The newest member of JBL's distinguished Eon family combines battery-powered portability with a 'grown-up' PA sound.
In recent years several manufacturers have produced increasingly portable, self-contained sound systems that have found favour as live–sound solutions for solo performers and smaller ensembles, and as convenient stand–alone monitors in larger PA setups. With their Eon One and Eon One Pro, JBL took the increasingly popular 'stick PA' approach, successfully combining the compact column format with an integral mixer and, in the case of the Pro, battery-powered portability. Now the JBL design team have come up with a new product that takes the concept of portable, practical PA to a new level: the Eon One Compact.
Following a more conventional 'box PA' format, the Eon One Compact is a very small, very lightweight, self-powered, full-range loudspeaker that runs from mains power or internal battery pack, and incorporates a four-channel digital mixer, digital signal processing and extensive remote–control capability via the free JBL Compact Connect app. The Eon One Compact had only just been announced when we went to press, but I was fortunate enough to get my hands on one in advance, courtesy of the guys at Sound Technology here in the UK. I began by opening the box, ignoring the quick start guide, and switching it all on...
I always like to get up and running as quickly as possible and without having to churn through a 'how do we get this thing to work?' routine, so I removed the Eon One Compact from its shipping carton (the handle on the top makes for very easy lifting), pressed what was obviously the power button (green lights appeared), plugged a dynamic mic into channel 1 and started with the 'one, two' thing. Luckily the internal battery was partly charged so I had sound coming from the Eon One Compact less than 20 seconds after opening the box, and the first thing that struck me about this little speaker was the amount of output it produced — it's a proper PA speaker, this one!
The Eon One Compact is an unassuming, neat, extremely compact speaker. It's finished in an attractive non-shiny black and has the subtle curves of the larger JBL family members, with a strong black steel grille protecting the full face of the enclosure. Designed to be used either upright as a conventional PA speaker or on its side as a floor monitor, the controls are large, clear and easily accessible, whatever way it's positioned (although due to the symmetrical cabinet angles it's possible to lay it sideways with the control panel facing downwards and therefore not visible to the audience, should you have need to do so). The overall dimensions are 399 x 255 x 291 mm (HWD) and the Eon One Compact weighs a practically negligible 8kg, or a shade over 17.5lbs — I can pick this up with one finger no problem at all, and that's with the battery pack inside as well. The small size becomes even more remarkable when you turn this thing up and hear how much output it can generate.
As with most powered speakers, the control panel gives a good idea of what it can do, so I'll just take a moment to describe the physical interface, but it's worth remembering that this unit is software-controlled too, and there are more features available when using the app.
The user controls and in/out connections are all built into a recessed metal panel on one side of the cabinet (or the top if it's on its side), and everything is clearly labelled. The four-channel mixer has two XLR inputs on channels 1 and 2, and these are the combi type that will take XLR or standard jack plugs. Channel 3 is a standard jack input with a high–impedance input stage for the direct connection of instruments, and channel 4 is the auxiliary input, with a 3.5mm mini-jack connector (summed to mono), and which also serves as a Bluetooth audio streaming input and delivers a sum of Bluetooth and direct aux input signals (so it could be regarded as a five-input mixer but with four sets of controls).
As the Eon One Compact's mixer is fully digital the controls are shared between the channels, and — as with any full-size digital desk I've come across — the currently selected channel is the one that is adjusted. Not forgetting that there are many potential users who are not yet familiar with digital mixing, the process is attractively simple: there's a channel select button that cycles through all four input channels, and the one that's selected is controlled by the rotary controls for channel volume, treble, bass and reverb, plus the mic/line sensitivity switch for channels 1 and 2. Channel 1 also has a phantom power option so that condenser mics or active DI boxes can be connected. It's a pity that this is restricted to channel 1 alone, although you'd only need more if you were using two condenser mics. Maybe that's something JBL will add as a future enhancement.
A useful feature that's potentially very attractive for presentations or public speaking work is the built-in automatic ducker circuit. This allows the mic 1 and mic 2 inputs to act as the control side–chain for a ducker applied to input 4 (aux/Bluetooth).
For daisy-chaining additional Eon One Compacts there's a standard jack pass-through output, and a headphone output is also provided. Finally there are a pair of USB ports for charging/powering media devices, one of which can provide a 2A charge.
The rotary encoders are of a good size, well-spaced for easy access, and they feel secure and smooth. I like the green LED indicator rings around them, which makes them very easy to see in poor lighting (eg. most live venues!) so long as you remember that the top one is the master volume you can't go far wrong. Having cycled through all four mix channels with the select button, a fifth press puts the unit into mix mode where (having previously adjusted the EQ, reverb and initial channel levels) the four encoders now become level controls for the four mixer channels. For a live performance where you might need to tweak the balance between mics and/or instruments, this is a great idea and very neatly implemented without the need for additional controls on the panel. The only thing to watch out for is that — again, just like most digital mixers — the encoders remember their last setting when the unit is powered off, and as they don't have a finite physical range you can't actually make adjustments unless the Eon One Compact is switched on. For example the user manual says, "Turn the master volume all the way to the left before connecting any inputs," then tells you to turn it on, but in practice you can't because there is no 'all the way left' because the encoder doesn't do anything until you power it up. It really isn't a problem though, as long as you remember to turn the master volume down before switching off, otherwise the unit will power up at full throttle if that's where you left it last time. Just like your car radio.
