Associated equipment for our JBL OnBeat Xtreme review included an iPhone 4S, iPad 2 Wi-Fi, Dell N5110 laptop and a HeadRoom Micro DAC.
We make a habit of breaking in any speaker or headphone for a good 40 hours before we give it a critical listen. If there’s any chance the speaker might sound better after break-in, best we give it a shot. The OnBeat Xtreme, however, never got any formal break-in time because we loved the way it sounded right out of the box.
In terms of sound quality, this speaker dock is absolutely on par (and in some senses, better) than the B&W Zeppelin Air and Klipsch G-17, both of which cost a bit more. To say it sounds great for a speaker of its size really doesn’t do the OnBeat Xtreme justice. It just plain sounds great.
Bass response is what first grabbed us. Like the G-17, the OnBeat Xtreme plays lower than you might think is possible for a system without a subwoofer involved, but this speaker doesn’t just get low, it produces tight, tuneful bass that harmonically serves the music and serves it well. We loved how guttural electric bass felt well supported all the way to the bottom, but stayed linear as it moved up into its upper register.
Not all is perfectly balanced in the bass department, though. There is a slightly disproportionate amount of punch in the 100hz neighborhood but just enough to make the speaker feel percussive — not enough to mud up the lower midrange.
With such great bass power comes great midrange responsibility. Through the magic of DSP, it is possible to have a couple of 3.5 inch drivers pretending to be mini subwoofers and still get some open, natural vocals — you just have to make it a priority and work to get it right. JBL did that. Bombastic bass never obscured even the most vulnerable vocal performances, and instruments, acoustic or electric, sounded true to life, almost moving out into the room with us. This is where we found the OnBeat Xtreme trumps the G-17 Air.
Thankfully, we were just as pleased with this speaker’s treble response. With tweeters aimed slightly outward and upward, we were concerned that this speaker dock’s high frequencies would be rolled off for listeners sitting directly in front of the dock. That didn’t turn out to be the case. The tweeters’ dispersion was just fine and treble response was great. We liked the G-17’s treble capabilities just a little bit better but by a very slim margin. The OnBeat Xtreme yields controlled highs with just a bit of detail and never gets harsh.
We were not all that wowed out by the speakerphone feature. Perhaps because of the microphone’s placement near the drivers, a strange noise was emitted to callers on the other end of the line as they spoke.
We have a few important notes on usability we want to share. First, this dock broke all of our pre-conceived notions about Bluetooth as far as setup is concerned. Pairing the speaker with our iDevices was extremely easy and lightning fast. Also, though we preferred the sound quality of the speaker with our iPhone or iPad docked, we did feel its Bluetooth sound quality was the best we’ve ever heard from a speaker dock. As we hinted at before, we think JBL made a smart move by going with Bluetooth here. As long as an AirPlay hardware compatibility issue exists (as it does for the Klipsch G-17 and B&O Beolit 12, at least until Apple releases an iOS update), a well integrated Bluetooth option such as this is the only way to guaranteed perfect streaming of audio from an iPhone 4S. That’s kind of a big deal.
We also loved the RF remote that came with this dock. It’s laid out a lot like an iPod wheel with all the functions one is likely to need, including menu navigation. It’s also got a great feel in the hand, and the ability to use it from anywhere within a 30 foot radius is a big bonus.
Finally, we wanted to mention that upon connecting an iDevice, the OnBeat Xtreme searches it to figure out whether or not JBL’s OnBeat app has been downloaded. If the app isn’t installed, it flashes up a message saying, “This accessory requires an application you do not have installed. Would you like to download it from the app store now?” This really bothered us because the language used indicates the app is required in order for the system to properly function — which is patently false. The dock works just fine without JBL’s questionably useful app, save that EQ issue we mentioned earlier.
The JBL OnBeat Xtreme may look funny, but it is the best all-around iPod speaker dock we’ve tested to date. It offers the best combination of features, sound quality and ease of use, making it a little easier to get over its odd shape and design. We feel this speaker dock sets the bar for the $500-$600 price class, and gladly give it our Editor’s Choice award.
- Fantastic sound quality both docked and wireless
- Easy Bluetooth pairing
- Excellent remote
- Solid build quality
- Landscape mode for iPhone or iPod
- EQ options are not necessary
- JBL “OnBeat” app not necessary
- Speakerphone sound quality not great