[Editor’s note: As we finished this review, Altec Lansing informed us that the InAir 5000 is no longer in production. (In fact, Altec Lansing’s U.S. website is currently down.) However, you can still purchase it—at a substantial discount—at a number of online retailers, such as Amazon.com and B&H.]
Altec Lansing’s $500 InAir 5000 AirPlay speaker is big. It weighs just under nine pounds and has a wide footprint: At its largest points, it measures 19 inches across, 8 inches tall, and approximately 7 inches deep. If you have the room and the budget to bring home an InAir of your own, you won’t regret it: It looks nice, it sounds good, and it’s easy to configure and use.
The InAir looks a bit like a triangular prism with rounded corners. It’s made of gray metal, with a black-fabric speaker grill wrapping most of the way around it. A status light glows from the system’s base—solid when the system is powered on, blinking when the InAir isn’t connected to a network—and two other LEDs glow from beneath the fabric at the left and right front edges. The LED on the right lights up only when you mute the speaker, which you do by a silver buttons on the right edge. Two other silver buttons along that edge adjust volume up and down. The three buttons are arranged vertically, with no gap between the volume buttons, but a small one separating the volume buttons from Mute—that spacing lets you use the buttons by feel.
On the opposite side of the unit are a Sleep button—which turns off the LEDs and also silences the speaker—and an Aux button. The latter forces the InAir to use the adjacent 1/8 inch (3.5mm) line-in jack; otherwise, the system uses AirPlay for the audio source. (The left-hand LED turns on if you’ve chosen the line-in jack as the source.) Below the aux-in port is a headphone jack; connecting headphones mutes the speaker’s output.
There are more ports and buttons on the InAir’s backside. These include a power switch, a connection for the included power adapter, a USB port (for charging, and playing music from, an iOS device or iPod), an ethernet jack, a Wi-Fi Setup button, and a Reset button.
The InAir ships with a quality infrared remote that offers five buttons: Play/Pause, Volume Up and Down, and Previous and Next. Though the remote is light on features, it’s the rare AirPlay speaker remote that feels like it was something more than an afterthought: It’s made from the same metal as the speaker itself, and the remote’s layout is such that you can use it without looking down at it the whole time.
Getting the InAir onto your home network is straightforward. You can either use the included ethernet cable to wire the speaker into your network directly, or you can connect via Wi-Fi. Pushing the Wi-Fi Setup button triggers the InAir to create a wireless network of its own; you then connect your Mac or, using the free InAir Guide app, your iOS device to the InAir’s network to configure the speaker’s network settings and connect it to your own Wi-Fi network. Each approach worked fine in my testing.
On my home Wi-Fi network, the InAir’s AirPlay feature performed quite capably. Over days of testing, I heard nary an audio dropout, whether streaming from my iPhone, iPad, or Mac.
What I did hear, however, was impressively good quality audio. The InAir employs a pair of soft-dome neodymium tweeters, a pair of 3-inch midrange drivers, and a 4-inch long-throw woofer with a passive radiator. That woofer offers solid bass performance with serious, but inoffensive, kick. At loud volumes—louder, frankly, than I would ever need—midrange and treble frequencies seem over-emphasized compared to bass, but at quiet, normal, and even moderately loud levels, that isn’t an issue. Vocals and general instrumentation sound clear, and the InAir is wide enough to facilitate decent stereo imaging if you’re positioned in front of the system.
I really like the InAir, and it’s easy to recommend to folks in the market for an AirPlay system. For $50 more (comparing MSRPs), you could instead choose the Klipsch Gallery G-17 Air, which performs a bit bitter at the loudest volumes. But I prefer—barely—the InAir’s bass performance. And if you like the option of having a remote, the InAir’s makes the G-17’s look like a dollar-store item. (Note that at current street prices of $250, the InAir 5000 is easily the best AirPlay value around.)