Peruse any electronics store, whether virtual or brick-and-mortar, and you'll be overwhelmed by the breadth of choices offered in the iPod speaker category. As such, it is of the utmost importance that manufacturers of such goods make their products not just stand but jump out from the crowd. Taking an otherwise fairly standard iPod-ready AM/FM radio alarm clock and slapping a $250 price tag on it is surely one way of doing this; we're just not sure it's the right way. This is what JBL has done with the latest addition to its On Time speaker dock, the Micro. The sleek and compact unit sounds good and offers a nice array of features, but the remote is overly complex; even if not for that minor annoyance, JBL would still need to lop a good $100 off the MSRP for us to consider it.
The JBL On Time Micro may be the smallest in the series but it's not the most compact docking speaker we've come across. The base of the unit is 7.7 inches in diameter and the speaker dome stands nearly 5 inches tall. Though it's not supersmall, the Micro should fit comfortably on your average nightstand. The bulbous, brushed-silver speaker grille and faintly eery glow emanating from the LCD and backlit buttons give the unit the vaguely extraterrestrial look that we see repeated throughout the On Time line. We dig the sci-fi appeal, but, of course, style is all in the eye of the beholder.
The front of the JBL On Time Micro appears to have a section sliced off at an angle and this is where you'll find the iPod dock, a 2.2-inch monochrome display, and a variety of controls. The dock will accept any modern iPod or iPhone with a 30-pin connection, and JBL includes a single snap-in adapter with two rubber-backing inserts to help the player fit securely. Volume buttons flank the dock, and the screen separates the remainder of the keys, which let you power the unit on, set the alarms and radio presets, switch audio modes, tune the radio, and navigate the iPod's menus. A modest 1.3-inch snooze bar resides below the LCD.
Considering the price of the On Time Micro, we expect an ample array of features. Luckily, the speaker does not let us down. The unit includes both FM and AM tuners with the proper antennas for each. You can also set up to seven different alarms, but there are only 10 preset slots for the radio--between AM and FM, we can see this not being enough for some users. The speaker offers an auxiliary line-in port on the backside for connecting the Shuffle or any non-iPod audio source. And, of course, the bottom of the unit features a backup battery compartment (takes three AAAs) which provides some reassurance in the event of a power outage.
Given its relatively compact size, the On Time Micro offers surprisingly good audio, no doubt thanks to the two integrated Phoenix transducers. The speaker also gets shockingly loud; in fact, the lowest volume setting can even seem a bit too loud for quiet settings if the song itself runs loud. Sound quality is the best at low or medium volumes, as music starts to sound a bit hollow at the highest levels.
Playing music at reasonable volumes reveals clean, satisfying audio. Bass is present, but it's slightly anemic, which is not a surprise for an alarm clock unit. Highs are very clear, and Sarah McLachlan's "Angel" sounded lovely and haunting in our tests. Gwen Stefani's "Luxurious" was rich and full, with definition among the mish-mash of instruments. Certainly, most people will find the sound satisfactory, although probably not worth $250.