Though they are portable devices, the iPod and the iPhone can make a wonderful source for headphone-free music when connected to a speaker. If you have a player full of great music and personalized playlists, you might as well play it out loud every once in a while. Unfortunately, several of the made-for-iPod systems that have come out in the past few years don't work well with the iPhone, presenting a problem for those with multiple devices. The upshot is that manufacturers have started to address this issue with iPhone-friendly speaker systems, which are shielded against cell phone interference and thus let you use one audio solution with all of your devices. One such gadget is the JBL On Stage IIIP, a $150 portable-speaker unit designed to put the music phone on display. It's not the boomiest of the bunch, but its small footprint and understated design could make it an appealing option for some.
As its name suggests, the On Stage IIIP is shaped like a small, circular stage, measuring about 7.2 inches in diameter and roughly 2 inches tall at its tallest point in the back. The center stage, which features an iPod dock, is surrounded by a black, metal speaker grille that matches the glossy, black body of the unit. JBL includes five clear-plastic dock adapters for achieving a secure fit with every iPod since the first-generation Nano. An auxiliary-line input on the back of the speaker makes it compatible with the Shuffle and non-iPod MP3 players, as well; a 3.5mm stereo patch cable is included for such purposes. The backside of the unit also features a power button and DC input for the included power cable. Two other ports, which are covered by rubber stoppers, appear to have been designed with the intent to offer pass-through syncing, but don't actually have any connections built in.
Along with the aforementioned cables, the JBL On Stage IIIP comes packaged with an IR remote. The remote is small, but has plenty of buttons for controlling nearly every function you would want. There are volume, mute, play/pause, and track forward/reverse keys, as well as buttons for navigating up and down menu lists, making menu selections, and stepping back through the interface. The range is good; we could skip tracks while in direct line of sight from at least 25 feet away. Unfortunately, the remote cannot get you out of the autohold mode of the iPhone or the iPod Touch--you have to swipe your finger on the screen for that. Another thing we noticed: volume controls on the remote and on the speaker tended either to be too sensitive or not sensitive enough, making it difficult to adjust in increments.
The JBL On Stage IIIP speaker is a reasonable performer, though music sounds a bit flat and lacking at higher volumes, and bass is definitely not its strong point. The unit does get surprisingly loud, though, and there's no distortion with the levels turned up high. At moderate volumes, the speaker sounds clear and even, but not entirely warm. There is a bit of low-end response, but it's not thumping. It's about on par with many multimedia speakers. Stereo separation is decent, thanks to the placement of the drivers on either side of the unit (there are four small Odyssey transducers, two on each side of the circle). The rated battery life of 12 hours is decent, though not jaw-dropping. You'll need to provide six AA batteries to run the speaker sans wall power (the compartment is located on the bottom of the unit).