Ascend Acoustics Sierra-LX vs. Sierra-2EX Comparison

Warning: This is long. I try to be thorough.

Goal

The goal of this was not to declare a winner; I did not go in with the assumption that one speaker would be universally better. My goal was to identify how these two speakers are different.

Background

This is where I stand on the things I least like to have compromised, and the places where I’m most willing to cut speakers some slack.

Things I’m looking for:

  • The standard metrics like flat response and wide dispersion. If a speaker is going to miss a little on flatness, I prefer bright to dark, but still prefer neutral to either.
  • Detail retrieval and handling of transients
  • Bass response, both extension and clarity. I’m a bassist, so of course this is on my list, but let’s be clear: for music, I don’t need 20Hz of bass extension. A standard 4-string bass guitar in drop D goes down to about 37 Hz, and a five-string (the low B) is around 31Hz and I’d like to be able to actually hear the fundamental, so the F3 should ideally be in the mid 30s. It wasn’t that long ago that was basically considered impossible for bookshelf speaker, but it’s not crazy anymore.
  • No listener fatigue. Silk domes have always been fine on this, but metal domes can be hit-or-miss. The aluminum domes on my old PSB Image speakers were fine, but I originally bought my first Ascend Sierra-1 in part because the titanium domes on the Paradigms I was also looking at gave me some fatigue.
  • The hard things to get right: violins, female vocals. These are the Achilles heel of many speakers.

Things I care less about (at least for this comparison):

  • HT performance. This is two-channel music only.
  • How well the speakers integrate with a sub. This is a 2.0 setup.
  • Sensitivity. My room is small, and I don’t listen at reference level anyway. Frankly, I’m often baffled when people complain about this in speakers. Preserving your hearing long-terms is good, and even if you don’t care about that, watts are cheap these days.
  • How it’s done. I don’t care actually care about things like domes vs. ribbons or cone materials or sealed vs. ported or any of that stuff, what I care about is how the resulting speaker sounds. Those things can affect how speakers sound, of course, but I would never rule out (or in) any speaker just because it used a particular kind of tweeter or construction.

Oh, and a word on measurement: thanks to a bunch of people now having Klippels, we are currently awash in measurements. I think this is a net positive. Measurements are important, even if our understanding of how measurements relate to human perception is imperfect. It’s also far from zero, though, so I think measurements are a useful tool. They may not be the final word, but they are a key part of understanding what’s going on.

Finally, for those who are not already vested in the Ascend community, when I say “Dave” I’m referring to Dave Fabrikant, the head honcho at Ascend Acoustics.

Music

It’s hard to read reviews of audio gear if the reviewer is just naming music you’re not familiar with. “Wow, the vocals on track X are amazing” is an utterly useless piece of information if I have never even heard of track X. (This is a pet peeve of mine.) I can’t possibly listen to everything so I just have my own particular list, which won’t match yours. However, I will try to (mostly) stay away from naming particular tracks and try to focus on what’s in the music that differentiates the speakers. Full track list in the Appendix—yes, there’s an appendix. I warned you this is long.

I will talk about genres a bit, though, because it’ll help set context. My two main genres are rock (and things that are rock-adjacent) and classical. There’s a smattering of other things: EDM, soundtracks, some world, some acoustic guitar and piano, some new age, little bits of blues and jazz. Not much metal (outside of Tool). Zero country. The classical does not include opera. The rock includes almost no soft rock. My taste in classical runs more toward quartets and chambers, but there’s still symphonies in there.

I listen to music essentially all the time that I can possibly get away with it. At home and at work, my real-world two-channel listening has four primary use cases:

  • As background to work that involves reading or technical writing. This will be almost entirely instrumental, mostly classical.
  • As a backdrop to work involving things like programming or statistics. Punk, industrial, EDM kinds of things preferred here.
  • As a backdrop to “sort of”” working or just plain goofing off. You know, answering emails, doing administrative stuff. Full music library for this.
  • Serious listening. Again, full music library here but less instrumental/classical.

Initial Impressions

I posted this already to the Ascend forum but want to keep everything complete, so here that bit is again:

First thing: if you’re standing such that your ears are noticeably above the plane of the tweeters, it’s no contest—the LXs are clearly better. The difference in vertical dispersion is quite pronounced. When my son first came into the room he immediately liked the LXs much better. I had him sit down and he decided maybe he jumped to conclusions. If you’re putting these in your HT and you care what it sounds like when you stand up, you’ll want the LXs. (This is my current minor annoyance with my HT, which uses Duos. Sounds great when you’re sitting, but when you stand up, you really notice the dropoff.)

So far—but let’s note that it’s really, really early—I don’t universally prefer one over the other one. Some tracks it’s a wash (in fact, frankly, for some tracks it’s hard to hear much difference at all), some tracks sound better on the LXs, and some sound better on the EXs. Note that “better” in many cases is hair-splitting. There were also some where a difference was apparent, but preference wasn’t.

