JBL’s On Tour is the smaller, more portable sibling of the company’s popular On Stage speaker system for the iPod (reviewed by Playlist last fall: http://playlistmag.com/reviews/2004/11/onstage/index.php). Whereas the $160 On Stage is a desktop speaker system, complete with iPod dock connector and dock cable port, the $99 On Tour is a truly portable system — it’s only 7″ x 3.5″ x 1.4″ when collapsed for travel — that can be powered off AC or 4 AAA batteries.
Since it doesn’t include an iPod dock base, the On Tour connects to your iPod via a standard 1/8″ miniplug cable. This method of connection also means that you can use the On Tour with any iPod, from the shuffle to the photo. Two drivers (left/right) provide very good treble detail; however, as you might expect from a system this size, the lower midrange and bass are lacking, even compared to Altec Lansing’s inMotion iM3 and Logic 3’s iStation. On the other hand, neither of those systems are as compact.
The most unique feature of the On Tour is its sliding cover. When closed, it protects the speakers and controls. (The system looks a lot like a large pocket flask in this state.) To use the On Tour, you slide the cover out of the way; it remains attached and acts as a stand, angling the speakers slightly toward the listener. My only complaint with this design is that although the cover is supposed to “lock” into place when opened, I found that it slid closed too easily. However, it never blocked then speakers during use because the miniplug connecting the system to my iPod, which must be disconnected to close the case, prevented the cover from closing.
The On Tour also shares the On Stage’s nifty up/down volume buttons; however, unlike the On Stage, the On Tour’s versions aren’t touch-sensitive — you have to physically press them to change the volume. Pressing both at the same time turns the system off; the system also turns off when you close the case or when an audio signal is no longer detected.
The On Tour is a nifty travel system that, at current street prices ($65 to $70), is a good value in the portable iPod speaker market. Although it doesn’t sound as good as our favorite portable system, the $180 inMotion iM3, or even the $80 to $100 Logic 3 i-Station, the On Tour is less expensive, about 2/3 the size, and several ounces lighter, making it a good fit for a laptop bag, backpack, or briefcase. And compared to the less expensive systems we’ve recommended, such as the $35 Pacific Rim Cube Travel Speakers, it provides significantly better sound. If the On Tour is in your price range, and you’re willing to sacrifice bass for portability, you’ll definitely want to consider it.–Dan Frakes