Simphonio (formerly Sunrise Audio) is not a new player in the earphone market. It is a small Chinese company founded by some engineers and audiophiles, who are experts in earphone design and tuning. Their SW Dragon and SW Dragon II earbuds were quite popular choices, and their higher end earbud from last year, the Dragon 2+ was greeted with wide acclaim. I have read Nathan’s very positive review on Headfonia about the Dragon 2+, and I got interested in it.
Checking out the Simphonio homepage I found that a new flagship is in the works. The previews on their Asian store were very enthusiastic about the Dragon 3, so I took a deep breath, pushed the trigger – ordered the Dragon 3 for the introductory price of 450 USD.
This review will show if I am happy with that decision.
Driver: 15.8mm Dynamic Neodymium magnet Frequency Response：20-25000 Hz Impedance: 150Ω Output Sound Pressure Level：108±3dB/mW Maximum Input Power：3mW Cable: 1.3 meter 6N OCC 8 cores Weight: 14g
The specification is very similar to those of the Dragon 2+, but there are some key differences. Impedance has been elevated from 16 Ω to 150Ω, and the cable is of much better quality OCC 8 cores instead of the original 6N OFC cable. Output Sound Pressure Level is slightly lower at 108dB (from 110dB of Dragon 2+).
The Dragon 3 arrived in a very elegant dark brown box, which was covered with an opalescent plastic shell. The box is wrapped in a paper ring showing front and side view photos of the Dragon 3 and specification on the back, while the company logo and product logo are printed onto the plastic cover. Really nice, elegant design.
The interior of the box is of orange color – nice contrast to the brown box, and a small reference to the Sunrise Audio roots. The earbud is contained in a light brown colored leather pouch.
The accessories are packed into a small paper box. The following things are included:
A 2,5” balanced (TRRS) female to 3,5” single ended (TRS) male adapter cable using the same wire as the earbud itself. The female plug is cubical, what is very nice, but not so ergonomic.
1-1 pair of full and donut foam cushions
Plastic ring (to ensure a fixed fit in case somebody does not want to use any of the foam covers). The foam cushions are of high quality – Hiegi or Hiegi like material and thickness, and the donut foam cushion has a wide bore.
Case, Driver Configuration, Design, Finishing
The Dragon 3 is built around a standard Yuin style case. It is a good choice, since it has much more ergonomic form than the other, widely used MX500 cases.
The case is plastic with a soft metallic shine. It has a very nice velvety touch, and feels robust in the hands. The material choice may seem interesting for some in case of a higher end product, but a plastic case is lighter, and may also have acoustic benefits (lower resonance) – for example also the Periodic Audio Be uses plastic case for the same reasons.
The Dragon 3 has a new, 150 Ω 15.8mm Dynamic driver. The sensitivity is a little lower 108dB vs. 110dB (Dragon 2+), but it is still a quite sensitive earphone.
First the bad news: the cable is not removable. There are long chats in several earphone oriented forums about the quality, usability, reliability of the recently used removable cable connection types (mmcx and 2 pin). There is no consensus yet on this topic, but one thing is sure: in case the fixed cable is broken, also the earphone becomes unusable.
All the other aspects of the cable are great. It is a wonderful, blue colored braided balanced cable, with audiophile quality 6N 8 core OCC lead. The cable is quite slim and thickly braided – it has a very nice rubbery touch, and it is not prone to tangling. I did not encounter any cable noise using the Dragon 3. The cable strain relief is chrome (quite heavy), and there is no chin slider used.
The plug is a chrome plated 2,5” balanced jack with gold plated contact, Simphonio engraved. The quality of the cable is on par with high end aftermarket balanced cables like the Oriveti Affinity.
Comfort and fit
Yuin style cases are famous for their high level of comfort, and it is true also in case of the Dragon 3. Everybody who tried liked the fit and comfort of the Dragon 3 except for one of my friends, who has a very small place behind the tragus. The Dragon 3 smoothed into my ear, so I could listen to music hours long without noticing that the earbud is in my ear.
From the included cushions I have settled with the donut version. Thanks to its wide bore I could reach the best bass response without ruining the quality and quantity of the midrange and treble.
Isolation, noise leakage
Isolation is quite good, but just against classic earbud standards. Thanks to the shallow insertion some noise can get through the ear channel. The other handicap of the classic earbud design is noise leakage, and the Dragon 3 is no exception. However most of the time, at low to moderate volume it is not distracting for others nearby.
