JBL OnBeat Micro review: A compact iPhone 5 speaker dock with some kick

I should also highlight of couple of design elements that some folks might find a little troublesome. First, unless you have an ultraslim case on your iPhone, you'll most likely have to remove it in order to dock your device on the Lightning "post."

A USB port and an auxiliary input around back. Sarah Tew/CNET

The other small issue is that the Lightning connector on the dock has a little play to it: without a device attached, it stands upright, which makes it easier to connect your iPhone. But after you connect your device, you then lean it back it into the dock -- the post tilts back -- where it sits at a slight angle, resting against a piece of rubber.

It's all fine unless you start moving the dock around and suddenly see your iPhone tilting forward in the dock disconcertingly. Presumably you won't move the dock around that much, though, as noted earlier, you can insert four AAA batteries into the hidden compartment at the base of the speaker and go mobile. Those batteries will deliver about 5 hours of power, which is OK but not great. Ideally, of course, the dock would have an integrated rechargeable battery, but that would add another $25 to the price tag, if not more.

As for missing features, some people like the idea of a built-in clock (the Philips DS1155 has this feature, though no dedicated alarm). Also, there's no pass-through port for connecting the dock to your PC for data syncing, although at this price, you wouldn't necessarily expect it.

The speaker has two drivers, but you get little to no stereo separation. Sarah Tew/CNET

Performance
The OnBeat Micro sounded better than I thought it would. It plays pretty loud for its size, filling a small room with sound. As with a lot of these smaller speakers, it tends to be strongest in the midrange and it sounds best playing acoustical material from about 3 feet away, which is why it makes for a decent desktop speaker. But I played some techno and hip-hop and there's enough bass here to deliver a little kick. And that may be the most surprising thing about it: it doesn't sound too thin.

You can crank the volume, but at higher volumes it does sound a little strained, so I stuck to more modest level -- about 5 out of 10 on the volume scale -- and ended up with a better listening experience.

I compared the Micro with the Philips DS1155, which you can find for slightly less. While the Philips was fine, the JBL sounded better, with fuller, clearer sound, and more bass. That said, the Philips' design is a little bit snazzier, though it doesn't have the option to switch to battery power.

Conclusion
I'd never been terribly impressed by JBL's earlier On Stage speaker docks, so my expectations were pretty modest for the OnBeat Micro. And maybe it was because I wasn't expecting too much that I came away pleasantly surprised with the Micro. It plays a lot bigger than its size would indicate and its sound is quite decent for a compact speaker docker as long as you don't try to crank it too loud.

Its connectivity (USB port, auxiliary input) and battery-powered options come with a few caveats, but ultimately make this speaker more versatile. It may not be perfect, but the OnBeat Micro makes for a good little desktop or bedside speaker and charging station, and I have no problem recommending it.

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JBL OnBeat Micro

Part Number: JBLONBEATMICBLKAM Released: Nov. 15, 2012
MSRP: $99.95 Low Price: $43.90 See all prices

Quick Specifications See All

  • Release date Nov. 15, 2012
  • Color Black
  • Speaker Type Portable
  • Nominal Impedance 3 Ohm
  • Amplification Type active
  • Connectivity Technology wired