The digital-audio market is not hurting for portable iPod speakers, which can make sorting through the choices a bit of a hassle. One way to narrow the playing field is to look for models that match the hue of your iPod. Whether you have a black or silver iPod Classic, or a colorful Nano, JBL's On Stage Micro has a paint job to match. This $99 speaker may not pack the low-end wallop of the big boys, but it's cute, compact, and suitable for a bedroom, office, or hotel room.
As its name suggests, the On Stage Micro is a smaller version of the JBL On Stage. Like its bigger sibling, the Micro displays the iPod dead center on a raised circular platform. A brushed metal grille surrounds the base of the stage and conceals two aluminum transducers. In front of the iPod dock are the touch-sensitive volume buttons and an LED that indicates power and battery life. The four AAA batteries (not included) are inserted behind a twisting compartment door located on the bottom of the speaker. The On Stage Micro can also be powered via the included AC adapter, which plugs into a port on the back of the unit. Other jacks include a mini USB for pass-through syncing, an auxiliary-line input for use with non-iPod MP3 players, and an audio out. The back of the speaker also features a power button and a small bass port.
Other than volume, the JBL On Stage Micro doesn't offer any controls on the speaker itself. Playback can be managed via the iPod or the packaged remote, on which you can find a handy array of buttons. There are the usual suspects--Volume, Track Skip, Play/Pause, and Mute--as well as several that allow you to navigate among the iPod's menus: Menu, Back, and Up/Down. The remote worked well from several angles at about 12 feet back, which is as far as you want to go if navigating menus on the iPod's small screen.
Audio performance is quite good, given the compact size of the speaker (it measures just six inches in diameter). The high-end detail gets dropped off a bit, but music sounds clear without any distortion or background hiss. The mids come through warmly. The JBL On Stage Micro has neither the richness you get from high-end audio outputs, nor the tinny sound like some other speakers of its size. However, some songs can sound hollow. Bass is fairly low-key, but not totally absent. You can't really expect a thumping low-end from speakers of this size, though.