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Home Technology Urbanista Los Angeles Wireless ANC Headphones Review: The Solar-Powered Wonder

Urbanista Los Angeles Wireless ANC Headphones Review: The Solar-Powered Wonder

Urbanista Los Angeles Wireless ANC Headphones Review: The Solar-Powered Wonder

Based in Sweden, Urbanista develops and markets headphones, earphones, and speakers that draw inspiration from various cities around the world. All its core products are named after major global cities. The company has recently launched some of its products in India, including the one I’m reviewing here. The Urbanista Los Angeles is among the company’s most expensive and advanced products, with wireless connectivity, active noise cancellation, app support, and a key feature that truly sets it apart from competition in the premium wireless headphones segment – solar charging.

Priced at Rs. 24,999 in India, the Urbanista Los Angeles goes up against strong competition in its price segment, including the Sony WH-1000XM4 and JBL Tour One, but stands out because of its unique ability to charge using sunlight. Just how good is this pair of headphones when it comes to sound quality and the overall usage experience? Find out in this review.

The Urbanista Los Angeles is available in two colours, Sand Gold and Black

 

Potentially infinite battery life on the Urbanista Los Angeles

Unlike competing headsets such as the Sony WH-1000XM4 and JBL Tour One which are designed to look sleek, the Urbanista Los Angeles is quite large and bulky. The headset has thick cushioning around the ear cups and the underside of the headband, and a bulky frame that extends quite far away from your head when worn. The headband is flexible and can bend a bit. It has telescopic arms for adjusting the fit, and the ear cups themselves move around a bit to help create a good noise-isolating seal.

However, all things considered, the Urbanista Los Angeles still feels a bit too snug, with a powerful clamping effect that can get a bit tiring over long listening sessions. The thick padding fully covered my ears, and it did get a bit hot. I needed to give my ears and head a break after about 30-40 minutes of non-stop listening. The headphones are primarily plastic, so they fortunately aren’t as heavy as the size might suggest, and the build quality is pretty good.

Available in two colours in India, the Urbanista Los Angeles looks pretty good. The Sand Gold colour unit was sent to me for review looks quite nice, and is unlike what you tend to see from most other brands. I also like how sophisticated and straightforward the black option looks. On the whole, this is a good-looking pair of headphones.

There are three physical buttons on the right ear cup for power, playback, and volume control, and a multi-function button on the left one which can be customised using the Urbanista companion app. Also on the left ear cup is the USB Type-C port for charging. The headset has three microphones for receiving voice commands/calls and active noise cancellation. There is also a wear detection sensor on the inside of the right ear cup, which lets you set the headphones to automatically play or pause audio when worn or removed.

On the top of the headband is the Powerfoyle solar charging panel (technology developed by Sweden-based Exeger), which lets this headset charge on its own when exposed to sunlight. This panel covers the entire top of the headband, providing a large surface area for the Urbanista Los Angeles to capture sunlight for charging. Powerfoyle is stated to work even with artificial light.

Interestingly, Urbanista claims that under bright sunlight, the headset can charge quicker than it drains, and one hour outdoors with the Powerfoyle strip exposed to direct sunlight should result in three hours of audio play time, as per the company. This means that battery life is potentially infinite on the Los Angeles, but this will depend on how and where you use these headphones. Fortunately, there is USB Type-C charging as a backup option.

The Urbanista Los Angeles works with a very good companion app called Urbanista Audio (available for Android and iOS) that lets you visualise how the solar charging is affecting the battery in real time. The app also offers customisation options for the controls, letting you cycle through ANC, ambient sound, and default sound modes, as well as toggle on-ear detection. It’s a very well designed app and I found it easy to use.

The app is extremely informative when it came to battery life and charging statistics. The battery and charging screen is quite intriguing to watch when using the headphones. An on-screen meter shows the ratio of battery ‘gain’ versus battery ‘drain’, measured in milliamperes (mA). Below that is a percentage value for the battery level, and you can see that it’s charging when the ‘gain’ level exceeds the ‘drain’ level.

The drain level varies, depending on whether the headphones are in standby or playing audio, and whether noise cancellation or the ambient sound mode are enabled. The gain level depends on the kind of light hitting the Powerfoyle panel. In a dimly lit room this wasn’t much, but under direct sunlight, the gain was able to exceed the drain level even with audio playing and ANC on.

This data changes and is reflected in the app in real time. I could see differences when the panel was exposed to varied lighting conditions. It’s rather impressive, and seems to confirm the claim that the Urbanista Los Angeles can charge more quickly than it drains.

