Review: JBL On Stage Micro Portable iPod Speaker Dock
When we were considering options for our 2007 iPod Buyers' Guide, JBL's new On Stage Micro ($100) struck us as a very likely candidate for inclusion - a compact little portable audio system from one of the most consistently impressive speaker designers. And for the price, On Stage Micro remains a nice little system, though it falls short of greatness because of its tiny speaker drivers - a compromise to fit everything in such a small, affordable package.
Based upon the company’s larger On Stage and On Stage II speaker systems, On Stage Micro offers iPod owners a smaller but equally good-looking alternative in either white or black colors. What’s new here is that the Micro version is the first to run off of batteries - four AAA cells are good for 24 hours of play time - and also the first to include an Infrared remote, rather than the RF version found in On Stage II. With a Universal iPod Dock on top, it includes eight color-matching Dock Adapters, a soft carrying case that holds the speakers, remote, and iPod safely inside, and a wall power adapter. Audio in, audio out, and USB-in are supported by rear ports; an audio cable is included.
By reference to other speaker systems in the $100 and under price range, On Stage Micro sounds good, but not great. Twin speaker drivers that appear to be smaller than those in the company’s earlier, similarly priced On Tour (iLounge rating: A-) speaker deliver sound that’s around 85-90% of On Tour’s performance, falling a little short in power and presenting a bit of additional distortion at above-average volume levels, and similarly missing the mark set by the sound of Sonic Impact’s i-P22 (iLounge rating: A-), with less clarity and apparent treble. In other words, you can do better on sound quality for the dollar.
But that’s somewhat - not entirely - besides the point. On Stage Micro’s value proposition is that it’s one of several iPod audio systems to include both an iPod dock and a remote control at a low total price, and though the remote is Infrared, there’s no doubt that it’s the most fully-featured such pack-in you’ll find at this price level. In addition to performing reliably at 20-foot distances, JBL’s buttons include the standards - iPod play/pause, track, and volume controls, labeled with somewhat unusual icons - plus full iPod menu navigation features and a mute button. The major reason these added buttons don’t do much for us has been noted in prior reviews - current iPod screens are basically impossible to read from any significant distance away, so menu navigation is interesting, but not super useful.
If design is important to you - and for many iPod owners, it is - On Stage Micro presents a compelling little package with typically JBL-quality good looks and efficiency. But if you’re willing to compromise on beauty, portable systems such as Logic3’s i-Station7 (iLounge rating: A) offer a roughly identical set of features - Universal Dock, remote, and low-end audio, here enhanced by a dedicated bass driver and standard Dock Connector port on the back - for the same price. Similarly, if you’re willing to give up the dock and remote, you’ll find that JBL’s On Tour offers superior sound, and can be found for even lower street prices.