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This may be the next big thing with headphones - but you'll have to look closely to find it

The Urbanista Los Angeles headphones deliver great sound and a marathon battery life. But the big question has to do with its charging tech.
Written by Nina Raemont, Associate Editor
Urbanista Los Angeles headphones against marble backdrop
Nina Raemont/ZDNET

ZDNET's key takeaways

  • At $119, the Urbanista Los Angeles headphones offer a decent audio experience with a sleek appearance.
  • These headphones are great for casual listeners looking for a stylish pair of headphones for less than $200 with great noise-canceling and a long battery life. 
  • Their on-ear fit can be uncomfortable, and the headphones don't get very loud. 

Aside from improved noise cancellation and spatial audio, there haven't been many groundbreaking innovations within the consumer headphone realm. But these days, brands are toying around with solar-powered charging, and I think that's a feature worth giving a try. 

So, when Urbanista, a Stockholm-based consumer audio company, sent me its Los Angeles solar-powered headphones, I was eager to test out the solar-powered charging function and see whether the headphones' sound and charging tech were legit. Urbanista makes many solar-powered audio products, and ZDNET tested the company's solar-powered earbuds earlier this year.

The Los Angeles headphones, according to Urbanista, constantly charge whenever they're exposed to both indoor and outdoor light. But does it actually work? I get into the solar charging tech, the sound quality, and whether the Urbanista Los Angeles headphones are worth your money below. 

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Upon first look, the Los Angeles headphones are deliciously sleek and stylish. The headphones come in three colors: Midnight Black; Sand Gold; and Desert Gray. I got to test the Desert Gray cans, and I am absolutely obsessed with the colorway. It's clear through the colorways and overall look of the headphones that Urbanista is appealing to chic and trend-aware customers. 

Also: The best wireless headphones

But much like a pair of stylish high heels that are snazzy but inevitably uncomfortable after a few hours, the headphones don't fare well with all-day wear. Out of all the headphones I've tested this year, the Los Angeles felt the most uncomfortable around my head. 

Because I wear glasses and earrings, the Los Angeles' on-ear fit made it difficult for me to keep them on my head all day. The ear cup pads are plush, but the headphones' band is so tight that after a few hours, it felt like they were digging into my skull.

The Urbanista Los Angeles headphones against the NYC skyline
Nina Raemont/ZDNET

For $119, the Los Angeles delivers above-average sound that will please any casual music listener's palette. These headphones deliver strong, powerful bass to provide an immersive experience and are just fine with softer, classical music. 

I listened to Party People by Vince Staples and Outkast's Ms. Jackson with the Los Angeles on high volume, and the headphones delivered pronounced bass and clear vocals. While listening to my winter morning classical playlist, on the other hand, the instrumentals weren't crisp and clear and instead fell flat and dull. 

While wearing these on runs, on the subway, and even in the backseat of a car, I noticed that the Los Angeles headphones' volume doesn't get very loud. I kept pushing my phone's volume button to get my music to go louder and louder, and I realized that I already maxed out the volume.

Also: The best earbuds you can buy: Sony, Apple, and more

The Los Angeles headphones come with 80 hours of battery life, Bluetooth Multipoint connection, and on-ear detection, a nice touch for a pair of headphones. The buttons on the cans are quickly responsive, too. 

The ANC on these headphones works well in moderately noisy environments, but the microphones don't seem to mask external noise and drown out sound in the way that the Bose QuietComfort Ultra or the JBL Tour One M2 do. However, if you prefer less noise cancellation while commuting or exercising, you won't have a problem with the ANC quality.

So, is the solar-powered charging tech a gimmick? I'm glad you asked. To turn light into battery power, the headphones utilize Exeger's Powerfoyle solar cell technology on the headband. Powerfoyle, according to Exeger's website, transforms "any indoor or outdoor light into clean, endless energy."

Urbanista's Powerfoyle solar cell technology on the headband of its headphones
Nina Raemont/ZDNET

"You do not need direct sunlight to charge your products, the light in your home or a cloudy winter day is just enough," reads a post explaining Powerfoyle tech on Exeger's website.

I didn't find this to be true. You need plenty of direct sunlight for the battery to gain more energy than it drains, and rarely will you get this by just placing it near a fluorescent lightbulb in your home or leaving it out on a counter with the kitchen lights on above. 

Also: The best noise-canceling headphones: Tested and reviewed

Even when I placed it in the sun, the highest I've seen the battery mA soar to was 8 mA (that's great according to Urbanista's app, but the highest mA it collects is around 12 mA). And when you place the Los Angeles in enough sunlight, it still takes about an hour to gain 1% of battery life. 

Unless you live in a glass house with 360-degree access to the sun, you'll presumably only get around two to three hours of good light on a sunny day, which is not enough to fully charge the headphones' battery. While it's an innovative idea, I hope this technology is improved upon in future generations, as the solar-powered charging aspect of these headphones fell short of what I was expecting.  

ZDNET's buying advice 

I recommend the Urbanista Los Angeles headphones to style-minded, tech-enthused individuals who wear headphones when they exercise, commute, and work. With a long battery life and decent sound, most people would not have a problem wearing these headphones. I wouldn't recommend them to audiophiles, people who want to block out glaringly loud noise, or anyone who wants a robust and immersive audio experience.

If you're after impressive noise-canceling, consider the Bose QuietComfort Ultra headphones. If sound quality is your main priority, the Sennheiser Momentum 4 are for you. If you still need some help buying the right pair of headphones for you, check out ZDNET's list of the best over-ear headphones.

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