qdc Anole V14 Universal IEM

KuroKitsu

Headphoneus Supremus
Oriental Chameleon
Preamble: As much as QDC is my equivalent of Fitear is to @riverground, the cost of whatever their latest iteration is in the Anole series is hard to stomach when the Odin is in the same range, and was the primary reason that this universe was the one where this review would not exist. These impressions have been enabled by Aussie audiophile and revolving door of high end audio gear @Damz87. Who generously accepted a multi-continent trade for his meticulously maintained V14 in exchange for a slightly scratched A8000 and a demo model M4. What initially was an attempted to free up funds in the A8000 became the opportunity to try yet another kilobuck TOTL (thanks HeadFi). I really hope the price doesn't jump up for the next iteration of their flagship as the VX was relatively high for it's time already with the V14 is eye-watering given the competition. I do wish the price was as chameleony as it's namesale, but enough of that, the V14 comes first.

I've waxed poetic and am a huge fan of the Empire and 64 Audio house sounds and for all intents and purposes you really couldn't go any further....or so I thought. In comparison to other markets in East Asian, the Chinese market has a relatively different preference for their sound. Especially when compared to the more western leaning hybrid signatures that come out of Japanese, Korean and Singaporean manufacturers. From the first time I put a QDC product in my ears, there's always been this sense of "yes, THIS is what I was looking for". Backed by years of experience with audio reproduction, QDC has an essential monopoly on the professional market. In fact I don't think I've ever seen any competitor in a Chinese music competition have anything in their ears. Unfortunately their house sound is firstly professional rather than audiophile (like 64) and secondly the uniquely Chinese sound preference and I just don't see it clicking with western audiophiles or even those who listen to western music. As such their market is limited to the East Asia area. It's horrible for my wallet, great for my ears and hard to resell (Is that a bad thing though?). I found the V14 eerily similar to the A12t, but separated by $700 benajmins in price. And I have to say that the V14 aboslutely warrants that price tag after exchanging blows. Ultimately price at no point factored in to my decisions to keep the A12t over QDC's most elegant and sophisticated chameleon to date.

Design: As always, the semi-custom shells are a perfect fit. Not as snug as my A12t mind you, but close enough that I almost forget the V14 is in my ear during long listening sessions, there's never any feeling that the fit is loose or shifting. Despite the whopping 14 driver configuration per side, the V14 is surprisingly light as well. QDC has followed up the metallic silver on the VX and the elegant purple wood on the DMagic with yet what feels like another art piece than a set of audio transducers. A classy black speckled with carbon fibre with the gold V14 logo on both sides as well as "qdc" on the antitragus. Of course this being a flagship with the highest price tag outside of the Blue Dragon meant that QDC also made it glow in the dark after being exposed to UV light (or the sun), a bit gimmicky but also much more useful than say having switches. The switches get an additional toggle from the VX, and I'd much rather opt for a slightly cheaper model without for both practical and theoretical concerns. Thought the appeal of having potentially 16 different tunings in an iem might appeal to some of you. While it is possible to get a normal 2 pin socket version of the V14, for ease and speed most of us will be the getting the standard extruded 0.75 2 pin with reverse polarity (Not an issue as covered by @jwbrent) which does make life for use prolific cable rollers so I advise spending some time to get the normal 2 pin version if you plan to try cables. V14 also comes with a brand new 12 core iteration of the stock copper/silver (6 copper, 6 silver) with the swappable termination which I found an already excellent pairing out of the box and the third entry onto my list of excellent stock cables. Of course, the stock cable comes with angled connectors and that may pose an issue with comfort for some of you. The nozzles as usually are metal with lips (EMPIRE TAKE NOTES) and the stock tips stay on quite well. V14 eagerly shows you it's a chameleon in the category of fitting in your ears, lets see how much more chameleony it can get.

Testing: QDC includes excellent stock tips out of the box, so rather than go to the Deepmounts I opted to use the stock tips in small. Some testing also resulted in a better fit for me than the Deepmounts in this case. They must be using the Gen 2 Estas in the V14 as I could discern no change in the treble regardless of low or high gain on the 4.4 of the WM1A. I ended up going to my usual combination of low gain/4.4/55 on the 1A for the V14. Switch equipped models have always been a hit or miss for me so I just went for the stock tuning with all switches off.

