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.
So, does the iElegance sound as good as it looks? In a word, no. To many listeners--those who can't tell the difference between MP3s and CDs--the iElegance may not sound appreciably different from the myriad other iPod speakers. But that's damning it with faint praise, as the iPod speaker product category isn't exactly known for its notable sound quality. It sounds OK at low volumes, but things begin to fall apart when you crank it up. The highs on Green Day's "Long View" were sounding sibilant and harsh as soon as the guitars kicked in; the bass, while palpable, was muddy and distorted. Returning the volume to a lower level helped, but a discerning listener will still be able to make out the rough edges, at least with certain music selections.
Engaging the Esound mode didn't help; Sharp claims that it "corrects sound deterioration that results from compression by enhancing the sound frequency spectrum as well as increasing the sound pressure." In reality, it just seemed to amplify the cloudiness of the sound. That's little surprise: every similarly touted sound-enhancement mode, even on $1,000-plus AV receivers, seems to have the same ill effect.
With plenty of other $200 iPod speakers available, there's no reason to settle for the iElegance DK-A1's sonic shortcomings. For the same price, the iLuv i199 offers more features (a CD player and Bluetooth audio option), while the Klipsch iGroove delivers far better sound. Hopefully, Sharp will offer an iElegance follow-up with improved sonics at some point; in the meantime, the DK-A1 is best suited to those who are truly in love with the design but have a forgiving ear.