A quick look at Tunai's Clip and Firefly Bluetooth gizmos

— 3:45 PM on July 11, 2017

Last week, we mentioned that Tunai hooked up the TR BBQ with a bunch of its Bluetooth Clip headphone amplifiers and Firefly music recievers. We have 10 of each to give away at the BBQ, but Tunai sent me a couple extra to put through their paces. I checked out the Clip myself, while I farmed out the Firefly testing to my sister. Her vehicle's stereo is the perfect candidate for the sort of connectivity upgrade the Firefly provides.

I tested the Clip by having it drive my trusty Audio Technica ATH-AD700X headphones while paired to my [gasp!] Nokia Lumia Icon Windows Phone.  Every digital feature worked as advertised, including launching Cortana for voice assistant features. The beefy cord on my particular set of cans didn't play nice with the integrated cable management of the Clip, though, so I just coiled it in my pocket for walkabout testing.

Pairing the Clip to my phone was simple and fast, and it connects practically instantly when you turn it on for subsequent uses. The range of the device seemed adequate for typical use. It held a connection though multiple walls indoors at over 30' away from my phone or so. Moving around at that distance did cause some audio choppiness, but seemingly only as the signal adjusted because playback returned to normal shortly after I settled into a new room. With my phone in the same room, or on my person, there were no playback problems.

The audio quality of the Clip was very similar to plugging my PC headphones directly into my phone (something I'd never done until testing). Once I roughly equalized the volume, I'd say that the only difference I could detect was that the Clip, uh, dropped the bass, a little bit compared to being fully wired. That didn't mean that "Seven Nation Army" didn't still thump along satisfactorily, though. Volume-wise, the Clip impressed me. Between the volume adjustment on my phone and the Clip itself it was hard to believe such a small, lightweight device allowed my open-air headphones to drown out barking dogs and compressor noises as well as they did.

The Clip has a built-in microphone for phone calls and use with a digital assistant. Holding down the pause/play button launched Cortana, and she placed my test phone call as requested. The call itself had a touch of static noise in the background, but I blame the cellular connection for that. Personally, I'm not used to taking phone calls over headphones, but other than a bit of weirdness from that new situation, it seemed to work fine and the caller on the other end approved of the audio quality they were getting from me. Put another way, Skype or Discord on my PC sounds better, but I suspect the Clip was just bringing to my attention how lousy an actual phone call can sound when you're listening to it with decent gear.

Overall, I like the Clip quite a bit. The simplicity of the concept is refreshing. It doesn't get much easier to explain than, "this thing turns your headphones into a Bluetooth headset." I really appreciate that modularity. I wouldn't actually use my bulky PC headphones while on the go, but, armed with a Clip, your choice of cans isn't constrained by whether they are wireless or not (not to mention whether or not your phone has a 3.5-mm jack).

The Tunai Firefly has similarly easy to explain functionality: "this thing makes your old stereo Bluetooth capable." The Firefly is a playback-only device. It doesn't have a microphone, so it doesn't add hands-free calling to your car. Again, it works as advertised, and my sister had no trouble setting it up or with general use. Plug it in, pair it with your phone, and start playing music—there just isn't much else to explain.

The Firefly sips power from virtually any USB port, even old ones that aren't up for charging modern phones at full speed. In fact, it needs such little power that Tunai advises that if you want to power it with a battery pack, you should use one with a manual on-off switch so that the pack doesn't turn itself off because it can't detect that something is plugged in. The USB port on my sister's stereo happens to be the only one in her car, though. Even if that isn't optimal, it's what she uses to charge her phone on the go and the Firefly obviously conflicts with that. Personally, I'd just spend $10 on a quality USB car charger, Firefly or not. However, it's something to be aware of. I didn't think about that conflict at first because I don't use my stereo to charge my phone in my car.

Like the Clip, the Firefly pairs quickly and automatically when it gets power. The audio quality was comparable to my sister's previous wired connection, as well. The Firefly, as far as I can tell, does not pass along play, pause, or skip commands to the paired device over USB like some car-to-mobile-device implementations do. No one I know had an iPhone or iPod to test this old-school, potentially Apple-specific feature with, though. Finally, I should note that while we tested the Firefly in a car stereo, it doesn't take much imagination to realize that it would also be handy for adding Bluetooth audio to any number of other music-playing devices. Overall, I'd say that if you have the right application for it, the Firefly is well worth considering.

Thanks again to Tunai from hooking us with ten of each of these devices to give away at the TR BBQ. The BBQ is happening this weekend so, if you've been procrastinating, this is your last reminder to make plans to attend. Hop into the BBQ thread and let me know you want the details. See you there!

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