Review written by @Precogvision
On the crowded Chi-fi scene, few companies are as lauded, revered as qdc, yet they often go neglected by Western audiences. After all, who would've thought that a company with roots in military and police product research makes some pretty darn good IEMs too? The Anole VX is their 10BA, flagship IEM that clocks in at $2299. Yeah, not your typical Chi-fi IEM. This is Hi-fi, Chi-fi, thank you very much. And with a name that possibly pays homage to some of qdc’s, uh, previous work, the Anole VX is thankfully not an actual toxic nerve agent, although it does extend some of these characteristics to its sound.
This one’s been on my short list for quite some time, and as I alluded to above, qdc stuff is notoriously difficult to find in the USA. Cue my surprise to see that a local hobbyist I’ve met up with several times had picked one of these bad boys up. A few messages later, and I was on my way to pick it up for review the next day.
This unit was kindly loaned for review by Head-Fi user kdphan. Thank you! At the end of the review period, it will be returned; as always, what follows are my honest thoughts and opinions to the best of my ability.
Source and Driveability
All critical listening was done off of an iBasso DX160 with FLAC files, as well as an iPhone X with the Apple dongle. I used Spinfit CP145 and the stock cable. The VX is a full-BA IEM, so it’s quite easy to drive and I didn’t experience hissing on anything I ran it off of. My musical preferences include the following: Country music, K-Pop/J-Pop, Pop, EDM, and instrumental scores.
Let’s get the nitpicky stuff out of the way. I noted that the laser engraved “Anole VX” text on the case’s plate is slightly off center. There’s also an Amazon review floating around where someone commented that when you wear the VX it looks like you’ve got plastic bags sticking out of your ears. So apparently you’re better off finding an IEM that doesn’t have a grocery-themed design! Yeah, I can sort of see that, but if that’s the trade-off, I don’t particularly mind.
Because from a design point of view, I think qdc nailed it. The faceplate seam joint on the VX itself is seamless, their proprietary connectors ensure that the pins lock reliably, and the cable is soft, pliable, non-microphonic. The case is also high-quality with a magnetic latch, and there’s a peg in the center that you can wrap the IEM around. Very impressive - there’s an air of quality to every accessory, the IEM itself. And can we talk about the fit? I know this is subjective, but dang, this thing has one of the best universal shell designs I’ve had the pleasure of wearing. The VX just sinks into my ears, almost suction-like at times, and I can wear it for hours on end.
On paper, the overall tonality of the VX can be considered fairly balanced, something close to neutral with bass boost and a minor elevation to the upper midrange and treble. It ends up sounding more like a reverse L-shape to me, though, which I’ll delve into further below. There’s also three dip switches on the VX’s back that you can use to play around with the tuning. I won’t go too in-depth with all the possible combinations; however, I’ll briefly discuss what effect each one has. Personally, I found “000” - the stock tuning - to be the most agreeable to my ears, and it’ll serve as the basis for my sound analysis.
It feels like I have a spiel about bass texture every review, so I’ll spare you guys the long-winded explanation. Suffice it to say that VX’s low-end is virtually textureless. Still, I have to admit that VX’s bass is pretty good - at least for BA. There’s a slight midbass hump which complements its attack, and boy, they are snappy, concise hits. I’ve also heard few BA IEMs that can extend as deeply, effortlessly as the VX does. While expectedly the decay leaves something to be desired and that plasticky timbre pervades, all things considered? Not bad at all.
That bass switch though - I’d really recommend leaving it off unless you’re the most ardent of bassheads. It slaps on gobs of subbass, setting foot into bloat territory, and the attack loses some of that crisp edge it had before. And it doesn’t affect just the bass. Interestingly, I also hear the upper-midrange as gaining some more body and taking on a ghastly quality in in tandem with VX’s already thin transients. Fun in moderation, perhaps.
I’ll revisit this later on as much of my thoughts on the midrange have to do with VX’s intangibles. That being said, this is the only dip switch that I found viable; mainly because I don’t think it actually does much to the midrange itself. It sounds more like the bass shelf is cut down, so the midrange is slightly more pronounced.
On paper it looks like there’s but a minor elevation to the treble; unfortunately, practice says otherwise to my ears. Like so, I find that VX’s treble presentation borders on excessive. This is most noticeable with higher-pitched electronic sounds, and some good examples include Tiffany’s “I Just Wanna Dance” (0:03-0:07) and Sabai’s “Million Days” (0:01-0:10) in their opening notes. The VX drags out said electronic pitches with a nerve-wracking smearing that burns my ears. It’s bad enough to the point of which it physically gave me a headache the first couple days. Like dang, I don’t consider myself particularly sensitive to treble, but everyone has a breaking point.
