A solid marriage of eco-friendly tech and retro-chic design, the Urbanista Los Angeles headphones are the one-and-only pair of solar-powered cans on the market today. Fitted with a headband crafted from solar-cell material, the beauty of the Los Angeles wireless headphones is that they will always be charging as long as they are exposed to any type of light, be it sun or bulb.
Thankfully, the cutting-edge solar tech doesn’t add extra girth to these wireless headphones, and we were thrilled to find that they offered noise cancellation and competitive, lively audio – though for $199, they certainly aren’t cheap. Interested in donning this futuristic eco-friendly accessory? Here’s what we thought after toting the avant-garde Urbanista Los Angeles around for the last week.
The Urbanista Los Angeles have the unique ability to charge via solar power, which, combined with their great bass and solid noise canceling, make them a great fit for those who spend lots of time outside and are tired of constantly charging their headphones.
What we loved
The Urbanista Los Angeles come in Midnight Black or Sand Gold, and I was happy to receive the muted gold color, which thankfully, did not look cheap or tacky. As an enthusiast of over-ear headphones, I admit to having switched allegiance to earbuds recently – mainly because they are easier to throw in my pocket on the way out of the house. So it was with great pleasure that I reverted to this retro style.
The wireless headphones are good-looking, with ample cushioning on the earcups and headband. I appreciated the compact size, and that it didn’t encroach on the comfort of wearing the headphones for longer periods of time. But in addition to its chic style, the real showstopper here is the Exeger solar cell material which is layered on the top of the headband.
True nonstop battery life
Tobey Grumet/CNN Underscored
The first and only pair of solar-powered headphones, the Urbanista Los Angeles surely caters to those interested in a more eco-friendly lifestyle, but also to those who never want to think about running out of battery life. Like, ever.
The convenient solar cell material can be found on the outside top of the headband and is the only matte black material you’ll find on the gold Los Angeles. And it’s so benign,, you probably wouldn’t even know it’s a solar panel just by looking.
To keep these headphones charged, simply put them under the light. The window is a great spot, but any lamp or lightbulb will do – though they will also keep charging while you wear them. Inspired by photosynthesis, the Exeger Powerfoyle transforms that light into clean, non-stop energy. And for anyone who has run out of battery in the middle of their favorite song, a super interesting podcast or on a long-haul flight, this is no small achievement. If, by some chance, you leave them in the dark for too long, they also come with a plain-old USB-C charging cable.
In our daily testing, we never came close to running out of battery just using light as our power source, usually hovering between 60 and 75%. The case is made of the same matte material and has a cut out to leave the headband exposed. So even if you’re toting them, you can still make sure they’re drinking up the light.
A useful app and good audio quality
The controls are found on the bottom of each earcup. The right earcup houses a three-button control pad, with the main center one for power, Bluetooth pairing, audio playback and call management. The right button turns volume up and the left turns it down. The left earcup comes with just one, larger feature button, which lets you access your voice assistant and cycle through Ambient and active noise canceling (ANC). I would have preferred it if these buttons were on the actual earcup, rather than below it, but they were simple enough to pick up once I got the hang of it.
You can also switch through these modes using the app, which additionally shows how much battery you have stored. For instance, I just checked after using the Los Angeles for a few hours this morning, and it’s at a 60 percent charge. So onto the windowsill they went. And, if you want to see exactly how quickly the solar power works, you can hit the light icon on the top left of the app to check out a real-time meter of whether the headphones are Gaining or Draining. Mine immediately showed the Gaining, which was kinda cool.
Tobey Grumet/CNN Underscored
Urbanista points out that the solar-powered charging is not immediate, but rather takes time to turn into power. This means you may not see the actual percentage change drastically, and how much is dependent on the quality of the light. The company also claims that you get a tremendous 80 hours on one charge, though it’s hard to tell if this is true when the headphones are consistently charging.
The Los Angeles automatically shuts down when you take them off, which I liked because unless I go into my device, my Beats Fit Pro earbuds don’t stop playing until they are safely in their case. So, if I’m in the middle of an audio book or podcast, I have to do a little rewinding when I pick it back up. However, if you have the time and intuition, you can also set any Apple or Beats earbuds to automatically pause when you take them out.
As for audio quality, the Los Angeles are surely bass-forward, though they do offer a clean, balanced sound. They don’t have the surround sound-like spatial sound of my Beats Fit Pro, but they made tracks like Kanye West’s “Power” as lively to listen to as Bill Withers’ “Lovely Day.” I do like some low-end listening.
What we don’t like
When it comes to controlling the headphones, it may be harder to get used to finding the right button for the right function – especially if you’re used to simply tapping on an earbud. Though once you do it a few times, you’ll certainly get the hang of it.
The app, though helpful when it comes to switching ANC modes and checking battery life, does not do much else. And you can’t go in and switch up the EQ.
And, lastly, for $199, the competition is fierce. For instance, the JBL Live 650 TNC, our budget pick for best headphones, come with a better all-around soundstage for a cheaper $129, but they’re not gonna give you that eco-cool appeal. For those who want something gym-friendly, our top workout pick in the Jabra Elite 85h are only $50 more at $249.99.
Tobey Grumet/CNN Underscored
As the first pair of solar-powered headphones, the Urbanista Los Angeles live up to the hype. Not only will you never have to plug them in again, but you’ll be able to show off your eco-warrior cred. And, because they are sleek, stylish and compact, these wireless headphones can go under-the-radar in black or get glitzed up with the urbane gold.
With above-average sound, the over-the-ear headphones were a good fit for my Spotify playlists, podcasts and Audible books. For those who spend lots of time outside or for anyone who travels a ton and hates having to constantly plug in, these are also a no-brainer. But, let’s face it, the Urbanista Los Angeles are all about innovation and convenience. If you want a reliable pair of noise-canceling headphones with great-sounding bass that you’ll almost never need to charge, you’re going to want to grab these – and show them off.