I think treble detail retrieval and transients are indeed still better on the EX. It’s not dramatic but if you listen in the right places it’s there. Cymbals are just a teensy bit crisper, stuff like that. Part of it might be that the EXs seem a just a little bit brighter. Not a lot, but I can tell it’s what I’m used to. LXs are probably more neutral overall. (What really needs to be broken in here are my ears; I’m just used to the EX sound.)

I concur with everybody else who’s said anything about the bass on the LXs. When I first heard the EXs, I declared that Dave had broken physics getting that much bass out of a bookshelf speaker with a 6″ woofer. Well, I guess he merely bent physics with the EXs, because the LXs are another notch (or two) past that. Absolutely bananas for a bookshelf speaker. If you went to an audio show 20 years ago and put these behind a screen, nobody—including probably Dave himself—would guess how small they are.

So, what held up over more extensive testing?

Testing

Since I kind of need to have the house to myself to really do this properly, and my wife is still mostly working from home, it took me a while to get through the enormous playlist I used to test. In between the more serious listening, I had the LX’s on for all my “listening while working” time. This was to get me more used to the LX sound, since I had so much experience with the EX sound.

For the actual testing, I typically listened at around 80dB continuous. First, that’s loud enough that the Fletcher-Munson curve is pretty flat so I’m really hearing the full range. Second, it’s not loud enough to have hearing damage be a concern. It’s a little quieter than reference level, which is fine because I rarely listen that loud anyway.

I listened to every track in its entirety, switching back and forth between the speakers every so often. I often went back and listened to specific passages multiple times when I wanted to get a better sense of a specific difference. I took notes on every single track, but that’s way to long for this.

Results

Overall, the first thing that needs to be said is that in a lot of cases, the differences between the two were pretty small. More than once when I switched between the two speakers, I had to re-check to make sure I had actually switched, so sometimes this was a bit of a hair-splitting exercise. Sometimes, however, it was not. I’m going to focus more on the places where it was not, but keep in mind that depending on what you listen to, the differences may not be particularly large. With that, a small disclaimer: these are both excellent speakers, so please take anything that sounds negative here with a grain of salt—this is negative relative to another excellent speaker, not in an absolute sense.

The differences that I came to think of as “the big three” were these:

Flat Response

Honestly, you can pretty much get this off the spins for the respective speakers. The LX measures incredibly flat, and that’s what you hear. It’s just more neutral than the EX. Switching from LX to EX was often most noticeable in the bump to the treble the EX has relative to the LX—it sometimes sounded almost like an EQ was turned on. The EXs measure brighter, and they most definitely sound brighter. This relative equality of mids and treble often makes the LX sound like they have a fuller midrange, but there were instances when the brightness was subjectively pleasing to my ears. Most times the neutrality of the LX was a clear advantage. If you have a negative response to a little brightness, the LX will be much more up your alley.

There’s also something volume-dependent about this, as one might expect. In general, the quieter you listen, the more the highs and lows are de-emphasized (this is the Fletcher-Munson curve in action). Every once in a while I turned the volume down, and when I did that, the (relative) treble boost in the EX became less apparent. The louder you listen (up to a point), the larger the advantage is for the LX.

And, of course, some people like a little V-shaped EQ in their audio world. In general, if that’s something you want, I wouldn’t be trying to get it out of the speakers, I’d just EQ it in. This is what the loudness control is for. But I can certainly see how, if that V is your thing, especially in a short listening session, you might see less advantage for the LX. There were a few tracks that I did think sounded a bit better with the extra brightness.

Vertical dispersion

I didn’t actually move around much during testing and sat mostly with the tweeters exactly at ear level, so I mostly didn’t hear it… but when I did stand, well, my initial impression in this regard held. The LX just wipes the floor with the EX here. I didn’t do any really near-field testing, but I bet the LXs are better in that context because of this.

Bass Response

Not only is the bass extension better, but the LX is just a more visceral speaker, even when level-matched. The LX is the window-rattler that really hits you in the chest. When the kick drum and bass are slamming, when the timpani are thundering, you want the LX. They really do sound much bigger than the EXs. The EX is a great bookshelf speaker, no doubt, and it actually delivers really impressive bass for a modest-sized bookshelf speaker. I was not previously unhappy with the bass from the EX, and always thought the bass was the biggest improvement of the EX over the regular Sierra-2. But the LX just sounds like something else entirely. I kind of want the rest of the family to go out of town for a day or two so I can set up the LXs in my living room and crank them up, just to hear them in a bigger space. I have never had this urge with the EXs.

One has to be careful with this, though. I mean, it’s not like they go down to 20Hz or something so don’t let your expectations get too carried away here, but they really do handle bass in a way the EXs simply do not. It’s quite something. If you don’t have the space for towers or a sub, these are a great way to go.

