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Urbanista Phoenix review: Praise the sun

Our Rating :
£134.10 from
Price when reviewed : £149
inc VAT

Solar charging makes the Urbanista Phoenix a unique proposition in a very crowded market


  • Solar-powered charging
  • Punchy, warm sound
  • Lightweight and comfortable


  • Light condition dependent
  • Charging case is big
  • No customisable EQ

While all of Urbanista’s headphones are named after cities, there’s something a little different about the Urbanista Phoenix. Though a nod to the Arizona state capital, it’s these true wireless earbuds’ connection to the mythical bird that defines them.

As with their over-ear stablemates, the Los Angeles, the Phoenix’s charging case incorporates a solar cell that draws power from the sun, allowing it to charge without being connected to mains power.

In favourable light conditions, the technology works very well. If you’re outside on a sunny day, the case will regain charge quickly enough to support near-endless playtime. However, you’ll need to temper your expectations indoors or in low-light environments, where battery gains are marginal and won’t always prevent you running out of juice on your morning commute.

That limitation aside, the Urbanista Phoenix are a solid pair of earbuds. Sound quality is decent for the money, they’re extremely comfortable and they offer active noise cancellation (ANC) to help mitigate external distractions. Now the days are getting longer and we’ll hopefully start seeing a bit more sun, the Phoenix are well-positioned to ignite the interest of those looking for mid-range wireless earbuds.

Urbanista Phoenix review: What do you get for the money?

The Phoenix have a list price of £149, positioning them as the Danish manufacturer’s most expensive true wireless earbuds yet. The buds themselves are very similar in design to the Urbanista London, once again making use of the long-stemmed style popularised by the Apple AirPods.

This time around, however, the Urbanista branding is more obvious, with the company’s name embossed down the stems instead of a subtle logo located near the main earbud housings. Water resistance is still rated at IPX4, ensuring the buds can handle sweat and rain without any issue.

The buds operate wirelessly over Bluetooth 5.2 and support multipoint pairing so can be connected to two sources simultaneously. Codec support remains limited to SBC and AAC, however, leaving the Phoenix at a slight disadvantage to competitors offering high-resolution audio compatibility.

Without any solar assistance, the Phoenix offer a total of up to 34 hours of wireless listening, with the buds able to go for around eight hours if you’re not using noise cancellation. ANC heads up a relatively short list of features that also includes in-ear detection, a transparency mode and an automatic power-saving mode that turns the buds off after 30 minutes of inactivity.

An extremely short USB-C cable is included in the box should you need to turn to mains-powered charging, along with a strap that can be attached to the case so you can wear it around your neck and maximise exposure to light. You’re also provided with two additional sets of silicone eartips to help you achieve a secure in-ear fit.

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Urbanista Phoenix review: What do we like about them?

I discussed how the Powerfoyle solar cell technology works in my review of the Urbanista Los Angeles but will quickly recap here. The cell located on the charging case absorbs light before converting it into electrical energy, which is then used to top up the in-built battery.

That light can be natural or artificial, although the amount of charge restored is greatly impacted by the source. Unsurpsingly, sunlight works best but you’ll also see small gains if you place the case under a desk lamp, for instance.

When exposed to sunlight, the solar charging works a treat. I saw battery gains upwards of 15mA per hour when the sun came out, which equates to roughly an hour of playtime for every hour and a half of exposure, according to the Urbanista app. Were I not testing the buds during a British winter, I’d expect even better results.

The aforementioned app is far more informative than it was when the Los Angeles first launched, providing more detailed insight into the charging case’s status and charging history.

A dial reflects current expected hourly gains to help you position the case to optimise light absorption and the app provides an estimate of how long the battery will last based on your usage over the previous two weeks. There’s also a graph that shows solar charging status and case battery life over the past 24 hours, 30 days, and in total, so you can monitor how effectively the process is working at any point in time.

