Urbanista is overhauling its solar charging headphone lineup with the announcement of second-generation versions of both its Los Angeles over-ear headphones and Phoenix true wireless earbuds. Both products are still built around the same Powerfoyle solar charging material from Exeger but have been updated to include more power-efficient internal components, adaptive (rather than simply active) noise cancellation, and more streamlined designs.
Both are still in development and aren’t going on sale until roughly midway through the year, but when they’re released, they’ll be priced slightly cheaper than their first-generation counterparts. The second-gen Los Angeles are due to cost $179 (versus $199 for the originals), while the second-gen Phoenix will cost $129 (down from $149).
At their core, both the headphones and earbuds are still designed to offer formidable amounts of listening between charges by topping up their battery levels with light. Exactly how formidable is hard to say because of the variability in the amount of light (outdoor sunlight is best, but they’ll still charge from indoor ambient light) they might be exposed to, but Urbanista’s current battery life estimates range from weeks to an infinite amount of listening.
With 10 hours of “low” light charging per day, for example, involving a combination of indoor light and sunlight through a window, Urbanista reckons someone listening to the new Los Angeles headphones for four hours a day would be able to go upward of 50 days without needing to charge. But less listening or more light could make its playtime practically infinite, the company estimates.
Meanwhile, Urbanista says the second-gen Phoenix earbuds could offer almost 16 days of listening with the same 10 hours of “low light” charging and four hours of listening per day. This rises to over 100 days of playback with two hours of daily listening and stronger sunlight exposure or even “infinite” listening if they’re consistently exposed to enough light. Ten hours of daily solar charging feels optimistic given how much time my own headphones and earbuds typically spend in pockets or a backpack, so we’ll need to see how this translates to real-world usage. Fortunately, both devices have traditional USB-C ports for when their batteries inevitably run dry.
Urbanista has made numerous tweaks to both devices to address gripes with the original models and bring them up to date with modern headphones, while maintaining their novel solar charging smarts.
The new Los Angeles cans, for example, now come with a good old-fashioned 3.5mm jack for wired listening. This was an annoying omission on the original Los Angeles model, which the company made in the name of maximizing power efficiency. (Apparently, 3.5mm jacks can lead to more power draw. Who knew?) But by selecting the right components and integrating them in the right way, Urbanista has minimized the battery drain associated with the feature.
From weeks of listening, to infinity
Another tweak highlighted by the company’s press release is that the new headphones should be more comfortable with a lower “clamping force,” which I found was an oddly annoying issue with the originals.
Interestingly, despite Urbanista’s claims that the Los Angeles have more power-efficient innards this time around, the rated battery life of the headphones (aka the amount of listening you’d get with no solar charging in a pitch black environment) has actually dropped from 80 to 60 hours. Urbanista product director Mårten Sahlén tells me that the company decided to use this increase in power efficiency to put a smaller battery in the new Los Angeles to make them lighter and more comfortable. Sixty hours, Urbanista reasoned, is still more than the 30 to 40 hours offered by many of its competitors and should also be longer in practice combined with the solar charging.
The new Phoenix wireless earbuds have seen no such cuts and now offer a total of 40 hours of playtime. That’s 32 hours from the case (up from 24 last time) and eight hours from the buds themselves (same as before). Otherwise, the earbuds have been iterated on in a similar way to the Los Angeles. Their internals are now more power-efficient, and their overall size has been reduced to make them more comfortable.
Elsewhere, the improvements are more minor. The Los Angeles now support multipoint for the first time, meaning the headphones can connect to multiple source devices at once. It’s not a new feature for the Phoenix earbuds, but Sahlén tells me it’s being upgraded to make it easier to manage via the companion app. On-ear detection is also not new but has been upgraded for the new models, and the Phoenix has an improved IP54 rating rather than IPX4, which means it’s now protected against dust in addition to water splashes.
The Exeger Powerfoyle solar charging material itself is fundamentally the same as what’s in the first-generation models. That’s not to say the material hasn’t improved since the release of the original Los Angeles in 2021. But the upgraded materials have already been making their way into the first-generation headphones and earbuds with each subsequent manufacturing run.
While Urbanista was an early adopter of Exeger’s solar charging technology, a handful of other companies have also announced plans to integrate the technology. TP Vision announced a partnership in late November to bring Powerfoyle to Philips-branded sports headphones, and earlier today, 3M announced a pair of Bluetooth ear defenders with solar charging for industrial users. But Urbanista marketing director Tuomas Lonka doesn’t seem worried about the incoming competition and thinks the company has the advantage of several more years of experience with the technology.
“It’s great that there’s more products out in the market using this technology,” Lonka says. “People get more aware of it, believe in it, consumers will probably start preferring it in the products.”
Plus, with more companies working with the technology, Lonka thinks the entire industry will benefit from each other’s learnings. “A lot of these things that we’re developing, we’re kind of figuring out on the go,” he says. “If we see others adopt the technology, we can maybe take some things to improve our own product. So I think overall for the whole ecosystem around Powerfoyle it’s great that there’s more players coming along.”