What goes into designing a solar-powered Bluetooth speaker


After releasing two solar-powered pairs of headphones, you’d have thought that it’d be easy for Urbanista to use the identical know-how to a Bluetooth speaker. However with the Malibu, which is being proven off at IFA in Berlin forward of its launch later this month, Urbanista says it had an entire new set of challenges to beat.

That’s as a result of the corporate’s strategy to its photo voltaic powered merchandise hasn’t simply been to place some solar-absorbing materials on an present gadget and name it a day. As an alternative, Urbanista product director Marten Sahlen and the corporate’s model and advertising and marketing director Tuomas Lonka inform me the corporate spends a whole lot of time making the merchandise extra energy environment friendly within the first place, to allow them to get the utmost profit from the additional sun-provided energy.

However with regards to Bluetooth audio system, that’s extra of a problem. “True wi-fi and headphones are a bit extra simple when it comes to environment friendly energy consumption,” Sahlen tells me. “Whereas [the Malibu], as a speaker, consumes exponentially extra.” Which is sensible when you consider the amount that a median Bluetooth speaker performs at versus a pair of headphones.

The way in which Urbanista describes it, it appears like mainly each a part of the Malibu was designed with energy effectivity in thoughts. Take its form, which is totally different from a whole lot of the opposite cylindrical Bluetooth audio system available on the market. This enables it to accommodate a pair of two.5-inch speaker drivers as a result of, as Sahlen explains, greater speaker drivers are barely extra energy environment friendly at a given quantity than smaller parts. The corporate additionally opted for barely costlier parts that have been extra energy environment friendly versus the alternate options.

Exeger is as soon as once more supplying Urbanista with its PowerFoyle photo voltaic charging tech.

In fact, the opposite factor that impacted the Malibu’s design was the necessity to discover house for sun-harvesting materials referred to as PowerFoyle. PowerFoyle, made by the corporate Exeger, is (comparatively) versatile, however solely as much as a sure level. “You possibly can’t bend it in a number of instructions on the similar time,” Exeger’s CMO Sofie Lowenhielm says. In the long run, the Malibu has round 50 % extra PowerFoyle by floor space than Urbanista’s Los Angeles over-ear headphones.

That leads to a barely sq. look, with a ridge across the high edge to boost up the playback controls across the mainly flat PowerFoyle floor. Round again there’s an influence button and USB-C port for wired charging, and there’s additionally an hooked up lanyard for carrying the speaker round.

Urbanista hopes to supply two important listening modes for the Malibu. There’s an everyday listening mode, after which there are plans for a extra energy environment friendly mode that may be activated with a protracted press of one of many speaker’s buttons. Doing so will optimize the speaker for energy consumption over sound high quality, and Urbanista estimates that it’ll roughly double the playtime the speaker presents on the expense of extra power-hungry bass output.

The speaker will probably be bought in black and grey.

When all’s mentioned and completed, Sahlen tells me the Malibu ought to supply round 20 hours of playback in the event you’re listening to it in a pitch black room, rising to round 40 in the event you’re listening with its low energy mode (although the crew emphasised that the power-saving characteristic is in lively improvement they usually don’t have closing numbers). Wired beforehand reported that the usual listening time could be nearer to 30 hours, however Lonka tells me that this has modified by way of the event of the speaker.

In a quick listening session, it was clear why Urbanista has determined to make this energy saving mode elective quite than the default. In its common listening mode, the Malibu delivers a chunky and weighty listening expertise, very similar to you’d count on from a rugged Bluetooth speaker marketed with pictures exhibiting it beside the pool. However with the facility saving mode turned on, a few of the bass’s influence will get decreased, and the sound separation isn’t fairly as distinct. I can see it being very listenable for podcasts or the radio, however in the event you have been to hearken to say, EDM, I believe you’d miss the additional bass response.

There’s nonetheless a USB-C port for conventional wired charging.

Add daylight and the battery life predictions go up, clearly, however by how a lot is a really tough query to reply given the sheer variability in daylight around the globe, all year long, and even over the course of a single day. PowerFoyle can even solar-charge indoors, which is one other variable to think about. However, as a tough guideline, Sahlen says the speaker’s battery life ought to improve by round 50 % when used constantly exterior on a median sunny day, extending from 20 hours to nearer to 30. Mix that with the truth that the speaker will constantly cost when not in use (daylight allowing), and it has the potential to final a very long time between plugged-in prices. Simply bear in mind that daylight is successfully trickle-charging the speaker, that USB-C port is there for when you want to cost it up at any sort of velocity. 

As with Urbanista’s Phoenix wi-fi earbuds, it’ll be potential to trace the Malibu’s historic photo voltaic charging information by way of the Urbanista app. Lonka says the hope is that exhibiting customers this information will assist “train” them the best way to get essentially the most out of the Malibu.

Urbanista has all the time pitched photo voltaic charging as a extra sustainable approach to energy its merchandise, however there’s additionally upcoming EU regulation about making batteries user-replaceable that it might want to adhere to by 2027. The corporate nonetheless must put processes in place to utterly adjust to this regulation, however the Malibu is already designed so that you could take it aside and substitute its battery with out having to take care of any glued parts, Sahlen tells me. And that’s with out compromising its IP67 ranking for mud and water resistance.

Once I reviewed the Los Angeles headphones in 2021 I couldn’t fault their solar-charging smarts, however had one or two points with their match and sound high quality. With match not being a difficulty right here, and sound high quality expectations being totally different for an outdoorsy Bluetooth speaker, the Malibu has apparent promise. Anticipate it to go on sale in “late September” for $149.

Pictures by Jon Porter / The Verge