No picnic, barbecue, or other group activity is complete until you introduce music, but the problem with portable speakers is that you either have to find an outlet for power or the speakers themselves are so poor that all you can hear is a garbled mess. The JBL On Tour XTB system makes a convenient accessory for summer activities; sound quality is top notch even at loud volumes and it can connect wirelessly through Bluetooth, but its slightly overpriced at $200. We stand behind the On Tour XTB if you can afford it, but if you're just looking for a basic, portable speaker, you and your wallet will get more satisfaction out of the $100 Philips SBD7500.
At first glance, you might mistake the On Tour XTB for a smaller version of the popular Roomba vacuum cleaner, but the four speakers mounted on top of the unit give it away. We like the size of the XTB; at 6 inches wide, 6 inches tall, and 2.5 inches thick, the speaker won't become an obstruction in your travel bag. The exterior is covered in a glossy black finish and each of the four drivers is wrapped in a shiny chrome border for extra style points.
One of the speakers on top of the device features two volume buttons on either side and a small button on top that answers your phone if you have it connected via Bluetooth. There's no mic built into the speaker, but you can use it as a speakerphone along with your handset.
JBL puts all the other buttons including power, audio-in, and DC power ports on the opposite edge of the On Tour XTB, and Appleheads will certainly appreciate the extra USB port thrown in for charging your iPods and iPhones on the run.
Our issue with the physical design is that there's no indicator to go along with the two separate volume control buttons. JBL could have avoided this problem by simply using a one-piece volume dial or even a small LED, but as it stands there's no way to gauge volume settings aside from trial and error. The system also comes with a cheap plastic remote control that lets you control volume and playback.
Underneath the speaker you'll find five rubber feet that keep the device from sliding around on a tabletop as well as a rotating door that lifts up to uncover the battery compartment. The On Tour XTB takes four AA batteries and also accepts rechargables which, when paired with a Bluetooth device, allows for a truly cordless experience. JBL also gives you a separate AC adapter so you can plug it in at home.