Measuring about 7 inches in circumference and 2 inches high, the sleek, ice-white JBL On Stage II looks a bit like a flying saucer designed in Cupertino. A gray speaker grille encircles the On Stage, with a 3-inch notch carved out for your iPod--it literally sets the iPod up on a soundstage. Turn the device around, and you'll find a power button, an AC power port, a line-in plug, and an iPod connector, while underneath are three wide rubber feet that give the On Stage a firm grip on a tabletop. While the On Stage is certainly more portable than, say, the Bose SoundDock, it's no lightweight, tipping the scales at 17 ounces, plus a whopping 18 ounces for the AC adapter--and no, it doesn't accept batteries.
The JBL On Stage II comes with a set of four adapters covering just about every iPod model with a dock connector, ranging from the 10GB monochrome model to the 60GB color iPod, while adapters for the latest round of iPods--including the 30GB and the 60GB iPods with video, as well as the 2GB and the 4GB Nanos--are free to order from JBL's Web site. (The iPod Shuffle, which has a USB port instead of a dock connector, won't work directly with the On Stage at all.) If you have a first-generation iPod or another music player altogether, you can always use the included line-in cable, which plugs into any standard stereo minijack.
Once you plug your iPod into the JBL On Stage II's dock connector, the device disables the iPod's volume control and pumps the sound through its own speakers. A pair of silver, touch-sensitive volume buttons flank the iPod dock; you can just tap, or press and hold, to adjust the sound. Just like its predecessor, the On Stage charges your iPod while it's playing, and you can also sync it with iTunes by plugging your sync cable into the back of the On Stage. The big news with the new On Stage is its 1-ounce, palm-size remote, which lets you pause your iPod, skip tracks, scan forward or back within a song, and adjust the volume. According to JBL, the remote has a range of 20 feet, but we had no trouble using the remote from as far away as 35 feet.
We were impressed with the JBL On Stage II's bright, detailed sound, although we could do with a little more bass. Navigating to Led Zeppelin's Physical Graffiti on our Nano, we poured on the volume, and the On Stage didn't blink, cranking out the soaring strings and vocals of "Kashmir" with power to spare. That said, the On Stage's quartet of midrange speakers couldn't match the bass response of the Altec Lansing iM7 or the Bose SoundDock.