JBL Horizon: Waking Up Ain’t Hard to Do

While I like to think that every single product in my home should be beyond audiophile quality, the reality is that in some places, I want a product that sounds okay but more importantly, does its job very well. Sure, I could set up the most amazing home theater to use as an alarm clock, but the reality is that I just need a really good alarm clock at my bedside. Thankfully, the JBL Horizon Bluetooth clock radio just showed up at my house. I’m not saying that I’m a gear snob, but I would much rather wake up to a JBL logo than a Timex logo. Just sayin’.

Don’t get me wrong: I hate waking up just as much as the next guy. More so – I truly hate waking up to an alarm of any sort, and prefer to wake up naturally with the sun. The JBL Horizon ($100) has a bunch of ways that make the mundane task of waking up suck less.

The most obvious feature of the Horizon is an ambient light on the back of the attractive orb that can be used to gently wake you up and the light can also be used as a nightlight with a sleep function. Of course, it wouldn’t be a clock radio without the radio – FM only, in this case. It has a removable antenna so you can keep it stored away if you never listen to FM. It also has Bluetooth so you can connect it to any compatible portable. What’s really nice (thoughtful, actually) are the two USB charging ports located conveniently on the side. It has an oddly oversized AC plug that might cause problems plugging in a tight spot behind a bed or nightstand.

As an alarm clock, the Horizon is well-endowed. It has two alarms so you and your partner can set separate times to get up. Oddly, the European owner’s manual indicates that there’s a way to set the alarm just for weekdays, weekends, or every day. I think that’s a brilliant feature, but I can’t get mine to do that. However, it still has another brilliant feature – a switch on the bottom of the unit to convert to Daylight Saving Time. You can select to wake up by the radio, a Bluetooth stream, or one of three surprisingly pleasant pre-recorded melodies built into the Horizon, or a more traditional-sounding buzzer.

A backup battery ensures that you’ll still wake up even if there was a power failure during the night. It doesn’t light the clock, but it does remember your alarm and clock settings once power is restored.

The Horizon has a clean display on a lightly mirrored surface. There’s a built-in light sensor that will automatically adjust the brightness of the display based on ambient light. All of the controls are mounted on the top of the unit – many with a raised surface so you can feel for them in the dark. The two alarm arm/disarm buttons, Bluetooth, and the night light are not raised which is odd, but there is a slight indent so once you know where the buttons are, finding them at night isn’t a problem. The main light switch doubles as the snooze – big and clearly marked on top of the unit.

Anyone can make a nice alarm clock, but with the JBL moniker, I had high hopes for the sound of this one. Its design is similar to the round On Stage dock JBL made popular as one of the first docks for the iPhone, but this time it’s vertical. It has a surprising stereo image from two 1.75” speakers - the frequency response is only listed as 70Hz to 20kHz. Don’t expect much bass – it’s just not there. It has 2 x 5 watts of power. Again, nothing earthshaking, but as background music while you’re brushing your teeth, it’s adequate.

I listened to The Essential Bruce Hornsby – Bruce is a fellow alum of mine from the School of Music at the University of Miami. Hornsby’s voice on the Horizon was full and balanced. However, at louder volumes, the treble of his piano had a harsh, compressed feel to it, especially noticeable when percussion was also in that range. At softer levels, this wasn’t as noticeable. If you’ve been using the built-in speaker in your phone for your morning wakeup, this is significantly better.

Waking up to an alarm sucks. The JBL Horizon makes it suck a whole lot less. If I can be gently woken first by a soft light followed by the music of my choice, the day is going to start off a whole lot better. Will this ever replace a serious listening room? Hell no - that's never been its intention. But for a nightstand, the JBL Horizon is a no-brainer purchase.

A guy in Saskatoon's picture

An alarm clock with "one of three surprisingly pleasant pre-recorded" sounds reminds me of the George Burns movie where he is gently awakened by an alarm that sounds like a crowd's applause rising to an ovation. Does it do that? ;)

Jonasandezekiel's picture

Total deal breaker that it doesn't have an AM radio. I was in the market for an alarm clock too.