All listening was done through the following chain: Lenovo ThinkPad (Foobar 2000 – ASIO drivers) – Kácsa Audio KCO-U-Ag USB cable – iFi Audio iPurifier 3 – Chord Mojo
When I first listened to the earbud I was disappointed – the sound was blooming with blurred bass and harsh highs. I followed the instructions of Tuan (one of the founders): the Dragon 3 needs minimum 50 hours of burn in listening to favored music at moderate volume in maximum 8 hours bursts. Fortunately it worked. The sound changed considerably in the first 10 hours of listening (bass tightened up, midrange cleaned up, harsh highs have been tamed, soundstage became larger with more focus). Later on the changes were more and more subtle. The result was worth the efforts. Based on the listening the Dragon 3 was tuned to have a balanced, slightly U-shaped sound. The below impressions reflect listening with the Chord Mojo as a source.
With the right source (later about that in detail) the Dragon 3’s bass response is fantastic from a classic earbud, and great in general.
The Dragon 3 can go deep – I listened to ascending frequency, generated sines waves, and I could hear something starting from 25Hz, and hear the signal well from around 30Hz. In practice it means that there is very controlled sub bass with no/minimal rumble in The Angel – Massive Attack, and James Blake – Limit to your love (from around 1 min). It is a great feature, because at listening to the latter song most earbuds (and many IEM-s) collapse – the subbass part completely disappears, or just a blob of sound can be heard.
I have to admit one thing – this earbud needs volume. The bass response at low level listening is just good, but at higher volume levels it becomes great – I became accustomed to listening at higher volume than before, because it’s worth 🙂 Another option to be able to listen at lower volume without compromises to bass quantity and quality is to use a source or an amplifier with a good quality extra bass option, like the iFi XDSD or xCan – the Dragon 3 responds well to good analog domain EQ, quantity rises without distortion. Perspective is important. Limits of earbud design cannot be avoided completely – the Dragon 3 could not achieve the sub bass reach, fullness, strength of my Aiaiai TMA-1, Sennheiser HD650 or a higher level IEM with elevated bass (for example IE800) in Uni Sub – Alva Noto, Rain – Madonna, etc.
In exchange the bass is tight, detailed, with great texture and layering – it never bleeds into the mids, and can be easily followed even in complex songs. Midbass is represented with nice slam, resolving very naturally and realistically – all the small resonances, nuances and licks can be heard. The bass riff starting at 1:31 in Talk Talk’s Happiness is easy is very enjoyable, and the whole resonance of the bass can be heard at 2:48. Some other highlights of great acoustic and electric bass representation to be mentioned:
Marcus Miller – Redemption
Laura Marling – Soothing
Dobie Gray – Drift away
Daft Punk – Get Lucky
Moodymann – Downtown
Musica Nuda – Come together
Orlando Cachaito Lopez – Tumbao Number 5.
Bruce Cockburn – Rise and fall
Mids were always the strength of Sunrise Audio/Simphonio products, and fortunately it did not change with the Dragon 3 – its midrange is extremely clean, detailed, dynamic and realistic. Both male and female voices are represented true to life, intelligibility is excellent.
Examples for great quality female voice reproduction: the chorus of live and synthetic female voices in Canaan – Holly Herndon from her great album Proto, Angelique – Xeno & Oaklander, Karen O & Danger Mouse – Ministry, Rome wasn’t built in a day – Morcheeba, Nothing breaks like a heart – Miley Cyrus and Mark Ronson, Jamila Woods – BASQUIAT, Alice Phoebe Lou – Walking in the garden,
and male voice reproduction: Circuit de Yeux – Brainshift, Prince – Noon Rendezvous, Depeche Mode – Personal Jesus, Johnny Cash – Personal Jesus, James Taylor – Line em up, Leonard Cohen – Tower of a song, Nirvana – The Man who sold the world, The Beach boys – In my room,
But for me the real highlight of the show is representation of all types of guitars, and other stringed instruments. Some great examples for realistic playback of guitars:
Bill Frisell – Pipeline
Liquid Tension Experiment – Acid rain
Black Sabbath – Wicked world
Fleetwood Mac – The chain,
the Dragon 3 also has the speed, details and dynamics to make listening to metal music a really enjoyable experience, a good example is Metallica – Enter sandman, Master of puppets.
