PROS: Almost Neutral Tuning, Highly Transparent and Engaging Sound, Excellent Technical Abilities, Top Notch Build, Very Comfortable
CONS: Non-Standard 2-Pin Connector Makes Cable Swapping Difficult.
I would like to thank Musicteck and QDC for offering a discount on the purchase of the QDC Anole VX in exchange for a review.
I was shopping for TOTL IEM with a neutral-warm signature to use as a daily driver. I have heard most of the pre-2018 TOTL IEMs and each IEM had one or 2 aspects that stopped me from buying it. And then we saw many IEMs being released in 2018 and most of which were flagships.
Anole VX is the flagship IEM from QDC that was released during the fall of 2018. I am not too familiar with their entire lineup. But from what I have read, it seems like they go for a very balanced signature. What drew me to the VX was, I heard good feedback about the IEM from quite a few people whose impressions I trust. Which was enough to pull the trigger. The universal version of the VX sells for $2300.
Packaging, Accessories and Cable:
Anole VX comes in a big box and everything about it screams quality. The box is too huge and bit of an overkill for an IEM. Inside the box, you have the Anole VX itself with the cable, a hard clamshell carrying case, 6 additional pairs fo tips, a cleaning tool (which doubles as a tool to flip the switches on the VX), an airplane adapter, the usual paperwork and a tiny QC approved certificate.
Cable seems to be a hybrid of Copper and SPC, but I can’t say for sure. It is supple and light, resulting in a very ergonomic experience. But it is way too supple that it tends to tangle quite easily. Something to keep in mind is, QDC uses protruding 2 pin connectors like on the UM and UE IEMs, but with flipped polarity. So when ordering cables, make sure you are ordering it for QDC. I would highly recommend Dita and Effect Audio in case you are interested in getting a cable for your QDC IEM.
Dita apparently offers its Oslo cable with QDC termination. The best part is, Dita sends the cable to QDC Headquarters to be terminated to QDC connectors. Effect Audio and QDC have collaborated in the past to make limited editions of QDC IEMs, and they are well aware of the QDC termination.
Build, Comfort and Isolation:
Build Quality and finish is simply perfect. As for the looks, I will leave it to you to decide. I actually love the looks. It uses clear acrylic shells filled with silver nuggets in the shell part and silver glass fibres in the faceplate. So it has a kind of greyish-white look that some might dig. For others it may not be quite demure as they would prefer. You can’t see the internals of the universal VX, but I have seen a picture of the custom VX with transparent shells, and I was astonished with the neatness in wiring. QDC seems to obsess over perfection. QDC uses the semi-custom shape shell for their IEMs like the Prophile 8 from InEar, which gives an extremely comfortable fit. The IEM offers excellent isolation for a universal fit. Almost on the same level as Shure or Westone IEMs. But depending on the fit, the isolation might differ from person to person.
One of the interesting aspects about the VX is the tuning system, which is achieved using 3 switches that control Bass, Mids and Treble. In the next section (Switches) I will discuss the effects of the individual and combination of switches in the On position. In order to establish a baseline, I am going to describe how the VX sounds in its default setting, which is all switches in the Off position.
VX’s signature/tuning can be described as ‘close to neutral’. But let’s add more context to the word neutral. Among the 3 popular neutral targets for headphones/IEMs, VX’s tuning resembles more closely with the Diffused Field neutral. In the IEM realm, the term ‘neutral’ is sometimes used to refer to aspects such as limp bass, lean mids, boring and sterile sound. But VX isn’t any of that. It is one of the nicely done neutrality in IEMs. My LCD-i4 with the Cipher-Cable is more a natural-neutral. Compared to that, VX is more of a reference-neutral. The difference is, i4 gives a slight priority to tonality over technicality, where as, VX gives equal weightage to both aspects. But every now and then, it can come across as prioritising technicality over tone.
