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Urbanista Los Angeles review: solar charging headphones for epic battery | Headphones

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The latest wireless headphones from the Swedish company Urbanista hide an ingenious solution to battery life woes: solar charging.

The Los Angeles cost £169 ($199/A$349) and look no different from a normal set of headphones, apart from a flexible Powerfoyle solar cell on top of the headband.

Fairly compact with simple, clean lines, they are available in either black or gold, the first of which helps the solar strip blend in the most. They feel solid and well made with a soft-touch finish, but are slightly heavier than the market-leading Sony 1000XM4.

Urbanista Los Angeles review
The matt black plastic solar cell could easily be mistaken for just an understated design flourish. Photograph: Samuel Gibbs/The Guardian

The headband is well padded, but they have some serious clamping force on the sides of your head, requiring a bit of stretching out on first wear. But at least they don’t move around when worn.

Controls, connectivity and battery life

Urbanista Los Angeles review
Hold the centre of the three playback control buttons to turn the headphones on or off. Photograph: Samuel Gibbs/The Guardian

The Los Angeles are standard Bluetooth 5.0 headphones supporting the universal SBC and AAC audio formats used by most devices, and maintained a solid connection to various Apple and Android devices.

The right ear cup has three buttons for controlling playback and volume. Taking off the headphones also pauses the music. The left ear cup has a button for adjusting the noise-cancelling functions and a USB-C port for charging. They lack a 3.5mm headphone socket for using them without Bluetooth, which is irritating for use on a plane.

But where the headphones really stand out is through battery life. Without the solar charging the headphones last a tremendous 80 hours on battery (50 hours with ANC on), which is far longer than most competitors. But the solar charging makes them last almost indefinitely unless you only use them in a darkened room.

Urbanista Los Angeles review
The solar cell generates enough power to charge the headphones while in use in winter sunlight. You can offset the battery drain by about 50% under bright LED lights, which you can see in real time using the Urbanista Android or iPhone app. Photograph: Samuel Gibbs/The Guardian

When the battery charge drops below 90%, the solar strip tops it up when exposed to sufficient sun or artificial light. In my time testing the battery never dropped below 50%, topping them up by leaving the headband facing a window when not in use.

Specifications

  • Weight: 320g

  • Drivers: 40mm

  • Connectivity: Bluetooth 5.0, USB-C and solar charging

  • Bluetooth codecs: SBC, AAC

  • Battery life: 50/80 hours ANC on/off

Sustainability

Urbanista Los Angeles review
The headphones have a USB-C port for manually charging them, which you may never need to do. Photograph: Samuel Gibbs/The Guardian

Urbanista estimates that the battery will maintain in excess of 80% of its original capacity for more than 300 full charge cycles, but it is not replaceable nor are the headphones repairable, ultimately making them disposable.

The headphones do not contain any recycled materials. The company does not offer trade-in or recycling, nor does it publish environmental impact assessments.

Sound and noise-cancelling

Urbanista Los Angeles review
The ear cups are plush but shallow compared with many competitors. My left ear touched the inside of the cup and became uncomfortable after an hour or so. Your milage may vary. Photograph: Samuel Gibbs/The Guardian

The headphones have active noise-cancelling, which works well enough to dampen the drone of a plane engine or road noise, but struggles with higher pitched tones such as fans or speech. They beat most cheaper headphones but won’t trouble some of the market leaders, making them about right for the price.

The ambient sound mode is fairly good too, allowing you to listen out for announcements or traffic, but struggles with wind noise.

The headphones have a reasonably wide and expansive sound that handles tracks with plenty of energy. But the sound is skewed to the low end with plenty of well-controlled, punchy bass producing lower notes than most headphones can manage. Treble and high tones are pretty good, but will get squashed by the bass. There is no equaliser available to manually turn it down, sadly.

Feed them some high energy electronica and they sound great, but less so with classical music or more nuanced tracks. Activating the noise-cancelling makes them sound slightly less wide, expansive and energetic.

Observations

Urbanista Los Angeles review
The case is designed to protect the headphones while keeping the solar cell exposed so it will charge them up while you’re not using them. Photograph: Samuel Gibbs/The Guardian
  • The announcements made when you switch on the headphones or change modes are too loud and can be quite shocking if you’re listening in a quiet space.

  • Call quality is average with my end of the conversation sounding a little robotic even in quiet environments.

  • The ear cups rotate to be flat and slide in the case, but do not fold up for travel.

Price

The Urbanista Los Angeles cost £169 ($199/A$349) and are available in black or gold.

