Pros: • Easygoing, balanced tuning
• Superb Comfort
• Good Bass, especially for a single-BA
Cons: • Lackluster Technical Performance
• Unvented Shell
• Nozzle is completely unfinished
At a glance:
Overall Rating: A- (S+ to C-)
Category B: (100-300 USD), MSRP: 200 USD
The Neptunes are the entry-level IEM of the normally TOTL CIEM maker QDC, they were launched in 2017 and sport a single full-range balanced armature driver in a hollow, unvented acrylic shell. These are tuned to be smooth, inoffensive and generally pleasant.
Unfortunately, these were purchased second-hand, and did not come to me complete so I will not be scoring this section. These come in QDC’s standard retail packaging for their cheaper IEMs, a decently sized cardboard box with a transparent window to display the IEMs. It comes with 7 pairs of tip, 4 standard white silicon tips in S/MS/M/L, and 3 dual-flange deep insert tips in S/M/L. I believe it also comes with a very nice faux leather case, and a cleaning brush. The included cable is a nice feeling 4 core twisted cable, it has a nice metal 3.5mm TRRRS jack and metal chin splitter. It also features a 3-button mic on the right side. The cable is soft and feels good in the hand with no microphonics. Unfortunately, it has quite a lot of shape memory and tangles quite easily, however it’s still very much a decent cable. Packaging looks solid to me at 200 USD, though again, no rating here.
This IEM’s housing is hand built with a hollow piece of blue acrylic, that has a beautiful pearlescent faceplate attached to it. The BA driver is positioned directly at the nozzle, which means no tubes, so the rest of the shell is hollow air space. The IEM was apparently shaped using the molds of many different people’s ears (which is likely true due to the fact that QDC is a CIEM company), and it shows. This IEM is very comfortable on ear, the fins and bulges are all rather well-positioned to fit on your ear well, and I had no discomfort even after a whole day of continuous listening. A small gripe here is the fact that this is another unvented-BA IEM, which means pressure buildup unless they’re inserted properly and in a specific way.
Additionally, a much larger gripe here is the fact that the nozzle where the tips are attached to is completely unfinshed. The surface is rough and uneven and I worry that tips can possibly be damaged over time, especially narrower bore tips that fit more snugly on the rather large lip this has on the nozzle.
Overall build is good these IEMs feel alright despite being hollow, and are very comfortable in ear, all things considered. However, the unfinished nozzle is completely unacceptable at this price point and drags this IEM’s overall build score down.
Sound Review Conditions:
Stock Cable was used
Sound impression based on both the stock tips, however I also switched to Symbio W Hybrid widebores for comfort. (thanks to the rather narrow nozzle opening and single-BA set up, tips-rolling doesn’t have as much of an effect.)
Sources used: Deezer and Tidal HiFI, Signalyst HQ Player, Foobar 2000 HR-FLACs and PCM, Spotify, and YT Premium
DAC/AMPs: KGUSS BH-3, and AVANI, JM20, CX-PRO, JM6 Dongles
The bass on this IEM is not BA bass. It’s not recessed or rolled off, in fact, it’s rather prominent. Bass has a good amount of authority and weight behind it, and is relatively flat throughout, with slight emphasis on the sub and mid bass, which helps quite a bit in terms of bass impact. The fact that weight is decently well distributed through the bass region helps quite a bit in terms of keeping the bass balanced. However, I find the bass to be lacking in both transient impact and decay, with it lacking the quality of something like the Audiosense DT300 (3 knowles BA). Bass is also reasonably fast and it has decent texture and separation. Overall bass performance is well-tuned in terms of quantity and presentation; however it falls a little short in terms of quality, especially compared to newer sets.
The mids on this IEM are… nothing special. Presentation sounds quite good, with centered vocals that are only marginally recessed in the upper mids however the entire mid-range has a very-light warmish tint, similar to that of the Tanchjim Tanya though quite a bit less then that. It doesn’t sound “wooly” however it does throw of the tonality of both female vocals and colder, sharper strings, robbing them of some “bite” and edge in exchange for a much less offensive presentation, making this a good IEM for badly mastered music. The tonal coloration is not necessarily a bad thing, just a matter of personal preference. In the context of this IEM’s smooth tuning, it cannot be counted as a flaw.
Treble on this IEM is takes on similar tuning characteristics to the rest of this IEM, with laid-back and inoffensive characteristics. It’s slightly recessed and muted however still present. The lower-middle treble range is rather balanced in the way of snap and sparkle characteristics, however the upper-treble roll off and cramped stage does mean that this IEM suffers a little bit in the “airiness” department. Thankfully, the warm tilt does not persist until this range unlike with the Tanyas and the treble has the correct hints of metallic character that is inherent to things like cymbals. Overall treble performance is well-tuned, if rather unremarkable.
