Here’s a world exclusive review to start off the year: JBL has launched a new speaker dock with a Lightning connector. The JBL OnBeat Venue LT (opens in new tab) is the first of its kind that we’ve seen to incorporate this new connection on Apple’s new products.
JBL OnBeat Venue LT: Apple Lightning dock
Apple created quite a flurry last year when it redesigned its charging connector from the long-standing 30-pin plug to a smaller 8-pin ‘Lightning’ connector. Existing speaker docks, therefore, were no longer compatible with the shiny new devices (without a Lightning adapter) – and it was only a matter of time before there was a new wave of Lightning-compatible speaker docks available on the market.
Compatibility isn’t restricted to Apple devices. The Venue LT has Bluetooth on board, so you can stream music from Android devices and all other media players. Connecting to Bluetooth takes only seconds, and streaming is steady and uninterrupted. There’s also a 3.5mm auxiliary input should you want a wired connection.
JBL OnBeat Venue LT: Build quality
The Venue LT ticks all the right boxes in terms of build quality, finish, and size. It’s a solid, well-made dock, and the compact size is substantial without ever feeling bulky. It’s well finished as well: the control buttons placed on top of the dock click satisfyingly and the system is nicely responsive.
The dock looks neat, with discreet black cloth covering the two drivers powered by a 30W amp. The docking station itself is also hidden: press the JBL logo on the front, and out slides the Lightning-connector dock. We used an iPhone 5, and the phone sits securely in the dock, which is sturdy enough to support the larger iPad mini and iPad 4 tablets.
JBL OnBeat Venue LT: Features
Using the dock itself is a simple and straightforward affair: the dock’s source button lets you choose between the three different input sources, but the main controls come through your device’s interface. Furthermore, the dock’s volume control works in tandem with your device’s volume control.
There is one caveat – there’s no remote control. This can be a bit of a bother, as you have to get up to manually skip through your playlist or change the volume when your iDevice is docked. Most dock systems come with a remote control, so it is a bit of a surprise that the Venue LT doesn’t, as it would make it just that bit easier to live with.
JBL offers a free-to-download MusicFlow app that lets you create personal playlists from the songs you already have stored on your device. It’s a handy app, especially considering there’s no remote, as it lets you create playlists on the spot without having to stick to your iTunes Music or Spotify playlists. It’s a good option to have, and the app itself is intuitive and easy to use.
It also offers a choice of five equalizer settings of Movie, Rock, Jazz, Basic and Gaming, which are worth trying out. However, we’d recommend keeping the setting to Basic. The same goes for the Bass Boost and movie surround buttons that are on the dock – we find that any additional processing skews the JBL’s sound. As it stands, the Venue LT offers a well-balanced sound.
JBL OnBeat Venue LT: Sound quality
The first impression we get from the Venue LT is plenty of dynamic and powerful sound. We queued up a playlist, and the Venue LT was confident and comfortable delivering a variety of music styles.
Play Fiona Apple’s Every Single Night from her latest album The Idler Wheel… (full album name shortened for sanity), and the sound is solid and weighty. Apple’s low contralto vocals with their raw and candid emotion can be a demanding listen, but the JBL takes it all in its stride and offers plenty of detail that keeps you engaged with the music. The midrange in particular is strong, revelling in delivering subtleties in vocals that are remarkable at this dock’s price point.
Switch to The Dead Weather’s I Can’t Hear You, and the Venue LT deftly controls both the taut bassline and Alison Mosshart’s distorted and slightly screeching vocals. There’s no hint of hardness or a bright edge that could easily creep in with similar products; the JBL delivers a crisp and attacking sound that’s a lot of fun to listen to.
There’s a fun factor to the JBL sound. Along with a strong and well-defined sound, it’s got precise and agile timing to match, and it’s that characteristic that shines through whatever type of music you play. From the chaotic arrangements of progressive rock band The Mars Volta, to the gentle piano-based soundtrack to Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, the Venue LT is capable of delivering both punch and elegance accordingly.
There’s good separation of instruments as well in Murray Gold’s Fish Custard, and the playful and upbeat score matches the JBL’s lively sonic character – all in all, it’s a fun and engaging sound that will keep you listening.
Play music via Bluetooth, and there is the expected drop in clarity and detail that you usually get from wireless streaming compared with a physical connection. That being said, the energetic characteristic and rhythm of the JBL is consistent.
JBL OnBeat Venue LT: First Lightning dock we’ve tested
It’s worth bearing in mind that the Venue LT is currently the first and only dock of its kind that we’ve tested, which means there is no direct comparison for the Lightning dock itself. However, using the auxiliary input proved useful in a comparison with the B&W Zeppelin Mini, which was a 2010 Award-winner at £300.
The B&W is a step up in terms of offering a more spacious and open sound with a greater depth of detail, but the Venue LT more than holds its own and delivers an impressive performance for its £200 price tag.
JBL OnBeat Venue LT review: Verdict
We’re anticipating a wave of Lightning-supporting docks to be unveiled this year, which will prove to be interesting comparison with the Venue LT, but there’s no denying that this £200 dock is a fun and capable system. As it stands, the JBL Venue LT dock delivers an exciting all-round performance and currently sets the bar at its position in the market.