Excellent build quality and cable, Engaging W-shaped tuning, Open high-end, Flexible connectivity
Somewhat muddy bass, Brighter background can be polarising
Though not perfectly balanced and a touch muddy down low, the MS4 has a grand, open and engaging sound with great detail retrieval and glossy vocals.
Hidizs are one of the original Chi-Fi DAP manufacturers. They had a somewhat tumultuous start but quickly gained momentum, coming to produce some of the most compelling and competitive products in the current market. In turn, Hidizs introduce the Mermaid series of in-ear earphones, the single dynamic driver MS1 and the more sophisticated MS4, a 4-driver hybrid with in-house 10.4mm dual magnet dynamic driver.
The MS4 comes in at a lower-midrange price of $299 USD and is available for just over $200 to backers of their Kickstarted campaign. This puts them in direct competition with the new wave of ChiFi top hits. Nonetheless, Hidizs come well-armed, with the MS4 sporting a premium design and accessory set in addition to the option of bundling with USB-C and wireless cables, an innovative advance for smartphone listeners. You can read more about the MS4 here.
I would like to thank Kevin from Hidizs very much for his quick communication and for providing me with the MS4 for the purpose of review. All words are my own and there is no monetary incentive for a positive review. Despite receiving the earphones free of cost, I will attempt to be as objective as possible in my evaluation.
Also included are 4 sets of eartips in small, medium and large. Each has its own sound, balanced are equipped from factory with the option to install foam, bass and vocal tips for a warmer or brighter sound in addition to a different fit. Bundles also include a USB-C or Bluetooth cable.
The MS4 is a medium/large sized earphone shaped similarly to the Fiio FH5. It is ergonomic with protruding nozzles that enable a deeper fit. Slight bolstering of the rear housing provides additional stability and comfort around the anti-helix of the ear. The housings are entirely aluminium with an even finish and eye-catching texture. They are almost satin with greater lustre than most aluminium in-ears.
The faceplates join seamlessly with gold accents that match the metal nozzles. The faceplates have a brushed metal aesthetic with gold Hidizs branding and gloss finish on top. The earphones are attractive and provide a positive impression of great solidity, they should withstand daily use and abuse well.
They fit nicely, medium to deep with smaller sized ear tips due to the shape of their nozzles. They protrude a fair amount from the ear but didn’t rub or produce hotspots during my testing despite their size. Isolation is surprisingly good for a hybrid, certainly above average but still not comparable to a fully-sealed armature earphone. Still, they easily suffice for public transport, especially with their bold low-end tuning.
Up top, the earphones implement un-recessed 0.78mm connectors that enable the cable to be replaced or upgraded. The stock cable is terrific, incredibly supple and compliant with zero memory and minimal microphonics. It has case friendly connectors, adequate strain relief and premium metal terminations. The pre-formed earguides are comfortable and well-shaped. Hidizs also offer a USB-C cable with in-built DAC in addition to a Bluetooth cable that can be purchased separately or in a bundle.
Their USB-C cable is quite impressive with a low output impedance and a high maximum volume. It has a slightly more V-shaped sound to my ear, especially bringing out the highs. Though it is thinner than the stock cable, it is a very strong and modestly priced option for smartphone users without a headphone jack such as myself. It worked flawlessly with my Google Pixel 3.
The MS4 is a W-shaped earphone with lightly warm lows, prominent vocals and a modestly bright high-end soothed by a smoother lower-treble. This grants it a grand, inviting sound that will surely provide wide appeal. Its very prominent vocal range will no doubt please Asian audiences while bold, expansive lows add scale and depth to its image. The MS4 isn’t a neutral earphone though it has nice balance between the three core frequency zones. All comments are using my preferred balanced ear tips.
The MS4’s low-end draws immediate attention with its strong extension and large, bold notes. That said, it doesn’t dominate the sound. Sub-bass has notable emphasis with a smaller mid-bass bump increasing note body and warmth. Bass notes are big and sub-bass rumble and slam are obviously enhanced as a result. That said, bass comes across as somewhat boomy and at times, ill-defined due to its sub-bass focus. As can be expected from most earphones with emphasized sub/mid-bass, upper-bass is attenuated as is the lower-midrange to maintain a tonally transparent midrange.
Bass decay is on the slower side with notes lingering longer than on most earphones. This produces a smoother bass texture so bass definition and detail retrieval are above average but not exceptional. Bass control is quite good, however, so notes don’t become smeared or muddy and performance is clearly better than earphones the next price tier down. That said, the MS4 appeals to those wanting for scale and depth over detail and definition.
Vocals stand out most in the MS4’s sound, a result of large emphasis through the centre and upper-midrange. As emphasis sustains until just before the lower-treble region, the midrange is granted large clarity. Unlike, the otherwise similarly tuned Fiio FH5, no 4K dip is present so it sounds slightly cooler and thinner but also cleaner and more extended. Vocals are clearly biased over instruments yet the added bass weight does rectify this to some degree.
As aforementioned, upper-bass and lower-mids are slightly attenuated. Though as it is to a reasonable degree and the earphone has a slightly warmer low-end, midrange timbre is quite good. Vocals are clearer than neutral and just slightly cool, but they are clean and defined. Moreover, as lower-treble is attenuated, the earphones have zero issues with sibilance and over-articulation, sounding impressively refined. Though not perfectly natural, nor balanced, the MS4 nonetheless, offers a subjectively well-tuned presentation that is clean and engaging.