Some songs that sounded great containing other string instruments, piano, brass instruments:
Yo-Yo Ma – Cockeye’s theme from Once upon a time in America (Cello)
Cimbiózis – Act 1. (Cymbalo)
Santa Diver – Stormy weather (violin, violin with effects sounding like electric guitar)
Guillame Perret – Walk (Saxophone)
Kamasi Washington – Fists of fury (Piano)
Hiromi – Move (Piano)
The Dragon 3 represents synthesizer sounds, primarily analog synthesizer sounds with beautiful timbre, rhythmic precision and dynamics („bite”). This is the primary reason I liked a lot listening to progressive electronic music on the Dragon 3 – music like Hollywood burns – Bazaar of the damned, and some of my recent favorite albums: Floating Points – Elaenia, Dritte Raum – Klubraum, Daft Punk – Tron OST, Caterina Barbieri – Ecstatic computation, Thom Yorke – Anima, Paula Temple – Edge of everything, Skee Mask – Compro, Biodub – Mirage EP.
The treble is well extended, very detailed, enough sparkling and airy. Simphonio voiced the highs perfectly – open sounding, natural and detailed without getting too much. I am very sensitive to piercing highs, but only with some definitely brigth sources and some songs found the Dragon 3’s highs becoming hot. Following the burnin I did not face any harshness, sibilance issues when I paired the Dragon 3 with the Mojo.
First Aid Kit – My silver lining can easily become hot on sibilance prone earphones – not the case here. The same can be said about the Celtic Woman rendition of Over the rainbow. The synth pads in Unfold from Gabor Lazar cut through the air like sharp blades with mesmerizing dynamics and impact. The clocks in Pink Floyd – Time sound realistic, detailed and live without becoming piercing (what I experienced many times on other earphones).
Soundstage, timbre, dynamics, genres
There is a common view that classic earbuds have good to great sound staging capabilities. With some exceptions (primarily budget earbuds of non-earbud specialist brands) this statement is true. The Dragon 3 goes beyond that, and creates a fantastic soundstage – its wideness and depth are huge, somewhere I read the expression cavernous – how true to it.
The level of instrument separation is fantastic – the individual instruments can be localized very precisely in the soundstage, and the Dragon 3 depicts very realistically the movement of sound – where and how did the sound appear in space, and what is the direction and speed it travels towards or around the listener, how it dissolves. The transient response is great, the Dragon 3 has the speed required for such realistic depiction of sound. Dez Williams – Familiar Circumstances is a very good example of it. From 3:37 a huge soundcloud descends onto and around the listener, and at the same time the analog synthesizer sounds bounce around with strong bite. It is also worth to note the song Masse from the great new album (Echo) of Brandt Brauer Frick. The instruments (Cello, Piano, Electric piano, Harps, Trombone, Horns, Violin, Percussions, Drums, Xylophone) timbre is very realistic; they are easily identified and are thrown far away from each following the mix accurately.
Fantastic feature of the Dragon 3 that the sound is very natural and cohesive – the listener can decide any time to enjoy the music as a whole or focus on just one or more instruments. There is also a nice video clip for this song https://masse.video/ that makes it possible to select any of the instruments to play solo. I would also suggest to listen to the new track called LesAlpx from Floating Points and the complete Dark Side of the Moon album from Pink Floyd to test how nicely the earbud represents complex arrangements.
Because the end is really the beginning from The Comet is coming shows how realistically can the Dragon 3 represent diverse timbre of unique instruments in a song. Listening to Bach: “Evolutionary” Toccata and Fugue in D Minor, BWV 565′ played by Cameron Carpenter shows how true to life this earbud can relive huge dynamic changes and space in classic organ works. In the complex arrangement of 15 steps from Radiohead and Max Roach’s Onomatopoeia all parallel flowing themes can be followed and enjoyed. I almost forgot to mention one of my favorite songs (also for testing): Happiness is easy by Talk Talk. All the drums, guitar, piano, singing, child chorus, etc. sound very dynamic, like listening to live music. Other prime example of the dynamic capabilities of Dragon 3: China Hok-man Yim: Poem of Chinese drum – all the drums and percussion instruments can be heard during intense dynamic changes:
Music with many distorted sounding instruments (for exaple Rage against the machine – Killing in the name of, Rammstein – Puppe) does not fall apart, but sounds a bit hollow. I have heard much better, more aggressive renditions of these (type of) songs. Note: These findings were valid only with the Mojo. With the Ibasso DC01 also these genres are great on the Dragon 3. Details see below in the update.
