Physical Case Features
JBL named this product well; for an iPad speaker dock it takes ordinary sound to extraordinary. However, it takes an extraordinarily large case to deliver it. At 9″ high x 17.5″ wide x 9.6″ deep the Xtreme is one of the larger ipad speaker docks around. Add to that fact an 8.9 lb carrying weight and you have a dock of limited portability.
The design may or may not appeal to everyone; that issue is always personal. But at least the iPad holder itself should be widely agreed to be highly functional. The support may be ‘only’ plastic, but there is plastic and then there is plastic. This one is sturdy enough to satisfy all but the roughest users.
Its arm moves easily from portrait to landscape and holds the iPad securely in either orientation. This was in my opinion a major drawback of the OnBeat. Now when you want to move from listening to music to watching a movie it swivels 90 degrees with ease. The arm can also be adjusted to hold an iPod or iPhone.
When any of those iDevices is resting in the dock it will recharge them. That’s true even if the dock itself is powered off, allowing it to double as a handy charging station.
What counts most, of course, for any speaker dock is the sound quality. Here, the Xtreme does not disappoint. Even the most finicky audiophiles will be pretty pleased with this model.
The OnBeat Xtreme features a pair of two 30-watt woofers and two 15-watt tweeters. To those used to seeing specs for a high-end amplifier those specs won’t seem impressive. But for an iPad speaker dock they’re stellar.
You have to be able to drive the transducers well, of course, and the Xtreme amplifier does that nicely, without excess distortion. Full bass and crisp highs are reproduced cleanly. Whether you prefer classical or rock the Xtreme can pump it out loud and clear. Instruments and vocals both are never muddy no matter your preferred genre.
Granted, with a low-end of 47Hz on the frequency response, specialists are not going to be thrilled while listening to the Telarc Tchaikovsky 1812 Overture cannons. But that’s not what an iPad speaker dock is designed for. Nonetheless, the Atlas woofers are far beyond merely pleasant; they’re ample.
For those who like to tailor their sound there are five separate EQ modes: Chat, Internet Radio, Game, Movies, and Music.
It’s something of a mystery why JBL, with a long history of producing products for true audiophiles, doesn’t offer a Flat option here. The ability to hear things just the way they were recorded is the Holy Grail for all such buyers. Even so, the modes that are offered work well for each of the different categories. Movie buffs who are as picky about sound as they are about the picture will be pleased.
Naturally, you can tailor the sound in another way: by adjusting the volume. In some units that can be a struggle, requiring you to manipulate virtual controls on an iPad menu. Here, you can adjust it using an external physical control that works fine.
Other Controls and Connectivity
There are other physical controls right ‘next door’. The Power button feels good and Source Select is easy to use. Bluetooth connectivity requires only a press and hold for a second after initial pairing.
Speaking of Bluetooth, it’s a little surprising that the quality of sound is as good as it is on this unit. Bluetooth is very convenient but sometimes requires you to sacrifice full quality when the iPad is off the dock. Not here.
Convenience has not been neglected either. The controls are all backlit, making them easy to manipulate even in dim light. Holding down the Source button causes it to turn blue to indicate Bluetooth. Nice. They’re all machined chrome, like the highlights on the case itself, so they should stand up well to long term use.
On the back there’s an aux port, along with a composite video out jack if you want to connect to a TV. Cable not included. There’s also a handy USB jack to connect to the computer for iTunes syncing.
The unit also comes with a remote control that operates via RF (Radio Frequency). It’s simple but functional, offering the major selections you’d want to use, including playback and menu. It also allows you to select the EQ mode you want.
Both the remote control and the Bluetooth connectivity work at a reasonable distance, easily from across a 30 foot room provided nothing substantial is blocking the line of sight. And, for anyone interested in using it this way, since the Xtreme also supports iPhone, you can make hands-free calls with the cell phone in the dock. It uses the dock’s built-in microphone.
The product comes with free software that lets you select tracks, pause and fast forward, display a clock, and more. It won’t wow hardcore iPad users but it’s certainly functional.
You can also use the app to access an easy-to-follow setup guide. If you want, for example, to learn how to enter Connect mode there’s a page just a ‘click’ away. Or, you can read all about how to set up the player’s other features.
The regular OnBeat model is a good unit, no question. But, at 7.5 watts it simply can’t pump the same kind of bass. The sound is respectable, but not spectacular. For similar reasons, it also suffers from more distortion at high volume than the Xtreme.
The JBL OnBeat Xtreme does carry a premium price tag but you get what you pay for in this case. For a unit that, despite its larger size and weight, is still somewhat portable, this iPad speaker dock really delivers on sound quality.
Balancing the scales, there’s quite a price differential between the two models. Currently, on Amazon, that’s about $350. Whether that big jump is worth it, is of course a personal decision. Anyone wanting an equally big jump in sound quality might well be tempted, despite the higher price tag.