The JBL OnBeat Micro is a small speaker designed to take up very little surface space on your bedside table or kitchen counter. Beyond that, it’s the first speaker dock we’ve tested to feature the new Apple Lightning connector, compatible with the latest iOS devices. At $99.95 (direct), it’s unrealistic to expect much in the way of powerful audio and extra features. The OnBeat Micro still provides a surprising level of volume for its size; just don’t expect booming bass. If you don’t have a new iOS device with the Lightning connector, be advised: There is no included dock adapter to connect your older mobile device, only a USB port on the rear panel for charging.
JBL makes a wide range of speaker dock types, with the most obvious differentiator in the range being size. While last year’s magnificent, wireless JBL OnBeat Xtreme was a bulky and powerful audio system, the OnBeat Micro is tiny, measuring 2.3 by 6.6 by 6.6 inches (HWD) and 12.8 ounces. The docking area is recessed along the top panel.
A Power button is situated in front of the dock along with a Volume control, and that’s it. The rest of the Micro is a rounded, simple metallic mesh speaker grille that hides a pair of 2-watt, full-range drivers. Along the back panel, there’s a connection for the included power adapter, a 3.5mm Aux input, and a USB connection for charging non-Lightning devices. A rubberized ring on the bottom panel keeps the Micro from dancing across your tabletop when it’s playing loud, vibration-prone music.
The Micro is also portable—that is, if you add four (not-included) AAA batteries to the compartment on the bottom panel. We’d rather see a rechargeable option here, but any type of portability in this price range is a nice plus, so we won’t be picky. JBL estimates the battery life at roughly 5 hours of audio playback.
About that Lightning connection: Progress is progress, and like the blog post commenter who proudly writes “First,” JBL gets to enjoy the first-ness of coming to market earlier than any other speaker docks with a Lightning connection. But just like that commenter, JBL is likely to be the only entity truly excited about this development. If you don’t own a new iOS device, you are not invited to this party. JBL doesn’t include an adapter to allow older, 30-pin devices to be docked here. You can buy one, but it’ll cost you around $15 or more. Sure, you can use the OnBeat Micro’s 3.5mm Aux input, but that’s not why one buys a speaker dock, is it?
Another minor annoyance: depending on your device’s case, you may have to remove it before connecting to the dock, but this seems to be more an issue of case design than the speaker dock’s design. There is no included remote control. And, it should be obvious by looking at the photographs, but this speaker is not designed to suport an iPad—small iOS devices, only.
You shouldn’t expect big sound from a frame this size, and yet, the OnBeat Micro packs a surprising punch. It would be almost unfair to talk about its bass response; there’s hardly room for even a woofer in the Micro’s petite enclosure. But it sure can get quite loud for its size; if you’re planning to use it as an alarm clock, consider yourself warned. You’ll definitely wake up if you max out the volume on this thing in the morning, but you may have a heart attack.
So, adjusting our expectations for $100 sound, the OnBeat Micro is a pleasant surprise. Not only can it get loud, but at moderate volumes, it delivers audio clearly and distortion-free. Playing Jay-Z and Kanye West’s “No Church in the Wild” at maximum volume produced no distortion, and the vocals and attack of the kick drum loop remained crisp and clear. Obviously, there’s not much bass response to speak of, but JBL does a good job of making sure the system doesn’t sound too thin or weak.
The Knife’s “Silent Shout,” on the other hand, does distort at top volumes, though it distorts on the drum loop’s low-mid content, and not on the sub-bass kick drum resonance that most speakers fizzle out on. This tells us a couple things: The OnBeat Micro will distort on certain types of bass, and it does not reproduce the type that destroys most weak drivers (sub-bass), thus it won’t distort on those frequencies. Needless to say, this is not a booming system, and bass lovers will need to spend more money on a system with more substantial power and larger drivers if they wish to hear sub-bass content accurately and cleanly.
Classical tracks, like John Adams’ “The Chairman Dances,” sounds predictably bright and lacking a bit in the lower register content. Deep percussion and lower register strings exist in the mix, but they don’t stand out quite like the higher strings and percussion do. Again, this is to be expected, and the OnBeat Micro does a good job of making the mid-level frequencies it can reproduce stand out and add body to the overall mix. The Micro also has just the right amount of brightness—nothing sounds harsh or over the top, and things are always clear and accurate.
As for functionality, the OnBeat Micro is sophisticated enough to automatically switch between the docked iOS device and a device connected to the Aux input rather than play both sound sources simultaneously—it will favor the iOS device if it is playing, and switch over to the Aux device if you press Pause on the docked device. Seems like a common sense feature, but one that’s nonetheless useful when playing back-and-forth between two sound sources over the course of a night.
All told, the JBL OnBeat Micro tries its hardest to push out rich, clean audio, and it does so with a bit more power than you’d expect upon first glance. For its price, and it’s first-to-market Lightning connection, it’s a good deal. If Bluetooth support is more compelling to you than a physical dock, the Logitech UE Mobile Boombox is a solid option; if audio quality is more important to you, the identically-priced Edifier Exclaim e10 is a high-quality PC speaker set with an Aux input for use with mobile devices. Finally, if you were hoping for an affordable dock that will also support your iPad, the iLuv ArtStation Pro iMM514 and the iLuv iSP245 Mo’Beats Speaker Stand are two decent, if not stellar, options—the former has a docking arm and little more speaker power, and the later has Bluetooth functionality.
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|Power Rating (Left and Right, Each)||2x2 watts RMS|
Copyright © 2012 Ziff Davis, Inc