The OnBeat Xtreme is constructed of slick black plastic and metallic highlights. Its wavy design won't be for everyone—it looks like a missing piece of a Klingon ship console—but, at the very least, the design houses some excellent-sounding drivers and a very useful docking arm. (Ironically, many of the AirPlay "docks" out currently lack an actual physical dock). Measuring roughly 9 by 17.5 by 9.6 inches (HWD), the hefty 8.9-pound OnBeat Xtreme features a docking arm for the iPad, iPods, and iPhone that shifts between vertical and horizontal viewing modes, making it a mini-theater for movie watching—a mini theater with some seriously powerful audio.
The OnBeat Xtreme uses two 30-watt woofers and two 15-watt tweeters for a combined 90 watts of power. The front panel hides a microphone along with those speakers, so you can use the system as a speakerphone, via Bluetooth, to answer incoming calls. A small strip of controls on the right end of the unit houses buttons for Power, Volume, Pairing, and Telephone—which is what you press to answer an incoming call when you hear your phone alert through the speakers. The back panel has a 3.5mm Aux input, a Video out (another thoughtful inclusion, which allows you to use the speakers while sending the video on your phone, say, to your television), a USB port (to sync docked iOS devices to an iTunes library on a computer), and the power adapter connection.
The included remote is a bit larger than a typical boombox remote, and the buttons are nicer, as well—rubber instead of the standard membrane buttons found on cheap remotes. It allows you full menu navigation of your music menus, as well as the ability to change audio sources or EQ settings. That brings us to one shortcoming of the system—there is no "off" setting for the EQ. There are five modes: Music (the default setting, which sounds good, but there should still be a Flat or Off mode), Movies, Chat, Internet Radio, and Game. Obviously, JBL believes each is optimized for the specific purposes listed, but you'd probably be just fine leaving things set to the default EQ mode.
There's also a free app you can download for the OnBeat Extreme that manages your music library, and offers a clean design that displays album art. But it's pretty pointless when iTunes and the music menus on the iPad and iPhone are already top notch.
The OnBeat Xtreme certainly earns the second half of its moniker—this thing gets loud. Not only that, but it sounds great doing it, with clear definition through the frequency range. Despite having some particularly powerful bass response that could easily get muddy, it never does. Highs are crisp and clear and the low-end is deep, powerful, but always articulate. It's hard to believe that it sounds this good streaming via Bluetooth, but there's little to complain about here. Two songs we use to see if systems will distort on deep bass at very high volumes, Thom Yorke's "Cymbal Rush" and The Knife's "Silent Shout," showed zero distortion, even at maximum volume. Although there are some Bluetooth artifacts—very minor—that resemble a slight crackling distortion at times, this is only really noticeable at very high volumes, and even then, it's not blatant. Obviously, these artifacts disappear when listening to docked devices, and you're left with the system's excellent performance.
John Adams' modern classical piece, "The Chairman Dances" sounds full and vibrant, with crisp, clear highs that highlight woodblock percussion and deep lows that add some subtle body to the lower register strings and large drum hits.
Rock music sounds powerful on the OnBeat Xtreme—Radiohead's "Staircase" has a punchy bass line that sounds intense without overwhelming the rest of the heavily compressed mix. The opening guitar riff of "Rocks Off," sounds beautifully bright, and when the bass rolls in, it is far more reserved than the bass in the Radiohead mix, showing that the OnBeat Xtreme can handle mixes both bass-heavy and more natural-sounding without failing to do either justice.
Because of its powerful sound (wireless or not), ease of use, and extra functionality, from acting as a Bluetooth speakerphone to being the audio system for iPod videos you send to your TV, the OnBeat Xtreme is a giant leap ahead of most its competition. It's a wonder that JBL can produce two systems so completely far apart in audio performance and usability. Avoid the JBL On Air Wireless, and spend the extra cash on the JBL OnBeat Xtreme, which is better than most of the AirPlay docks we've tested and easily wins our Editors' Choice unseating the AirPlay-enabled Bowers & Wilkins Zeppelin Air ($499.95, 4 stars).
It may dock the iPad, but you are more likely to find yourself using the OnBeat xtreme wirelessly, streaming audio via Bluetooth.