With so many iPod speaker systems on the market, manufacturers are struggling to differentiate themselves from the pack in at least one of three ways: design, features, or price. Sharp has focused on the first two with its iElegance line. In addition to iPod playback (via a built-in dock), the uniquely styled units also sport an AM/FM radio, a clock/alarm function, and an auxiliary line-in. The standard DK-A1 iElegance version retails for less than $250, while the step-up DK-A10--which includes a built-in CD player--goes for $300. Both are available in black or white versions. For this review, we had the CD-less DK-A1 on hand.
Measuring 6 inches high by 15 wide by 10 deep, the iElegance DK-A1 is more a boombox than a "clock radio." Unlike many boxy speakers, the housing of the iElegance lives up to its name, thanks to a curvaceous, modern design that tapers outward from the center. The middle third includes the controls and a standard 30-pin iPod dock on top, along with a bright and legible green-fluorescent clock and info display on the front. Two front-firing speakers sit a couple of inches inside the tapered, mesh speaker grilles on the left and right, while two additional 3.5-inch subwoofers fire sideways on each end.
The unit's backside offers RCA stereo inputs for any external audio source, a headphone minijack, and a composite video output for video iPods. Additionally, connectors for external AM and FM antennas are present, as is a Daylight Savings toggle (plus or minus one hour) for the clock. Despite its boombox-style appearance, the iElegance doesn't offer battery power; it's easy enough to transport between rooms, but you'll need to plug it in.
In addition to the main features, the iElegance offers a few other niceties. Six EQ presets let you tweak the sound of your music for various genres--rock, jazz, vocals, and so on. Meanwhile, the "Esound" mode is said to expand compressed music formats for better sound--more on that later. The alarm, meanwhile, can be set to one of three buzzer sounds, or to any of the four audio sources. The alarm also has an independent volume control, so you can drift to sleep with the sound barely audible, but wake to something loud enough to rouse you from dreamland. Couples, note: it's a single alarm, not the dual type available on some competing models. Standard sleep and snooze modes are also included, but the snooze bar isn't quite as large as we'd like. Likewise, while the bright, front-panel clock display can be set to two dimmer levels (or even be blacked out when you power the unit off), it would've been better if the iElegance automatically dimmed by measuring the ambient light in the room, as the Cambridge SoundWorks Radio 735i and some other models do.
If the design of the iElegance has a weak spot, it's with the unit's controls. Volume, iPod, clock, and audio source buttons are conveniently located on the center top, directly in front of the iPod dock. However, some of the controls--such as radio tuning, alarm setting, the display dimmer, and the sleep timer--are available only on the small credit-card-style remote. So if you lose the remote, you lose access to some key functions--and that's not good.