This is where the IEM completely falls flat in terms of keeping up with it’s modern competitors. The soundstage is narrower than average in this price point and makes it so that tracks mastered for a wide stage are rather cramped. Separation and layering suffer as a result. Thanks to the warmish layer on the mids, a lot of detail has likely disappeared. Ditto for the slight treble recession. Likely due to the fact that this is a single-BA IEM, it just does not have the raw resolving power of multi-driver IEMs. Coherency is obviously good thanks to that though, and metallic “BA” timbre is thankfully also not here. Decay and attack could be better done as well. Imaging is not bad, about par to marginally below average for the course in terms of positioning and finiteness. Overall technical performance is squarely below average, and the hamstring that prevents this IEM from being relevant today.
The tuning on these is remarkably solid, and shows the thought and skill put into it my QDC’s tuners. However, the technical performance of this set is quite a bit behind even 100 USD IEMs half of it’s price that it becomes a difficult value proposition at 200 USD. At the used, secondhand prices that it can be picked up for however, it’s still a solid set tuning wise, and about average to marginally below technicalities wise. Recommended only at a Steep Discount
Excellent value for the price ~$220 USD. I listened to qdc's lineup at CanJam 2019 and was very impressed by their lowest price IEM, the qdc Neptune. It has a single balanced armature driver but puts out impressive sound. Very smooth sounding and transparent, similar to my Campfire Andromeda. Comparing it side by side with the Andromeda, the qdc Neptune is almost as clear sounding, with deeper and louder bass, but vocals are a little recessed and there is some treble roll-off. I don't have my Shure SE849 (~$900 USD) anymore, but I'd bet that these sound better. Compared to the Andromeda, which is one of the best sounding IEMs out there, the Neptune comes closer than it should for its price. It also includes by default one of the premium (usually +$75 USD) face plates offered as a customization option for their other IEMs. One thing to note is that it uses 0.75 mm 2 pin cables with reversed polarity compared to existing cables with a slightly different attachment style. This makes replacing the cable less than ideal.
Pros: Excellent comfort
Top grade build quality
Smooth, pleasing and natural sound
Cons: Lacking extension
Resolution and clarity bellow average at price
Note: My qdc Neptune review was originally posted in Czech at AVmania.E15.cz, this is my modified English version. English is not my native language and this is also my first review for Head-fi, so please be merciful to any of my mistakes.
qdc, or officially Shenzhen Qili Audio Application Co., Ltd., is Chinese manufacturer of custom and universal IEMs. Even though their presence internationally and on Head-fi is limited, they are the biggest CIEM player on huge Chinese market, supplying the most popular music and TV stars with their in-ears.
qdc offers wide range of models in three different lines – Live, Studio and Hi-fi, ranging from 3 to 8 balanced armatures. All these models come in both universal and custom form, both forms can be designed to your wishes using wide range of premium materials such as wood, mica, gold dust or even jewellery. But in this review, I will focus on their “budget” model, Neptune.
Neptune is priced at 200 USD and its overall focus is more on wider market, the “normal people”. To achieve this price, there must have been some cuts. Neptune is available only in universal form and for now, produced only with one set design. Also, it uses only a single balanced armature driver and comes with one tuning.
On other hand, even in such a low-priced model, whole build is still done by hand, faceplate is from their premium material and overall build quality is on same level as qdc’s High-end models.
Disclaimer: Neptune used for this review was borrowed to me by my friend, who acquired them shortly after my visit to qdc. It’s not review sample from qdc, neither loaner unit.
Where to buy them?
Firstly I must mention availability, which is little bit complicated for now. Qdc offers Neptune directly on their website, but their standard shipping cost is 120 USD. While that can be sort of acceptable when we are talking about 1 500 USD customs, it’s kind of ridiculous with 200 USD IEMs.
Neptune is of course available from multiple sellers on Taobao, but if you are outside of China, it means you would need to use some agent for purchase and shipping.
Luckily, qdc is slowly getting more distributors around south-east Asia, so you can currently find Neptune in offer of Singapore based Music Sanctuary (but for higher 245 USD price) and mainly at Jaben. Jaben is currently best place to purchase Neptune if you are in Europe or USA, including shipping with FedEx it should end up being around 240 USD.
Accessory and packaging
Compared to some other smaller CIEM manufacturers, qdc prepared standard retail package for their mass market model. You could easily put it on shelf next to some Sennheiser headphones and it would fit.
Inside is mix of silicone eartips, 4 sizes of clear standard shapes tips and 3 sizes of grey double-flange tips. For this review I used stock clear tips, but I also tried JVC Spiral dot, Spinfit and Final audio eartips, all fit without problem.
You also get pair of adapters for 6.3 mm jack and for airplane and standard cleaning tool. To protect Neptune while traveling, qdc prepared beautiful faux leather case. If we compare it to the leather case from Campfire Audio, qdc offering maybe isn’t as premium looking, but is clear winner with more robust and practical construction.
Design and build
As I mentioned, whole build process is done by hand by team of skilled technicians. I had chance to see the whole process in person and it was beautiful, seeing every little detail, all skill and precision that goes into every single one of these IEMs. No wonder that Neptune’s build quality can rival even the best custom IEM manufacturers on market. Completely transparent shell without any haze or bubbles, inside everything neatly put together, with no excessive glue or acrylic, all covered in shiny lacquer.
