JBL OnBeat review

The design-led JBL OnBeat is style over sonic substance Tested at £150

What Hi-Fi? Verdict

As a speaker for watching video, it’s fine – but as a serious hi-fi dock? Sorry, no dice


  • +

    Smart design

  • +

    simpler material sounds well organised

  • +

    works with Spotify


  • -

    Weak sound

  • -

    not nearly enough bass

  • -

    harsh treble

  • -

    loses cohesion easily

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One would think there wouldn’t be much room left in the dock market, wouldn’t one? It turns out that one would be wrong.

The JBL OnBeat is a compact, smart-looking dock that has the rare ability to accommodate pretty much any modern iDevice you’d care to plug into it. It comes with brackets to hold iPhones and iPods, and also iPads.

They all fit snugly, and can be rotated into landscape mode for Cover Flow browsing and video watching.

Round the back are a USB socket (which lets you connect the OnBeat to a computer and play your iTunes library through it, and also syncs your iDevice if it’s docked), a 3.5mm input for non-Apple-flavoured music players and a composite output for watching video on a connected telly.

On the side are volume up/down buttons, while the remote is your typical plastic credit card-style zapper with basic controls.

Hobbled by weak sound

And the sound? A bit underwhelming. While vocals are reasonably clear and instruments are well organised with simpler material like an Apple Lossless version of Noah and the Whale’s L.I.F.E.G.O.E.S.O.N., play anything more involved – we took a spin down memory lane with Aerosmith’s Love in an Elevator – and things quickly get cluttered.

Crank it up and things don’t really improve. The midrange develops a ‘honky’ quality, and treble gets way too abrasive, while organisation gets lost. This would all be mitigated a little if there was a decent amount of bass heft, but that doesn’t exist, either.

And that’s pretty hard to swallow when you consider that Logitech’s Award-winning S715i costs £20 less and packs a good deal more oomph.

Where the OnBeat claws back some cred is as a kitchen or bedroom video player. Dock an iPad in it and you can use it as an attractive-looking internet TV source – where sound quality doesn’t really matter as much as it does with music.

We wanted to like the OnBeat – we really did; it looks nice and is versatile. But the sound quality – its raison d’être – doesn’t do it any favours. Shift its focus to iPad-based video, though, and it could be worth a look.

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What Hi-Fi?, founded in 1976, is the world's leading independent guide to buying and owning hi-fi and home entertainment products. Our comprehensive tests help you buy the very best for your money, with our advice sections giving you step-by-step information on how to get even more from your music and movies. Everything is tested by our dedicated team of in-house reviewers in our custom-built test rooms in London, Reading and Bath. Our coveted five-star rating and Awards are recognised all over the world as the ultimate seal of approval, so you can buy with absolute confidence.

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