Photo voltaic-powered headphones are a tantalizing prospect. The battery lifetime of wi-fi fashions has improved loads over time, nevertheless it’s nonetheless removed from excellent, and people extensive headbands present the proper floor for a sheet of photo voltaic cells to supply steady charging.
Urbanista isn’t the primary firm to try to make good on this concept — JBL introduced a pair of its own in 2019 that it was subsequently pressured 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 repeatedly suck up photo voltaic vitality when uncovered to mild. Urbanista reckons the typical listener ought to be capable 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 listing of units individuals must cost regularly, however can it reside as much as the expectations? And even when it does, are these $199 (£169 / €199) solar-powered headphones value retaining 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 assessment 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 finally will get changed into battery energy. Sadly, this materials is black no matter which shade you decide to get the headphones in, and from the press pictures, I don’t assume it seems nice with the gold choice.
For probably the most half, the headphones’ photo voltaic charging capabilities aren’t one thing it is advisable actively take into consideration. They’ll robotically 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 p.c to guard the battery). However if you wish to get a extra in-depth thought of what’s occurring below the hood, Urbanista’s companion app provides an awesome interface that exhibits the headphones’ energy draw versus its photo voltaic charging. There’s a number of enjoyable available messing round with the app, seeing what impression turning ANC on and off has on battery drain or how a lot solar energy you’ll be able to acquire from placing the headphones in probably the most direct daylight you could find.
I feel 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 usually. How efficient this parachute finally ends up being will differ loads relying on whether or not you employ them to hearken 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 usually noticed Urbanista’s app reporting both minimal energy drain or else including an virtually 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 occasions after I noticed the headphones gaining probably the most energy from photo voltaic charging had been once they had been sitting unused within the solar. I’m certain you could possibly get into the behavior of leaving them on a sunny windowsill, positioned in order that the scarf was pointing instantly on the solar to maximise the profit, however when you’re going to make that effort, then you definitely may as effectively plug them in. The great thing about the Los Angeles headphones is that you simply 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 p.c 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 might see them lasting for a month or extra of standard utilization throughout winter and even longer when you’re utilizing them in sunnier circumstances.
Aside from 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 collection of buttons; I simply want the amount controls weren’t so stupidly shut collectively. You possibly can study to reside with them, however just a bit extra spacing would make that pause button a lot simpler to really feel along 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 reasonably 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 need 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 via subway tunnels. It’s not as succesful as class leaders just like the AirPods Max or Sony WH-1000XM4, however I feel the extent of ANC provided by the Los Angeles is nice 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 whilst you put on them. They had been initially so comfortable that they had 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 massive 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 supply a wealthy, rounded sound that has a number of impression. Hearken to techno, just like the recently-released 7 Songs by Humanoid, and the thumping bass line has weight and impression however manages to remain simply shy of changing into overwhelming. However swap to one thing extra layered, like Bloc Occasion’s We Are Not Good Individuals, and the constraints of this bass-first method turn into extra obvious. The Los Angeles simply don’t depart that a lot house for the remainder of the observe to make itself heard, and within the case of Bloc Occasion’s observe, you lose a number of the definition and crackle of the overdriven guitars within the course of.
The Los Angeles don’t sound unhealthy 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 value, however when you’re craving to listen to each final little bit of element in a track, then the Los Angeles aren’t inquisitive about offering it to you.
Making a pair of headphones that may be charged by mild with out wanting like they will cost by mild isn’t any small feat, and the most important praise I pays the Los Angeles is that they combine this performance so seamlessly that you simply mainly overlook they’re capable of photo voltaic cost in any respect. That’s, till you have a look at their battery degree after a number of days of use and uncover it’s solely gone down by 10 p.c. The one vital compromise is the shortage of a 3.5mm port for optionally available line-in listening. For some individuals, this received’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 might be clearer and extra spaced out, and their match might be extra snug on bigger heads. However they in the end succeed at being a really listenable pair of headphones, even when their sound high quality can’t compete with dearer pairs from the likes of Sony and Sennheiser.