Hands on: BlueAnt’s Ribbon makes any pair of headphone wireless

If you wish your headphones were wireless, the $70 BlueAnt Ribbon is a great solution.

We’ve come to appreciate the power of Bluetooth more and more these past years. Particularly since smartphone screens started getting bigger and holding one up to your face either looks ridiculous or tires out your arm. There are some nice stereo Bluetooth headsets around now (the Parrot Zik headphones are so, so tempting), but buying a pair means abandoning your existing headphones. Right now, I like my Diamond Tears, thank you. I don’t want to abandon them for wireless freedom just yet.

This is what made us eager to try out the Ribbon stereo Bluetooth streamer from BlueAnt Wireless. It’s a device that can connect any standard pair of headphones to Bluetooth both for listening to music or video and for calls. You won’t have to give up your favorite pair or limit your buying choices when hunting for a good pair of headphones. As long as the headphones have a standard 3.5mm jack, they’ll work with the Ribbon. If you don’t already have a pair of favorite headphones, the Ribbon comes with earbuds. They’re better than the ones that come with most smartphones, but won’t wow you.

The Ribbon itself is a small, lightweight device that does indeed look like a ribbon. The fold isn’t just aesthetic, it’s there to latch on to clothes or even a cord and stay in place. The grip is tight enough that it will stay in place, even if you’re active, making it a good choice for fitness fiends.

If your smartphone or tablet is the center of your media life and you don’t want to have to replace all your headphones and speakers, this is a good solution.

Overall, setup and operating is pretty simple and straightforward, especially if you’re familiar with other Bluetooth headsets. There are just three buttons, but each has multiple functions. Play turns the Ribbon on and off, puts it into pairing mode, answers, hangs up, or rejects calls, plays and pauses music, and activates Siri (or whatever Android voice command app you have). The + and – buttons not only control volume but also skip music tracks. It does pretty much everything you’d expect a Bluetooth headphone to do. The buttons are easy to identify by touch and the device is responsive.

There are apps for Android and iOS that add a tiny bit of extra functionality. The Android one will read text messages to you and the iOS variant shows battery level. It would be better if these apps were a little more involved. At least neither is necessary.

If you’re the type to match good headphones with a smartphone, it probably means you want to squeeze the best audio quality that you can out of the device. The Ribbon will not mess you up in that regard. It streamed high-quality sound to our headphones and home speakers. True audiophiles will probably find flaws, but if you’re just looking to ensure that the audio is well-rounded and not going to degrade the experience you paid $150 (or more) for, then you’ll do fine with the Ribbon.

And yes, the Ribbon works with anything that has a standard headphone jack, such as PC speakers and hi-fi systems or cars with 3.5mm AUX jacks. You can turn pretty much any speaker into a streaming one and free your phone from the physical tether often associated with speaker docks or go hands-free while driving.

BlueAnt-Ribbon-stereo-Bluetooth-streamer-hands-on

In addition to streaming music and video audio, the Ribbon also does phone calls. Those of you with noise-blocking headphones will likely appreciate the ability to use them in noisy areas. But also, those with Android phones may get some boost in functionality. Wired headphones with mics and call control almost always work with iPhone but don’t always work with Android. The Ribbon eliminates this issue. Now you can answer and hang up calls and adjust volume without having to pull out your phone.

During calls the quality matches that of the phone itself (and the headphones used). The mic on the Ribbon did a good job blocking background noise. Though the people we called could tell we weren’t in a completely quiet environment, they could still hear us clearly.

BlueAnt claims that the Ribbon will stream audio for up to 6 hours and has a standby time of over 200 hours. In our hands-on time we found this to be accurate. We could leave the Ribbon on all day, listen to music for hours, and not have the battery run down completely. It charges via a  Micro USB cord and will do so in less than two hours. Depending on your usage, you might not need to plug it in every night.

At $70, the Ribbon costs less than many stereo Bluetooth headsets and is more versatile. If your smartphone or tablet is the center of your media life and you don’t want to have to replace all your headphones and speakers, this is a good solution. If you’re an Android lover and tired of headphones that don’t work with your device, this is the solution. You can buy the Ribbon directly from BlueAnt.

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