Disclaimer: Hidizs sent both MS1 and MS4 earphones to me for the purposes of a review at Headfonics (published here). Both are on discount via Kickstarter campaign. The MS1 is currently going for 99$ and the MS4, 219$. They share a 10,3mm dynamic driver core, to which the MS4 adds an array of three balanced armatures in hybrid form. To find out more, hit up Hidizs’s Kickstarter page, or check out Hidizs’s website.
Linked here and visible below is my YouTube review of these earphones.
In 2014 the AP100 DAP introduced me to Hidizs. The AP100 was a fascinating DAP. It boasted an antiquated, yet blazingly-fast GUI, robust build, and a nice, warm sound signature. Unfortunately it hissed. A lot.
Today’s Hidizs subjects, Mermaid MS1 and MS4, are sensitive earphones that would have magnified every audible flaw in the AP100. Attached to the right source, they are brilliant-sounding earphones. Each is built around a proprietary 10,3mm dynamic driver, which powers the MS1 all on its lonesome. To it, the MS4 adds three balanced armature drivers to round out the highs and mids.
And how good do they sound when plugged into a thing that doesn’t hiss. By the way, my favourite-sounding thing that doesn’t hiss is Onkyo’s DP-S1. A thing that only barely hisses is the iPhone SE. A thing that hisses a bit more still is the FiiO M6. Another is the Sony MZ-RH1. A thing that hisses still more is the Sony MZ-NH3D. A thing that hisses too much is the Sony MZ-R50. A thing that hisses just less than that is the AP100.
Haptics and build: ohmage and porridge
Both Mermaids are aluminium-clad custom-cum-universal earphones. The MS4 shines out of a brilliant resin face. The MS1’s matte face is aluminium. If it weren’t for the ear pieces and universal bores, at first glance you might mistake both earphones for full customs. The short of this is they will fill out most medium-sized ears. They will anchor in well. But their wide-mouth bores will absolutely stuff small ear canals, and not in the comfortable full-custom way. Part of stuffing ear canals well is isolation. Both earphones isolate well, shutting most of the noise of a train out, especially when music is pumping at around 80dB. Sure, you’ll get more isolation from an Etymotic ER4 or a full custom, but the difference isn’t glaring.
Cable-side, a narrow ring protrudes from the plug housing, making it a cinch to plug into most low-profile phone cases. The straight plug is sturdy. It is resplendent in a diamond-patterned metal sleeve with tight branding. A thick rubber stress sleeve comes out of its backside. The cable barely stretches when yanked. And check out that y-split. Metal. Diamond-patterned, and rubber-lined. A tight-fitting metal neck cinch travels from there to the earphone. Also cool, both cables are heat-shrunk into shape. This wears more comfortably than memory wire, especially if you have glasses.
Finally, they terminate in the familiar two-prong plug, which fits solidly on flush mounts. It’s hard to ask for more, especially at the price point.
Accessories: ohmage and porridge
A twelve tip set of ear pads, three in foam, and nine in silicon, are packed in a shedding but nicely-labelled foam brick. Next to that, and in shedding bricks all their own are the earphone cases. The MS1’s is hard plastic. Hard though they may be, their clasps snap feebly into place. Treated nice or not, sooner or later they’ll break. Before they do, however, expect the case to work open all on its own. Keep it for posterity, but don’t use it to protect your earphones. The MS4’s case is much nicer, shutting closed magnetically rather than via pressure clamps. Its logo, contrasty and stark on the MS1 case, is obscured by loud-patterned stitching at the edges of its pleather face.
I trust neither to stay closed in the sort of manbag crowded by the latest mirrorless camera, adapted prime lens, and unused, writer’s journal crammed with epsilon-level utopian fiction. I vastly prefer soft-sided zippered pouches. They lie flat, and fit into the small, safe niches of a camera bag or trouser pocket. If a carrying case has to be big, let it be tough and glorious like Campfire Audio’s cases.
Both earphones come in robust and oversized cardboard boxes. The MS4, being the more expensive of the two earphones, gets the larger box.
Kitsch: ohmage and porridge
When given good, even light, the MS4 looks good in photos, but it’s a bit too shiny for my tastes. In real life it gunks up fast and glints in direct light. The MS1’s matte aluminium finish is nice and homey. If only Hidizs left out the reflective metal ring between its faceplate and backside, it would be scrumptious.
If an earphone has to be shiny, or mount shiny parts, let the entire thing be shiny, studded up by integrated rather than discrete flourishes.
Sound: ohmage and porridge
I really, really like the MS4, but end up wishing it pushed its subtle idiosyncrasies further. Those idiosyncrasies are midragne warmth and vocal texture. Both of these carry through on crisp leading edges that bump up through astoundingly deep lows. The problem for the MS4 is that its bass is serious bass. It has no problem yawning open the usually inaudible opening seconds to Marcus Schulz’s Mainstage. Sure, it’s not the shake-your-skull sort of yawn of which an Avantek sub is capable. But it sure as hell delivers.
The MS1 is crisper and sparklier than the MS4, from bass all the way through upper mids and into the highs. Its highs can bite a bit too much here, and trail off again a bit too long there. If you like bright sound, and don’t mind a smattering of decaying-edge high-frequency reverb, the MS1 is your ticket. It’s got a bright and sunny take on the neutral signature many audiophiles wag on about. The MS4’s bigger bass and rounded-edged mids nudge it into basshead territory.
The problem for me is that the MS4 is a bit too warm and sometimes thick for my preferred genres: trance and uplifting; and the MS1 has just a bit too much high-end sparkle for live dance hall recordings.
For fast-paced, studio-recorded vocal music, the MS1 is gold. But for live rock, dance hall/disco, and the like, the MS4’s mature fading edges are better suited. It never gets too hot, and its high-resolution bass perfectly defines the venue and atmosphere in which the music was recorded.
Despite handily discriminating instruments, neither earphone pins its sound signature to a wide-set stage. Stereo cues fall to the shoulders at the widest, and don’t really escape the head on the y-axis. Z-axis atmospheric details can spread forward to your elbows, but no farther. In comparison, the Audio Technica CK10 pushes stereo cues beyond the shoulders, almost perfectly drawing rooms and objects in them in binaural recordings. It is both more scratchy up high and less powerful down low than either earphone. Sony’s EX1000 offers up better mid-range detail and spatial cues, but lacks high-end bite and can’t match the MS4’s bass power.
For 99$ and 219$ respectively, the MS1 and MS4 deliver great quality. They are built well and come with a good selection of ear pads. Most importantly, they sound good. Their carrying cases are pointless, and there is too much air in their boxes. But for their asking prices, they astound. The MS4’s bass is to die for- unless you’re listening to fast-acting continental European hip-hop, in which case it might kill you. And the MS1’s bright, sharp-edged midrange is perfect for trance and studio-recorded vocal music. Would an earphone combining the sound of both be perfect? Yes. But I’m confident that in their current form, both earphones will be universally welcomed by most people.