One major convenience of the Eon One Compact is that it can be powered either from a mains supply via a standard IEC connector, or it can run from its own internal battery pack. Battery technology is a rapidly advancing science, and applications like this are all the more impressive if you have worked with equipment that used less well-developed methods to free us from the hole in the wall. The battery pack inside the Eon One Compact sits inside a little compartment at the back, and is extremely easy to access and replace if necessary. The battery itself is slightly larger than a typical laptop charger unit and takes literally seconds to remove and re-fit, so (assuming that they are readily available and reasonably priced) it would make a lot of sense to carry a spare around if battery power is an important factor. I have already had cause to celebrate the battery facility during part of this brief initial road test (see below), and already I am very impressed by the sheer convenience and speed with which the Eon One Compact can be deployed if you're in a particular hurry.
I've already alluded to the level of output delivered by the Eon One Compact in my workshop: it's clear and strong with a nice firm, honest low-end that sounds very 'attached' to the mids and highs, if you know what I mean — it doesn't sound like a kind of LF extension to the overall response but very much part of the sound package. That's the best I can describe it, and having decided it would be up to the task I took it out to a live gig with my 17-piece band and used it as a floor monitor for the singers. The setup was fairly straightforward, and all the Eon One Compact needed to do was to push out a good level of vocals, but as the singers are bang in front of 13 enthusiastic brass players the monitor really needs to cut through while maintaining really good quality. Having fully charged the battery I put the Eon One Compact on its side between the two vocal mics where it was unobtrusive, and needing to run only a single XLR cable and no power leads made everything neat and quick. Suffice it to say that the Eon One Compact delivered all that was needed and still had plenty to give. For such a small box it really does sound like a true PA speaker, complete with all the clarity and impact needed in such a situation, and closing with 'River Deep' with 13 horns at full bore didn't present a problem. I then used it as a rehearsal PA on its own, and again it was more than up to the job (and I have to tell you we don't hold off during rehearsals, either...).
The third part of my initial try–out with the Eon One Compact involved taking it along to a local production of the musical Chicago, and instead of rigging it within the system I decided to keep it back as a problem-fixer if needed, especially as none of the band were using in-ears. During the tech we didn't have all the band in, but for the dress run the pit was pretty full, and with a fairly big company on stage there were plenty of people to keep happy. After Act 1 I got a message from the pit to "sort out Keys 2", who was having trouble hearing her own instrument especially when playing certain thin-sounding string patches in an often 'thick' score. I had only a couple of minutes to sort something out, so out came the Eon One Compact (still charged up from the previous weekend) and one cable from a spare stage–box aux out was all that was needed to provide a complete and virtually instant solution. It's there right now, still showing plenty of battery level, and Keys 2 is now my friend. Things like that are the enjoyable side of doing live shows!
I've mentioned the control app already, and though it wasn't available in time for this review, when it is it will be as a free download for both iOS and Android, and gives enhanced access to the digital mixer controls and allows for control of multiple speakers. As I didn't get to use it, the best I can do is suggest looking in the user manual as there's some good detail in there with some nice screenshots showing what it can do. In short, it adds a new level of user control, with the ability to control digital mixer values (EQ, effects and levels on each channel) and also to save the mixer settings so they can be recalled for a future show. Using the app, users can synchronise, stream content to and control up to four Eon One Compact units at the same time, thanks to the latest implementation of Bluetooth technology. Another important feature from a user point of view is that the software control and hardware panel settings reflect changes made in either domain — in other words, any adjustment to the physical controls will show up in the software, and vice versa. Don't get the impression that you need the app to make proper use of the Eon One Compact as a stand-alone speaker though, because you don't — but it will allow access to many more parameters, such as the effects settings.
I was fortunate enough to obtain a very early look at the Eon One Compact and I was very happy to get my hands on it. In just a few days I really have made good use of this versatile little box, and I've been impressed with its delivery every time I've used it. As JBL are a Harman brand, they have the advantage of in-house product and engineering teams representing some industry standard names, and the happy result is that the Eon One Compact includes authentic Lexicon effects, dbx EQ, and the ducking tech from Soundcraft mixers. With all this distinguished lineage you'd hardly expect them to produce anything below expectation, but with the Eon One Compact I think they have definitely raised the bar in this market sector.
I suppose the ultimate test is whether I would part with my own money to buy one — and the answer here is definitely 'yes', because in just three days of use, and without even really making use of its other capabilities, it's delivered the goods sound-wise, and I can see how it would improve my own particular workflow in a number of situations. After a first look, I think JBL have come up with an excellent, small but powerful package that makes use of their considerable expertise to clear away the compromises often found in ultra-portable live sound products. I hope I can hang on to the EOC for a little while longer — especially until the app is fully released — and perhaps I'll report back then! In the meantime, as ever, do visit the website for more information, and see if you can get hands-on with one of these at your dealer. In my opinion it's definitely worth a closer look.
- Powerful, honest, high–quality audio performance.
- Ridiculously small and light — fits in a shopping bag.
- Versatile, go-anywhere solution without mains power.
- Very well-featured digital mixer with enhanced control options via the app.
- Being picky, I'd like phantom power on both mic inputs.
- An option to power up with master volume at zero might be handy in the app.
The Eon One Compact is a hugely convenient portable sound system, capable of solving a wide range of problems. And it sounds a lot bigger than it is!
£549 including VAT.
Sound Technology +44 (0)1462 480000
JBL Professional +1 818 894 8850