While the overall tuning and tone is neutral, there is a bit of sharpness in the treble region, which is a result of a slightly tipped up treble. Unless you are very sensitive to treble sharpness, VX’s treble should be fine. In fact many would appreciate its crispness and airiness. The thing is, some of the widely acclaimed full-sized headphones sound brighter and sharper than the VX. But usually such headphones are paired with tube amps, which help remove the edge in the treble. Unfortunately that is not an option in the portable realm. VX’s treble is also highly resolving and it contributes to the IEM’s commendable technical abilities. While the VX is not a detail oriented IEM, the amount of details it presents is quite high.
VX stays true to its neutrality in the midrange by presenting an uncoloured midrange. Don’t mistake the lack of colour as sterility, for the midrange is more than adequately bodied and is far from thin or light sounding. With the right amount of body and neutral tone, VX presents a very transparent midrange. In fact VX is one of the most transparent multi-BA IEMs I have hear to date. The transparency and neutrality in the midrange also lets the VX present the vocals in their rawest form. The transparent midrange and the tipped up treble infuses the IEM with a lot of energy. So folks who love a energetic sound would love the VX. But for people sensitive to energy and treble sharpness, VX can get aggressive and unforgiving, when listening to poorly recorded/mastered tracks. But the IEM is not adamantly unforgiving, as you could bring the aggressiveness down a notch by using a smooth and laidback source.
VX has a very clean bass section despite having a very slight boost. But it is a nicely done boost where you only get a nice sense of impact without any muddiness. Even so, it is more of a technical bass with quick decay, than an authoritative one. Once you flip the bass switch up, the scale tips towards the authority side of things. There is an increase in impact and slam further. Of course, even with the bass switch on, it is far from bass-head levels of bass. For a neutrally tuned, BA-based IEM, there is decent sub-bass extension. Overall, its a well behaved bass range that complements the rest of the signature. As for the presentation, VX has a cube sized stage with amazing depth but average width. So it may not appear as spacious and holographic as a U18’s stage. But it has better stage organisation and presents a very black background. With its high resolution, it does instrument separation, layering and imaging quite admirably.
Tuning System – Switches:
The switches are located on the top side of the shell. Make sure to keep the included cleaning tool safe, as it is necessary to flip the switches. No you can’t flip the switches using your fingers. I would advise against using a flat head metal screw driver as it might damage the plastic switches. With the 3 switches, you get a total of 8 combinations, which includes the setting with all switches in the Off position.
1. Bass Switch On:
This increases the bass region (20-200Hz), resulting in an improved bass authority in the form of increased impact and slam. As the boost is strictly within the bass frequencies, there is no addition of warmth or body to the lower-midrange.
2. Mid Switch On:
This doesn’t change the tone of the midrange or add color to it, but it only brings the mid-range forward. There is a slight increase in clarity, without any additional brightness. Vocals sound more forward and clear. Some might find the vocals verging into the shouty territory.
3. Treble Switch On:
This tips up the treble further and there by increasing the articulation, crispness, air and the resolution. Tone and timbre take a hit, as the tone gets skewed into the brightness territory. There is also a sense of improvement in technical aspects.
4. Bass and Mid Switches On:
This is a laidback sounding combo as the treble is not as much on the foreground. This is in a way a fun sounding combo for people preferring a smooth type of fun sound. This works well for pop and synthetic. However, the VX loses bit of its transparency as the signature is no longer linear.
5. Bass and Treble Switches On:
This kind of results in a slight U shaped signature, which results in an energetic fun sound. But I hate to say U shaped as, even in this configuration, mids are still present. This combo works particularly well for synthetic music.
6. Mid and Treble Switches On:
This results in clarity focussed vocals and adds bite to female vocals and instruments like piano and violins. The tone gets sharper and is more of a neutral-bright signature now. Bass is now completely neutral. But because this is a BA IEM, the bass may come across as inadequate.
7. All Switches On:
The tuning now becomes more of a W shaped signature. It is no longer linear and the IEM loses its coherency and specialty. I really can’t think of a use for this combo, unless, you are using a severely underpowered source and are not able to reach your normal listening volume.