Urbanista Los Angeles review: solar-powered headphones deliver on a lofty promise

It is a tempting prospect to have solar-powered headphones. Although wireless models have a longer battery life, it is still not perfect. The wide headbands make it possible to place solar cells on the surface of the headphones for continuous charging.
Urbanista is not the only company that tried to implement this idea. JBL also announced a pair in 2019, but it was later forced to postpone due to the pandemic. However, Urbanista's Los Angeles headphones are the first to be made using solar energy. The design of the headphones is nearly identical to their Miami-based counterparts, but the headband has PowerFoyle solar panels that allow them to absorb solar energy from the sun. Urbanista believes that the average listener should have enough battery life to last for several months without needing to recharge them.

This is a great idea. It could remove an item from the long list of items that need to be charged on a regular basis. But can it live up? Even if it does, is the $199 (169/199) cost of solar-powered headphones really worth keeping charged?

Urbanista Los Angeles Verge score 7.5 out 10 Good Stuff Our review of Urbanista Los Angeles Verge Scot 7.5

Tight, punchy sound

Bad Stuff Controls Too Close Together

No 3.5mm port available for wired connections

Urbanista offers tight fitting for large heads at $199.00

Urbanistas Los Angeles has a simple, uninspired design that is broadly in line the company's Miami headphones. The black I received was boring, but you can also choose a more vibrant Sand Gold version if you're feeling adventurous.

The Los Angeles headband has a layer Exeger Powerfoyle material that captures light and converts it into power. This is where things get interesting. This material comes in black, regardless of the color you choose to get your headphones. I don't think it looks good with the gold option.

The headphones' solar charging capabilities don't require you to think about it. The headphones will charge automatically, regardless of whether you're wearing them or listening to music. However, software limits their solar charging to 90 percent to preserve the battery. Urbanistas companion app gives you a detailed overview of the headphones' power draw and solar charging. You can have a lot fun with the app by playing around with it, finding out how ANC turns on and off, or what solar power you can get from putting your headphones in direct sunlight.

The most significant benefit that Los Angeles solar charging will bring is the ability to slow down the battery drain, so they don't need to be recharged as often. The effectiveness of this parachute will depend on how you use it. For example, if you listen to music at work or while on the streets, or if you are using them for outdoor activities in the sunnier parts of the globe. As a guideline, 80 hours of listening should be possible in a darkened room with ANC off.

Urbanistas app reported that the headphones were either consuming very little power or generating almost the same amount of power as the power consumed. I have used them in cloudy autumn days in the UK. Although it was rare for me to actually see the headphones gain power, I did see this happen when I used them directly in sunlight (as shown in the screenshot).

When the headphones were not in direct sunlight, I noticed that they gained the most power from solar charge. You could easily get into the habit and place them on a sunny windowill with the headband facing the sun. However, if you are going to put in the effort to charge them, you should plug them in. Los Angeles headphones are so simple to use that you don't have to think about it.

Urbanistas reports that I am still at 81 percent after listening for two weeks. This includes sitting at my desk with a west-facing view, and on the London Underground with ANC turned on. Even though I used them in conditions with little natural light and in overcast, it was a remarkablely low battery drain.

It's unlikely that anyone will be able to disconnect the headphones from a USB-C charger in Los Angeles. Based on my experience, they could last for at least a month if used regularly in winter. They might even last longer if you use them in warmer conditions.

These headphones could last for months, without the need to be charged.

The Los Angeles headphones look and function just like any other pair of wireless noise cancelling headphones, except for the solar-powered headband. Anyone who has used wireless headphones for at least five years will recognize the controls. The right earcup contains three buttons that control volume, up and down. There is also a middle button for playback control, which turns on and off the headphones. To the left is a customizable shortcut button. It responds to a short or long press to toggle noise cancellation, transparency, or voice assistant.

It's a good selection of buttons. I wish that the volume controls were not so close together. Although you can live with them, a little more space would make it easier to press the pause button with your finger. It would have been great to have a shortcut that allows you to pair the headphones with your device, rather than disconnecting from it manually.

The left earcup has a USB-C port to charge the headphones when the sun's rays are not enough. Unfortunately, the 3.5mm jack is inaccessible for wired connections. Urbanista says it removed the physical jack in order to reduce the headphones' power consumption. Urbanista's Miami headphones only last 50 hours. The battery life in Los Angeles is 30 hours longer than Urbanista's Miami headphones which can last for just 50 hours. This suggests that power optimizations worked. A 3.5mm option would be great for work calls or entertainment in flight, but it's a shame that the Los Angeles doesn't have this feature.

The Los Angeles noise cancelling performance was quite impressive, as it effectively drowned out the tube's screeching through the subway tunnels. Although it is not as powerful as the AirPods Max and Sony WH-1000XM4, I believe the Los Angeles noise cancelling system is worth the money.

Noise cancellation is made easier by a snug fit

Los Angeles' ability to cancel out sound is enhanced by the fact they fit comfortably on your head. They were so tight that I found them uncomfortable to wear for the first few days. The headphones became more comfortable to wear over time, as the headband began to relax over two weeks. I would love to have the chance to test them out before buying them. To be safe.

Los Angeles has a rich and rounded sound that is full of energy. Techno, such as 7 Songs by Humanoid recently released, has a powerful bass line that is heavy and impactful but doesn't seem overwhelming. The limitations of this bass-first approach are more obvious when you switch to something more complex, such as Bloc Partys We Are Not Good People. Los Angeles doesn't leave enough space for the rest, and Bloc Partys track loses some of its definition and crackle from the overdriven guitars.

Los Angeles doesn't sound bad. They are a very listenable pair headphones. Their sound can compress more delicate parts of tracks. Los Angeles headphones aren't the best, but they won't let you down if you want to hear every detail of a song.

It is not easy to make headphones that can charge by sunlight without appearing like they can. The best compliment I can give the Los Angeles team is that they have integrated this functionality so seamlessly you forget that they can solar charge. The problem is that the battery level of these headphones drops by only 10% after a few days of usage. A 3.5mm port is missing for optional line-in audio. This is the only compromise. This won't be an issue for some. It will be a problem for others.

The Urbanista Los Angeles headphones make some mistakes as a pair. They could have their controls clearer and better spaced, and they could fit more comfortably on larger heads. They are still a highly listenable pair of headphones. However, their sound quality is not as good as those of Sennheiser and Sony.