For comparison, the Urbanista Miami cost £129, Anker’s Soundcore Life Q35 cost £130 and the Sony WH-1000XM4 cost £249.

Verdict

The Urbanista Los Angeles are the first solar-charging headphones on the market and deliver on one thing above all else: almost limitless battery life.

If you use them in bright environments you may only have to charge them once or twice a year, or not at all if they’re left facing daylight when not in use, which is remarkable. And they manage this solar feat while looking like a regular, tidy set of headphones.

They sound good, but very bass-heavy with no adjustments available. The noise-cancelling is reasonable, but can’t touch market leaders. The Bluetooth connection and controls are good, but they lack a 3.5mm analogue headphones socket and crushed my ears a little.

Despite their solar credentials, the headphones are not repairable and the battery is not replaceable making them ultimately disposable and losing them a star.

Pros: solar charging, near-infinite battery life, Bluetooth 5.0 with SBC and AAC support, active noise cancelling, pumping bass and energetic sound.

Cons: bass can override other tones, noise cancelling struggles with speech, call quality is not great, no 3.5mm analogue socket, tight fit, battery cannot be replaced, headphones not repairable.

Urbanista Los Angeles review
The Los Angeles aren’t bulky or flashy, and feel solidly made, but the soft-touch black finish picks up dust easily. Photograph: Samuel Gibbs/The Guardian

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The trends you need to know about

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Accenture’s Barry Heavey discusses how the life sciences industry has changed and the most in-demand roles and skills right now.

At the end of last year, data from pharma recruiter Cpl Life Sciences and data analytics company Vacancysoft revealed that there was record recruitment in Ireland’s life sciences sector in 2021.

This year has already seen expansion across a number of pharma, biotech and medtech companies in Ireland, including Boston Scientific, Medtronic, Janssen and Merck.

So for those looking to work in the sector, what are the most in-demand roles right now and what skills do they need to be successful in the industry?

Barry Heavey is the managing director of life sciences at Accenture in Ireland. He told SiliconRepublic.com that he is seeing a lot of demand for skills in digital technology right now.

“What we look for is people who can combine skills in digital technologies with an understanding of the actual problems and complexities that companies face in developing and supplying ever more complex products to ever-more focused patient populations,” he said.

“Across the wider industry in Ireland, I see a very large demand for people who are interested in working in manufacturing, quality, supply chain management, regulatory affairs, data analytics and process development.”

While some graduates with a science degree might not see a role in manufacturing or quality as an exciting long-term option compared to R&D, Heavey said it’s important not to discount these career paths.

“Most biopharma companies need their manufacturing and quality teams to orient themselves more towards development and research, so these roles will hold exciting development opportunities while giving new graduates a great first step on the career ladder where they can learn all about the challenges of producing highly complex products to save lives.”

While there are a wide range of technical skills that will be needed in life sciences such as mRNA synthesis and formulation, conjugation chemistry, multivariate analysis, and artificial intelligence, Heavey said “multi-disciplinarity is key”.

“We need manufacturing and quality people who can collaborate with R&D and regulatory affairs people and vice versa. We need people who combine scientific, engineering, IT and business skills as well as the wider skills of communication, storytelling, project management, etc.”

Heavey also said that the industry is moving so fast now that the old siloed ways of working are no longer viable. Even though deep expertise in specific areas is required, collaboration is vital.

“Digital tools can be a key enabler of better collaboration, and innovation like advanced data analytics and artificial intelligence can also help in surfacing insights and enabling better decision-making using technology and curating and sharing knowledge over time and between teams.”

Biggest trends in the industry

For those working in the sector, one of the biggest trends is around new ‘modalities’ – new modes of treatment such as conjugated proteins, mRNA and cell therapy.

“We had the explosion of the new modality of recombinant proteins over the past 20 years, but this modality is represented by some of the best-selling drugs in the world like Keytruda, Humira, etc. and Ireland is central to the supply of these products due to proactive targeting of investment by the IDA and training capabilities from organisations such as NIBRT,” said Heavey.

He added that while Ireland was able to capitalise on the growth of the recombinant protein modality the country needs to ensure “we catch the next waves of the next generation of modalities”.

“We are seeing progress in this with Pfizer making their mRNA vaccine for Covid in their Dublin facility, but we need to continue to watch for new opportunities and invest in training our workforce to be ready for these.”

Another big trend is the increased pace of innovation. The timeframe of 10-15 years to approve a newly discovered drug has been drastically compressed in recent years. Most recently, the world saw several Covid-19 vaccines approved in under one year.