Perhaps this is by virtue of whatever BA drivers they’re using for the treble, or it’s my younger, sensitive ears - I don’t know. Ironically enough, when I boost the treble even more using the switch, the screeching issue is somewhat mitigated. However, at this point, the VX’s treble is overly shrill, bright, and effectively (if it wasn’t almost already) unlistenable for me. It’s not pretty either way.
The Anole VX is a very technical monitor, and for me, there’s no greater standout than its sheer resolving capability. I’m just going to steal an analogy I’ve often heard used to describe the VX: Think of most (good) flagship IEMs as sitting at around 1080p resolution. When you slap on the VX, it’s like you’re suddenly seeing everything in 4K. It’s not a jump that’s going to blow your mind if you’ve heard said flagships, or perhaps electrostatic/planar magnetic headphones, but within the context of IEMs? The VX is a top dog, no problem, if not the top dog.
So I think the first word that came to mind when I listened to the VX was “sterile”. It just makes all the individual layers, nuances in a track pop at you, and pure resolution is nothing short of excellent. But over time I’ve realized that this probably isn’t the best way to describe it. After all, the word implies something that is totally clean, devoid of flaw - which the VX is far from being. Let’s talk about that.
One of the most disconcerting qualities about VX is the way it images, projects vocals onto the soundstage. I noticed this almost immediately with Sawano Hiroyuki’s “Cry” and “A/Z”. The mastering has the vocalist, Mizuki, a good deal further back on the stage. But with the VX, her voice is almost anchored to the floor of the soundstage like something is pulling it down. Even the Campfire Solaris 2020 with its blobby, bloated midrange, and the Sony IER-M9 with its vocals that float in a pseudo-limbo are more defined when it comes to projecting.
And it’s not an issue with just vocal presentation. At other times, such as with Jason Aldean’s “Talk About Georgia,” there’s minor outward diffusal at the expense of the image almost feeling straight-up inverted. VX’s center image too frequently takes on a one-dimensional quality and there’s a subsequent lack of perceived depth, both of which are flaws that should have no business plaguing a top-tier IEM in this reviewer’s opinion. I often see the term “in-your-head” imaging thrown around; this is the epitome of it concentrated in a pin-point lethal dose. A shame really, as looking past this, I do think the VX has good positional cues and stage size.
Furthermore, as with most BA IEMs, the VX suffers from the hallmarks of BA timbre. There’s a plasticky texture to its notes; in particular, said notes lack density. And for me, this doesn’t play too well with its incredible resolution: Almost like paper, the transients are thin, razor sharp, and boy do they cut. VX’s hyper-boosted clarity ultimately rings artificial, borders on fatiguing in tandem with its blunted macrodynamics and shrill treble.
Macrodynamics - I should probably clarify how I understand this term. For me, these are the minute decibel shifts in a recording and how an IEM scales them. Think of riding a roller-coaster for example. You want to move quickly, but you also want to hit all those build-ups, peaks, and free-falls, or the fun is lost. Most BA IEMs are indeed quite fast, but I find they fail to scale these shifts, resulting in something that I call “compression”. While VX isn’t outright compressed, there seems to be an upward skew to its transients, like it’s always riding high. Now to be fair, I still think VX’s BA timbre issues are somewhat overblown. It doesn’t enter into smothered, BA “artifact” territory to my ears at all, and I can see why some might enjoy that edgy quality to its transients as fatiguing as it is to me.
The VX has been on my short-list for quite some time, and that’s due largely to the well-known IEM reviewer, Crinacle. For those who don’t know this reviewer, he has a (in)famous ranking list where he scores IEMs on a scale from S-to-F tier with the former being the best. He has no less than four IEMs in S-tier (out of hundreds of IEMs), and VX marks the final one I’ve heard, so I’ll be doing a brief shoot out here.
Vision Ears VE8
Like qdc, Vision Ears has a smaller presence in the States, but they’re one to keep an eye on. This is Vision Ear’s 8BA IEM, and I think it’s the best out of their lineup. The VE8 follows something pretty close to a neutral sound signature. In general, you can expect it to have a good deal more warmth and to be less “clinical” than VX.
- VX has better bass for my preferences. The VE8 is lacking a little sub-bass quantity and suffers from most of the hallmarks of BA bass. More specifically it has flabby, one-note dynamic slam, although it might have slightly better texture than the VX.
- VE8 has a good deal more note weight to the lower midrange and probably some of the best presentation I’ve heard for male vocals. Conversely, the VX has a more pleasing tilt to female vocals, something I don’t find the VE8 to do particularly well as there’s a small peak at 6kHz that results in sibilance.
