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Urbanista Los Angeles review: Solar-charged headphones with unbeatable battery life

Our Rating 
Price when reviewed 
169
inc VAT

Virtually infinite battery life helps elevate the Urbanista Los Angeles above the Miami on which they’re based

Pros 
Virtually infinite battery life
Attractive aesthetic
Big on bass
Cons 
Some initial comfort issues
No EQ options
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At first glance, you’d be forgiven for mistaking the Urbanista Los Angeles for their compatriot the Miami, which I reviewed earlier this year.

But look a little closer and you’ll see there’s one key difference between the two pairs of over-ear headphones: the headband. Built into the LA’s headband is a solar cell that is constantly recharging the battery when exposed to light, providing the headphones with what Urbanista describes as “virtually infinite” playtime.

To my knowledge, it’s a first in the world of headphones. It’s also a compelling USP, particularly in a day and age where sustainability is at the forefront of our minds and we’re sick of having to top up devices on a daily basis.

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Urbanista Los Angeles review: What do you get for the money?

The incorporation of the solar cell pushes the price of the Los Angeles up to £169 from the £129 Urbanista asks for the Miami. Solar cell aside, the package remains the same: the Los Angeles are over-ear active noise-cancelling headphones that operate wirelessly over Bluetooth 5.0 and support the AAC and SBC codecs.

They also sport the same attractive aesthetic, though this time around colourways are limited to black and sand gold, options that are informed by the fact that the solar cell band needs to be black. Controls remain the same too, with a “Feature” button on the left earcup that’s used to cycle through sound modes and hail your voice assistant, and three buttons on the right earcup governing power, playback and call controls.

Battery life before factoring in solar charging clocks in at up to 50 hours with ANC on, while turning noise-cancellation off will net you up to 80 hours of audio playback at moderate volume. Those figures are extremely impressive in and of themselves, but with a little help from the sun and other light sources, you should never need to charge the Los Angeles via the USB-C cable that’s included in the box.

To enable the headphones to work their charging magic when not on your head, the included carrying case features an open top. This leaves the headband exposed to soak up light if left on a desk or window sill. The case is cleverly designed, provides a decent amount of protection against bumps and knocks – though obviously not against rain – and has the smart, clean appearance I’ve come to expect from Urbanista products.

Urbanista Los Angeles review: Solar-powered charging

The solar cells used by the Los Angeles headphones are “Powerfoyle” branded and produced by Exeger, a Swedish technology manufacturer based a few kilometres from Urbanista’s Stockholm headquarters.

Exeger has been developing solar-powered technology for around 12 years but the Los Angeles are only the second Powerfoyle product to come to market. You can read about the first, the POC Omne Eternal cycling helmet, here.

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The principle upon which Powerfoyle cells operate is very similar to a process you would have learned about at school: photosynthesis. I’ll spare you the scientific details, but essentially the solar cell absorbs light (this can be both natural and artificial) and converts it into electrical energy that gradually recharges the Los Angeles’ battery.

The amount of charge varies based on the level and type of light the cell is exposed to: intense sunlight produces the best results, but you’ll also see small gains on a cloudy day or inside with your lights on. The flexible panel on the headband doesn’t heat up during the process, nor does it lose its ability to convert light into energy over time, though the LA’s battery capacity will still decrease with age.

So, how well does it work? Based on my experience, very well indeed. I didn’t have to charge the Los Angeles via USB-C once during my time using them, which typically involved an hour or two of listening a day. I simply left them on the window sill when not in use and they always had enough juice to get me through a commute or an afternoon listening to music from the sanctity of my home office. They’re still going strong weeks after initially taking them out of the box and that’s despite the brutally short days during which sunlight has been at a premium.

To see how conducive your current lighting conditions are to recharging the battery you can check on the charging status in the Urbanista companion app, which launched alongside the headphones. It shows you whether the LA are gaining or draining power (and at what rate) via a handy graphic and also reflects your current battery percentage.

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Urbanista Los Angeles review: Sound quality and noise-cancelling performance

Like the Miami, the Los Angeles use 40mm dynamic drivers and feature audio tuned by former Sennheiser engineer Axel Grell. They’ve undergone some very minor tweaks but nothing that dramatically alters the sound, so most of what I said about audio quality in my Urbanista Miami review rings true again here.

There’s still a strong emphasis on bass registers, which are well controlled and richly articulated. This suits certain genres but some people will simply find it too prominent within the soundstage. I’m partial to a healthy helping of bass but still occasionally yearned for the option to dial it back a touch to allow mids and trebles more space to express themselves.

Despite this bass-forward presentation, the Los Angeles are eminently listenable.There’s a vigour and energy to their delivery that’s complemented by a reasonably wide soundstage. They may not be the last word on accuracy or detail, but they do offer a decent sense of scale.

Active noise cancellation on the Miami was something I earmarked for improvement as other cheaper pairs of over-ear headphones – specifically the Anker Soundcore Life Q30 and Lindy BNX-100XT – outperformed them in this department, albeit only slightly.

The Los Angeles don’t attenuate ambient sound any more effectively than the Miami, but they still do a decent job at blocking out low-end frequencies. My tolerance for train and tube journeys into central London was definitely increased by the LA’s ability to temper environmental noise, but you don’t get close to the near silence offered by some best-in-class options.

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Urbanista Los Angeles review: What could they do better?

The Urbanista companion app successfully illustrates charging status but is otherwise pretty basic. Within it, you can switch between the ANC, ambient and default sound modes, customise the commands executed via short and long presses of the “Feature” button and switch off wear detection.

There are no EQ presets, nor is there any way to tweak the EQ yourself. I’ve been told presets tuned by Axel Grell may be added further down the line, but a graphic equaliser and the ability to create one’s own EQ profile are very unlikely.

That’s a shame, as that kind of audio personalisation is always welcome. Like the Miami before them, the Los Angeles will feel a little too heavy on the bass for some people’s tastes. Being able to dial it back or bump up the mids and treble a touch to allow those elements to step out of the bassy shadows would really be welcome.

One issue I had with the Los Angeles that I don’t remember experiencing with the Miami was that I initially found it tricky to get a comfortable fit. I had to position the earcups very precisely to ensure they didn’t pinch my ears, and even then I found they would occasionally squish my lugholes a bit. This eased as the earcups softened and became a non-issue after a while, but it’s something to bear in mind if you have particularly large ears.

I also found wear detection more trouble than it was worth. It’s extremely sensitive, to the point where my audio would be paused by the slightest shift of the earcups on my ears. This became an issue while wearing a big winter coat and hooded top that would occasionally brush against the earcups when I moved my head. Your mileage on this is likely to vary but I ended up turning wear detection off in the end so as not to disrupt my listening experience.

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Urbanista Los Angeles review: Should you buy them?

If the idea of headphones that you’ll pretty much never have to charge appeals to you, then absolutely. The Los Angeles are the only option I’m aware of to use solar cell technology and Urbanista should be commended for incorporating a greener charging solution into its audio offering.

However, at £169, the Urbanista Los Angeles face some stiff competition if you’re not concerned about their unique charging ability. The Bose QC 35 II and Sony WH-1000XM3 may be a few years old now but are available for similar money, offer more effective noise cancellation and deliver superior sound quality. And if you’re willing to increase your budget a bit, you’ll find plenty of great alternatives on our list of the best noise-cancelling headphones.

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