Over my 10 years as audiophile and reviewer, I owned 8 different custom in-ears and I was always extremely curious how are they made. So, when I finally got my chance to visit one of the manufacturers during my stay in China, I didn’t hesitate for a moment. Firstly, I must give my thanks to David from qdc for his assistance and for willingness to meet me in their offices on Saturday afternoon. What is qdc? 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. I personally noticed them more in 2017, when they started slowly exploring international market, for example they were one of exhibitors at High-End Munich show and you can now find review of their flagship model Gemini on The Headphone List and Headfonics. Seems they are also going to more upcoming shows in 2018, so even more people will have chance to learn about them. Official website in English: http://musicen.qdc.com/index.html The Visit Qdc offices and manufacturing are located in pretty boring office building in Nanshan district of Shenzhen, China. Don’t expect anything big or industrial, qdc itself occupy only 7th floor of this building and it’s pretty simple set up of some offices, meeting room and few production rooms where all the magic happens. I got tour of full production and was amazed to see all small details and precision that goes into creation of every single IEM that comes from their company. Unfortunately, I can’t show you photos or tell you more details, but what I saw there showed me that qdc easily stands next to the best manufacturers in CIEM market when it comes to used technologies and quality control. Every finished IEM I saw looked beautiful, from crystal clear shells without any flaws, over uniquely looking wood faceplates, to super complex designs with real gold jewellery and diamonds. Interestingly, they offer their customization not only for CIEM, but also for their universal variations. But since everything is handmade and there is quite demand for qdc products, current waiting time on their IEMs can be sometimes up to 4 weeks, but they are working hard to keep it closer to 2 weeks. This high demand also explains how I was able to see full production line working even on Saturday. If you are interested in qdc models, you can visit their dedicated listening room. Here you can find not only demos of their IEMs, but surprisingly also range of high-end home headphones. Top models from Ultrasone, Sennheiser, AKG, Audio-Technica, Stax, Audeze, Beyerdynamic, all there for direct comparison with qdc IEMs. That is some courage. But qdc in first place provides CIEMs for musicians and engineers and they will of course have different ways of testing. So, for them qdc prepared collection of professional equipment, including even set of electronic drum kit. Since their main customers are Chinese celebrities, walls of listening room are covered in signatures of these stars. Also, I had chance to check out their rich collection of different woods that can be used for faceplate. These were one of the most unique and interesting woods I ever saw used on CIEMs. As I was told, qdc can even send photos of the wood plates available and customer can even choose exact part of the wood they want. Also with rose wood option, qdc don’t need to apply the final layer of lacquer on faceplate and use only peanut oil instead (I think it was this oil). Result is more “raw” and revealing look of wood, without shiny layer covering its natural beauty. If you want something totally unique, qdc offers these special designer faceplates, exhibited in their meeting room. Metal skull option, 632 USD Unique jewellery design, 1 935 USD!! The Sound qdc offers wide range of models, from 1 driver to their group of 8 driver top of the line models. Apart from their 1 driver Neptune, all of them comes in both universal and custom version. They of course differ in price and also in sizes. I would say their 8 driver universals are of similar size to InEar Prophile 8, with similar “custom like fit”. They are not massive as old or even as new version of Empire Ear Zeus, they fit really securely and comfortably, but still will be simply too big for some ears. On other hand, the smallest shell is used for 1 driver Neptune and surprisingly also for 4 driver model, difference from 8 driver is quite significant. These are extremely comfy and sits nicely flush inside ears. Since qdc divides their models into three different lines – Live, Studio and Hi-fi, I was interested mainly into direct comparison of their 3 different 8 driver models. Also, that would give me good idea where does the flagship Gemini fit, with its switch offering two sound signatures. In the end I would divide them this way: Live – the bassiest, fullest sound of the group, the most pleasing, fatigue free and smoothest. Studio – the flattest tuning of whole line up, with light and really fast bas and extremely clear treble. Reminding me of UERM, but with less peaks and more texture. Definitely my favourite. Hi-fi – Taking way somehow in the middle, with slightly boosted bass, overall smooth and full presentation, but not as full or bassy as Live, neither too light and reference as Studio. And where does the Gemini stand? Based on my comparison, two tunings of Gemini are extremely close to Live and Hi-fi version. I’m not sure if they are completely identical, but to me, they were close enough to be able to replace each other. So if you read any review of Gemini, it will give you good idea about other models too. I was listening to them using my Sony WM1A (fw 2.0, SE) and had with me Noble Katana for comparison. Overall, I think they can rival Katana and other TOTL models on market without any problem. Of course, different versions offering different strengths and weaknesses based on their tunings. Also their price around 1 500 USD is on todays market one of the reasonable ones when we look among the TOTL CIEMs. I also tried briefly the budget option of Neptune. At 200 USD they look amazing with their transparent shell with blue mica faceplate. They offer full and bassy sound, with downward sloping signature. Wasn’t that impressive in technical aspects (maybe limitations of single driver?). But my colleague is getting one pair soon, so will be able to try them little bit more in near future. The Background As many other CIEM companies, also qdc has interesting background and foundation for their creating high quality IEMs. For them it’s parent company QDC, manufacturing equipment for police, military and probably even secret services. In their portfolio one can find police radios, army headphones and even these tiny in-ear radios you can always see in spy movies. Once more I thank qdc for this unique opportunity and I hope they will soon become one of the respected brands internationally and here on Head-fi.