Pros: Effortless, detailed, airy sound; neutrality, instrument separation, fantastic vocals, very realistic decay for most guitars/cymbals/vocals
Cons: Less bass than many look for, poor isolation, can be revealing of less than perfect recordings
Having recently reviewed the Charm 3, I've become more aware of the actual benefits of the earbud form factor; prior to the Charm 3, I had only ever heard iBuds and the new earpods. The Charm 3 introduced me to the very real spacial benefits of the earbud form factor, which, despite the popularity of IEMs, especialy multi-armature universals and customs among earphone-oriented audiophiles, seemingly deserves more attention, especially for the "soundstage-heads" among users of in-ears.
Sunrise claims that the Dragon 2 is their most technical earbud to date, so I figured I would put it through its paces with some classical piano and orchestral music. Beethoven's Moonlight Sonata is handled with admirable delicacy; I would like to hear a little more midbass ideally, just to make the piano feel a little more immediate and alive, but midrange decay is very realistic nonetheless; enough so to give the sonata's more poignantly intended notes adequate emotion. The presentation is immersive enough to make me close my eyes and really feel the notes layering and blending.
Vivaldi's Spring - Mvt 1 Allegro has great space, letting you clearly hear violas coming from behind violins, and cellos behind them. Violins sound great here, with appropriate decay and plenty of speed to keep up with those fast strokes. The sound is definitely delicate to do full justice here to my ears. Midrange resonance is very pleasant; I've heard better from in-ears, namely the UM3x and SM3, but they ring in at nearly four times the price, so I can't hold it against the Dragon, and neither has as sweet treble as the Dragon; I would actually take the Dragon over UM3X for orchestral classical, solely for the air and vibrance it gives to the strings. The UM3X also has a tendency to make bass notes comes too far forward here, which distracts from the violins, and we all know Vivaldi is all about the violins; switching to the UM3X is nice to hear a bit more detail and fullness in the strings, but I can't help but be disappointed by the lack of air. Switching back to the Dragon is like a breath of fresh air: the sweet treble and real air to the sound definitely outweigh the UM3X's heavier bass and slightly artificial-sounding presentation. A shocking win for the Dragon here.
Listening to The Trial by Pink Floyd, the vocals sound remarkably realistic; not as forward or intimate as my UM3X, but with better air and almost as much detail; impressive, to say the least, considering the UM3X is nearly quadruple the price ($399 for the UM3X, $105 on ebay for the Dragon 2). Listening to The Happiest Days of Our Lives, the bass could have a bit more body; the helicopter actually sounds pretty realistic in terms of the amount of detail and texture provided, which is truly impressive for the $100 price point, which pits it against my Shure SE215, one of my favorites and easily manhandled by the Dragon 2 when it comes to realism, detail, and, of course, soundstage. Another Brick in the Wall just kicked, and the bass is just enough, more detailed and full than the Charm 3 but with a hair less impact. The sound is not as enveloping as, for example, my HD598, but that's not even close to a fair comparison; nonetheless I think the Dragon 2 holds its own when it comes to separating instruments clearly in Pink Floyd, actually doing a better job than the Sennheisers sometimes because it's lower mids are not as thick, and the sound is more neutral. The "real space" factor is not there to the same extent, but again, much moreso than the IEMs I've heard, and good enough in such a comparison that I thought to compare it to an open can.
Moving on to Puscifer, Tiny Monsters showcases the Dragon's impressive soundstage size and imaging right from the get-go. Kick drums have all the detail they deserve, but lack realistic reverb despite punching adequately for my tastes and showcasing excellent texture for the price range. Some of the synthesized tones sound a touch overly sharp in the upper midrange/lower treble, slightly overstepping their place and distracting from Keenan's vocal at times, but those same frequencies contribute a euphoric quality to the vocal that I'd rather not do without, so it's a worthy tradeoff. This is the only track I've heard this problem on so far, so it is not a salient or persistent shortcoming of the phone itself.
While I'm on Maynard James Keenan & co, Schism is another strong track for the Charm. Keenan's vocals are great, not too intimate, maybe just a touch distant sometimes. Guitars don't have the crunch and texture that true metal fans get from their Grados and such, but some of the little riffs in this song do sound appropriately delicate, and this track does happen to showcase a good degree of the phone's dynamics. As always, instrument separation is a strong point. Intension is another track where imaging and this phone's out-of-head potential are showcased right from the get-go. Those drum hits right at the beginning really showcase this phone's ability to provide bass decay and texture despite not having the body and impact that most people looking for "good bass" lust after. This bass is soft, extended, and just a touch south of what I would deem "natural." Little hand drums sound great, with both appropriately delicate punch and airy decay. Everything stays well separated, and this is a pretty full track with plenty of layers: bass, two different types of drums, two vocals, a guitar, and a couple of synthesizers is not easy to fit into earphone headspace and maintain a natural feel. I think the Dragon 2 actually pulls it off better than my UM3X in some ways, which, despite providing technically superior separation, does so without as much a sense of air, and thus sounds unnatural at times with such music. Not the Dragon; the headstage feels very complete and well-integrated, and while there is a touch more blending, it actually aids the naturalness of the sound at times.
Now for a taste of some EDM. Vicious Delicious by Infected Mushroom is one of my favorite tracks; the Dragon 2 doesn't quite have the bass punch to give the song its due drama, and I wouldn't recommend it for such purposes. But this is a speedy and full track which showcases Infected's incredible production values, so I'm going to see it through. This track does manage to showcase the Dragon's speed fairly well: it has no trouble keeping up with layered synthesizers and the constantly fluctuating pace of this track. The lack of bass definitely hinders the dynamics here, but I can't help but be impressed by the midrange texture the Dragon lends to some of the synthesizers. It does feel a little empty next to my thumpety SE215, but the synths are sharper and more articulate, guitars have more crunch, Duvdev's minor vocal intrusions sound more dynamic and are placed better with in the presentation, and transients and left-right imaging are clearly superior on the Dragon. Again I really can't recommend them for EDM just due to the soft nature of the bass presentation and mids coming in significantly more forward than bass.
Using Distance - Out of Mind to test for subbass, I'm hearing these dig pretty darn deep, which I didn't anticipate, given the more polite signature; they don't have power at the lowest of lows, and cramming them in further to hear it makes the sound too warm, but the low bass notes are definitely there. These aren't designed for dubstep, obviously, but it's interesting to see how low they can actually go.
Overall the Dragon 2 is clearly an audiophile-worthy piece of kit. This was a lineup of some of my most taxing music, and the Dragon 2 knocked all of the pins down; not a strike every time, but everything is there. Bass impact is definitely on the soft side, but has better detail and texture than the Charm 3 all around and clearly extends further on both ends, despite having less punch to the bass and perhaps slightly smoother treble. There is a touch of upper mid/lower treble harshness in some tracks, but I'm convinced its simply a result of the earphones revealing faults in some reproductions. As a whole, I would easily recommend the Dragon to anyone looking for an analytical but balanced earbud, or perhaps IEM users who are fans of a more analytical signature looking to transcend the soundstage limitation of in-ears.