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JBL OnBeat Xtreme review: JBL OnBeat Xtreme

JBL OnBeat Xtreme

David Carnoy Executive Editor / Reviews
Executive Editor David Carnoy has been a leading member of CNET's Reviews team since 2000. He covers the gamut of gadgets and is a notable reviewer of mobile accessories and portable audio products, including headphones and speakers. He's also an e-reader and e-publishing expert as well as the author of the novels Knife Music, The Big Exit and Lucidity. All the titles are available as Kindle, iBooks, Kobo e-books and audiobooks.
Expertise Headphones, Bluetooth speakers, mobile accessories, Apple, Sony, Bose, e-readers, Amazon, glasses, ski gear, iPhone cases, gaming accessories, sports tech, portable audio, interviews, audiophile gear, PC speakers Credentials
  • Maggie Award for Best Regularly Featured Web Column/Consumer
David Carnoy
5 min read

JBL's OnBeat Xtreme is pretty easy to sum up: this is a really good-sounding iPhone/iPad speaker dock that also boasts an impressive feature set, which includes Bluetooth wireless streaming and speakerphone capabilities. The truth is there isn't too much else you could ask for in this type of speaker system, though the OnBeat Xtreme's distinct and eye-catching design may not to appeal to everyone. The only real stumbling block is the $500 price tag.


JBL OnBeat Xtreme

The Good

The <b>JBL OnBeat Xtreme</b> offers excellent performance for an iPhone/iPad speaker dock, with detailed sound and good, tight bass that can fill a fairly large room. It also has built-in Bluetooth for wireless streaming, speakerphone capabilities, a video output, an RF remote (with 30-foot range), and a pass-through USB connection for computers that allows you to sync a docked iPod/iPhone/iPad with iTunes on your computer.

The Bad

At $500, it costs as much as an iPad. The eye-catching design may not appeal to some people.

The Bottom Line

While it's on the expensive side, JBL's OnBeat Xtreme is one of the best-sounding iPhone/iPad docks we've heard--and it has built-in Bluetooth and speakerphone capabilities.

The OnBeat Xtreme is basically a supersize version of the earlier JBL OnBeat iPod/iPhone speaker dock. It has one of those designs that you're either going to love or find a little off-putting. The truth is it looks a little like the top of a woman's formal dress or two sashes slung over one another. Regardless of how it strikes you, we can say that it seems very well-built. It weighs in at a solid 8.9 pounds and the buttons, speaker grilles, chrome accents, and nicely designed RF remote point to this being a luxury product. In that sense, it shares some similarities with Bowers & Wilkins Zeppelin products, though obviously not the shape.

The JBL OnBeat Xtreme, seen from the front, without an iPad or iPhone docked.

As noted, the OnBeat Xtreme features an iPad dock--and that dock rotates so you can put your iPad in portrait or landscape mode for movie watching. Your iPhone and iPod will slip into the dock as well (yes, it charges iPads, iPhones, and various iPods), and JBL throws in an adapter for iPhones that makes your device sit more securely in the dock. The speaker looks very different with an iPad docked in it. I think it looks better with an iPad onboard, but since the Xtreme has Bluetooth you don't have to dock your iPad to run sound through the speaker.

Unlike most speaker docks, the JBL OnBeat Xtreme can hold an iPad (in landscape or portrait orientation).

I can't say I loved the look of the Xtreme, but I didn't hate it either. It's one of those speakers that needs to be placed in a spot where it can mesh well with your décor. Again, for some people its design will work well; for others it won't.

If you're looking for a speaker that offers compatibility with Apple's AirPlay wireless streaming feature, this isn't it. But it's got just about everything else you'd want in a speaker dock system, most notably Bluetooth and speakerphone capabilities. This would make for a nice "executive" system in a home office or den and you could also stick it underneath a TV (on a shelf) and make into a TV speaker using the line input. There's also a composite video output that allows you to run video from your docked iPad, iPhone, or iPod to your TV using an optional cable. Alas, that video connection is composite, which means the video quality will not look terribly good--think VCR quality at best.

The rear panel includes auxiliary in, video out, and USB (for syncing via iTunes).

It's also worth mentioning that there's a USB port around back so you can sync a docked iPod/iPhone/iPad with iTunes on your computer (yes, your computer does have to be nearby for the included USB cable to reach it).

One note about the speakerphone: when a call comes in, your music will pause and then resume when you hang up the call. To use the speakerphone capabilities you do have to be in Bluetooth mode rather than have your iPhone docked.

In its marketing material JBL talks up how the system delivers 30 watts of amplification to each of its four transducers "for crystal-clear high-output sound" and boasts how the "Ridge tweeters and Hercules woofers with computer-optimized DSP equalization deliver impressive frequency response (20Hz--20KHz) and minimal distortion, even at high output levels."

A lot of times products don't live up to the company's marketing language, but in the case of the OnBeat Xtreme, it really does sound good for its size. Stereo separation is always a problem in speaker docks where the drivers are only separated by a few inches, but this system does play very loud and delivers good clean, balanced sound with tight bass.

I tested the JBL in a couple of rooms: our larger audio-testing room and my office. It played so loud in the office that I got complaints from the woman who works in the office behind me and had to turn down the track from "The National" that I was playing.

I ran a bunch of different music through the speaker using an iPhone and iPad, both streaming music wirelessly and through a wired docked connection. I have some lossless test tracks we use for testing speaker docks and headphones, and those tracks didn't sound quite as good when I was streaming them wirelessly over Bluetooth, but most people will be barely able to tell the difference between a wired and wireless connection, especially when streaming standard MP3 files with modest bit rates.

Overall, the sound was comparable to some of the better speaker dock systems we've reviewed. Those include the Bose SoundDock 10, which retails for $600 and doesn't include Bluetooth (you have to buy an optional Bluetooth adapter for $150), and the Bowers & Wilkins Zeppelin Air, which also goes for $600 and which supports Apple AirPlay. Neither of those speakers offers an iPad docking option. Neither does Monster's Beats by Dr. Dre Beatbox, which does sound quite as good as the JBL but delivers a bit more in the way of bass and costs only $320 (it started out at $449.99 but has dropped). However, the Beatbox is missing a built-in Bluetooth option.

If you're OK with the JBL's design, the only downside to the product is really its price: it does cost $499.99, which is a lot to pay for an iPad/iPhone/iPod speaker system. But if you can get over that fact, you are getting a high-quality, impressive-sounding speaker dock that also features Bluetooth wireless streaming and speakerphone capabilities. And, oh, you can dock and charge your iPad, which is an important feature for a lot of folks.

Put it all together and I have no problem recommending the OnBeat Xtreme, though I think JBL would find many more customers if it could somehow get the price to $300 or less.


JBL OnBeat Xtreme

Score Breakdown

Design 7Features 9Performance 8