While the solar-charging system is the big draw here, the Phoenix perform pretty well in other areas, too. Like the Urbanista London, the buds are very comfortable to wear, create an effective in-ear seal to isolate sound and they remain secure in your ears, no matter what you’re up to.

They also serve up an audio performance with mainstream appeal. Their soundstage is reasonably broad and the default sound signature errs on the side of warmth, which is what manufacturers often go for on their mid-range audio products.

When the bassline on Matrix & Futurebound’s “Control” came crashing in, it did so with energy and impact while avoiding swamping elements further up the frequency spectrum. The Phoenix demonstrated decent treble extension when required and vocals on Wet Leg’s “I Don’t Wanna Go Out” were delivered cleanly enough to successfully express the nuanced tones of the lead singer’s voice.

In addition to the default sound profile, there are a further five EQ presets available in the companion app. “Speech”, “Bass Boost”, “Treble Boost”, “Energize” and “Balanced” tweak the frequency curve in meaningful enough ways but I found myself sticking with the default profile as it felt most cohesively put together.

Noise cancellation, while not the most effective around, serves its purpose, attenuating lower frequencies to a respectable degree. There’s little dampening of higher-pitched sounds and voices but, as yet, no earbuds in the Phoenix’s price bracket have made much headway in this department so this shouldn’t be seen as a shortcoming. Similarly, transparency mode gets the job done, piping in some ambient sound without introducing too much hiss or altering the Phoenix’s sonic characteristics.

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Urbanista Phoenix review: What could be better?

As I alluded to earlier, how close to near-infinite playtime you get with the Urbanista Phoenix will ultimately come down to the availability of sunlight. I recorded battery gains of just 0.2mA per hour with the case placed near a window on a cloudy day and 0.6mA per hour when under my desk lamp. Outside on the same day, these values rose to around 2.0mA per hour. Every little helps, but if you’re using the buds regularly, this gain won’t offset the drain so, at some point, you’re going to need to dig out a USB-C cable.

I have two other relatively small grumbles relating to the charging case. First, it’s an absolute monster by true wireless standards. This is by necessity as the solar cell needs to be big enough to absorb light. However, it does mean you might struggle to fit it in your jeans pocket.

The inclusion of the necklace strap is a practical fix but not everyone is going to want to have a chunky charging case dangling around their neck as they go about their daily business. Unfortunately, there’s no real way around this, meaning the Los Angeles, which have the solar cell built into their headband, are a superior vehicle for the technology.

On the sonic front, while dance music lovers will appreciate the low-end thrust with which the Phoenix deliver audio, it’s not the most defined bass reproduction you’ll ever hear. Low-end frequencies can sound a little fuzzy around the edges. A customisable EQ is also notably absent, something that’s becoming an increasingly common omission for earbuds at just about every price point.

Finally, I’d like to have seen the Phoenix’s touch controls cover a wider gamut of commands. Double taps on either bud play or pause audio and accept or reject calls, while triple taps on the left and right buds skip back or forward a track, respectively. These commands can’t be changed, which is fine – they’re responsive and omitting single presses ensures you don’t accidentally trigger commands when adjusting the buds in your ears.

However, you’re forced to choose between having long presses on the left and right buds either toggle sound modes (ANC/transparency), hail your voice assistant or increase/decrease volume. I’m a big proponent of using slide gestures to control volume, so it’s a shame that feature isn’t available here.

Urbanista Phoenix review: Should you buy them?

Were it not for their solar charging tech, the Urbanista Phoenix would struggle to stand out. Although the margin isn’t huge, there are undoubtedly better-sounding earbuds available around the £150 mark and more effective noise-cancellers, too.

It’s just as well, then, that the Phoenix offer something unique in the true wireless world. Their solar-charging case is not without limitations but proves genuinely useful in the right conditions. Being able to regain battery life on the go is a convenient feature you won’t find anywhere else and the sacrifices made to have it are not too egregious. Now, if only they came with a guarantee of sunshine.

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