Review: Sharp i-Elegance DK-A1 Music System for iPod
Speakers continue to be amongst the most popular iPod accessories, and new speakers consequently keep appearing here at a rate of at least two or three per week. Two of the most recent arrivals are Memorex's Mi1111 Home Micro System for iPod ($100) and Sharp's i-Elegance DK-A1 Music System for iPod ($200), which despite their significant price differences have a lot in common. Both systems are ostensibly 2.1-channel all-in-one speakers. pairing twin full-range drivers with a dedicated subwoofer, and both pack FM/AM radios, blue lights, and Infrared remote controls in addition to Universal iPod docks. From there, they differ: Mi1111 also includes a CD player, while DK-A1 does not -- that feature's reserved for Sharp's more expensive DK-A10.
In short, neither of these systems is groundbreaking, and each has a significant issue that precludes it from receiving our high recommendation, but both are at least interesting enough to merit brief individual reviews. Of the two, we’re far more inclined to recommend the Mi1111 because of its strong value for the low $100 price, but neither one of the systems is an audio replacement for the best $150 MSRP speakers we’ve heard, such as Griffin’s recent AmpliFi, or “available for $150” speakers such as Altec Lansing’s iM7.
Of the two systems, i-Elegance DK-A1 is more visually interesting, if not a beautiful speaker system. Like the Audi TT versus the Volkswagen New Beetle, DK-A1 looks like what you’d get if you sat on the iM7 and squashed its center, transforming a tube into an almost bowtie-shaped pipe. Like the iM7, the DK-A1 features front-firing full-range drivers—here, 2.5” each—and a central side-firing subwoofer system with a 4” driver. iPod speaker aficionados will recognize the 4” subwoofer as a sweet spot in size for legitimate bass response. The speakers and a top-mounted Universal iPod Dock flank a large blue-on-black LCD screen, which serves as a clock and a message center to keep you informed about which of the system’s functions you’re using.
The dock and screen combination are only modestly interesting. Unusually, Sharp uses a slide-shut dock cover that can keep the Dock Connector safe when it’s not in use. Presumably, it’s only a dust guard, as the system doesn’t run on battery power and isn’t designed to sit outdoors. And while the screen is seemingly low-tech by the standards of many iPod alarm clocks we’ve tested, the bright numbers against the black background are a welcome change from the majority of clocks we’ve seen with black numbers on bright backgrounds. We never found DK-A1’s screen difficult to see, and a dimmer feature steps through three stages—high, medium, or low lighting.
Notably, however, the dimmer connects two different sets of lights: the screen’s, and a pair of gaudy blue lamps that illuminate the two sides of the central subwoofer. Only on the low screen lighting setting do the side lamps go off entirely; you can’t control them separately. Speaking for ourselves, we’re not totally comfortable with using a bedside clock radio that glows from the sides unless we turn the screen down so low; you can decide how light- and style-sensitive you are to such a feature.
That’s somewhat of a shame, as the system’s alarm functionality works pretty well. Sharp includes three separate buzzer sounds, or your choice of iPod, radio, or auxiliary audio as a wake-up call. You can pick your preferred volume level for the alarm, and the buzzers become more annoying if you fail to deactivate them. While there’s only a single alarm here, versus two in lower-priced iHome and XtremeMac clock radios, it’s capable of bringing the system out of its power-saving, clock-free standby mode. The only issue we had was that it wasn’t automatically activated after we set the alarm time; we needed to press another button to turn the alarm on.
We were also generally impressed by the unit’s radio functionality. Sharp includes two different FM modes, and between them we were able to tune in local stations with virtually no static; the AM mode also does a nice job of bringing in lower-quality AM stations, with a little more static. Overall, the radio was amongst the better ones we’ve heard in an iPod speaker system, thanks to the second radio tuning mode.
What we didn’t like as much was the system’s sound balance. Despite the presence of multiple equalizer presets and an ESound mode that’s supposed to offer sound enhancement, we couldn’t find a way to make i-Elegance sound great by comparison with even the $150 Griffin AmpliFi. Sharp’s gone so overboard with the bass in this system as to literally drown out the highs and some of the mids, muddling vocals in the process. It feels as if the system has a huge bass echo chamber in the center that hasn’t been properly moderated; while dedicated high-end drivers might have helped, the real issue here is that the bass would overpower anything in its path, and there’s no set of buttons to just turn the driver down. Preset equalization isn’t enough.
Sharp’s remote control is fine, if not entirely intuitively designed. Nineteen buttons are primarily there to control the system’s many features, and though they could have been streamlined—particularly to help with alarm settings—we found them responsive and capable of working from 20-foot distances without an issue.
It’s a shame when an otherwise well-designed all-in-one speaker disappoints mostly because of its sound balance. Pricing and side lighting aside, there is nothing otherwise here that we find so objectionable as to preclude us from recommending this system, and apart from its overwhelming bass, the system’s sound clarity was otherwise par for the price level. But in the end, when you’re paying for a speaker system—particularly a $200 system—sound is the foremost consideration, and even though the alarm clock and radio are generally well-implemented, we wouldn’t pick this one over less expensive, better balanced units we’ve tested. Consider i-Elegance only if you really like the styling, and are a bass fiend with a need for a clock radio.