Micro systems and traditional hi-fis started, and continue, with one main design trend. They’re rectangular black boxes. Some are big, some small – some even buck the trend with a white or silver finish – but overwhelmingly they’re box-like. Not so with iPod docks. That most lifestyle-y of MP3 players has injected the audio market with a bit of design aspiration. And so we end up with the JBL On Air Airplay, which looks like a concept model for a Star Trek alien spaceship.
Gleaming with glossy black plastic and edged with a silver speaker grille that covers its sides and top in one clear sweep, this is a bold dock that’s going to turn off some buyers. Turned off already? We understand.
Yes, it looks weird, but a big clicky button on the top brings it back down to earth, like a UFO that’s suddenly run out of power. On top is a snooze button. For all its brash curves and shiny finish, JBL’s latest dock wants nothing more than to sit by your bedside and wake you up in the morning, perhaps to Radio 4 using the built-in FM radio, or a nice, civilized string quartet piece from your iPhone.
If your bedroom is fully Feng Shui’d, with light walls and a breezy bedspread to make the most of the ambient light, this dock will look entirely out of place. It’s striking, perhaps too striking for its own good, but in the right room it’ll look really rather good from afar.
The “lifestyle” aspirations inherent in a device like this start to falter when you get closer up though. If it wants to appear sophisticated - which to us it seems to, desperately - why arrange the nav buttons just like a game pad’s, and why finish them in bright silver? To pull of the design it sports, the On Air dock really needs to try and make these buttons seem almost invisible when they’re not needed, to lend the dock’s main curve the grace it needs.
Robbed of the simplicity that could have made the On Air dock look like a high-end system, it’s all-too easy to imagine it propping up a wall in a teenager’s room. That’s not something we should really be saying about an iPod dock that costs £329. That’s the same price as the wonderful Philips DS9000, and more expensive than the B&W Zeppelin Mini. Both look and feel classier than the JBL On Air dock.
We’ll hand it to JBL though, this dock does pack-in lots more features.