As the name suggests, the On Stage is shaped like a small circular stage with a diameter of 7 inches and a height of 2 inches; the white plastic casing features a donut-esque hole in the center and a gray mesh screen wrapped around the outer edge. Behind the mesh, situated on the front end, are four 1-inch speakers. These flank the iPod docking station, on which there are also touch-sensitive volume controls. These override the iPod's own volume control when it's plugged in.
The On Stage comes with four plastic modular adapters that snap onto the docking station to provide seamless integration for any iPod, with the exception of the Photo and, of course, the Shuffle. However, since the speaker set includes an audio-in port and a cable, you can really hook up any audio device, though it won't look as chic as a compatible iPod. Disappointingly, there is no wireless remote option.
Rounding out the physical attributes are a DC power-in jack, a power switch, and the OnePoint iPod connector. Essentially, this is JBL's proprietary iPod dock-connection port that allows you to sync up with your computer without ever removing the player from its "stage." JBL includes a power cable, but there's no battery power option, which would make the On Stage a truly portable device. However, when the iPod is docked and the speaker set is plugged in, it will recharge the player--a definite bonus, considering its relatively paltry battery life.
To top things off, the On Stage sounds impressive compared to other speakers in its class. JBL lists its signal-to-noise ratio as just "greater than 80dB," but we noticed no background hiss at listenable levels in our tests. These speakers were noticeably warmer and richer than Altec Lansing's similarly priced iM3 iPod speaker set. Thanks to an output of 6W per channel, we were able to crank the volume to earsplitting levels with no distortion. Bass response, too, was surprisingly decent; we felt we were getting the full response from hip-hop beats. Folk and rock also sounded pretty good, although at high volumes, some songs seemed hollow, and certain punk tunes came through a bit muffled, though not much more than as is usually the case with such tracks. Yes, thanks to its larger drivers, the Bose SoundDock ($299) did produce fuller, richer sound than the On Stage. But at half the price--and with superior connectivity options--the JBL is the better all-around deal.
Editor's note: We have changed the rating in this review to reflect recent changes in our rating scale. Click here to find out more.