The Dragon 3 is rated at 150Ω and 108dB SPL. It needs grunt from the amplifier to show all of its inner strengths, fantastic dynamic and resolving capabilities.
All listening was done through the following chain: Lenovo Thinkpad (Foobar 2000 – ASIO drivers) – Kácsa Audio KCO-U-Ag USB cable – iFi Audio iPurifier 3 – DAC
First I tried to use it on low gain – the results were suboptimal. The sound was balanced, but very intimate (almost in the head feeling). Dynamics was restricted, the sound became very polite, hollow describes it best. Changing to high gain had beneficial effects: soundstage became larger, dynamics were much better; the sound was more alive with stronger and tighter bass. These were the good news – on the other hand the treble became harsh – the M0 lost its grip here. Now it was listenable, but far from desired. The softness of the M0 pulled back the Dragon 3 considerably.
I did all my listening with the Measure filter setting selected. Listening through the xDSD I immediately noticed the more fleshed out midrange (Rain – Madonna). The BurrBrown chipset is famous for its warmish delivery, that is intact here. This was beneficial for male voices, but I felt, that female voices became a bit more muscular than in real life. Midrange body gain and the strong, controlled bass was a welcome effect. With the XBass+ turned on even some sub bass rumble could be achieved in Angel – Massive Attack. Soundstage was quite wide and deep, instruments were placed correctly in space, with air around them. Dynamics were good, but not class leading – the combo sounded like listening to a well mastered recording, with limited liveliness. It is a very listenable combination. Thanks for the test xDSD to Peter Györfi (Pixel Kft. Hungary).
This pairing was magical. The soundstage is huge, and the sound is effortless, airy with fantastic dynamics and very natural, realistic timbre. My sound impressions are detailed above. After listening to this combo for more than a month I came to the conclusion that the Mojo’s perfect bass grip, open midrange / airy voices / realistic decay and smooth highs strengthen each other with the detailed, nicely textured, layered bass, crystal clear midrange, huge soundstage and extended, very detailed highs of the Dragon 3.
Tracks used for the comparison:
Happiness is easy – Talk Talk,
Angel – Massive Attack,
Familiar Circumstances – Dez Williams.
HE 150 Pro – the low end fighter
It is a very popular 30 USD earbud, that is cone formed, and is made from metal. It is pretty wide, so in a smaller ear (like mine) it is moderately comfortable with foam cushions on. The braided cable nothing special – did not encounter microphonic problems, but it is easily getting tangled. Sensitivity is: 103dB, and Impedance rating is: 150Ω.
Highlight of the earbud is the bass response. The bass is elevated, it has stronger bass than the Dragon 3 with proper sub bass rumble, and it is tight and nicely textured with Hiegi donut cushions. Bass does not bleed into the mids. Beyond the bass it is quite balanced, with natural and nicely detailed midrange, and a bit edgy highs. The soundstage is wide, depth is OK. The quality of bass is sensational, not just for the price, and as a whole it offers a nice hifi sound. The Dragon 3 plays in a different league in compliance with the more than 10x price.
Shozy BK balanced – liquid soul
It was my reference earbud until now, but I still like it a lot. It uses a 14,2mm diameter Japan imported NOS driver (according to rumors a Docomo driver) in a Yuin style case. The cable is non removable, densely braided with high quality leads (8-core imported single crystal copper, a core containing 26pcs 0.06occ). It is very similar also in touch and diameter to the cable of the Dragon 3. The Shozy BK is very nice sounding earbud with slightly elevated, detailed, nicely textured tight bass, organic mids and detailed treble. Subbase is just present, and midbass has nice slam. Soundstage is not huge, but avoids becoming intimate sounding. Midrange reproduction has very realistic timbre, with nice body to the notes, and enjoyable clarity. Treble is a bit recessed due to the roll-off at high frequencies. As a result the sound of the BK is less airy and much less dynamic than the Dragon 3. Due to the slight warmth of the midrange it is smoother, more of an easy listening earbud. The greatest advantage of the Dragon 3 over the BK is their fantastic imaging capabilities, and immediate, lively sound. For around 180 USD, the BK is still a great choice, but not in the same league as the Dragon 3.
