Review: BlueAnt Ribbon Stereo Bluetooth Streamer
Apple's recent switch away from the established 30-pin Dock Connector to Lightning has created compatibility issues for hundreds of prior iPad, iPod, and iPhone accessories, rendering many of them useless. Developers are quickly coming up with viable work arounds to this problem, including wireless adapters for Dock Connector-based speakers. Three different takes on the concept recently arrived in our office, each with its own benefits and drawbacks. BlueAnt's Ribbon ($69), Harman/Kardon's BTA 10 ($59), and RadTech's WaveJamr ($40) all extend the life of otherwise obsolete accessories. We think there's one clear winner in the bunch; read on for all the details.
Ribbon wasn’t the first Bluetooth adapter on the market, but it’s a really stylish execution of the concept. The rubber and plastic accessory is designed to let you stream Bluetooth audio to any wired audio product. Its name comes from the unusual asymmetric design that resembles a twisted strip of material, a design which allows the device to attach to clothing without requiring an additional clip. The inside is lined with hard blue plastic while the outside covered in black rubber. Ribbon measures in at 1.94” tall, 1.68” wide, and 0.75” deep, and only weighs half an ounce. It’s easy to wear the accessory on your clothing and not even notice it’s there. At one end of Ribbon you’ll find a covered Micro-USB port for recharging the battery—it’s rated for six hours of play time and 250 hours of standby—and the other is home to a 3.5mm audio port for connecting your own headphones or audio cable. On the front are volume and playback controls, the latter of which doubles as a pairing button, and even a built-in microphone. BlueAnt includes a wall charger, Micro-USB cable, audio cable, and earbuds with extra tips along with the device. The included headphones are particularly bass-heavy, but otherwise forgettable.
Pairing Ribbon is a relatively easy process, comparable to other accessories without a dedicated pairing button: Users simply hold down the raised play/pause button until the amber LED blinks to put the device into pairing mode and then pair with their iPhone, iPad or iPod in the same manner as for any other Bluetooth device. Once paired, Ribbon is then ready to be connected to any headphones or speakers via the 3.5mm audio port. Once connected, the play/pause button can also be double-pressed to launch Siri—a useful feature not commonly found on other Bluetooth devices. We found audio performance to be very impressive in our testing on a high-end audio system, with no perceptible difference between audio coming through the Dock Connector or streaming to Ribbon. Once setup it’s a seamless experience and small details like the on-screen battery meter make it all that much more impressive. Given the otherwise high quality, we were surprised to find that Ribbon has the shortest Bluetooth range of the bunch, with dropouts happening at a distance of about 25 feet, however this will likely only be of concern for those looking to use Ribbon with a speaker system rather than simply as a headphone adapter.
Although it’s the most expensive, Ribbon is far and away our top choice among these Bluetooth adapters. It features an attractive design, compact size, impressive audio performance, and the most versatility too. While the Bluetooth range deficiency must be considered, it’s not a killer problem. If you’re in the market for an accessory to repurpose your old speaker or just make your headphones wireless, this is the one to get. We highly recommend it, and it earns our A- rating. BTA 10 is the runner-up. The audio performance is just as good as Ribbon’s, and it’s very handsome, but the fact that it has to be tethered to the wall is a serious deficit. If you’re only looking to transform a stationary speaker, it’s a good option worthy of our B rating. Finally there’s WaveJamr. We really wanted to like this one for its simplicity, but the sound it puts out torpedoes it. If it sounded good it’d certainly deserve a higher rating, but the quality brings it to the C level.