The $150 Pampas, Urbanears' first over-the-ear headphones, is the audio brand's newest flagship model and an update to the consumer-popular Plattan 2. It retains many of the same features as its predecessor, such as 30-plus hours of battery life, instant music sharing and the company's trademark minimalist aesthetic, all while enhancing bass response and call quality. Unfortunately, many of the same issues that plagued the Plattan 2 remain (e.g., limited accessories and features, and recessed sound), which therefore makes the Pampas a chancy investment.
Like Beats, Urbanears has its own signature look, which many classify as "urban chic." It consists of a no-frills, clean design with bold colors. The Pampas keeps much of that same look intact with one minor upgrade — it extends the mesh fabric material from the headband to the exterior of the ear cups. This gives the headphones a sleeker appearance that's quite similar to the Jabra Elite 85h.
Constructionwise, the Pampas headphones feel sturdier than other headphones in the Urbanears collection. The headband offers plenty of flexibility; you can twist and turn it several ways without it snapping. The ear cups are solid as well and will survive tumbles to the ground, though the plastic casing will draw lots of scratches. While both ear cups collapse to accommodate portable storage, they don't swivel to the side, which would have made wearing the cans around my neck comfier. The hinges could also have been fortified better, as they feel a bit flimsy.
What normally sells Urbanears headphones is the array of colors they come in. Sadly, the Pampas is available in only three: Almond Beige, Charcoal Black and Field Green. Each shade has its own appeal, but we've seen cooler colors from the brand in the past. More disappointing is the number of accessories bundled with these wireless headphones — that would be one — a USB Type-C charging cable (opens in new tab). No carry case, travel adapter or even an aux cable.
Comfort and Fit
At 9.2 ounces, the Pampas is slightly heavier than some noise-cancelling models like the Bose QC 35 II (8.2 ounces). Still, it's very comfy, thanks to a spacious over-ear design that provides ears more breathing room inside the ear cups. Unless you're someone with ears that stick out, the plush pads will rest gently on the side on your head rather than irritate or press up against skin.
The padded headband also provides a pleasant and snug fit. Adjusting the extenders to a proper setting keeps the headphones securely in place with very little slippage. One caveat is that the Pampas doesn't favor larger head shapes, as the extenders don't offer much length, which can make the headphones feel cramped atop the skull.
The Pampas have integrated a control knob with multidirection functionality to operate the headphones. It's something we've admired on the Marshall Minor II Bluetooth (opens in new tab) headphones. It's a control scheme that's both enjoyable and simple to use.
Call management and playback controls are programmed as follows: play/pause/answer call/end call (1x press), forward track (push right), skip back (push left), fast-forward (push and hold to the right), rewind (push and hold to the left), and enable digital assistant/reject call (2x press). Volume is controlled by pressing the knob up or down to raise or lower sound. In a nutshell, the knob offers great flexibility and tactility, and when pressed, delivers responsive results.
Urbanears isn't known for its sound quality, and that doesn't change with the Pampas. The Pampas won't win the hearts of audiophiles, but it's a minor improvement, showcasing tighter bass and vocal output.
A song like Jay-Z's "I Just Wanna Love U (Give It 2 Me)" showed the headphones can handle mild bass with ease. The 40-millimeter dynamic drivers dished out punchy lows that maintained the song's bouncy vibes, while bringing attention to other trademark sounds like the guitar chords. It wasn't Sony or Beats quality, but the Pampas delivered enough to trigger some head-nodding action.
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However, the cans also demonstrated that they could handle only so much bass before diminishing the soundstage. Pressing play on Michael Jackson's "Smooth Criminal" saw the bass riff overpower all other sonic elements. The lows were very bright and somewhat impactful, but Jackson's breathy and commanding vocal performance wasn't as compelling as I'd been accustomed to hearing on other headphones.
That same auditory experience carried over into melodic recordings; the harmonies on The Temptations' "My Girl" weren't so transparent. I felt the Audio-Technica ATH-M50xBT and Plantronics BackBeat Go 810 did better jobs of balancing frequencies.
