capsule review

JBL Spot

At a Glance
  • JBL Spot

    Macworld Rating

JBL's Creature II speaker system has been at the top of our list of "good value" speakers since its debut several years ago, offering surprisingly good sound quality and unique design for a reasonable price (originally $99). Earlier this year, JBL released two new models with similarly-unique designs and similar price tags, the Spot and the Spyro; both continue the Creature II's legacy.

Like the Creature II, the Spot features two tiny, left and right satellites, although instead of looking like miniature ghosts, the Spot's speakers each take the shape of a small hemisphere, 3.5 inches in diameter and 3.5 inches tall. Similarly, the Spot's subwoofer is small for a 2.1 speaker system: a hemisphere only 9 inches across and 5.5 inches tall. The sub also hosts the system's amplifiers, which supply 24 Watts to the sub itself and 6 Watts to each satellite.

Each satellites' plastic dome hosts a small, high-frequency driver behind a grey grill. The base of each satellite is chrome-looking plastic, as is the trim around the speaker grille; the subwoofer uses a similar design -- a plastic dome over a chrome-looking base. What makes the Spot system unique is that these plastic domes -- which JBL calls Wrappers -- are interchangeable; you can pop off the stock black Wrappers and replace them with the included white versions or with optional Wrappers that sell for $10 to $30 and feature other colors and designs. (Note that these optional Wrappers can be difficult to find at retail.) Although I found the subwoofer's Wrapper to be a bit of a challenge to remove, the overall process of swapping the Spot's Wrappers is fairly easy to perform and gives you some appealing customization.

Like many other JBL speaker systems, the Spot's right-hand satellite features two touch-sensitive buttons for adjusting volume up or down; touching both at the same time mutes/unmutes the system. The rear of the subwoofer provides jacks for connecting the satellites -- each speaker's 6-foot, cloth-covered cable connects to only one jack, making the system simple to set up -- as well as a 1/8-inch minijack for connecting your computer or iPod (cable included); a power button; and a bass-level knob. Unfortunately, you can't turn the system off from the satellites; you have to reach behind the subwoofer, which can be inconvenient if the sub is located on the floor beneath (or behind) your desk. I also wish the Spot provided an additional input jack so you could hook up an iPod and a computer at the same time. And the Spot doesn't include a treble-adjustment control like the Creature II.

On the other hand, the Spot's sound quality is, like the Creature II, surprisingly good for the system's diminutive size. Treble detail is clear without being tinny, and bass response is better than expected given the truly compact design of the subwoofer. On the other hand, because the satellites use such small drivers, the Spot's midrange response is somewhat weak, giving the system a definite emphasis on the higher frequencies. And, like most small subwoofers, bass is a bit one-notey and can sound boomy if you turn the bass level up too far. Still, these are criticisms common to speakers of this size, and in this price range, and the Spot competes well against many of its larger competitors (although I give the nod to the Creature II for slightly better bass response and the ability to adjust treble levels).

The Spot is a nice system for smaller rooms and areas where a larger speaker system won't fit or isn't needed, and its attractive design helps it stand out among other $100 computer-speaker systems. On the other hand, the Creature II is available for as little as $40 at street prices these days, which makes the Spot -- or any other $100 system -- less of a bargain.
--Dan Frakes

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At a Glance
  • JBL Spot

    Macworld Rating
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