JBL goes On Air with AirPlay


JBL today announced availability and pricing for its On Air Wireless iPod dock. The AirPlay-enabled device (one of the surprisingly few such products to see the light of day thus far) is now available-for $349.99-from Best Buy and the Apple Store.

The On Air updates JBL's HALO (that's "horizontal acoustic level optimization") design, originally introduced with the 2006 incarnation of their On Time iPod dock/alarm clock, arranging three drivers (two JBL Phoenix full-range and one JBL Ridge tweeter) in a sculptural arc reminiscent of the St. Louis arch, or something out of Tron. You get a dock port for your iOS device (which sits nestled under the arc), an alarm clock, a digital FM radio receiver, and a small screen, surrounded by playback controls.

The real story here, of course, is AirPlay. The On Air will stream audio from any of your AirPlay devices (that's any Apple computer running iTunes 10.1 or better, or any iOS portable running version 4.2 or later); the docking unit's screen will display album artwork information and song information from the currently selected source device, which is controllable via the unit's own playback controls or an included wireless remote (according to JBL your docked iDevice, running Remote, is required to actually manage your AirPlay sources). You can see the On Air in action here.

Obviously, $349.99 isn't inexpensive for a docking station (though it comes in quite a bit cheaper than the similarly endowed Bowers & Wilkins $599.95 Zeppelin Air), but in the universe of luxury-if-not-necessarily-audiophile standalone desktop all-in-ones dominated by Bose it's competitively priced, even against devices lacking AirPlay connectivity.

Like many of you, we're very curious to see how AirPlay develops. Rumors of Apple licensing AirPlay's video variant-the force behind the Apple TV set-top box-for third-party devices are particularly intriguing.

- Michael Berk