- They’re polar opposites in the treble to my ears. VE8 rolls off a good deal which makes it very inoffensive. VX is brighter, and as I discussed earlier, suffers from smearing.
When it comes to tonality, the VE8 is the safer pick if only because it rolls off in the treble. And to this effect, it’s excessively warm for my tastes. In tandem with the BA timbre it tries to mask with said warmth, it makes for a very strange amalgamation. I’d give the VX a clean edge in resolving capability and the general technical works. Make no mistake that VE8’s surprisingly technical too, despite its timbral coloration - impressively so. It’s a toss-up for me between the two of them when it comes to preference, both are great all-arounders.
This is the flagship IEM that I personally own, so yes, I’m subject to bias and the whole shebang. And no, I swear my goal is not to uplift or devalue any of said IEMs - as always, this is simply my honest opinion.
- Both of these IEMs have some of the better BA bass I’ve heard. The U12t doesn’t quite match the VX’s lightning quick attack or nuance; however, it’s more natural. It has better note density, decay, and texture.
- U12t follows a more linear path through the midrange with male and female vocals dead-balanced, while VX has a slight tilt to the upper midrange. They couldn’t be more different in the intangibles, though. U12t has a pleasant timbral coloration sacrificing some resolution, while the VX is unnaturally crisp - a matter of opinion, of course. However, the U12t images vocals a lot better with more depth and diffusal, one of my main issues with VX.
- Treble-wise, the U12t is a good deal more laid back in the mid-treble; the VX has more energy. I think both could be considered bright depending on your hearing, as the U12t peaks a good deal in the highest octaves.
In general, the U12t has the more pleasant tonality to my ears, and it has much better macrodynamics - they really pop at you. Still, it’s not going to match the VX’s superb resolution or ability to force hammer out every little detail in a track, and to this effect, I’ve often cited U12t’s “rounded” transients. I think U12t strikes a stellar balance between its tonality and technical performance; however, if you’re someone who finds the U12t boring you’ll likely find the VX even more so.
The IER-Z1R is my favorite IEM in terms of pure preference. Just keeping it real - my slogan is “objective reviewing is an oxymoron,” after all. Unfortunately, it's been a while since I’ve heard this one, so forgive me if I go even less in-depth.
- Bass isn’t a contest. If you’re going to buy the IER-Z1R this should be at the top of your reasons for why - it has the best bass response of any IEM I’ve heard. Effortless dynamic slam, decay for days, texture on texture. It puts to shame the other three in this little shoot-out, no question.
- The midrange is a bit more of a toss-up. IER-Z1R dips at around 1kHz, and struggles with male vocals. I don’t think it does them poorly, but they’re certainly not special. Both the IER-Z1R and VX have a tilt to their upper-midrange; the IER-Z1R’s is more aggressive and in-line with my weeb music preferences.
- Treble is where my memory gets a little fuzzy. I mainly remember IER-Z1R as having an exceedingly natural treble. Perhaps not quite as detailed as the VX, but also far from being as thin or as bright. Depending on the fit you get with the IER-Z1R, you could get more than you bargained for, though.
The IER-Z1R doesn’t have the most balanced tonality; the VX graphs better on paper and has a technical edge in resolution. While I didn’t hear it, some have also noted that the IER-Z1R has coherency issues. Still, I’m of the opinion that the IER-Z1R has that magical engagement factor in spades, and the way it images the stage is nothing short of incredible for an IEM - I think y’all know where my preferences lie.
This is where I disclaim that the VX is not a bad IEM; in fact, it’s a darn terrific one if we’re going purely by technicalities and its tonal balance! But at least in this reviewer’s opinion, there’s more to qualifying a top-tier IEM than that. I can’t help but feel that VX is utterly devoid of that special engagement factor, and really, that’s the biggest critique I can level at it. It’s almost too resolving for its own good. Like so, it simply lacks musicality in every sense of the word - hence its nerve agent namesake - and maybe that’s partly to blame why I find it so easy to explicate the VX.
Still, you’d be hard-pressed to find someone who can say that the VX is an outright bad IEM, and I freely admit that a good majority of my gripes are due to VX simply not lining up with my preferences. I refuse to call the VX “objectively good” - something that doesn’t exist in this hobby - so let me end on this note instead: This isn’t one to miss if you have the opportunity to demo it. While you might not need VX’s superb technical capabilities to enjoy your music, the VX certainly has the merits to stand alongside the best. And if you demand what is possibly the utmost resolving IEM on the market, then look no further.
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