JBL Audio has been churning out iPod speakers since the first ones hit the market years ago, and this experience shows. The company's latest offering, the JBL On Stage 200iD iPod speaker, features solid sound quality and a funky, futuristic design with a relatively small footprint. JBL succeeds in improving the On Stage line without making drastic changes. The style may not appeal to everyone and there's no FM radio or portable option, but iPod owners after a basic speaker that satisfies the ears should give it a look.
The JBL On Stage 200iD doesn't strike us as quite as stagelike as its predecessors. It has a more futuristic look, with its oblong shape and cloth speaker grille surrounding the edges, which flare out toward the base. In fact, it looks like a miniature spaceship — we think it's pretty cool looking, though others may not agree. The overall design is kept simple, which adds to the appeal. There are just two chrome buttons (volume up and down) visible on the top of the unit, where an iPod dock takes the central place of honour (five clear dock adaptors are included to help ensure a proper fit). The back of the speaker houses the mechanical power button as well as ports for DC-in and auxiliary line-input. JBL includes a stereo patch cable for use with non-iPod MP3 players, which is a nice extra.
The remainder of the On Stage 200iD's controls are found on the included remote, which offers an impressive array of buttons: volume, mute, play/pause, and track forward/reverse. There's also a menu key, up/down arrows, and an enter button, which are all handy for navigating throughout the iPod's menus — surprisingly, few speaker docks offer this functionality, so we appreciate it here. One thing we didn't like, however, was the lag of the remote, especially for the volume keys — we blasted our neighbouring cubes a few times. Also, one thing to keep in mind is that the mechanical power button must be activated before the remote is usable.
We were not unimpressed by the JBL On Stage 200iD iPod speaker during testing. Overall, we thought music sounded very nice. It's not the best-sounding speaker we've ever heard, but given the compact size and competitive price, it certainly stacks up. Audio came through crystal clear with plenty of detail and no background hiss or distortion at moderate volumes. However, this speaker can also really pump with the volume, and music does have a tendency to get harsh and distorted at top volumes. In general, mids were warm and mellow, and bass was mildly present, though certainly not thumping. If you're looking for lots of low end, best to look elsewhere, as the 200iD has no bass adjustment option.