JBL is famous for its high-end speakers, and those in its On Time 400IHD ($299) don't disappoint. However, the alarm clock in this iPod speaker dock leaves much to be desired. Convoluted buttons and menus make it difficult to set up, switch outputs, and even get your iPod running.
An understated and relatively compact design gives the On Time 400IHD a subtle look atop a nightstand. Oval-shaped, 1.4-inch long speakers are covered with silver mesh, and encompass a relatively small LCD screen. The top of the unit is peppered with small silver buttons surrounding the dock. To the left of the iPod dock are the Tag, output selection, power, and HD radio buttons. In the center is a large snooze button sandwiched between volume controls. On the right side are home, song selection, snooze, and alarm options. The time display is small but clear and legible.
The unit plugs into the wall via an extra large power adapter, and inserting three AAA batteries allows you to save time settings when the system is unplugged. Use the included remote to switch among outputs and gain full use of iPod controls as well as speaker menus and settings.
The speakers in the On Time 400IHD offer an optimal listening experience. The highs are high, the lows low, and even the loudest music sounds great; even the tinny melody of Our Lady Peace's "Clumsy" played with clarity. Unfortunately, the On Time 400IHD loses points for ease of use. The smattering of small buttons doesn't offer many clues as to what each does; they are not clearly marked and sometimes difficult to engage, and the menus themselves aren't very intuitive, either. Syncing our iPod touch with the system was even a bit confusing at first. Luckily, the alarm worked as it should, and can be used with a buzzer, iPod, or even HD radio. While it's not iPhone certified, you can still use the device in Airplane mode.
A few extras come packed into the 400IHD, such as HD Radio and a special tagging feature to save the titles of your newly found favorite songs. Just press the Tag button each time you hear a song you like, and your "wish list" of songs is downloaded to your iPod, then transferred to iTunes when connected to your computer. Of course, you still have to purchase the songs.
The excellent sound quality of JBL's On Time 400IHD just can't compensate for its difficult-to-use alarm clock and music player. Considering its cost of $300, the On Time 400IHD's shortcomings don't make it as worthy an alarm clock as the $129 Altec Lansing's Moondance Glow. While we love the great audio quality, the option to listen to HD radio, and even to tag your favorite songs, we expect a little more for this price.