Sennheiser IE800 – high end bassy IEM with soul
I could listen briefly to the IE800. My impressions: Realistic, detailed, tight bass with strong sub bass presence and real slam, without bleeding into the midrange. Realistic, nicely detailed, full sounding midrange and a bit metallic treble (affecting mostly the drums and percussions). The soundstage was smaller; I felt it sounded a bit ’in da head’. Beyond that the sound was very organic, enjoyable. A liked a lot the powerful but controlled bass, but preferred the Dragon 3 because of its imaging and lively sound presentation. Both earphones are equally great with their strength and weaknesses, and just personal preference is the deciding factor between them.
Sennheiser HD650 – a tale of David and Goliath
The same is true to the HD650. I have read in Vietnamese forums, that the sound of the Dragon 3 is very close to the legendary HD650. I wanted to check these rumors, and fortunately my colleague Gömbi helped me out, brought his HD650 into our office for a brief listening session. The results were interesting: the HD650 had a much stronger, high quality bass with great sub bass extension and rumble, and nice realistic midbass slam. The midrange had much fuller (warmer) body that was in some songs a desirable change. However the soundstage of the Dragon 3 was much bigger, and while the imaging was on par, the presentation was much airier, more organic, more effortless and lively to my ears. Midrange detail, treble extension and detail was equally good on these ear/headphones. If somebody prefers more bass and more full-bodied midrange, should go for the HD650. If these are not so important factors for you, then the Dragon 3 has its charm.
The Dragon 3 is a fantastic piece of audio kit. With a matching source like the Mojo (enhanced, tight bass, airy midrange, and extended, detailed but slightly tamed treble) it offers a very realistic, natural, live sound with exemplary dynamics. The sound representation of the Dragon 3 stays true to / can authentically reproduce the sound of the original venue, performer, musical instrument and equipment used for recording and mixing. If somebody can live with the just slightly elevated, but fantastic, elastic bass, and his/her genre preference meets the ones below, for them the Dragon 3 can serve up huge aural enjoyment almost everywhere. I think it is the new reference among earbuds. Highly recommended.
Since the finishing of the review I received the Periodic Audio Be and the Ibasso DC01. Following burning in the Be I compared it with the Dragon 3, and I prefer the Dragon 3 over the Be. The bass of the Be is stronger, but the Dragon 3 has more realistic, elastic bass, midrange is clearer, and the Dragon 3’s highs do not become metallic, are extended but remain always very natural. Soundstage size is similar but imaging is more realistic on the Dragon3. It is enough to listen to the Musica Nuda rendition of Come together, to feel the difference. I found that on the daily use I have chosen the Dragon 3 over the Be. And then the Ibasso DC01 – it is a fantastic balanced DAC, and great pairing with Dragon 3. You lose some of the airiness of the Mojo, but the soundstage remains huge, and most of the imaging qualities of the Dragon 3 – Mojo pairing remain intact. I do not know if it is the result of the balanced amp, the AKM 4493 DAC or both, but it is fantastic. Two of my concerns with the Dragon3 – Mojo duo has been handled with the use of the DC01.The strong and detailed subbass presence of the DC01 makes the Dragon3 sounding really nice with subbass heavy electronic music, and the added warmth eliminates my note about the missing bite in Killing in the name of, or similar music. The Dragon 3 paired with the 50 USD DC01 is a fabulous pairing to listen to music from all genres. I showed this pairing to one of my friends (Tamás) having such headphones and earphones like Sennheiser IE800, Sennheiser HD800, Massdrop X Fostex TR-X00, etc, and his jaws were dropped (same as mine 🙂 . The Dragon 3 combined with the Ibasso DC01 is a reasonably priced, high end mobile listening solution. Based on these findings I change the rating to 5 stars.
Elastic, tight, detailed bass reaching deep; Dynamic, live, airy sound with very realistic timbre; Crystal clear, very detailed mids; Sparkling, airy highs without sibilance, harshness
Huge soundstage, fantastic instrument separation, realistic decay; Suitable for most of the musical genres
High quality balanced cable; Very comfortable fit
Non removable cable; People with extra small ears may find it incomfortable
Bass could be stronger with more sub bass quantity and rumble (for some)