Though they are portable devices, the iPod and the iPhone can make a wonderful source for headphone-free music when connected to a speaker. If you have a player full of great music and personalised playlists, you might as well play it out loud every once in a while. But many of the made-for-iPod systems don't work well with the iPhone, presenting a problem for those with multiple devices.
Manufacturers such as Harmon Kardon have begun addressing this issue with iPhone-friendly speaker systems that are shielded against mobile phone interference. Their JBL On Stage IIIP, a £70 portable speaker unit, is designed to do just that, all the while putting your music phone on display. It's not the boomiest of the bunch, but its small footprint and understated design could make it an appealing option for some.
As its name suggests, the On Stage IIIP is shaped like a small, circular stage, measuring about 183mm in diameter and roughly 50mm high at its tallest point in the back. The center stage, which features an iPod dock, is surrounded by a black metal speaker grille that matches the glossy, black body of the unit.
JBL includes five clear-plastic dock adaptors for achieving a secure fit with every iPod since the first-generation nano. An auxiliary-line input on the back of the speaker makes it compatible with the shuffle and non-iPod MP3 players as well, and a 3.5mm stereo patch cable is included for such purposes. The backside of the unit also features a power button and DC input for the included power cable. Two other ports, which are covered by rubber stoppers, appear to have been designed with the intent to offer pass-through syncing, but don't actually have any connections built in.
Along with the aforementioned cables, the JBL On Stage IIIP comes packaged with an IR remote. It may be small but it has plenty of buttons for controlling nearly every function you would want. There are keys for volume, mute, play/pause and track forward/reverse, as well as buttons for navigating up and down menu lists, making menu selections, and stepping back through the interface.
The range is good; we could skip tracks while in direct line of sight from at least 7 metres away. Unfortunately, the remote cannot get you out of the autohold mode of the iPhone or the iPod touch -- you have to swipe your finger on the screen for that. Another thing we noticed: volume controls on the remote and on the speaker tended either to be too sensitive or not sensitive enough, making it difficult to adjust in increments.
The JBL On Stage IIIP speaker is a reasonable performer, though music sounds a bit flat and lacking at higher volumes, and bass is definitely not its strong point. The unit does get surprisingly loud, though, and there's no distortion with the levels turned up high. At moderate volumes, the speaker sounds clear and even, but not entirely warm. There's some low-end response, but it's not thumping. It's about on par with many multimedia speakers.
Stereo separation is decent, thanks to the placement of the drivers on either side of the unit (there are four small Odyssey transducers, two on each side of the circle). The rated battery life of 12 hours is decent, though not jaw-dropping, and you'll need to provide six AA batteries to run the speaker sans wall power.
Overall, the JBL On Stage IIIP is a solid portable or desktop speaker option for iPhone users who want a compact unit that will work with a wide variety of audio devices. Just don't expect it to serve as a serious sound system, though, because sound quality deteriorates at higher volumes.
Edited by Marian Smith