Bass: The V14 seems to have shifted from what I remembered as a slight midbass bias on the VX, instead opting this time for subbass bias. It holds up well in the price bracket in terms of extension, perhaps coming across much more clearly than say the warmer tuned Balmung. The bass is not a basshead tier but offers good slam to please the average audiophile. However the impact seems to have been dialed back, but this seems to be a compromise on the part of QDC to maintain a balanced signature that's also doesn't induced fatigue too quickly being a sealed design. The bass shelf is clean and there is no bleed at all into the mids, however the bass response still manages to give the lower mids excellent body.

Mids: The VX had this really weird issue that was pointed out to me by another audio friend with the mids. There's some sort of weird dip when transitioning between the lower and upper mids that is blatantly obvious. The V14 has no such issue I'm glad to report. As mentioned in the paragraph prior the lower mids have excellent body and not a hint of recession despite the bass shelf. While not the boosted " Do y'all have more of that upper mids" that I really really like, there is ample air for female mids, and similarly no recession. Both male and female vocals are extremely well balanced while offering what they need to shine. The mids have a slightly forward presentation so that regardless of the treble sparkling or bass line, the mids are always clear and present but never shouty.

Treble: V14 carries the concept of balance right into the treble as well. There's good treble energy with a slight sparkle. While dark and smooth, cymbals and high hats come across perfectly and those with 5 and 7k sensitivities can rest easy and eat their cake too. This ensures that the treble, like the bass never steals the show. I could have done with a bit more sparkle, but I really can't complain if cymbals and high hats sound right. Treble extension is fairly good, but the V14 like most other flagships opt for a focus in the lower and mid treble with a roll off in the upper treble. This also benefits those who's auditory systems no longer handle upper treble.

Conclusion: QDC's flagship line is called "Anole" or Chameleon in Chinese (Chameleons are not Anoles, which is a weird choice in english) and with the V14 I think they've done it again. A flagship that hits well in it's price bracket and by virtue of the well tuned signature is a chameleon to whatever music you put through it. Technicality wise it has solid imaging, handling the busy of my test tracks with ease backed by an equally wide and depth soundstage that makes it feel like you're sitting in the middle of a concert hall with the music flowing around you.

During my time with the V14, I noticed a striking similarity in tuning with the A12t. To the point where I was flip flopping on which to keep over the better part of a week. The deciding factor ended up being the treble presentation: I just liked A12t's use of the upper treble with a more recessed lower and mid treble much more than the lower and mid treble focused V14. Although I have to admit that I found myself reaching for the V14 more than the A12t during my time with it. The V14 although dark, was a more musical listen and also had a slight edge in the technicalities compared to the A12t and I find that enough justification for the price difference.

This time QDC chose to lean towards a darker signature that would appeal better to western audiences, they also managed to still retain the appeal of their house design, giving me those elements of the Chinese sound preference. While many of you are looking for some sort of specialist iem in the V14's price bracket, the V14 is a true all-rounder iem backed by excellent performance that I recommend giving a try especially due to the signature. This isn't your grandfather's or even your father's QDC and you never know, but you might just like it yet.
jwbrent
jwbrent
Great review and I fully concur the V14 is a must listen. 👍

Wasaabi

Previously known as TweedLee
qdc's Anole products never disappoint me
Pros: Got a natural sound; all frequency bands(balance armatures) cooperate smoothly with each other; the sound is warm and very listenable; the resolution is very good.
Cons: Expensive.
I have a trial of each Anole product of qdc, yes I am very like this series of products.
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Design:
Qdc has always been excellent in the volume control of the Universal iems, and the previous models like qdc3, Neptune have a wearing experience that is almost not lost to CIEMs. The V14 has 14 drivers(on one side), which is a large number, but its volume is still controlled at an excellent level.

