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Urbanista London review: Earbuds befitting a great city

Our Rating 
Price when reviewed 
129
inc VAT

The Urbanista London are excellent earbuds offering features and performance to rival many of their more expensive rivals

Pros 
Stylish look and comfortable fit
Vibrant, impactful audio
Impressive ANC
Cons 
Oversensitive ear detection
Touch controls omit track skipping
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Urbanista has covered a lot of audio air miles over the past 10 years. In that time, its range of headphones has taken us on a whistlestop tour of some of the world’s greatest cities, including true wireless trips to Paris, Athens and Stockholm, wired visits to Barcelona and San Francisco and an over-ear outing to New York.

Now it’s the turn of the Big Smoke to be commemorated in ear-wear form. The Urbanista London are the Swedish manufacturer’s most advanced headphones yet: seeking to encapsulate both the sound and silence of the city, the London earbuds are Urbanista’s first to offer active noise cancellation, which is fast becoming an essential feature for modern headphones.

Competitively priced, stylish and possessing a bold, energetic sound signature, the Urbanista London are a great option for those seeking feature-rich buds that won’t break the bank.

Urbanista London review: What you need to know

The Urbanista London are true wireless headphones that operate wirelessly over Bluetooth 5 and use the AAC codec. There’s no support for aptX codec, something the company looked at incorporating but deemed surplus to requirements.

Unlike Urbanista’s previous true wireless earbuds, the Urbanista London have active noise cancellation courtesy of a chip produced by manufacturer BES. Urbanista is the first European brand to incorporate said chip, which is cheaper than Qualcomm’s widely-used ANC silicon, allowing them to undercut similarly styled earbuds on price.

The headphones’ sound profile was created in conjunction with Axel Grell, an audio engineer who spent almost 30 years as audiophile portfolio manager at Sennheiser, and is delivered by 10mm drivers.

Splash- and sweat-proofing is present in the form of IPX4 certification and battery life is quoted at five hours on the earbuds, with the charging case providing a further four full charges. The case can be charged in an hour-and-a-half via the included USB-C cable or a wireless charger/reverse wireless charging smartphone.

Urbanista London review: Price and competition

The Urbanista London are priced at £129, which is very competitive for a pair of true wireless earbuds offering active noise cancellation: the only cheaper pair we’ve tested are the Honor Magic Earbuds, which are available for £90.

Our favourite noise-cancelling earbuds, the Libratone Track Air+, will set you back significantly more at £179 while Sony’s WF-1000XM3 – class leaders in terms of ANC – can be picked up for £169.

There are plenty of even pricier options out there, too, with the impressive 1MORE True Wireless at £188, the Apple AirPods Pro retailing at £219 and Sennheiser’s Momentum True Wireless 2 going for an eye-watering £279.

Urbanista London review: Design and comfort

Paris may be regarded as the fashion capital of the world but the Urbanista London uphold the city’s tradition for eye-catching design. Granted, they’re not from the Alexander McQueen school of outlandish innovation, instead borrowing heavily from the design of Apple’s AirPods Pro, but they certainly look the part.

The stems are short and the buds angle towards your inner ear, which prevents the stems dangling directly downwards and gives them the feel of a stylish, miniaturised in-ear headset. I was sent the white pearl variant, which possesses a pleasant lustre, and there are three other attractive colour options: rose gold, midnight black and – my personal favourite – dark sapphire.

The glossy white pearl charging case doesn’t scratch or mark easily and is neatly designed in its own right. It sits flat on any surface and the buds lie in it horizontally. Fishing out buds housed vertically in their case can be a pain at times; plucking out the Urbanista London is a piece of cake in comparison.

Four small LEDs on the front of the case indicate its charge level whenever you open the lid and the two outer lights flash every ten seconds when the buds are inside and charging. I found this a little irritating late at night but at least you’re able to tell when your buds are fully topped up. Inside the case is an easily accessed reset button that allows you to unpair the buds and reconnect to a new device of your choice.

The Urbanista London come with four sets of eartips and using the largest of the selection ensured a comfortable and secure fit. I had them in my ears for a whole afternoon without any ear fatigue and they didn’t move a millimetre while testing them out on the treadmill.

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Urbanista London review: Additional features

Like most true wireless earbuds, the Urbanista London can be controlled via touch-sensitive pads on the outside of the buds. These controls are comprehensive and work extremely well, with single and double taps governing play/pause, volume, calls and voice assistant activation.