Heavey said this increased pace is partly due to the new modalities but also due to the better collection and use of data.

“With the pace of innovation in digital and medical technology, we now have the data collection and analysis tools needed to understand disease in more depth, to develop and even design new drugs faster, to decide what patients might be most likely to benefit from a treatment and to determine whether the drug is effective and safe in patients with much higher fidelity,” he said.

For those entering the industry, Heavey advised them to “think about the white space between disciplines”.

“If you are strong in digital technologies, think about upskilling in areas like biotechnology or medical device technology, so you can speak the language of people who need your IT skills.  If you are strong in R&D, think about how you can collaborate more effectively with people in manufacturing who will be trying to put new modalities on the shelves.

“If you are strong in quality control, think about what is coming next from R&D (new modalities or new analytical methods) and how you can prepare for these and expedite their introduction through enhanced collaboration,” he said.

“Bottom line is never stop learning! It is such an exciting industry to be in and I, for one, feel privileged to be involved in it.”

10 things you need to know direct to your inbox every weekday. Sign up for the Daily Brief, Silicon Republic’s digest of essential sci-tech news.

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Best podcasts of the week: The hunt for an art dealer’s riches hidden in the mountains | Podcasts

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Picks of the week

Listening
Widely available, episodes weekly
This podcast is equivalent to stepping into the studio with a musician. A specially recorded track by artists such as Björk, Katie Crutchfield of Waxahatchee and Neko Case is followed by an interview in which they explain how they made it. From Björk elucidating how she used the noise of frozen lakes to create soaring, glockenspiel-strafed choral pop, to Crutchfield enthusing about her love of white noise, it is hugely illuminating. Alexi Duggins

The Dangerous Art of the Documentary
Widely available, episodes weekly

What is it like to get involved in a twisty murder case and personally meet the participants? This new series hears director Tiller Russell interview the creators of shows such as Wild Wild Country and Don’t F**k With Cats. It might be heavy on industry detail, but it’s a comprehensive look at the film-making process. AD

Vibe Check
Widely available, episodes weekly
Fabulous trio Sam Sanders, Saeed Jones and Zach Stafford offer a weekly kiki “from a decidedly Black and queer perspective” in their new podcast. Just like in their group chat, the idea is to check in on each other. Plus the latest news and culture, with spot-on chemistry and disses delivered with love. Hannah Verdier

Missed Fortune
Apple Podcasts, episodes weekly
“I’m in a car with some guys I don’t know on our way to somewhere we’re not supposed to be … ” The stakes are high in this nine-part series, in which host Peter Frick-Wright joins the perilous treasure hunt for $1m that retired art dealer Forrest Fenn hid in the Rocky Mountains. Hollie Richardson

Night Fever
WOW Podcast Network and Spotify, episodes weekly

The most gossipy music podcast returns, with James St James, Fenton Bailey and Randy Barbato spilling all the tea from 1970s clubland to today. Nightlife favourites including Moby and Michelle Visage bring hilarious stories to help the hosts celebrate the glorious era before social media when New York clubbers could bump into RuPaul, Andy Warhol and Madonna. HV

There’s a podcast for that

Black Fashion History charts the course of Black designers, labels and models such as Naomi Campbell.
Black Fashion History charts the course of Black designers, labels and models such as Naomi Campbell. Photograph: Ken Towner/Associated Newspa/REX

This week, Fleur Britten chooses five of the best podcasts for fashion fans, from an intimate interview show with fashion journalism’s grand dame to a (cat)walk through the history of Black style

Creative Conversations with Suzy Menkes
For years, the veteran fashion critic Suzy Menkes and her unfeasibly large quiff were always first out of the blocks at the end of a fashion show, in order to secure those backstage interviews. As the former fashion editor of the International Herald Tribune, and then editor of Vogue International, Menkes is widely regarded as the grande dame of fashion journalism, with enviable access to the industry’s biggest names. Her independent podcast, launched during the first lockdown of 2020, capitalises on those connections, taking listeners behind the scenes on in-depth conversations with the likes of Demna Gvasalia, Dries van Noten and Manolo Blahnik.

The Business of Fashion Podcast
If you like being in the know on fashion industry developments, the Business of Fashion’s weekly podcast is required listening. The globally respected fashion news website launched its audio arm in 2017, and has since brought its journalistic rigour to the podcast via topical features and insightful interviews with, for example, Net-a-Porter founder Natalie Massenet, Anna Wintour’s biographer Amy Odell, and Skims CEO Jens Grede. The features – on topics including the rise of vacation clothing, and Shein’s $100bn valuation – are always ahead of the curve.

