McIntosh McAire Binghamton meets Cupertino

By Jeff Dorgay

As I unbox the new McAire wireless music system, from that other apple of my eye—the one in Binghamton, N.Y.—the similarities between it and something from the Apple of Cupertino, Calif., are uncanny.  Mixing old styles with new styles, the McAire’s outer packaging and quick-start guide look suspiciously West Coast, but I’ve opened enough McIntosh hi-fi gear to recognize the owner’s manual instantly—and this one is pure McIntosh Labs.

A few years ago, with its F80, British manufacturer Meridian broke the price barrier for a high-performance compact audio system.  Now a serious American brand offers an alternative to the Bose Wave radio, and the McAire is equally as intriguing as the F80, both in terms of performance and aesthetics.

McIntosh’s Ron Cornelius says, “It’s expensive for a dock, but it’s a really affordable McIntosh system. The McAire retails for $3,000

It’s Heavy and It Rocks

While the McAire is an amazing wireless player for your iPhone, iPod or iPad, it’s so much more than that.  This 31-pound one-piece system features the same titanium tweeters and inverted-dome midrange drivers with NRT magnet structures found in the brand’s flagship XRT speakers.  In the McAire, McIntosh couples these to a pair of 5-inch slot-loaded woofers that produce formidable bass.  The system features Class-D amplification, but McIntosh doesn’t list a specification for power output.  Suffice it to say the McAire really rocks.

I begin the audition with “Who,” the lead track from the new David Byrne & St. Vincent album Love This Giant, which instantly establishes the bass response of the McAire.  The tabletop quakes, as the big, blue McIntosh meters swing merrily to the beat.  This thing fills the room with sound!

Next up: “Hail Bop,” from the self-titled Django Django album.  With so much spacey, synthesizer sounds, twangy guitars and ethereal harmonies, this track shows the McAire’s ability to set a gigantic soundfield—doing so on our art director’s desktop.  The sound is so big that she takes control of the remote to slow the pace down a bit, switching to some classic Michael Hedges.  The McAire proves equally adept with acoustic guitar, before we take a walk on the wild side with Marc Ribot’s Silent Movies, a record full of empty space, feedback and distortion.  I end the first of many listening duals with AC/DC’s “Rock ‘n’ Roll Damnation,” leaving everyone in the office impressed with the McAire.

Well Connected

The McAire is Apple-certified, so you can connect any iDevice via USB cable or wirelessly via AirPlay.  The initial setup is straightforward, requiring just your device and the small supplied remote.  The Ikea-like quick-start guide walks you through the process in a few minutes.  Those not wanting to have their device floating around on the tabletop, or in their pocket, can take advantage of the McIntosh ST-1 stand (sold separately; $50), which fits any of Apple’s portable devices.

You can stream music to the McAire using your home’s Wi-Fi network and iTunes on your Mac or PC—but why bother when you can utilize the McIntosh app for your iPhone or iPad?  Using the app gives you similar functionality to iTunes, but turns the screen of your device into yet another McIntosh blue meter!  What could be cooler than that?

An auxiliary audio input on the back panel lets you get really wacky if you want, by connecting a turntable or other source unit to your McAire system.  We didn’t take things that far, but we did plug in a vintage McIntosh MR-71 FM tuner.  This requires a bit more shelf space, but the tube tuner is a nice addition to the system, if you’re listening to FM radio.

For seasoned McIntosh aficionados, or those discovering the brand for the first time, the McAire compact system is an excellent idea for adding high-performance audio to any room in the house.

McIntosh McAire