Photo voltaic-powered headphones are a tantalizing prospect. The battery lifetime of wi-fi fashions has improved so much over time, but it surely’s nonetheless removed from good, and people vast headbands present the proper floor for a sheet of photo voltaic cells to offer steady charging.
Urbanista isn’t the primary firm to try to make good on this concept — JBL introduced a pair of its personal in 2019 that it was subsequently compelled to delay as a result of pandemic — however its Los Angeles are the primary solar-powered headphones to have really made it to market. Though the design is nearly similar to the corporate’s current Miami headphones, a layer of PowerFoyle photo voltaic cells on the scarf permits them to constantly suck up photo voltaic vitality when uncovered to mild. Urbanista reckons the typical listener ought to have the ability to go months with out having to cost them up.
It’s an attractive thought, one which has the potential to take away an merchandise from the checklist of units individuals must cost frequently, however can it dwell as much as the expectations? And even when it does, are these $199 (£169 / €199) solar-powered headphones value preserving charged within the first place?
Urbanista’s Los Angeles have a fundamental, uninspired design that’s broadly consistent with the corporate’s current Miami headphones. My evaluate pattern was a reasonably boring black, however there’s additionally a extra colourful “Sand Gold” choice when you’re feeling extra adventurous.
The place issues get attention-grabbing are with the Los Angeles’ headband, which has a layer of Powerfoyle materials produced by Exeger for capturing the sunshine that ultimately will get became battery energy. Sadly, this materials is black no matter which coloration you decide to get the headphones in, and from the press pictures, I don’t assume it seems to be nice with the gold choice.
For probably the most half, the headphones’ photo voltaic charging capabilities aren’t one thing you must actively take into consideration. They’ll mechanically cost no matter whether or not you’re sporting them and listening to music or whether or not they’re turned off (though software program caps their photo voltaic charging at 90 % to guard the battery). However if you wish to get a extra in-depth thought of what’s happening below the hood, Urbanista’s companion app presents an excellent interface that exhibits the headphones’ energy draw versus its photo voltaic charging. There’s loads of enjoyable available messing round with the app, seeing what influence turning ANC on and off has on battery drain or how a lot solar energy you’ll be able to achieve from placing the headphones in probably the most direct daylight you will discover.
I believe the profit most individuals will get from the Los Angeles photo voltaic charging is as a metaphorical parachute, slowing the battery drain so that you don’t must recharge them so typically. How efficient this parachute finally ends up being will differ so much relying on whether or not you utilize them to take heed to music inside at your desk or on the subway or whether or not you put on them whereas out and about in a sunnier a part of the world. However as a baseline, listening to them in a pitch-black room with ANC off ought to get you 80 hours of listening.
In my expertise utilizing them on cloudy fall days within the UK, I typically noticed Urbanista’s app reporting both minimal energy drain or else including an nearly equal quantity of energy to the quantity being consumed. It was much less frequent for me to see the headphones really gaining energy as I used them, however this did occur after I used them in direct daylight (as you’ll be able to see from the screenshot above).
The instances after I noticed the headphones gaining probably the most energy from photo voltaic charging have been after they have been sitting unused within the solar. I’m certain you might get into the behavior of leaving them on a sunny windowsill, positioned in order that the scarf was pointing straight on the solar to maximise the profit, however when you’re going to make that effort, then you definitely would possibly as effectively plug them in. The great thing about the Los Angeles headphones is that you just don’t actually have to consider it, and obsessing over leaving them to cost within the solar feels prefer it’s lacking the purpose.
After two weeks of listening for a few hours a day, together with whereas sitting at my desk subsequent to a west-facing window, in addition to on the London Underground with ANC on, Urbanista’s app studies that I’m nonetheless at 81 % energy. It’s an impressively small quantity of battery drain, even whereas I used them in conditions with no pure mild or in overcast circumstances.
I don’t assume anybody’s going to get away with by no means having to attach the Los Angeles headphones to a USB-C charger. However based mostly on my expertise, I may see them lasting for a month or extra of normal utilization throughout winter and even longer when you’re utilizing them in sunnier circumstances.