It’s interesting to see Hidizs adopt a lower-treble recessed, middle-treble forward style of tuning and execute it with success. This is definitely an atypical tuning style, yet one that works wonders for this earphone’s midrange while keeping fatigue in check. As lower-treble is less present within the mix, instruments don’t have heaps of bite nor are details presented with much attack or sharpness. Rather, the MS4 has a smooth foreground with a greater focus on texture over crispness. Yet, as the middle-treble is enhanced, it can hardly be said that the MS4 is lacking detail presence. In fact, this earphone is very well-detailed, with heaps of air, openness and shimmer.
Instruments have a slightly exaggerated decay which provides the impression of greater detail. Even so, foreground detail retrieval is strong and smaller background details are brought to the fore without wearing on the ear with their sharpness. The background is not clean or dark, but rather open and expansive. This is aided by strong extension into the highest octaves that provides great resolving power and micro-detail retrieval. Upper-treble is rather linear so the earphones don’t sound overly tizzy. Though not traditional and perhaps, detail recessed to some on first listen coming from more aggressive earphones, the MS4 is very well-detailed, nicely balanced and technically impressive.
Expansion is good, stretching just beyond the head. The MS4 has an impressively rounded stage with great lateral expansion and the ability to project quite far in terms of depth which seems contradictory to its vocal forward tuning. Imaging is mediocre as bass is on the slower side and lower-treble is less prominent, it can be difficult to locate instruments and directional cues precisely. That said, centre image is strong and separation is quite good besides bass where thicker notes occupy space and diminish separation.
The MS4 has a high sensitivity of 112dB and a lower 12-ohm impedance. Due to their efficiency, they reach very high volumes from almost any portable source, however, they also pick up hiss quite easily. Being a multi-driver, a low output impedance source is preferable. In use, the MS4 is easy to drive. When driven from the iBasso DX200 w/AMP5 as opposed to the Pixel 3 with included 3.5mm adapter, the MS4 sounded noticeably more controlled with a more spacious soundstage. From subjective testing, the Pixel 3’s audio adapter does not have the highest output impedance, though the MS4 does not appear overly affected in terms of signature nonetheless.
Fiio FH5 ($260): Both earphones are W-shaped with the MS4 being brighter, cleaner and with more vocal presence. Both have excellent bass extension and a sub-bass focus though the FH5 is a little warmer. That said, it is also faster, more defined and more controlled, retrieving noticeably more bass detail at the cost of outright slam. The FH5 also has a warmer midrange as a result of its more present upper-bass and attenuated 4KHz region, it has a dense vocal reconstruction, lacking the extension of the MS4.
It doesn’t have the same clarity and has slightly less vocal presence, however, it is a fuller and more natural style of sound with enhanced body and smoothness. The FH5 has a more prominent lower-treble so it appears more detailed, however, in reality both are well-detailed, the MS4 is just smoother here. The FH5 has a darker background and a crisper foreground yet it also isn’t sibilant. Still, it doesn’t have the same openness and air as the MS4
Simgot EM3 ($288): The EM3 is quite similarly tuned but strikes as a more high-frequency focussed earphone. In reality, it is just less bassy. It has a sub-bass focus and doesn’t sound anaemic, but has less bass overall and throughout. As such, it sounds much cleaner and has more neutrally sized notes, it is faster and more defined. The midrange on the EM3 is similarly upper-midrange biased but as it doesn’t have the same bass quantity, vocal body is slightly thinner, sounding a little raspy but also impeccably clean if cool.
The EM3 has more focus on vocals in the absence of emphasized bass. It has a little more lower-treble so it sounds crisper but also thinner. Still, it remains on the smoother side and vocals are not over-articulated despite being forward and bright. Similarly, the EM3 has quite a present middle-treble so it sounds open, bright and airy. It has a pristine, clean high-frequency presence but also a little less extension than the MS4. Nonetheless, both earphones are well detailed, the MS4 has a little more sparkle and background detail, the EM3 is crisper and slightly more separated.
Shozy BG ($280): The BG is a considerably more balanced earphone. It has more neutral bass throughout with just a slight mid-bass hump granting a touch of warmth. It has less sub-bass extension and its sub-bass is less defined, lacking the scale and size of the hybrid MS4. Otherwise, the BG has more upper-bass which also contributes to its slightly more natural, lightly warm voicing. The BG has a considerably faster bass response and it is more controlled. The midrange has less of a vocal bump and is instead more linear. That said, as bass isn’t as present, vocals aren’t recessed, sitting well in line with instruments.
They are more natural on the BG but still off-timbre due to twin centre midrange peak. This is reaffirmed by a 4K upper midrange dip that aids density and counteracts the BG’s lower-treble emphasis. The BG is the exact opposite of the MS4 up top with a 6K peak and lesser middle-treble. As such, it is much crisper with a lot more foreground detail presence. It is not necessarily more detailed, but it can appear so as details are more up front. Similarly, it is not as airy and bright, instead offering a cleaner background. The BG has better treble extension and more upper-treble. It has higher resolution and more micro-detail and greater sparkle.
The MS4 is a well-priced offering in a growing and increasingly competitive, but not quite prominent sector. It is a market where more choice is always welcome, and the MS4 exemplifies this with its more atypical tuning, premium build quality and innovative options. As a DAP manufacturer, it would seem that Hidizs approach IEM design through a different lens, also focussing on connectivity with their alternative cables. Though it’s not the most balanced earphone and bass is a touch slow and muddy, the MS4 has a grand, open and engaging sound with great detail retrieval and glossy vocals.