Sahil Mohan Gupta, NDTV,
August 25, 2011
JBL has always had an affinity for unique high fidelity audio gear (remember Sound Sticks II) so be rest assured something interesting is in store for you. This time around we have wrapped our picky ears around the JBL ONBEAT, which is an ultra portable iPod/iPad Dock. High quality iPod/iPad docks are a rarity in themselves and finding one sub Rs 10,000 gets even harder, so the ONBEAT is a rare breed. So lets see if this one can appease our sonic sensibilities.
Clearly, JBL intended to design something that would sit comfortably on your office desk or on your bedside table. For the most part,they succeed. The ONBEAT is a very well designed dock and it is relatively light, weighing only 1.9 pounds.
Even the speaker grill is made up of quality plastics, so we have been pampered with plush build quality as no other dock in this price range manages to look so premium.
At first glance its oval base and curvaceous structure lends it a look reminiscent of a croissant.There is also a heart shaped incision in the center which houses the iPod/iPad dock clamp.
Besides this, we have the two 7.5 watt drivers on the sides. These are not dedicated drivers, they are designed to deliver all the frequencies through a singular unit. So, there are no dedicated tweeters and woofers.
The volume knobs are placed on the right hand side and they are made up of chrome like material,which lends a solid and comfortable feel to them.
On the rear end of the dock we have the standard power port, the ON/OFF switch, the auxiliary input, the USB port and a Video out. JBL has equipped the dock with all the connectivity frills a layman would need for his day-to-day entertainment.
The package even includes a remote control,the buttons of which are made up of a membrane like material. All aspects of the dock can be easily accessed but,in the absence of a display, we sometimes did not realize what functionality we were activating. This was a tad problematic. So we would have appreciated a tiny display even if it bumped up the price.
Apart from this, an adapter for the docking station has been provided, enabling the iPod to be docked in landscape mode. This functionality is meant for the iPod Touch and the iPhone but not for the iPad. Though one must mention that the iPad compatibility is a boon.
At the outset we should make it clear that sky high expectations of the dock are unfeasible as the category of ultra-portable docks is itself limited by the general design of the products.
The ONBEAT is designed to do a specialized job and it serves its purpose more than adequately. Overall, the mid-range remains pretty balanced albeit a tad brittle, the treble response was on the brighter side of things but, as usual, the bass response was lacking.
All these qualities are par for the course and while testing the ONBEAT we found it sounded slightly better than the offerings shelled out by JBL's sister company Altec Lansing.However, it was definitely inferior to the similarly priced Logitech Rechargeable speaker dock S715i
For testing we picked some of our favorite MP3 tracks all encoded at 320KBPS. Interestingly, the results were quite varied.
We started with some electronic magnificence of Tangerine Dream's Poland and Firetongue. Generally, electronic music has an ambient overtone which always remains omnipresent coupled with a repetitive bass-line. We found out that the ONBEAT excelled at reproducing these sound gradations. The ONBEAT successfully managed to reproduce the elegant ambient nuances at low to-mid range volumes but the melletron and slap-back bass effects started to buckle at higher volumes.
We experienced similar results with the Guns n Roses' smash hit Sweet Child 'O Mine. The overdriven tone of Slash's guitar was not distinct enough as the ONBEAT failed to pick up the harmonic overtones produced by the higher notes at higher volumes and had a tendency to clip too.
While listening to some modern alternative rock in the vein of Nickelback's Rockstar we did not face many problems thanks to lower levels of distorted guitar in the mix. While the acoustic elements sounded decent they were notably brighter than usual. As far vocals went, Chad Kroeger's vocals remained crisp and the interlude with Billy Gibbons' spoken words sounded perfect.
We also bravely tested some metal tracks such as Metallica's classic riff-montage called Four Horsemen and Megadeth's Hanger 18 but these sounded downright awful with the drivers buckling under the pressure exerted by the excessive distortion based tones.
Clearly these speakers are not designed to be pushed or to be used with more brash genres of music. They perform best when they are left alone on an office desk or the bedside for some ambient, lounge like music or simpler tracks, which do not overwhelm the drivers with multiple instruments.
If you are looking for a decent dock for your office/bedroom, which also supports the iPad then the JBL ONBEAT, will fit the bill. But don't expect it bring the ceiling down. While it does not offer awe inspiring sound, it does manage to sound decent in popular genres of music which will be adequate for most. It even manages to offer good connectivity options which is another feather in its cap.
The only problem would be its steep price tag of Rs 9,990 as for slightly less we could get a similar sounding dock which would only lack the build quality of the ONBEAT.
Solid Build Quality
Good Connectivity options
Sound Quality: 3
Wow Factor: 3
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