high volume levels, but at moderate listening volume it’s nonexistent.
If you really want overwhelming bass be prepared to spend a lot more for a speaker dock. Expecting more in this price range is simply unreasonable. It would also be quite unreasonable to complain about the mid-range performance. Lower string frequencies, vocals, and more come through with pleasing clarity.
The dock measures 5.8″ H x 10.8″ W x 5.4″ D and weighs 1.9 lbs. Keep in mind, though, that the approximately oval OnBeat dock isn’t a rectangle so those dimensions don’t really give the full flavor of its size and shape.
The rear of the unit offers a video out connector that lets you connect everything to a big-screen TV. It also houses a mini-USB port and a standard 3.5mm aux jack to connect an MP3 player or another audio source, if desired.
There are a pair of volume touch controls on the right side of the OnBeat that are easy to reach. Not sure why but JBL chose to put the Power Button at the rear.
The OnBeat also does another nice thing in the power arena: it lets you recharge your device through the connector even when the dock is powered off.
Landscape Mode: Not Recommended
When your iPod or iPhone is docked you can easily switch the dock between portrait and landscape mode. Unfortunately the JBL OnBeat is not really designed to hold your iPad horizontally. If you’re used to watch movies on your iPad in landscape orientation in conjunction with a speaker dock this might be a deal breaker for you.
While it’s technically possible to switch your docked iPad from portrait to landscape by moving some small plastic tabs I don’t recommend doing this. The thin plastic arm – I wish JBL had provided something more solid here at this price point – is not meant to hold it that way.
By putting a lot of stress on something this small there is some risk of breaking the metal dock connector off when the iPad lies horizontally. Of course, this isn’t a problem for the much lighter iPod and iPhone.
The JBL OnBeat comes with a remote control that, for once in the iPad speaker dock niche, is really usable. Navigate through individual songs, playlists, photos and videos with ease. You can also use it to change the system settings.
There are more buttons than on some competing models, allowing you to raise/lower the volume or mute it, track forwards/backwards and access a menu for even more options. There’s also a “Previous” button that takes you back to the prior screen. Very handy for those of us who sometimes tap the wrong thing on a touchscreen menu and want an easy way to ‘undo’.
There is one design drawback that seems to plague most iPad speaker docks: the large tablet sometimes blocks the IR signal from the remote. It will show up only at certain angles, so it’s not a deal breaker, but it might be an annoyance.
You can also adjust the volume using the iPad itself, of course. Or if you prefer, you can use the +/- touch controls on the right side of the OnBeat that are easy to reach.
First and foremost for any speaker dock is the quality of the sound. In this area the JBL OnBeat iPad speaker dock does not disappoint. Far from it. It offers superior frequency response (70Hz-20kHz), fine treble detail, and surprisingly good stereo separation.
Sure the JBL OnBeat won’t wow audiophiles who expect the same kind of sonic experience they get from a pair of full-sized speakers. No iPad speaker dock can deliver that today. But for anyone looking for a stylish, secure, and functional way to connect his or her tablet to a pair of good speakers, this mid-priced model provides a pleasing compromise.