Other than the photo voltaic cell-equipped headband, the Los Angeles look and performance like a typical pair of wi-fi noise-canceling headphones. Their controls will look acquainted to anybody who’s used a pair of wi-fi headphones previously 5 years. On the correct earcup, there’s a trio of buttons for quantity up, down, and a center playback management button that additionally turns the headphones on and off. On the left, there’s a customizable shortcut button that responds to both a brief or long-press to toggle noise cancellation, transparency mode, or a voice assistant.
It’s a wise number of buttons; I simply want the quantity controls weren’t so stupidly shut collectively. You possibly can be taught to dwell with them, however just a bit extra spacing would make that pause button a lot simpler to really feel together with your finger in a pinch. It will even have been good for there to be a devoted shortcut to place the headphones into pairing mode slightly than having to manually disconnect from a earlier system first.
On the left earcup, there’s a USB-C port for when the solar’s rays aren’t sufficient to maintain these headphones charged, however sadly, there’s no 3.5mm jack for wired connections. Urbanista tells me it omitted the bodily jack to maintain the headphones’ energy consumption as little as doable. In equity, the Los Angeles’ battery life is 30 hours larger than Urbanista’s Miami headphones, which “solely” ship 50 hours, suggesting that these energy optimizations have labored. However a 3.5mm choice would nonetheless be helpful for in-flight leisure or work calls the place I don’t wish to danger a Bluetooth disconnection, and it’s a disgrace the Los Angeles don’t have this flexibility in-built.
Away from the daylight and into the bowels of London’s Underground community, I used to be pleasantly stunned by the Los Angeles’ noise canceling efficiency, which pretty efficiently drowned out the screeching of the tube because it flew by subway tunnels. It’s not as succesful as class leaders just like the AirPods Max or Sony WH-1000XM4, however I believe the extent of ANC provided by the Los Angeles is sweet for the worth.
The power of the Los Angeles to cancel out noise is helped by the truth that they match snugly in your head when you put on them. They have been initially so comfortable that they have been uncomfortable to put on throughout my first few days of use. However as the scarf softened over the course of two weeks, the headphones turned from “uncomfortably comfortable” to simply “comfortable” on my barely giant head. When you’ve got an opportunity to attempt them on before you purchase them, I’d take it. Simply to be protected.
The Los Angeles provide a wealthy, rounded sound that has loads of influence. Take heed to techno, just like the recently-released 7 Songs by Humanoid, and the thumping bass line has weight and influence however manages to remain simply shy of turning into overwhelming. However change to one thing extra layered, like Bloc Occasion’s We Are Not Good Folks, and the restrictions of this bass-first method turn out to be extra obvious. The Los Angeles simply don’t depart that a lot area for the remainder of the observe to make itself heard, and within the case of Bloc Occasion’s observe, you lose among the definition and crackle of the overdriven guitars within the course of.
The Los Angeles don’t sound dangerous by any means. Removed from it — they’re a really listenable pair of headphones. However their sound has a weight to it that may squash extra delicate elements of a observe. There are far worse headphones round for this worth, however when you’re craving to listen to each final little bit of element in a tune, then the Los Angeles aren’t occupied with offering it to you.
Making a pair of headphones that may be charged by mild with out trying like they’ll cost by mild isn’t any small feat, and the largest praise I will pay the Los Angeles is that they combine this performance so seamlessly that you just mainly overlook they’re in a position to photo voltaic cost in any respect. That’s, till you have a look at their battery stage after a number of days of use and uncover it’s solely gone down by 10 %. The one vital compromise is the shortage of a 3.5mm port for elective line-in listening. For some individuals, this gained’t be a difficulty. For others, it’ll be a dealbreaker.
As a pair of headphones, the Urbanista Los Angeles make a few missteps. Their controls could possibly be clearer and extra spaced out, and their match could possibly be extra comfy on bigger heads. However they finally succeed at being a really listenable pair of headphones, even when their sound high quality can’t compete with costlier pairs from the likes of Sony and Sennheiser.