I Really Wanted to Love These Cheap AirPod Pro Rivals

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Illustration for article titled I Really Wanted to Love These Cheap AirPod Pro Rivals

Photo: Andrew Liszewski

Apple’s AirPods Pro offer quality sound and active noise cancellation, but they’re expensive. With a $150 price tag ($100 less than AirPods Pro), Urbanista’s new London wireless earbuds offer active noise cancellation for less than both Apple’s best offering and our current top choice for wireless earbuds, Jabra’s Elite 75T remain our top choice for wireless earbuds (which lack active ANC). Urbanista’s earbuds can save you a hefty chunk of change if you’re in the market for wireless earbuds that shroud you in silence, but unfortunately, you won’t be doing your ears any favors.

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Urbanista isn’t quite a name brand yet when it comes to headphones and earbuds, but over the past decade it’s managed to carve out a niche making affordable alternatives to products from companies like Apple and Sony with clean and streamlined aesthetics. The company cites its Scandinavian roots a the driving force behind its approach to hardware design, but with its new London wireless earbuds, it’s clear that Urbanista was also inspired to create a direct competitor to Apple’s AirPods Pro.

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There are enough differences that it’s not impossible to tell the London earbuds apart from the AirPods Pro when looking at them side-by-side, but when worn, differentiating the two becomes a lot harder. The Londons feel as comfortable and light in the ear as AirPods Pro do, and with four sets of different sized silicone ear tips included (whereas Apple only offers three), it’s a little easier to find a solid fit.

Like the AirPods Pro, the Londons come in a compact charging case that’s not quite as small as Apple’s, but just as easy to pocket. Battery life is rated at around five hours, with the USB-C charged case offering four additional top-ups for a total of 25 hours. The case can also be charged wirelessly, which is a feature we’re starting to see even in wireless earbuds priced well below the London’s $149 price point. It’s not completely standard yet, but it is a welcome convenience.

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There’s lots of hidden magnets inside the charging case, so its lid snaps and stays shut with a satisfying thud and the earbuds themselves stay securely connected to the charging contacts. But compared to the AirPods, I find the London earbuds much easier to remove from their case. I don’t think I have giant fingers, but removing the AirPods Pro often requires a couple of attempts before I have sufficient grip to extract them, which can often be frustrating. I also prefer Urbanista’s use of four LEDs that count down the case’s remaining battery life. As for the dedicated reset button that wipes out all the previously paired devices, I’m not sure it’s entirely necessary, but I can see it being more convenient than trying to perform a reset using a series of taps or other gestures.

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Tapping the Urbanista logo triggers shortcuts like volume control, Siri, and playback, and while it will take some time to memorize all of them, they work reliably without knocking the Londons out of your ears.

Tapping the Urbanista logo triggers shortcuts like volume control, Siri, and playback, and while it will take some time to memorize all of them, they work reliably without knocking the Londons out of your ears.Photo: Andrew Liszewski

Other AirPods Pro features the Londons match include ear detection, which automatically pauses music playback when one earbud is removed, water resistance, which can shrug off a bit of sweat but not a dunk or a shower, and tap-enabled controls on the earbuds themselves. The AirPods Pro require users to interact with the bottom of the earbuds’ stems, which I find tends to dislodge them. On the Londons, you simply tap, or tap-and-hold for a few seconds, on the Urbanista logo to control playback, skip tracks, answer and end calls, activate Siri, adjust the volume, and even toggle the noise cancellation features. There’s about a half-second delay from the tap to the desired action being performed, but otherwise it reliably works once you memorize all the quick tap, long tap, and double tap shortcuts.

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Having been able to test some of the best noise-cancelling headphones and earbuds on the market over the past few years, I’ve got high expectations for products that tout that feature. I’ll admit I wasn’t expecting much from a $149 pair of wireless earbuds, but I was suitably impressed with how well the Londons perform. They’re nearly as good as the AirPods Pro at cutting out the lower rumbling frequencies that you’ll experience on subways or airplanes. They don’t block everything—higher frequencies like voices will still make it through sounding a bit muffled—but when combined with music, these really do a good job at shutting out most of the world.

Here’s the heartbreak: the most important thing earbuds should be good at is where the Londons fail. Compared to the competition they’re clearly targeting, they just don’t deliver a level of sound quality that matches everything else Urbanista has managed to pack into these affordable earbuds.

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Apple’ AirPods Pro and Jabra’s Elite 75t both deliver deep thumping bass paired with a crisp and clear reproduction of higher end frequencies, but the Londons sound as though someone has been messing with the EQ, dropping the high and low-end frequencies while boosting the mid-tones. There was a notable lack of crispness in every song I listened to, and while the bass came across loud and clear, it also sounded artificially boosted and ended up trampling over everything else, making everything sound muddy and flat. There’s also no way to change the sound profile—the Londons don’t have an accompanying app, so there’s no way to make manual EQ customizations.

I wouldn’t go so far as to say the Londons sound bad, but compared to competing products, I definitely walked away disappointed and heartbroken, particularly given the impressive list of features the earbuds otherwise manage to deliver for $149. Even if noise cancellation is important to you, I think you’re still better off spending an extra $30 for the Jabra Elite 75t, which still do a good job at passively cutting down noises around you despite lacking active ANC. You’ll also sacrifice wireless charging, but at least you won’t sacrifice sound quality.

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README

  • At $150, the Urbanista London are some of the cheapest wireless earbuds to deliver active noise cancellation and wireless charging with a solid 25 hours of battery life.
  • For the price, the noise cancellation is very good, and it’s doubtful you’ll hear a difference between these and the AirPods Pro.
  • The sound quality just isn’t there, and without an app that lets you tweak or customize the sound profile, you’re better off spending $30 more for Jabra’s best.

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