The latest wireless headphones from Swedish company Urbanista hide an ingenious solution to battery life problems: solar charging.
The Los Angeles costs £ 169 ($ 199 / A $ 349) and is no different from regular headphones except for a flexible Powerfoyle solar cell on top of the headband.
Quite compact with simple, clean lines, they come in either black or gold, the first of which helps the solar strip blend in best. They feel solid and well made with a soft-touch finish, but are a bit heavier than the market-leading Sony 1000XM4.
The matt black plastic solar cell could easily be mistaken for a simple design. Photo: Samuel Gibbs / The Guardian
The headband is well padded, but has a strong clamping force on the sides of the head that needs to be stretched a little when first worn. But at least they don’t move when you wear them.
Controls, connectivity and battery life
Press and hold the middle of the three playback control buttons to turn the headphones on or off. Photo: Samuel Gibbs / The Guardian
The Los Angeles are standard Bluetooth 5.0 headphones that support the universal SBC and AAC audio formats used by most devices and maintain a solid connection with a variety of Apple and Android devices.
The right auricle has three buttons for controlling playback and volume. Removing the headphones also pauses the music. The left ear cup has a button for setting the noise cancellation functions and a USB-C port for charging. They lack a 3.5mm headphone jack to use without bluetooth which is irritating for airplane use.
But what the headphones really stand out is the battery life. Without solar charging, the headphones last an unbelievable 80 hours on battery power (50 hours with ANC on), which is far longer than most of the competition. However, due to the solar charge, they last almost indefinitely unless you only use them in a darkened room.
The solar cell generates enough electricity to charge the headphones during use in winter sunshine. You can offset battery consumption by around 50% under bright LED lights, which you can see in real time with the Urbanista Android or iPhone app. Photo: Samuel Gibbs / The Guardian
If the battery charge falls below 90%, the solar band charges it again when there is sufficient sunlight or artificial light. During my testing period, the battery never dropped below 50% and refilled it by leaving the headband in front of a window when not in use.
Driver: 40 mm
Connectivity: Bluetooth 5.0, USB-C and solar charging
Bluetooth codecs: SBC, AAC
Battery life: 50/80 hours ANC on / off
The headphones have a USB-C port for manual charging, which you may never have to do. Photo: Samuel Gibbs / The Guardian
Urbanista estimates that the battery retains over 80% of its original capacity over 300 full charge cycles, but it is neither replaceable nor repairable, which ultimately makes it a disposable item.
The headphones do not contain any recycled materials. The company does not offer trade-ins, recycling and does not publish any environmental impact assessments.
Sound and noise canceling
The ear cups are plush, but flat compared to many of its competitors. My left ear touched the inside of the cup and became uncomfortable after an hour or so. Your mileage may vary. Photo: Samuel Gibbs / The Guardian
The headphones have active noise cancellation that works well enough to dampen the roar of an airplane engine or street noise, but struggles with higher pitched sounds like fans or speech. They beat most of the cheaper headphones, but won’t bother some of the market leaders, which makes them about right for the price.
The ambient sound mode is pretty good too, so you can listen to announcements or the traffic but struggle with wind noise.
The headphones have a reasonably broad and expansive sound that processes tracks with a lot of energy. But the sound is distorted towards the lower end, with lots of well-controlled, punchy bass that creates deeper notes than most headphones can handle. Treble and high notes are pretty good but get squeezed by the bass. Unfortunately there is no equalizer to turn it down manually.
Feed them energetic electronica and they will sound great, but less so with classical music or more nuanced tracks. By activating the noise cancellation, they sound a little less broad, expansive and energetic.
The case is designed to protect the headphones while exposing the solar cell so that it can be charged when you are not using it. Photo: Samuel Gibbs / The Guardian
The announcements when switching on the headphones or changing modes are too loud and can be quite shocking if you listen quietly.
Call quality is average, with the end of the call sounding a bit robotic even in quiet surroundings.
The auricles can be turned flat and slide into the case, but cannot be folded up for travel.
The Urbanista Los Angeles costs £ 169 ($ 199 / A $ 349) and is available in black or gold.
For comparison: The Urbanista Miami costs 129 euros, Ankers Soundcore Life Q35 130 euros and the Sony WH-1000XM4 249 euros.
The Urbanista Los Angeles is the first solar-charging headphones on the market and delivers one thing above all: an almost limitless battery life.
If you use them in bright environments, you may only need to charge them once or twice a year, or not at all if exposed to daylight when not in use, which is remarkable. And they create this solar feat while looking like normal, tidy headphones.
They sound good, but very bass-heavy without any setting options. The noise canceling is okay, but it cannot harm the market leaders. The bluetooth connection and controls are good, but it lacks an analog 3.5mm headphone jack and it crushes my ears a bit.
Despite their solar eligibility, the headphones are irreparable and the battery is non-replaceable, which ultimately makes them disposable and loses them a star.
Advantages: Solar charging, almost infinite battery life, Bluetooth 5.0 with SBC and AAC support, active noise cancellation, pumping bass and energetic sound.
Disadvantage: Bass can drown out other sounds, noise canceling has problems with speech, call quality is not that good, no 3.5 mm analog socket, tight fit, battery cannot be replaced, headphones cannot be repaired.
The Los Angeles aren’t chunky or flashy and feel solid, but the soft-touch black finish picks up dust easily. Photo: Samuel Gibbs / The Guardian