Sony's no stranger to radio alarm clocks, and the ICF-C1iP Speaker Dock/Clock Radio for iPod falls neatly into the category. Offered in white and black versions, this unit doesn't have the sleek stylings we generally see in Sony's audio products, but for $99, it gets the job done. Just make sure the placement of the LCD at the bottom of the unit works with your nightstand setup.
The Sony ICF-C1iP is probably not the best choice for a small or cluttered nightstand. It's quite a bit larger than your average radio alarm clock, measuring about a foot long, 5.3 inches tall, and 5.5 inches deep at the widest point of the base. The front of the unit is covered in a metal speaker grille, which is interrupted only by an adjustable rectangular appendage that serves as rear support for a docked iPod (no dock adapters are included). A central iPod dock juts out of the bottom and houses the backlit LCD. The display features large, legible text, but its location at the bottom of the speaker might not be ideal depending on the amount of surrounding items and the angle of view. Along with the current time, the LCD displays the current mode (iPod, FM, AM, or audio in) and the alarm time and type.
The top edge of the Sony ICF-C1iP houses a plethora of controls for setting and accessing the unit's various features. On the left is a set of buttons (arranged in a circle) that control the time-related functions. You can set the time and date as well as your preferred time zone; switching time zones adjusts time in one hour increments. The clock will also automatically adjust for Daylight Savings Time based on its internal date setting. A sleep timer button sits in the center of the time-related controls. Moving toward the center of the top plate you'll come across the Mega Xpand button, which activates the speaker's stereo separation feature, creating a wider field of sound. Then, there's a large, centrally located snooze bar. Above that, you get five preset buttons, which allow you to save a total of 15 stations (five in FM1, five in FM2, and five in AM). A built-in FM antenna and a detachable AM one ensure adequate reception.
The various audio functions are handled mainly via the included remote and the controls located on the top-right side of the Sony ICF-C1iP. Here, there's a volume rocker and a circular control pad that rather mimics the iPod's own Clickwheel--minus the touch-sensitive scrolling, of course. Pressing down on the pad activates the iPod mode and serves to play/pause music. The left and right sides scrub through tracks and tune the radio, while the top turns on the radio and switches between bands. The center button turns all the audio functions off. If you want to use the ICF-C1iP with a non-iPod audio source, Sony provides for that with an auxiliary line input on the rear of the unit. A small button on the top panel allows you to enter this mode, and there's even a stereo patch cable included.
During testing, we found that the Sony ICF-C1iP is quite easy to set up and use, thanks largely to an explicit quick guide that's included in the box. Sound quality is about on a par with that of your average iPod clock radio. That is, there's pretty much no bass to be heard, but audio isn't bad on the whole. Music has a nice warmth to it, but it's not exactly sparkling. Both FM and AM radio reception are very good--all the stations we expect for our location came through clearly. Overall, we'd say sound is more than passable, given the price and feature set.