JBL's ring of music design sets it apart from the myriad sub $200 speaker systems for the iPod. Stereo speakers for the iPod generally are designed as two speakers with a center connector like the Altec Lansing inMotion mini or as a wall of sound, a la the Bose SoundDock and Klipsch iGroove. JBL's circular on stage II system features a speaker grill that runs the entire circumference of the device and four aluminum domed Odyssey® Transducers with neodymium magnets. Though the four speakers are front and side facing (none at the rear), the on stage II manages to fill a room with sound in an impressively even manner.
JBL home and car speakers are known for their clarity and accurate sound. My pair of floor standing JBL studio monitors have been my home stereo system's constant companion for over 15 years, outlasting all the other components. But can a $169 speaker system that measures only 7" in diameter sound good? The answer is yes. Of course they can't beat your home theatre system speakers or even the $300 iPod speaker systems, but for the money they deliver great sound and beat many other iPod speaker systems in the same price range. Not only that, the on stageII is highly portable (though the AC brick is a honker), can act as a dock and charger for your iPod and the JBL plays nicely with other portable audio devices.
The on stage II follows up on the popular on stage design released in late 2004. The II adds a remote but changes little else. They share the same iPod-matching ice white design and flying saucer crossed with a bagel design that looks flat out cool and elegant. As eye candy, the on stage II is a winner. The JBL comes with several adapters to fit most any iPod (if you didn't get the nano/iPod video adapter in the box, visit their web site to request one free). Should you own an iPod Shuffle or a pre-dock connector iPod, have no fear: the on stage has a 3.5mm jack and comes with a cable so you can connect those (or any music device with a standard 3.5mm out jack) to the speakers. For iPods with a dock connector, you can use the on stage II as a charger and dock for syncing. To charge, simply put the iPod in the on stage II. To sync, plug the iPod end of your sync cable into the back of the on stage II. We always like it when iPod speaker systems take care of a few non-sound related needs. The JBL delivers syncing, charging and compatibility with other portable players: very good. The only thing you cant 't do is operate the on stage II on batteries.
The on stage II has front chrome-colored volume controls that aren't buttons per se, since they don't depress or move in any way. They're touch sensitive controls, one for volume up and one for down. Touching both simultaneously mutes the unit. Touch them both again to un-mute. Or you can use the remote to control volume, play, pause and skip tracks forward and back. The remote uses RF rather than IR which means you won't need line of sight and the remote can work through walls. The remote has a hold switch on the side and a clip so you an attach it to your belt, shirt or anywhere else you wish.
The unit feels well made: it's solid with decent heft. Three large anti-skid rubber pads on the bottom help keep the system in place.
Sound quality is good for speakers in this price range, and they can get a good deal louder than some others in the $150-ish price range. These speakers can really crank in fact, and sound doesn't get grating until you've boosted the volume very high. Since the on stage II has no subwoofer, don't expect massive bass. But bass, other than the sub 150Hz instruments, sounds full for a speaker system this small. Trebles are clear and strong, but will get harsh if the volume is cranked near max. While many portable iPod speakers sound tinny, we can tell you these do not.
If you're in need of a very portable speaker solution that doesn't sound tinny and looks absolutely fabulous, consider the on stage II. The remote, charging, syncing / docking features and the 3.5mm input make this a versatile iPod accessory that does more than push sound.