Urbanista Los Angeles Palms-on Assessment: Do not Let The Solar Set On You

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Urbanista Los Angeles Hands-on Review: Don’t Let The Sun Set On You

RRP $ 199.00

“As long as you spend a lot of time in the sun, the solar-powered headphones from Urbanista Los Angeles will free you from charging.”

advantages

  • Solar charging really works

  • Secure fit

  • Real-time power meter in the app

  • Huge 80 hour battery

disadvantage

  • Only works under optimal conditions

  • No EQ settings

Urbanistas $ 199 The angel – the very first set of solar powered wireless headphones – are here. And yes, they actually charge up when exposed to natural and electric light. But what is it like to use them and how much light do they need? We tried them to see them.

Power meter

Urbanista makes several models of wireless headphones and true wireless earbuds, but the company never felt the need to develop a companion app for iOS or Android. Due to its ease of use, no app was required. But if you decide to sell the world’s first solar powered headphones, you really need a way to show people how this whole solar thing works. So Urbanista came up with their first mobile app, and it’s, um, brilliant.

Once you’ve connected the Los Angeles to your phone via bluetooth, the app allows you to switch to a screen that has a huge power meter on it. On the left side of the display, the amount of energy that the headphones sip from the ambient light is shown in yellow. On the right, the amount of electricity that the cans consume is shown in red.

In an ideal world, there would be a constant balance between yellow (your profit) and red (your consumption), so if you started your day on a full battery, you’d end the day just like that. In theory, you could then repeat this balancing act every day and never have to plug the Los Angeles into a charger.

Mad Dogs and English

City planner Los Angeles.Simon Cohen / Digital Trends

Oh, and as you may have guessed, this is easier said than done. Noel Coward famously wrote that only crazy dogs and English people go out in the midday sun, and if you follow that behavior too, you will not only keep the battery from draining, but you will end up harvesting even more energy than you use. But unless this describes a typical day for you, the more likely you will be balanced or end up in a deficit. That’s because the Los Angeles solar panel – completely hidden in a perfectly normal-looking headband – needs a lot of direct light.

As I type this in my home office, I am sitting about three feet directly under a light fixture powered by a single 100 watt equivalent LED light bulb. And while the frosted glass of the lampshade scatters the light laterally, the underside of the shade is actually a clear lens that rather concentrates the amount of light that is aimed directly at my head. Nevertheless, the Urbanista app shows that the Los Angeles can hardly draw 0.1 mA of current, while the power consumption of the headphones is 2.3 mA. In other words, I use 23 times more energy than I absorb.

Urbanista Los Angeles is held under a light.Simon Cohen / Digital Trends

It could be worse. Right now I’m not using Los Angeles Active Noise Cancellation (ANC) or Ambient Sound Modes and I’m not listening to any music. If I were to activate these functions, the current would jump up to 7.5 mA or up to 10 mA depending on the selected volume etc. At this speed, the headphones’ impressive 80-hour battery capacity would last for exactly 80 hours and no more.

To significantly increase the power drawn, I had to hold the headphones directly under the light and even then the power meter indicated I was barely running on a break-even basis.

None of this is a criticism of Los Angeles’ solar technology or their Powerfoyle solar technology – I don’t know of any solar module that could deliver significantly more power with the same area. But it is a reminder that Urbanista’s promise of “virtually infinite game time” should be seen as worthwhile rather than fully achievable. It’s worth noting, however, that on a bright October day in Toronto I was able to take a 45 minute walk with ANC and tunes at 50% volume, and when I returned (after making a little effort to stay) on the sunny side of the street ) I still had as much battery life as when I left.

Sunny sounds

Urbanista Los Angeles seen alongside Urbanista Miami.Urbanista Los Angeles (left) and Urbanista Miami. Simon Cohen / Digital Trends

Urbanista based the Los Angeles on its Miami wireless headphones, and the two models share more than looks. Her sound signature is very close, with very good clarity about the frequencies and with a slightly forward approach that works well on beat-heavy tracks.

I love that Urbanista found a way to keep that balance across the entire volume range. There is no distortion as you approach the top of the dial. As long as you are in a quiet place, even the lower volumes will provide good overall sound quality.

Of course, if you don’t like the Los Angeles vote, there’s not much you can do. Despite developing the app for these cans, Urbanista has not made any EQ adjustments.

But one big change from Miami to Los Angeles is Urbanista’s decision to remove the 3.5mm analog input jack from the right earcup. Perhaps more room was needed for the Los Angeles’ larger battery, or maybe it was a cost-saving measure. Whatever the reason, it’s an odd choice for a can kit that is meant to free you from worrying about running out of power. Should the 80-hour battery be empty, the lack of an analog input means no more music until you find the sun or a socket.

Stands still

Man wears Urbanista Los Angeles.Simon Cohen / Digital Trends

One of my favorite aspects of Los Angeles is how safe it stays in place. I have a pretty small head and I find that some headphones just don’t clamp tight enough to keep them from slipping. But the Los Angeles are impressively stable and haven’t moved during the entire time they were worn. I don’t recommend exercising with full-size headphones, but if that’s your thing, the Los Angeles will be happy to keep you company.

The only thing missing in the comfort department is more space for the ears. The ear cushions are deceiving: They enclose a large part of the ear cups and make them look plush and deep. But they’re really incredibly flat, with only a few millimeters for your ears. Over time, I found that this created bruises.

The controls are easily accessible, with buttons on the side of each earcup where your thumbs can quickly find them. However, the play / pause, volume up / down, and track skip controls on the right earcup are very small, very close together, and quite difficult to distinguish. I have no idea how you would use them with gloves on.

Ordinary ANC

City planner Los Angeles.Simon Cohen / Digital Trends

The best noise-canceling headphones can pretty much eliminate external noise, but don’t expect this level of performance from the Los Angeles. Instead, think of it as noise reduction. When activated, ANC takes away the annoying background noise such as traffic or the constant roar of a fan or aircraft engine. But it’s just a respite from the very lowest frequencies – the higher pitches will still come through.

The transparency mode (or ambient noise, as Urbanista calls it) is similarly effective – it definitely brings in the outside world, but it doesn’t quite destroy the feeling that you’re still wearing headphones.

My biggest criticism here is that the Urbanista app lets you decide whether you want to use the ANC button to turn ANC on and off, turn ambient noise on and off, or let ANC on> environment on> cycle off. But you can’t set it to just jump back and forth between ANC on and Ambient on, which are arguably the two most important settings.

Good for calls

City planner Los Angeles.Simon Cohen / Digital Trends

City planner Los Angeles.Simon Cohen / Digital Trends

City planner Los Angeles.Simon Cohen / Digital Trends

City planner Los Angeles.Simon Cohen / Digital Trends

As with most full-size headphones, the call quality is pretty good. It’s not great, but it is quite sufficient for speaking, even in moderately noisy environments. Sometimes the ambient noise cancellation circuitry can lower the volume of your voice when it tries to silence the other noises, but this will only be an issue if you insist on answering calls at busy intersections.

Who are they for?

The Los Angeles are essentially a good set of wireless headphones that happen to have a solar panel built into the headband. If you spend most of your listening time outdoors, in sunny or even partly cloudy conditions, you will enjoy the promised benefits of unlimited performance. But for most of us, this benefit will be fleeting at best: we might not have to plug in the headphones that often (especially given the impressive 80-hour battery), but we still need to plug them in. Is this? Worth the $ 50 premium Urbanista charges over the similar $ 149 in Miami? Sun seekers would probably say yes.

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