Dressed: The History of Fashion
Many of us view clothes simply as packages of colour, shape and texture. Fashion historians, however, see layers and layers of meaning and nuance within those elements. They see the implicit cultural significance of clothing choices, and understand what our clothes are really communicating. British fashion historians Rebecca Arnold from the Courtauld Institute and Beatrice Behlen of the Museum of London have been enlightening listeners on all matters fashion history since 2018 with their highbrow yet approachable weekly podcast, Bande A Part – all with a remarkably modern outlook.

Wardrobe Crisis
While many of us would like to shop more sustainably, learning the finer details of how to do that tends to get shunted down our list of priorities when there are so many more fun distractions on offer. The Sydney-based British fashion journalist and author Clare Press, who was Vogue’s first sustainability editor, makes the task an enjoyable one, with her engaging, hard-working podcast Wardrobe Crisis, launched in 2017. Press’s tone is always upbeat and solutions-focused, and guest hosts help to keep the subject matter fresh and appealing.

Black Fashion History
When the American content creator Taniqua Russ asked people to name their favourite Black designers and brands, most drew a blank. So in 2019, she started doing her own research, sharing her findings in a podcast as a resource for people to fill in the gaps in their knowledge. Chronicling the contribution of Black people around the world to the fashion industry, this no-frills podcast has introduced its audience to the work of model Carol Collins-Miles, the milliner Lisa McFadden and the designer Therez Fleetwood, among others.

Why not try …

  • A glut of intimate, sideways stories in hit podcast Love + Radio, whose whole archive is now available to binge.

  • A guided yoga practice (yes, really) with a little singer called Dua Lipa in the new series of At Your Service.

  • The true story of Putin’s “number one enemy”, shot and killed in 2015, in Another Russia.

If you want to read the complete version of the newsletter please subscribe to receive Hear Here in your inbox every Thursday

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Most IPv6 DNS queries sent to Chinese resolvers fail • The Register

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China’s DNS resolvers fail two thirds of the time when handling queries for IPv6 addresses, and botch one in eight queries for IPv4, according to a group of Chinese academics.

As explained in a paper titled “A deep dive into DNS behavior and query failures” and summarized in a blog post at APNIC (the Asia Pacific’s regional internet address registry), the authors worked with log files describing 2.8 billion anonymized DNS queries processed at Chinese ISPs.

Among the paper’s findings:

  • 86.2 percent of queries were for A records – the record for a resource with an IPv4 address;
  • 10.4 percent were for AAAA records that point to resources with an IPv6 address;
  • 93.1 percent of queries for A records succeeded;
  • 35.8 percent of requests for AAAA records succeeded.

The researchers – led by professor Zhenyu Li and Donghui Yang, both from the Institute of Computing Technology at the Chinese Academy of Sciences – suggest the reason for the low success rate of AAAA record queries is poor performance by some Chinese players.

One outfit, 114DNS, succeeded with just 14.5 percent of AAAA queries. Alibaba Group’s AliDNS succeeded 54.3 percent of the time – more than Google or Cisco’s OpenDNS, which were found to resolve 43.4 percent and 49.2 percent of AAAA queries respectively.

A fifth of DNS resolvers never succeed at handling IPv6 AAAA queries.

“Overall, A and MX queries are successfully resolved most frequently, while AAAA and PTR manifest lower success rates,” the summary reads. “Specifically, the failure rate of AAAA queries is surprisingly over 64.2 percent — two out of three AAAA queries failed.”

“We also found the success rates for new generic Top-Level Domains (gTLDs) and Internationalized Domain Names (IDNs) were lower than that of well-established domains, primarily because of the prevalence of malicious domains,” wrote professor Li.

However the researchers did not identity why DNS resolution rates are so low, especially for AAAA queries. Nor do they mention what the poor IPv6 resolution rates mean for China’s plans for mass adoption of IPv6 by 2030.

The blog post recommends users adopt “a larger negative caching time-to-live for AAAA records associated with domains that only map to IPv4 addresses reliably.” Checking DNS resolvers’ success rates is also suggested ahead of making a choice of DNS provider. ®

OpenDNS mess

In other DNS-related news, Cisco’s OpenDNS service today wobbled for a few hours in North America.

WeWork offices, wherein some of our vultures toil, experienced network problems, as did at least one university. We’ve also heard reports that the incident impacted email security guardian Spamhaus.

The issue was resolved without Cisco offering any explanation for the incident.



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