Only problem is tip of the nozzle, mainly the lip for holding eartips. This part is made little bit more roughly, without polishing and with no final lacquer. Compared to stunning look of IEM‘s body, it’s not matching neither in look or in quality. Luckily it will be always covered by tips, so I don’t really care.
For the shape of Neptune, qdc is using their experience with custom IEMs and result is very “custom like” shape. It’s pretty comparable to shells of InEar universals, which I think have one of the best fitting IEMs on the market. Of course, using only one balanced armature allows qdc to make it significantly smaller. It’s definitely the smallest “custom like” universal IEM I ever saw.
All Neptunes are made with deep blue translucent shell and blue “mica” faceplate. If you would order this design for other qdc models, it would be 75$ for the faceplate alone. So I think it’s very good deal on 200$ IEM. Overall, they are stunning looking monitors, definitely fitting their name and since no mica faceplate is same, each IEM has its own unique look.
Qdc uses protruding 2 pin connector, should be the same standard as Ultimate Ears and Unique Melody. Nice little touch is colour marking under connectors, the red and blue dot you can see on my photos.
I personally like this connector for its tight connection and more comfortable fit with cable angled directly around the ear. But at the same time, getting replacement or upgrade cable can be little harder, because not every cable manufacturer offer this connector. And If you would want to make your own cable, getting good quality connector, that wouldn’t crack after few months (as I experienced with my UM Martians diy cable), is quite challenging.
But before we get to replacement cables, how is included stock cable? It’s tightly twisted cable with 4 cores, using silver plated copper. Still quite thin, yet more robust than Plastics1 cable. Overall with good comfort, because it’s pliant, light and doesn’t hold shape. Ear guides are made from soft preshaped heatshrink pvc, which I think is significantly preferable to older wire earguides. Cable is terminated with strong, yet slim metal 3.5 mm jack, that can easily fit even when case is used on phone or DAP.
Since Neptune aims at mass market, its stock cable comes with 3 button microphone. It works nicely with my Honor 9 phone and I’m sure many people will be satisfied with it. But I would like to see accessory with both microphone and standard cables, because I never use my IEMs with phone, so microphone is just added annoyance, that also prevents you from turning this cable into balanced connection.
Comfort and isolation
Simply superb, for me one of the best fitting universals on market.
Custom like shape sits great inside ear, fit is super secure, yet extremely comfortable. Neptune doesn’t fulfil my ear like much bigger Prophile 8 or qdc 8 drivers, so it doesn’t give me that feeling of filled ears you have with customs. Neptune sits lighter, with some space around, which for me adds to overall comfort and mainly allows even people with smaller ears to use them comfortably.
Closed shell with little deeper fit gives me strong isolation, easily tier above my Noble universals and just slightly away from my customs.
For testing, I was using mainly my benchmark Sony WM1A, single ended, firmware 2.0. I also tested them on multiple other players and although the differences in sound quality were noticeable, Neptune doesn’t scale that much. When it comes to sensitivity, Neptune is little above average, so it can play nicely from phones, yet isn’t extremely revealing of source hiss.
With tonality of Neptune, qdc went for easy going, smooth and mellow sound, free of any unwanted and aggressive peaks. Yet it managed to do it with just a little coloration. Music simply floats around you, keeps on going without any disturbances and long listening sessions are free of any fatigue. Add the coherency of single driver setup and you have simply perfect IEM for long relaxing listening while traveling or working. Not the most exciting, not the most neutral or analytical, but simply pleasing.
Mid-bass is little bit boosted, adding needed quantity and impact, yet it stays very controlled, with above average speed. Unfortunately, extension to sub-bass is far from optimal. It hurts some of bass instruments, since they can sound lacking body and in some music styles, sound is missing the needed deep rumbling.
Midrange is the strongest aspect of Neptune. Slightly forward, little bit warmer, with great natural tone and creating inviting atmosphere. Mids sounds fuller, just enough to make male vocals sound correctly dense and woman vocals still staying light and quite crisp. Superb smoothness of midrange creates mellow sound without any trace of sibilance, but in the end, makes them sound partly veiled.
Laidback and slightly rolled off treble focuses mainly on smoothness and it truly is free of any strong peaks. Treble manages to sound surprisingly clear, with great control and natural timbre, but lower resolution is its main shortcoming.
Soundstage is presented as smaller, more intimate, with less air and subpar depth. At least separation and left-right localization is pretty good.
With their expensive flagship models, qdc can rival the best IEM manufacturers on market. But they also managed to bring this premium feel, the top-notch construction, stunning look and extremely high comfort, into their budget model Neptune. In some technical aspects of sound, it maybe isn’t as capable as some of the competitors in this price range, but thanks to great tuning, with smooth, pleasing and natural sound, Neptune can definitely win over hearts of many listeners.