With its sleek matte chrome finish and triangular lines, the $499 Altec Lansing InAir 5000 should earn favor in style-centric homes. Its minimalist aesthetic does away with wires in favor of Apple's AirPlay wireless standard that quickly connects iOS devices with the touch of a button, and despite carrying the same price tag as an iPad, the InAir 5000 is a worthwhile accessory that can retain your music's clarity and definition through a wireless connection.
Design and features
The InAir 5000 takes up less space on cramped desktops than the Logitech UE Air Speaker thanks to its oblong shape and low-profile chassis. Measuring 7.5 inches tall, 19 inches long, and 6.75 inches deep, the speaker's tapered teardrop design with a chrome strip at the top and matching branding on the grille exudes class and lends itself well to households with a modern aesthetic.
The left side of the speaker houses a subtle control panel hidden behind an opaque plastic window with a button to temporarily put the speaker in a charge-only state (sleep mode), an auxiliary button, a headphone jack, and an auxiliary port for connecting an external music device using a 3.5mm plug. However, Altec Lansing doesn't supply the necessary stereo audio cable to make a hardwired connection, and without a dock to plug new iOS devices into, you'll have to settle on an inelegant cable sticking out from the speaker's left side.
You'll find a symmetrical control panel on the other side of the speaker, but this one holds two buttons for adjusting volume and another that mutes the sound entirely without pausing the track.
The rest of the controls are located on the bottom of the back panel. In a row are a power switch, a 19-volt port for the included power brick adapter, a USB port you'll use only once to pair your iOS device the first time, an Ethernet port for a hard network connection, and a Wi-Fi connect button that re-establishes a connection to all your AirPlay devices as the speaker comes out of sleep mode. Finally, a reset button sits on the far right that you'll use to flash the hardware after firmware updates.
Altec Lansing also includes an infrared remote that you can use to play, pause, adjust volume, and navigate tracks while you play music out of the InAir, though it feels excessive, since you can do all of that directly on the iOS music player itself, which acts as its own remote.
It's also worth noting that if you pause a track using the remote, you can't simply hit the button again to resume playback -- the remote only controls the speaker's functions, so you'll need to return to the source and hit Play there.
The company whittles the iOS pairing process down to the fewest number of steps possible to keep things easy, though you'll need to provide your own USB cable to get things started. You only need to plug it in with a wire once and the speaker will automatically prompt you to download the free installation software from the App Store.
The app is just a catalyst that sniffs out wireless networks in your area and asks for the associated password to initiate the handshake; unlike the UE Air app, this one doesn't have an additional equalizer to adjust bass or treble levels. Once the speaker connects to the same network as your iPhone or iPad, the InAir 5000 will show up as an alternate output source in the music player app.
You can also play music wirelessly from any computer with iTunes installed, but the connection guide is slightly more complicated through this avenue: you'll need to hit the Wi-Fi Connect button on the back of the speaker, point your browser to the InAir-Setup home page IP address at http://192.168.1.12, and provide your network information there. I tried both ways and although the latter takes more time, they're both just as simple.
Once you establish a connection with a device, the InAir 5000 will remember the handshake and recognize you the next time you walk into the vicinity. When you're ready to listen to music, just press the up arrow button to the right of your phone's music player and select the speaker.
You may notice that it takes a second or two to buffer your song selections and volume adjustments on your phone or tablet, but you should know that this is a symptom of AirPlay and not the fault of Altec Lansing. That said, if you're a frequent track-changer or simply don't want to spend $499 on a speaker, you'll likely prefer the snappy response of a Bluetooth speaker, if you purchase one with similar sound quality like the SuperTooth Disco or the Bose SoundLink.
If you're looking for a speaker that can blast music throughout your home, the InAir 5000 is a strong choice. Three two-inch drivers power the midrange while two tweeters handle the treble signals and a rear-firing 4-inch subwoofer adds a palpable rumbling sensation to bass tracks that you just don't feel with lightweight Bluetooth speakers.
The draw of AirPlay (and part of the cause of its ambitious price tag) is the lack of audio degradation over its wireless signal, which lets you enjoy music with very little distortion.
Altec Lansing also adds digital signal processing, or DSP, in an effort to enhance sonic effects, prevent blow-outs from low-end stress, and give a sense of three-dimensionality, but the resulting composition can sometimes add an artificial taste that some stereophiles abhor.
On the other hand, it's unlikely that true audiophiles will eagerly embrace a wireless solution for their speakers anyway, so I'll also note that the everyday listener just shopping for a speaker to project a decent sound stage for a dance party or everyday listening will be supremely satisfied with the InAir 5000's sonic performance.
The Altec Lansing InAir 5000 isn't cheap, but it earns high points in sound quality, reliable performance, modest design, and simple installation for shoppers without budget constraints.