Exclusive First Test: Sharp iElegance DK-A1H

Sharp’s new iPod audio docking system combines neat digital sound processing helping improve audio quality from compressed MP3 audio files with great flexibility and functionality. It looks nice too and the sound is remarkably rich and loud.

The Sharp iElegance DK-A1H is a swooping slice of technology featuring two large speaker modules that pinch down to a waistline that houses the iPod dock, radio and controls.

The iElegance combines an iPod dedicated docking station for iPods’ Nano (software version 1.0 and above), iPod Photo (software version 1.0 and above), iPod Mini (software 1.2 and above), the 3rd, 4th and 5th generation iPod models (software 2.2 and above, software 3.0.2 and above and software 1.0 and above respectively) and the Dock Connector equipped Click Wheel models.

Eight (supplied) iPod connector adaptors provide ample scope for docking your iPod easily, but making the iElegance even more flexible, is the fact it can be plugged into a DVD player or VCR. It has a standard headphone socket and its  video out means you can play video from video iPods and feed out to a TV for example. In other words and remarkably, the iElegance can be quickly turned into a mini home cinema sound system.

The system includes an AM/FM radio (with RDS) and, if you buy the DK-A10H version, it comes with a built-in CD player as well. You also get a line in on the rear as well so that other MP3 devices can be connected and played through the system even if they cannot be docked.

Both versions (the non-CD playing DK-A1H tested here) have a nice two-way bass reflex system with built-in subwoofers, which help provide remarkably rich and surprisingly loud sound performance.

A specially developed digital audio signal processing system (or DSP for short) branded “Esound” helps enhance sound quality from those heavily compressed MP3 audio files so that, particularly when played at louder volumes, sound quality remains very good.

Esound seems to work well and Sharp claims it provides a 3D surround effect, but it has to be said, while making the sound louder and clearer with richer bass and mid-tones plus much brighter high frequency sounds, the Esound’s 3D sound effect is no more than subtle at best.

In terms of control, the iElegance comes with a small remote control to help control a docked iPod (you can clearly see the iPod screen at all times while docked) and the radio (plus the CD playback on the DK-A10H version) and there’s a set of controls on the smooth, pinched waist of the machine.

Here you can access the auto equalizer mode for sound presets for jazz, classical, vocal and the like (and these work well enough) plus you get access to the alarm settings, the snooze and dimmer effects for the funky flashing blue lights that nestle within the ends of the speaker housings and you get hard volume and play, pause and tuner controls.

Your iPod is charged while docked and in addition to playing MP3 and AAC audio it (and the CD/CD-RW playing A10H version) recognises CDA and WMA format files as well: the device is available in piano black or pure white livery.

A couple of niggles arose however, the flashing blue lights look great… at first, but quickly become distracting but thankfully they can be dimmed and the on/off control actually just moves the system into a stand-by power mode, presumably in order to keep you iPod charging.

Now, Sharp make a lot of the frugal power usage qualities of this device with a 0.6w power drain in standby but, to turn the thing off properly, you must click the switch on the wall as you cannot on the player.

Verdict: 
You get a lot of bang for your buck with the Sharp iElegance DK-A1H: great sound, compact stylish design, versatility in terms of input and outputs. It may not be the most compact of iPod docking players on the market but it certainly rocks. And, apart from some slight distortion at higher volumes on very bass heavy tracks, it is hard to fault the system. In short, the iElegance is a cracker and well worth a close look for anyone wanting a full, rich sound from an iPod docking station audio system. It's simply superb.