Hands On With 5 New iPod Docks Page 2

Key Features
$250 jbl.com
• Speakers four 1-in tweeters, 13?4-in woofer • Amplifier 2 x 15 watts (left/right channels) and 30 watts (woofer) • Connections minijack analog input • Dimensions 141?4 x 33?4 x 71?4 in • Weight: 31?2 lb • Compatible With: All docking iPods


The JBL On Stage 400P dock has exactly three control buttons: Volume Up, Volume Down, and Power On/ Off. I was therefore surprised and concerned when I unpacked its hefty 115-page owner's manual. To my great relief, I observed that its bulk was due to the instructions being repeated in 14 languages. (The English section runs a reasonable 7 pages.)

No matter what your language, it will be easy to understand that the 400P is configured differently from other docks in this roundup. Instead of the traditional boombox or clock-radio style, the 400P is more of a pedestal: a rather plain-looking silver base that places your iPod or iPhone at the pinnacle of glory. The sloping sides do a 360º wrap around the flat summit that houses the docking connector. JBL supplies 5 dock wells so you can find one that exactly fits your iPod. As previously noted, the control set is extremely simple, with volume buttons on top (you press both together to mute the sound - a clever touch) and a power button alongside a minijack audio input in the back. The petite remote adds some needed functions; most notably, it lets you navigate a docked iPod's menu using its own display.

Although a speaker grille fully wraps the dock, the stereo speaker drivers (an array of four tweeters, actually) are placed across the front while a single woofer fires downward. (If you look closely, you'll see that the top cabinet is actually "floating" over its base on struts.) In other words, this is a 2.1 system.

Overall, the 400P's tonal quality is reasonably good. Even though the woofer is small, it delivers decent bass. The midrange is clean and treble extension is fine, albeit a touch crunchy. The system's amp is quite energetic, letting the dock play loud. More important, distortion is held in check, even at loud levels. On the downside, because the lower part of the frequency range carried by the system's woofer is reproduced in mono, the soundstage is narrow and the imaging collapses toward the middle.

JBL's On Stage 400P is notable for its simplicity. It says, "I'm a dock; deal with it," and avoids diluting its essential docking mandate with unnecessary frills. Operation is slam-dunk easy, and if you can look past the narrow soundstage, the sound quality is quite satisfactory. Native Norwegian speakers will also appreciate the owner's manual.