There is, however, one notable omission - you can’t skip tracks. This was a sacrifice Urbanista made to ensure phone call controls could be included without over-complicating touch commands. I totally get where it’s coming from in that regard – memorising the Skullcandy Indy Evo’s controls was a little like taking on the conveyor belt challenge on the Generation Game – but it’s a shame track-skipping couldn’t be squeezed in somewhere.

It wouldn’t be an issue if there was a way to customise your touch commands but the lack of a companion application means that there’s no way to alter any aspect of the Urbanista London. CEO Anders Andreen says Urbanista may look at an app in the future, but, for the time being, you’re limited to how the London earbuds function out of the box.

One feature I’m always pleased to see in a pair of earbuds is the ability to automatically pause audio when the buds are removed from your ears and resume again when they’re put back in. Urbanista calls this “ear detection” and it is certainly effective, perhaps to a fault. Taking them out of my ears would always pause audio but placing them down anywhere other than back in the box would typically cause audio to restart.

This oversensitivity is a minor inconvenience rather than a big deal: you’ll just want to make sure you pop them back in their case when they’re not in your ears. Sensibly, ear detection doesn’t activate when you’re on a call, so you can pop a bud out safe in the knowledge you won’t cut off whoever’s at the other end of the line.

Microphone quality is good enough for all your basic communications needs. The dual noise-cancelling mics cut out a reasonable amount of background noise, though my colleagues experienced a bit of crackling and buzzing when I spoke during one Zoom call. That proved to be an isolated incident though, and other Zoom meetings and phone calls proceeded without any audio issues.

Urbanista London review: Audio quality

As part of the marketing for the earbuds, Urbanista teamed up with London rapper and spoken word artist, Kojey Radical. His voiceover for the promotional video states “sound is the most important tool for our expression”. While this statement may be up for debate, replace “tool for our expression” with “feature of a pair of headphones” and it’s a lot less questionable.

So, how do the Urbanista sound? On the whole, very good. I tested them while listening to a range of London-themed tracks on Tidal and Spotify and they proved an enjoyable, energetic listen across a range of genres.

Vocals on The Kinks’ “Waterloo Sunset” were skillfully represented, capturing the mesmeric allure of Ray Davies’ voice and the cityscape he depicts superbly. Adele’s “Hometown Glory” sounded equally crisp, with audio remaining controlled even as the singer hit the highest notes in her vocal range. The wide soundstage also impressed, giving real size and scale to what is an already powerful track.

Bass is muscular and impactful, though I found it a little woolly in the sub-bass range. That didn’t stop Ed Sheeran’s collaboration with Stormzy “Take Me Back to London” and Scott Garcia’s garage anthem “It’s a London Thing” sounding great, though. There was real weight and bounce to the basslines, which helps do gritty, urban tracks justice, although this can overpower complex arrangements demanding greater subtlety and detail.

Instrument separation on Gerry Rafferty’s “Baker Street” was impressive, with the keyboards, drums and percussion all placed nicely within the soundscape but once the bass guitar kicked in I felt it overshadowed the saxophone somewhat. The same feeling was present when listening to “Can’t Stand Me Now” by The Libertines. The raucous, combative vocals and electric guitar all sounded fantastic but sections featuring the bass guitar didn’t share quite the same level of clarity.

If you’re an audiophile in search of exceptional detail across the whole audio spectrum, there are better options out there, such as the Libratone Track Air+ and Sennheiser Momentum True Wireless 2. If, however, you thrive on a more rugged sound profile that’s capable of articulating all manner of genres, you’re in for a treat.

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Urbanista London review: Active noise cancellation

The active noise cancellation on the Urbanista London is impressive. It’s light touch, so don’t go expecting a completely silent train journey but the effect is certainly noticeable. After engaging ANC by touching and holding the logo on the right earbud for two seconds there’s a distinct decrease in the level of external noise, particularly with regards to low-end frequencies.

Ambient voice mode, which is engaged by touching and holding the logo on the left earbud for two seconds, is also effective, letting through a limited amount of sound from your surroundings. For the most part, though, I still found it preferable to either take one bud out of my ear and use the auto-pause function or simply pause my audio with a double tap on the left bud.

Urbanista London review: Verdict

The Urbanista London are a lot like the city they seek to emulate; imperfect yet appealing. I found it easy to overlook the minor flaws and instead enjoy their bold audio, attractive aesthetic and impressive ANC. And unlike London itself, these headphones are not outrageously expensive. In fact, at £129, they’re the best value true wireless earbuds with noise-cancelling on the market right now and my new go-to buds for daily use.