Urbanista Los Angeles review: solar powered headphones hold noble promise
Solar powered headphones are a tempting prospect. The battery life of cordless models has improved a lot over the years, but it’s still far from perfect, and these wide bands provide the perfect surface for a sheet of solar cells for continuous charging.
Urbanista isn’t the first company to try to make this idea a reality – JBL announced its own pair in 2019 that it was later forced to delay due to the pandemic – but its Los Angeles are the first solar-powered headphones to hit the market. have actually arrived on the market. While the design is almost identical to the company’s existing Miami headphones, a layer of PowerFoyle solar cells on the headband allows them to continuously suck up solar energy when exposed to light. Urbanista believes that the average listener should be able to go months without having to recharge them.
It’s an enticing idea, one that has the potential to take an item off the list of devices people need to charge regularly, but can it live up to expectations? And even if so, are those $ 199 (Â£ 169 / â¬ 199) solar headphones worth charging in the first place?
Urbanista’s Los Angeles has a basic, uninspired design that largely matches the company’s existing Miami headphones. My review sample was a pretty boring black, but there’s also a more colorful ‘Sand Gold’ option if you’re feeling more adventurous.
Where things get interesting is with the Los Angeles Headband, which has a layer of Powerfoyle material produced by Exeger to capture the light that ends up turning into drums. Unfortunately, this material is black no matter what color you choose to put the helmet in, and based on press images I don’t think it looks great with the gold option.
For the most part, the solar-charging capabilities of the headphones aren’t something you need to actively think about. They’ll charge automatically whether you’re wearing them and listening to music, or they’re turned off (although the software caps their solar charge at 90% to protect the battery). But if you want to get a more in-depth idea of ââwhat’s going on under the hood, Urbanista’s companion app offers a great interface that shows the headset’s power consumption relative to its solar charge. There is a lot of fun playing with the app, seeing what impact turning the ANC on and off has on battery drain or how much solar power you can gain by placing the headphones in the light most direct sunlight you can find.
I think the benefit most people will get from Los Angeles solar charging is a metaphorical parachute, slowing the drain on the battery so you don’t have to recharge it so often. The effectiveness of this parachute will be very different depending on whether you use it to listen to music inside your office or in the subway or if you carry it on the move in a sunnier part of the world. But as a benchmark, listening to them in a dark room with ANC turned off should get you 80 hours of listening.
In my experience using them on cloudy autumn days in the UK, I have typically seen the Urbanista app report either minimal power consumption or adding an amount of power almost equal to the quantity consumed. It was less common for me to see the headphones gain power the more I used them, but this happened when I used them in direct sunlight (as you can see in the screenshot below). -above).
The times I saw the headphones get the most out of solar charging were when they were not in use in the sun. I’m sure you could get into the habit of leaving them on a sunny windowsill, positioned so that the headband points directly into the sun to maximize the benefit, but if you’re going to make that effort then you could too. connect them well. The beauty of Los Angeles headphones is that you don’t really have to think about it, and obsessed with letting them charge in the sun, it’s like missing the essentials.
After two weeks of listening for a few hours a day, including sitting at my desk next to a west-facing window, as well as on the London Underground with ANC enabled, Urbanista’s app reports that I am still at 81% power. That’s an impressive amount of battery drain, even though I was using them in situations with no natural light or on an overcast day.
I don’t think anyone will get away with having to plug the Los Angeles headphones into a USB-C charger. But in my experience, I could see them last a month or more of regular use in winter and even longer if you use them in sunnier conditions.
Aside from the solar cell-equipped headband, the Los Angeles looks and functions like a typical pair of noise-canceling wireless headphones. Their controls will sound familiar to anyone who has used a pair of wireless headphones in the past five years. On the right ear cup there are a trio of buttons to increase, decrease the volume and a play control button in the middle that also turns the headphones on and off. On the left, there’s a customizable shortcut button that responds to a short or long press to toggle noise cancellation, transparency mode, or a voice assistant.
It’s a judicious selection of buttons; I just wish the volume controls weren’t so stupidly close to each other. You can learn to live with them, but a little more spacing would make that pause button a lot easier to feel with your finger in a pinch. It would also have been nice if there was a dedicated shortcut to put the headphones into pairing mode rather than having to manually disconnect from a previous device first.
On the left ear cup there’s a USB-C port when the sun’s rays aren’t enough to keep these headphones charged, but unfortunately there’s no 3.5mm jack for wired connections. Urbanista tells me that he omitted the physical plug to keep the power consumption of the headphones as low as possible. In all fairness, the Los Angeles’ battery life is 30 hours longer than Urbanista’s Miami headphones, which only deliver “only” 50 hours, suggesting that these power optimizations have worked. But a 3.5mm option would still be useful for in-flight entertainment or business calls where I don’t want to risk a Bluetooth disconnect, and it’s a shame Los Angeles doesn’t have that flexibility built in.
Sheltered from the sunlight and in the bowels of the London Underground system, I was pleasantly surprised by the noise-canceling performances of Los Angeles, which did a good enough job of drowning out the screeching of the tube as it went. flew over the subway tunnels. It’s not as good as class leaders like the AirPods Max or the Sony WH-1000XM4, but I think the level of ANC that the Los Angeles offers are good for the price.
The Los Angeles noise canceling ability is aided by the fact that they conform to your head snugly while you’re wearing them. They were initially so comfortable that they were uncomfortable to wear during my first few days of use. But as the headband softened over the course of two weeks, the headphones went from âuncomfortably tightâ to just ârightâ on my slightly large head. If you have a chance to try them on before you buy them, I would take it. Just to be sure.
Los Angeles offers a rich, round sound that has a lot of impact. Listen to techno, like the recent one 7 songs by Humanoid, and the punchy bassline has weight and impact, but manages to stay just short of getting overwhelming. But switch to something more layered, like Bloc Party’s We Are Not Good People, and the limitations of this bass-centric approach become more apparent. The Los Angeles just doesn’t leave much space for the rest of the track to be heard, and in the case of the Bloc Party track, you lose some of the definition and crackle of overdriven guitars in the process.
Los Angeles doesn’t sound bad at all. Far from it, they are very listenable headphones. But their sound carries a weight that can crush the most delicate parts of a song. There are much worse headphones out there for this price, but if you want to hear every detail of a song, then Los Angeles is not interested in providing it to you.
Make a pair of headphones which can be charged by light without looks like they can charge in the light is no small feat, and the biggest compliment I can give Los Angeles is that they integrate this feature so seamlessly you forget they’re capable of solar charging. That is, until you look at their battery level after several days of use and find that it has only dropped by 10%. The only significant tradeoff is the lack of a 3.5mm port for optional inline listening. For some people, this won’t be a problem. For others, it will be a dealbreaker.
As a pair of headphones, the Urbanista Los Angeles makes a few missteps. Their controls could be clearer and more spaced, and their fit could be more comfortable on larger heads. But they ultimately manage to be a very listenable pair of headphones, even though their sound quality can’t compete with more expensive pairs like Sony and Sennheiser.