After launching two pairs of solar-powered headphones, you would have thought it would be easy for Urbanista to apply the same technology to a Bluetooth speaker. But with the Malibu due to be on display at the IFA in Berlin ahead of its launch later this month, Urbanista says he had a whole new set of challenges to overcome.
That’s because the company’s approach to its solar energy products hasn’t been to simply put some solar-absorbing material into an existing device and call it quits. Instead, Urbanista’s product manager, Marten Sahlen, and the company’s director of branding and marketing, Tuomas Lonka, tell me that the company spends a lot of time making products more energy-efficient first, so they can get the most benefit from the extra energy provided by the sun. .
But when it comes to Bluetooth speakers, that’s a bigger challenge. “True wireless earbuds are a bit more straightforward in terms of efficient power consumption,” Sahlen tells me. “Whereas (the Malibu), as a speaker, consumes exponentially more.” Which makes sense when you think about the volume at which an average Bluetooth speaker plays compared to a pair of headphones.
As described by Urbanista, it seems that basically every part of the Malibu was designed with energy efficiency in mind. Take for example its shape, which is different from many other cylindrical Bluetooth speakers on the market. This allows it to accommodate a pair of 2.5-inch speaker drivers because, as Sahlen explains, larger speaker drivers are slightly more power efficient at a given volume than smaller components. The company also opted for slightly more expensive components that were more energy efficient than the alternatives.
Of course, the other thing that affected the Malibu’s design was the need to find space for a sun-capturing material called PowerFoyle. PowerFoyle, made by the Exeger company, is (relatively) flexible, but only up to a point. “You can’t bend in multiple directions at the same time,” says Sofie Lowenhielm, CMO at Exeger. In the end, the Malibu has around 50 percent more PowerFoyle per surface area than Urbanista’s Los Angeles on-ear headphones.
This results in a slightly boxy appearance, with a ridge around the top edge to raise the playback controls around the basically flat PowerFoyle surface. On the rear there’s a power button and a USB-C port for wired charging, and there’s also an attached lanyard for carrying the speaker around.
Urbanista hopes to offer two main listening modes for the Malibu. There’s a normal listening mode and then there are plans for a more energy efficient mode that can be activated by a long press on one of the speaker buttons. Doing so will optimize the power consumption of the speaker over sound quality, and Urbanista estimates that it will approximately double the playtime the speaker offers at the expense of more power-hungry higher bass output.
When all is said and done, Sahlen tells me that Malibu should offer around 20 hours of playback if you listen to it in a completely dark room, rising to around 40 if you listen to it in its low-power mode (although the team emphasized that the power saving feature is in active development and do not have final numbers). cabling previously reported that the standard listening time would be closer to 30 hours, but Lonka tells me that this has changed with the development of the speaker.
In a short listening session, it became clear why Urbanista decided to make this power saving mode optional rather than the default. In its normal listening mode, the Malibu offers a solid, heavy listening experience, much like you’d expect from a rugged Bluetooth speaker advertised with photos showing it poolside. But with power saving mode on, some of the bass impact is reduced and sound separation isn’t as clear. I can see it being very listenable for podcasts or the radio, but if you were listening to EDM I think you would miss out on the added bass response.
Add in sunlight and the battery life predictions go up, obviously, but by how much is a very difficult question to answer given the great variability of sunlight around the world, throughout the year and even within the year. course of a single day. The PowerFoyle can also be charged by solar power indoors, which is another variable to consider. But as a rough guideline, Sahlen says the speaker’s battery life should increase by about 50 percent when used continuously outdoors on an average sunny day, stretching from 20 hours to close to 30. Combine that with the fact that the speaker will continuously charge when not in use (sunlight permitting) and has the potential to go a long time between plugged in charges. Just keep in mind that sunlight slowly charges the speaker, that USB-C port is there for when you need to charge it at any kind of speed.
As with Urbanista’s Phoenix wireless headphones, it will be possible to track the Malibu’s historical solar charge data through the Urbanista app. Lonka says the hope is that showing users this data will help “teach” them how to get the most out of the Malibu.
Urbanista has always pitched solar charging as a more sustainable way to power its products, but there is also an upcoming EU regulation on how to make batteries user-replaceable and that will be necessary. join by 2027. The company still needs to put processes in place to fully comply with this regulation, but the Malibu is already designed so that you can strip it down and replace its battery without having to deal with any stuck components, Sahlen tells me. And that’s without compromising its IP67 dust and water resistance rating.
When I reviewed the Los Angeles headphones in 2021, I couldn’t fault their solar-charging smarts, but I did have an issue or two with their fit and sound quality. Since fit isn’t an issue here and sound quality expectations are different for an outdoor Bluetooth speaker, the Malibu is an obvious promise. Expect it to go on sale “late September” for $149.
Photography by Jon Porter / The Verge