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JBL OnBeat review: JBL OnBeat

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The Good Very stylish to look at. Produces very nice sound at moderate volume. USB port allows syncing with your computer while the iPad is connected.

The Bad Up close it feels flimsy. Sounds awful at higher volume.

The Bottom Line The JBL OnBeat looks great and sounds pretty good at a moderate volume. Just don't ask too much of it.

7.5 Overall

JBL has a well-earned reputation for quality speakers for computers and iPods, so it's certainly to be expected that its iPad offering would be worthwhile to look at. And it is — worthwhile to look at, that is. Just don't touch it.

JBL's designers have created something quite wonderful in the OnBeat, with its broad swooshes and sweeping curves and metallic touches. But when you get up close, it turns out that the metal is not, in fact, metal, but just painted plastic. Fairly flimsy plastic, at that. A very surprising choice.

Another surprising choice is the installation of two small, full-range speakers behind the front grille. There are no separate woofers, and not really enough space in the cavity to build a nice, resonant bass. JBL has always been clever at getting great sound out of little things (like in the OnStage), so we gave it a chance.

At moderate volume, it creates a really good sound, with plenty of detail at both the low and high ends. But turn it up, and all is lost. The high end distorts badly, and the low end, predictably, is lost entirely. This speaker dock may be appropriate for having in the kitchen or beside the bed, but don't expect it to fill a big room.

The arm on which the dock itself is mounted does a neat trick by turning sideways into landscape mode. This is great if you want to watch movies or TV shows on a tiny screen (which may be what you'll have to do, given the volume constraints). To support an iPad in landscape orientation, you have to attach an included adapter. A simple enough task, but the kind of thing that's going to get lost. We can't really understand why it's not just built in.

Other bells and whistles include a USB port, so that you can connect it to your computer and actually sync the iPad while it's charging — a very nice touch that's not included by many manufacturers.

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