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The JBL On Stage series has a long history as a stylish speaker dock with a small footprint. Now in its third generation, the design of the On Stage Micro III ($99) is a conversation piece unto itself, though its sound quality can't compare to the recent influx of great, affordable speakers.
The On Stage Micro III (like its larger spin-off, the On Stage IV) looks like something you'd find in Frank Gehry's home. The fluid, organic lines of the glossy plastic weave across each other, creating a mound of speaker grilles that fire upward and out.
The overall footprint of the speaker dock is around 6 inches square, rising 2 inches high at its tallest point. At the top of the modern-looking heap, you'll find a clear plastic dock well that accepts universal inserts, including the matching clear-plastic fitting that comes included. The system meets with Apple's "Made for iPhone" certification, so you can rest assured that your iPhone or iPod will charge, and that the speakers and wiring are shielded to prevent cellular interference.
On the back of the On Stage Micro III you'll find a power button, aux input, and a Mini-USB port for syncing your docked device to a computer. A sync cable doesn't come included, which is a disappointment considering the On Stage makes a better dock than it does a speaker.
Flipping the On Stage over you'll see a battery compartment for four AAA batteries. JBL rates the On Stage Micro III at 12 hours of battery life, and uses a battery-preserving auto-shut-off feature after 5 minutes of continuous silence.
There are a total of two 1-inch JBL Odyssey speaker drivers embedded on the On Stage Micro III. Unlike conventional stereo systems, the speakers all fire upward, tilted slightly to the left and right. Compared witho similarly priced systems, such as the Audyssey Audio Dock, or the Altec Lansing InMotion Classic, the JBL On Stage Micro III sounds like a toy.
The On Stage Micro III redeems itself slightly with an included IR remote. The remote features controls for volume, tracks selection and menu navigation. The remote is good for around 15 feet, but nothing spectacular.
The good news is, we've been flooded with surprisingly good-sounding compact iPod/iPhone systems recently, such as the Audyssey Audio Dock, Altec Lansing Octiv Mini, and Logitech S715i. If you're not dazzled by the On Stage Micro III's design, these alternatives offer a better bang for the buck and look pretty great in their own right.