Configuration:
14 drivers on one side (10 BA drivers + 4 EST drivers), which is a luxry configuration. And this kind of configuration is enough to allow V14 to stand in the first echelon of similar products for a long time. In particular, the newly customized bass balanced armature makes the V14's ultra-low frequency performance better than the previous flagship balanced armature earphones, achieving a new breakthrough.

Sound:
I listened the V14 in standard mode. Although the V14 is only with BA drivers + EST drivers, the sound of it gives me the feeling that it combines the relaxed sound of dynamic drivers, the detailed image of balanced armatures, and the extension of treble of the electrostatic drivers.

Bass: V14 has a deep sub bass with excellent elasticity and will not be boomy. When performing some electronic music and rock music, the image is very clear and audible, with a lots of details.

Mids: The mids of V14 is with a high density. Its mids is very clear and natural. Especially when I listened the songs of playing an instrument, every small details are replayed very well, and I was feeling like, the scene was in my mind.

Treble: V14's trebel control is very strong. Under standard mode, I can feel that under qdc's tunning, the EST drivers output a bright but not irritating treble. It provides a air sense of sound.

Conclusion:
QDC V14 must have become the strongest iems of qdc currently(excluding qdc's luxury product: Blue Dragon). Considering the position of qdc in China's iems industry, it is not an exaggeration to call the V14 the strongest iems made in China.
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M
Macklin
Nice review. I just ordered a pair because I was offered a really good sale. I have never really been into IEM, how detailed do you think this is compared to a full sized headphone?
Wasaabi
Wasaabi
Thx, it depends on which full-sized headphone you are comparing. If compared to HD800S, the detailed performance of V14 is excellent, but not as "obvious" as HD800S, which makes it sound a more natural and listenable headset.
A boosted and supercharged VX
Pros: Excellent levels of resolution, clarity, bass response, and slam.
Cons: Might be slightly bass-heavy for some.
Introduction
The past few years have seen improved performance in IEMs as transducer technology continues to advance with multiple flagship level IEMs starting to combine different types of transducers in their products. Earlier this year, and with little fanfare, the Anole V14 from qdc was released to the public at the 2021 Shanghai International Headphone Show. This new flagship of the qdc brand is the successor, and technological evolution, of the highly popular Anole VX. The VX has remained one of my favorite flagship IEM’s since first hearing it back in 2018.

For those not yet in the know, Shenzhen-based qdc is one of the largest and most technologically advanced IEM manufacturers in China. The company mainly caters to the Chinese domestic market in professional and consumer audio applications.

During our visit to China for the inaugural CanJam Shanghai show back in 2018, Jude and I got to spend some time with qdc at their headquarters in Shenzhen. The facility was highly impressive and featured a full anechoic chamber as well as some of the most advanced audio testing equipment available at the time.

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The Anole VX featured 10 balanced armature drivers along with the unique feature of having 3 tuning switches for low, mid, and high frequencies.

The V14 ($2,738 MSRP) ups the ante with 14 drivers, including 10 newly customized balanced armature drivers, and 4 EST electrostatic drivers. And due to the electrostatic drivers providing more extension, there are now 4 tuning switches for low, mid, high, and ultra high frequencies.

On paper and based on this driver configuration, my expectation going in to this review was that the V14 would sound like a VX with more lower end emphasis and a smoother top end. Let’s find out.

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Unboxing and First Impressions
The V14 comes packaged in a robust and well designed presentation box, which upon opening elevates to present the contents inside. The first impression is of a luxury product that is decidedly low-key, with the design choice of a darker color which upon first glance looks like a fairly flat black with gold branding and design accents.

The package includes a beautifully designed carrying case which is felt-lined and leather-wrapped. It also opens and closes seamlessly using a magnetic lid. A choice of 3 adapters is included with a 2.5mm, 3.5mm, and 4.4. Pentacon adapter in the box, giving users flexibility to use with their player of choice. Also included is a set of qdc eartips, ¼” adapter, airplane adapter, care instructions, and a handy reference card for the tuning switches with suggested configurations based on the genre type.

