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Meet Adidas’ solar-powered, sustainably built sports headphones

“If you want to feel that you are part of a movement for a better future, these are the headphones you want.”

That’s quite the introduction for a pair of headphones, but the statement only emphasizes how much importance Gustaf Rosell, chief product and innovation Officer at Zound Industries, places on the forthcoming Adidas RPT-02 SOL headphones. Currently in development, they are part of Adidas’ strong, continued sustainability effort, as they will be powered by light to tantalizingly deliver an “eternal playtime.”

In an email conversation with Digital Trends, Rosell gave us exclusive insights into this exciting product.

Adidas and Zound Industries

While we know Adidas mostly for its sportswear, it also works with specialist Zound Industries — which makes it own products under the Urbanears name, and also partners with Marshall — to make headphones. Rosell explained the relationship between the two companies.

“We have worked with Adidas for around three years, and we see our values adding up really strongly in areas such as sustainability, well-being, and innovation,” Rosell told Digital Trends. “The mission when it comes to tech is to provide the best audio products for use while training in various ways, from hardcore athletics to athleisure.”

Gustaf Rosell, Chief Product and Innovation Officer at Zound Industries.
Gustaf Rosell, Chief Product and Innovation Officer at Zound Industries. Image used with permission by copyright holder

Adidas has some serious sustainability goals. For example, it already only uses sustainable cotton and, starting in 2024, it will only use recycled polyester in its products. By 2050, Adidas aims to be climate neutral. The new RPT-02 SOL headphones are very much a part of this effort, from the way they are boxed and charged up to what happens to them at the end of their life.

The RPT-02 SOL headphones

Adidas’s next flagship headphones, the RPT-02 SOL, will not only be built and packaged using a high percentage of recycled material, but they are made to be more easily recycled in the future and can also be recharged using a sustainable power source: Light. Solar charging isn’t new, with the technology seen on everything from watches to cars, so what makes the RPT-02 SOL special?

A concept drawing of the Adidas RPT-02 SOL headphones.
A concept drawing of the Adidas RPT-02 SOL headphones. Image used with permission by copyright holder

“One of the key differences is they are powered by any light,” Rosell explained. “Direct sunlight will be the strongest source, but even indoor lighting or, even better, having it close to windows will generate energy. The cells are flexible in their application and not sensitive to being shadowed in the same way as traditional solar cells.”

All this is designed to enable the RPT-02 SOL to provide an “eternal playtime,” which sounds too good to be true when we’re regularly faced with use times measured in hours or, at best, tens of hours. Is it really possible, and what about situations where strong light may not be available, like a long-haul, overnight flight?

“Virtually eternal playtime is possible if [the headphones] are exposed to light continuously, and not necessarily outdoors, even if that really helps,” Rosell explained. “With 80 hours of playtime, there is definitely backup enough for the occasions when light is low. For long-haul flights, it should [hold charge] if it has been in the light regularly, but for just those occasions, charging by USB Type-C cable before or on board is always an option.”

Challenges

It’s hard to imagine finding yourself in a situation where an 80-hour playtime wouldn’t be enough before seeing light again, but what about the other features, and the challenges involved in producing the RPT-02 SOL headphones?

“Most other challenges are on the mechanical side,” Rosell said. “We want our headphones to last, not only in ordinary usage, but also heavy use in the gym, for instance, without being treated delicately. Both parties have worked well together to find the optimal setup of charging electronics, but it is a bit of a challenge to find ways to show the charging levels in ways that motivate behavior and make the experience more fun.”

What does this actually mean? Adidas and Zound Industries will inject some motivational fun into the charging.

There is a light indicator on the headphones that shows how well it charges in different light conditions. This will also educate you where they should be placed when not in use to get additional charge. It will also be applied to the app functionality, and could be a motivational aspect to get out in the sun to practice, and thereby also make a positive contribution to the charge.

Wondering about noise cancellation? Rosell confirmed the RPT-02 SOL won’t have active noise cancellation (ANC) mostly due to the on-ear design, but that may change in future versions.

“For future products, we can absolutely include active noise cancellation, but that would probably then be in an over-ear headphone, since on-ear doesn’t provide the right levels of insulation for a strong ANC performance,” he said.

Sustainability

The solar charging and so-called eternal playtime is what makes the Adidas RPT-02 SOL exciting to us as tech fans, but it’s also a key part of the overall sustainability of the product. Adidas and Zound Industries consider the headphones to be a “circular product,” meaning they are sustainably produced and designed to be reusable and remanufactured in the future to minimize waste.

Close-up of the Adidas branding on the RPT-02 SOL's hanger.
Adidas branding on the RPT-02 SOL’s hanger. Image used with permission by copyright holder

“Circular thinking is applied in several areas in the Adidas RPT-02 SOL.” Rosell said. “Large plastic parts are recycled from consumer products such as air conditioners, water bottles, and car headlights. We have our own pretty unique supply chain that makes it possible to source recycled plastics of different qualities and colors. It’s being built for easier recycling when it comes to dismantling, with fewer and smaller electronic circuit boards and less variety of materials.”

“For packaging, we are both working with recycled and/or responsibly sourced paper,” Rosell continued, “and no or absolute minimal use of plastics in the packaging. Even the hanger for the Adidas RPT-02 SOL will be from paper and not plastic compared to the previous models. We have minimized the overall use of plastics in the packaging to very, very close to plastic-free.”

In addition to recycled plastics, the RPT-02 SOL headphones will use recycled polyester for fabric sections, along with some regular plastic and metal, but only where necessary, such as in the parts that need to be more flexible and durable. Rosell said the hope is that by using light to charge the RPT-02 SOL and committing to the concept of a so-called circular product, it “will help make more people aware of how energy is produced, and to think more about sustainability.”

When will the RPT-02 SOL arrive?

“We are about halfway [through the project] and plan to release it in the first half of 2022,” Rosell said. The projected price is between $199 and $229, and will be finalized closer to the launch. While the RPT-02 SOL are still some time away, we may get an idea of how light-powered headphones will work before they arrive next year, as Urbanista announced the Los Angeles headphones in April, which also feature solar charging from any light source and are expected to launch at the end of July.

How do the RPT-02 SOL differ from Urbanista’s Los Angeles headphones? Rosell highlighted five different areas.

“The RPT-02 SOL is a product made from scratch in collaboration with Adidas and true expression of the brand. It’s made from recycled materials, built for recycling, and made to last. They are made for training and an active lifestyle, built with insights from our training creators. Finally, these are on-ear headphones compared to Urbanista’s over-ear form factor, which makes them more suitable in a training scenario and a more compact and lighter design.”

The Urbanista Los Angeles use a solar charging technology called Powerfoyle, created with sustainable technology company Exeger, which apparently provides an 80-hour power reserve just like the RPT-02 SOL. Rosell confirms it’s the same technology used on the RPT-02 SOL. Interestingly, the Los Angeles headphones do feature noise cancellation.

Solar charging for headphones is an exciting development, and we asked Rosell what excited him most about the Adidas project.

“It’s the holistic effect of having both the light cell and the leading-edge use of recycled materials, all that packaged in a very sturdy, nice-looking, and well-sounding headphone,” he replied. “It’s a bit of an icon for us of how future consumer electronics products should be made.”

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Andy Boxall
Andy is a Senior Writer at Digital Trends, where he concentrates on mobile technology, a subject he has written about for…
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