Oddly, the Pampas comes with an audio jack, but again, no aux cable. My exact thought when seeing this was, "Huh?" The good news is you can use any standard headphone aux cable on the Pampas. I tested the Sony WH-1000xM3 and Jabra Elite 85h cables on these cans and noticed a huge boost in clarity and volume. I preferred listening to music this way.
While daisy-chaining is nothing new to the headphones space, it is a niche feature that a few manufacturers choose to adopt. The Pampas offer their own instant music-sharing experience through the 3.5-mm ZoundPlug port, which allows a second listener to plug in their headphones to share music.
I have one issue with the ZoundPlug port. In theory, it sounds like a generous feature. But not providing an aux cable in the package just seems a bit scanty, since using the feature requires the second listener to have their own cable.
Overall, the feature serves its purpose for travelers who want to hear the same playlists on the road, but it's not one that enhances the listening experience, at least not for the person listening on wired headphones. I connected my Bose QC 35 (Series I) to the Pampas and noticed a dip in clarity and volume. My girlfriend got the better end of the audio stick, as the Pampas maintained its boomy performance.
The Pampas is compatible with Siri and Google Assistant, but the headphones struggle with speech recognition and executing basic commands. I asked Siri to pull up my calendar events and its response was, "Who would you like to call?" Google Assistant performed slightly better, although there were still issues with the mics picking up spoken inquiries word for word. I often had to repeat commands for either digital assistant to comprehend them accurately.
Battery life is one area where the Pampas crushes it. Urbanears promises up to 30-plus hours of wireless playtime on a single charge, which is realistically about 28 hours, depending on your usage. Music streaming, Skyping and volume affect the battery levels. USB Type-C charging does speed up recharging times and quickly juices up the headphones when they're near depletion. Having no fast charging here didn't bother me much, since I enjoyed about a week's worth of music on 100% battery; I got about 3 to 4 hours of listening each day.
Great call quality isn't exactly an attribute associated with Urbanears headphones. However, I have to give credit where it's due: The Pampas is an impressive calling headset, at least in quiet environments. My mother shared some positive feedback, stating my voice sounded pronounced during our chats. Even with the TV on in the background at midlevel volume, she could still hear me well.
Yet with the good also comes the bad. Over the phone, my girlfriend picked up the music blasting from my MacBook Pro (opens in new tab) speakers, which she described as distracting and terribly loud. Talking outside was also a 50-50 experience, where some people were bothered by the ambient noise around me and others weren't.
Connectivity and Setup
Bluetooth 5.0 (opens in new tab) is Urbanears' wireless protocol of choice here, and it performs well across Android devices. My Google Pixel 3XL maintained a strong connection when streaming music and taking Skype (opens in new tab) calls. Urbanears claims up to 30 feet of listening range, but it's actually higher; I got up to about 37 feet before any dropout occurred. You can also connect to two devices simultaneously, which makes switching between smartphones and laptops (opens in new tab) simpler.
My MacBook Pro didn't receive the same love, which resulted in a buggier experience. It was weird to encounter a warning prompt asking whether I wanted to remove the headphones from my available devices list when pressing the Pair button; keep in mind this was my first time attempting to pair them to the laptop. I had to execute the command in order to connect the headphones. From there, everything ran more smoothly.
Powering on the headphones will either enable pairing mode or automatically pair them to your last device. Those who need to pair manually can do so by turning on the headphones and holding down the MF control knob for 3 seconds. Look for "Pampas" to show up on the Browse Device/Pair New Device window and select to connect.
The Urbanears Pampas is a decent first attempt by the company at an over-the-ear headphone. It's certainly a step up from the Plattan 2 on the audio and design fronts. Listeners will find the tighter low-end frequencies entertaining on certain hip-hop and rock tracks. Strong battery life and a unique control scheme are some of the Pampas' other notable hallmarks.
The Pampas is more of an ideal option for fans of the brand who want chic-looking headphones with serviceable sound. Excellent comfort and its subluxury price could also influence purchase, granted you'll want to wait until the headphones receive a markdown (probably around $30) before confidently making that decision.