The Urbanista Los Angeles has 40mm dynamic drivers and a 750mAh battery. It uses Bluetooth 5 for connectivity, with support for the SBC and AAC Bluetooth codecs. The default voice assistant on your smartphone can be invoked directly from the headphones, if you set the controls to allow this. The sales package includes a nicely designed carry case which allows the solar charging panel on the headset to remain uncovered, and a short USB Type-A to Type-C charging cable.

urbanista los angeles review app1 Urbanista

The Urbanista app lets you customise certain functions on the headset, and more importantly, see the battery ‘gain’ and ‘drain’ statistics in real time

 

Battery life on the Urbanista Los Angeles was difficult to measure, since the headphones were constantly charging even when in use. Simply leaving the headphones exposed to sunlight even when not in use was enough to keep the battery sufficiently charged, and prolonged use didn’t impact battery life enough to arrive at a firm figure, in terms of hours. In over three weeks of use, I didn’t have to plug the headphones in to charge even once.

Urbanista claims that even in the absence of any light, the headphones will run for up to 80 hours. Indeed, the claim of ‘infinite’ listening time on the Los Angeles is entirely plausible, making this an excellent pair of headphones for anyone concerned about battery life.

Decent sound, but ANC is best avoided on the Urbanista Los Angeles

While the promise of infinite battery life is undoubtedly a big selling point, the Urbanista Los Angeles does also need to get the basics of sound right, and faces some tough competition from brands such as Sony and JBL in this regard. Unfortunately, what you get with these headphones isn’t quite at the same level as the competition. The listening experience was still enjoyable by most parameters, but that said, using active noise cancellation was a bit awkward. I’ll get into the details a bit further down in this review.

At its core, the Urbanista Los Angeles sounds decent, with loud, clean sound and an entertaining sonic signature across the frequency range. The lack of support for advanced codecs will be a bit disappointing if you use an Android smartphone, but iOS users won’t really be affected by this.

Starting with Over Here by Mk.gee, the Urbanista Los Angeles sounded engaging, refined, and strong right out of the gate. Its sonic signature was bass-friendly, giving the lows a significant but tight bump that hit firmly but never too hard. This made the mid-tempo beat of this track a pleasure to listen to, even while the melody, rhythm, and vocals remained clean and unadulterated.

urbanista los angeles review main Urbanista

Under direct sunlight, the Urbanista Los Angeles can charge quicker than the battery drains even when in use

 

The quality of the sound was helped by the excellent passive noise isolation and high volume capabilities of the Urbanista Los Angeles. That said, the headphones were somewhat held back when it came to detail and soundstage, with sound that wasn’t quite as good as what I’ve heard on other flagship options.

There was something missing in the attack, but by no means was the sound unsatisfactory, and I quite enjoyed listening to mid-tempo and quick tracks. Arambol 2 by Astropilot felt intense and fun, with the headphones capturing its feel and energy with impressive effectiveness. Turning the volume up to the 90 percent level made for an immersive, engaging listening experience that never felt too much.

Using active noise cancellation on the Urbanista was a strange experience for me, for a number of reasons. This feature works, but the quality of noise cancellation is either a hit or miss depending on your surroundings. At home with the windows open, some outdoor noise was reduced, but I could still hear an inexplicable wind-like sound that didn’t seem to go away until I turned off ANC.

In outdoor environments, the ANC did seem to help a bit more, but I generally found it a bit easier to just rely on the snug fit of this headset for passive noise isolation along with a slightly higher volume level to drown out ambient sound. The hear-through mode did allow a decent amount of outside sound in (albeit with a somewhat artificial quality), but I found it easier to just take the headphones off when I needed to talk to someone, relying on the automatic play-pause functionality to do its job.

A rather strange effect of the active noise cancellation was that it completely changed the sound of audio being played. Music felt a bit ‘piped’ and muddy with ANC on, and this effect went away when I switched to the Ambient Sound or Default modes. For much of my review, I avoided active noise cancellation because of this, and I consider the feature to be basically unusable on the Urbanista Los Angeles.

I had no complaints with connection stability and call quality on the Urbanista Los Angeles. Its Bluetooth range was excellent, letting me listen to a stable audio stream at up to 4m away from my paired source device. During the occasional calls I took on the headphones, I could both hear and be heard clearly enough.

urbanista los angeles review powerfoyle Urbanista

The carry case is open at the top, allowing the Powerfoyle solar panel to be exposed for charging

 

Verdict

Breaking through the dominance of big brands such as Sony, Apple, and Bose is tough. Many in the premium wireless headphones segment have tried, but haven’t quite made much of a dent. However, if there is one product that has the potential to do so and deserves attention in this segment, it’s the Urbanista Los Angeles. This pair of headphones looks and feels premium, offers decent sound quality, and lives up to its promise of class-leading battery life.

The headphones do fall short when it comes to active noise cancellation. Apart from being entirely ordinary, turning on ANC negatively affects sound quality, and I generally preferred to not use it at all. Good passive noise isolation does make up for this to some extent, but that doesn’t quite cut it for a pair of headphones that costs Rs. 24,999.

Buy the Urbanista Los Angeles for the uniqueness it offers, particularly if battery life on headphones is an important factor for you. However, if you’re looking for the best sound quality and ANC performance, options such as the Sony WH-1000XM4 and JBL Tour One are worth considering instead.


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