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While the Anole VX impressed visually with its shimmery silver that gave the effect of seeing crushed aluminum foil inside the earcups, the V14 takes a more subtle and low key design approach. The faceplate of the V14 is made of 3D fluorescent material which after exposure to sunlight, will change into a green color. Shining a flashlight for a few seconds on to the V14 faceplate revealed a beautiful shade of green, with visually striking design inlays.

The headphone cable is a 12 core, braided silver/copper hybrid cable, which looks identical but is slightly beefier compared to the 8 core cable included with the Anole VX. And while some will undoubtedly look to explore after market cable options, the cable is ergonomically well designed, light, and folds easily without getting tangled.

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Setup
My primary configuration when using the V14 is with an Astell+Kern SP1000 Copper with the 2.5mm balanced adapter. In order to determine how the V14 scales in different configurations, I also used a THX Onyx dongle dac/headphone amplifier with the 3.5mm adapter and the dCS Bartok (in -20, low gain mode) with the ¼” adapter. Most listening impressions were with the tuning switches turned off. Although the tuning switches may appeal for certain genres, I usually try to listen to the baseline in order to get a better handle on the overall sound signature of the IEM.

Sound Impressions
The V14 is a highly resolving, engaging, and visceral listening experience. The sound signature takes all of the great elements of the Anole VX - neutral with a slight touch of warmth - and dials things up a notch. Most notably with a slightly enhanced bass response and a slightly more detailed top end. The mids are also slightly forward with great presence and intimacy.

While I would still characterize the V14 on the warm side of a neutral sound signature, the enhanced bass quality and quantity, engaging and slightly forward mids, and crystal clear and airy highs make the V14 a particularly compelling listening experience with the rock/metal/EDM genres as this IEM slams particularly well, while remaining composed and overall well balanced.

The V14 also scales extremely well and sounds absolutely sublime running in low gain mode out of the dCS Bartok. There is more air and space around instruments and the overall image is even more focused and three dimensional. The V14 manages to be musical and engaging without being fatiguing and can seamlessly tap into bass slam and visceral impact when called upon, and at the same time sound airy and delicate.

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Comparisons
The following is a brief comparison of the differences between the V14 and a few other qdc IEMs:

qdc Anole VX (Universals)
The ten balanced armature driver Anole VX, remains one of my favorite flagship IEMs of the past few years and is close to my ideal sound signature with its neutral reference character with a touch of warmth. The V14 retains a similar sound signature with a slightly elevated bass response, and a more detailed top end. The result is an even more engaging listen which may suit certain genres. The VX is still more of a neutral reference sound, with the V14 a more engaging and enjoyable take on a neutral reference sound.

qdc DMagic 3d (Universals)
The qdc Dmagic 3d is a neutral triple dynamic driver IEM that puts the listener several rows back as compared to the front row listening experience of the V14. I can listen to the Dmagic 3d for hours without a hint of fatigue as everything just sounds coherent and retains good levels of musicality. The V14 sounds bigger and fuller with a higher level of overall resolution.

Conclusion
The V14 is a worthy successor to the Anole VX and is a fantastic flagship suitable for a wide range of listeners. It takes the neutral but slightly warm signature of the VX and takes it up a notch in terms of dynamics, microdetail, and bass response while maintaining a beautiful level of transparency and clarity. For my personal listening tastes, the V14 is a worthy upgrade to the VX and is a must-audition for those looking for an engaging and balanced sound, with slam, and extreme clarity. A boosted and supercharged VX.
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jwbrent
jwbrent
Nice write up. I owned the VX and loved it as well, but I sold it to fund the V14 which I like even more. One of my favorites in my collection. 👍
KojiCO
KojiCO
Seriously looking forward to bringing these little babies in for review
The VX to date stands alone as one of my all-time favourites not only for the universal fit that fits like custom, but the exceptional tonal balance and the magic they have done with ba drivers
For a long time they were the only thing I could keep next to Susvara without it **** itself
Obviously not to the same league but it could stay in the same room without shivering
Here’s my in-depth review if you find interests in the VX as well

ANOLE VX FROM QDC REVIEW | An IEM from the Gods
Wasaabi
Wasaabi
I think qdc's Anole family got a similar sound style, each of them meets my taste.
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