Then the “small two” differences:

Detail Retrieval, Transients, and Imaging

This is the one place where I think the EX has an edge, though it’s a small one. The fact that Dave (and my other favorite speaker designer, Dennis Murphy) have been using RAAL tweeters for a long time is not accidental. The new Titan dome is, however, really impressive. But the RAAL still has some advantages, and here’s where those are.

As a result, the EX (narrowly) carries this category. For example, in one of the classical pieces that’s primarily a string quartet, there’s occasionally a harpsichord quietly in the background. This sounded better and clearer on the EX. Cymbals are a little crisper on the EX. (Interestingly, I only found this to be true for real cymbals. This was much less apparent with the EDM/soundtrack stuff that clearly uses a drum machine.) Violins, acoustic guitars, and the upper range on electric guitars all sound just a little bit more pleasing on the EX. I found overall slightly better separation between instruments with the EX. The EXs also have more airiness. There is something lovely about the RAALs that the LXs don’t quite always get. But, to be clear, they are very close. There is a difference, to be sure, but not a large difference.

I think a very substantial fraction of the perceived difference is also a phantom. It took me a while to realize what was going on here. Part of the reason the top end on the EXs sounds clearer because is because it is louder relative to the midrange. That is, the relative brightness of the EX makes the high end seem even better, simply by virtue of less masking by the midrange. The more I listened, and listened closely, to the LX, the more I realized that most of the time it really is just as good at most of this, it’s simply not as bright. There is something real about the RAAL, but I think the actual advantage here is perceptually inflated by the brightness. Still an edge to the EX, but it’s a small advantage indeed.

Midrange

I wasn’t planning on writing a section on this but it’s enough of a difference between the two speakers that it’s worth talking about. First, let me say that I’ve heard both the EXs and the Ascend RAAL Towers side-by-side in the Ascend listening room. The Towers have slightly better bass (not by as much as I had expected), but for me the real separator between those two speakers to my ears is the midrange. Mids are more clear and open-sounding on the Towers. A lot of the early commenters on the Ascend forum commented that the LXs are more “tower-like” than the EXs. I think that’s true, and it’s not just in the bass.

That is, the LXs have not only more midrange relative to the highs, but I think the mids are again more clear and open-sounding on the LXs. (I’d have to listen to them side-by-side with the Towers to comment meaningfully on how they compare there.) I would say the difference here is again pretty small, but it’s there. (Humorously, I just looked back at my review of the S2EXs after upgrading from the base S2s, and I said almost exactly the same thing there about the change in midrange with that upgrade. I guess this really is just the next step for the Sierras.)

This led to some interesting results. I like the EX slightly better for violins, and if there were pieces that were just violins I’d probably take the EX—but once the cellos come in, the advantage for the EX vanishes, because the LX midrange is better. Flute solo? EX. Full orchestra? LX. Acoustic piano pieces are be better on the EX when just working the high keys, but once the left hand gets in there, the advantage generally flipped to the LXs.

A few other areas worth commenting on:

The Tough Stuff: Female Vocals and Violins

As I noted above, I found the EXs to be very slightly better with violins. I think this was generally true for most instruments where the bulk of what you care about is at the high end. Flutes, too, are challenging instruments and marginally better on the EXs.

I went hard into listening closely to female vocals kind of late in testing when I had a pretty clear sense of how the two speakers compared, and even then I was a little surprised on this one. The extra air in the EXs didn’t really do all that much for female vocals, and even with high-pitched singers (e.g., Kate Bush)—the stronger midrange of the LXs compensated. I have to call this one a draw.

Soundstage

Overall both speakers do this really well, with soundstages that are both wide and deep. Since the EXs have the slightly clearer high end, I kept expecting the soundstaging to be better on the EX. Even when I was looking for it, I couldn’t find it. Now, I know it’s weird say instrument separation on the EX is marginally better but not the soundstaging. It’s hard to explain. The EX did a better job of making two instruments sound distinct, even if both speakers put those instruments in the same place. I have to call this a tie.

Fatigue

I’ve owned the EXs for years with no fatigue ever. The good news here is I didn’t have any with the LXs, either. Whew.

Horizontal Dispersion

Horizontal dispersion is pretty much a wash. There may be some difference between the speakers on that score, but the combination of my room and my ears was not precise enough to distinguish them. I can’t vouch for a bigger room being further away, though.

Fun

Dave and has commented several times that the LXs are designed to be “fun,” and folks on the forum seem to generally agree. First, I think it’s awesome that someone who’s spent countless hours fiddling with a Klippel still has that perspective—good on you, Dave. More important, though, is the question of whether the LXs are, indeed, more “fun” and if so, what is it that makes them fun?

Honestly, I was a little skeptical about this because I’ve never had a problem with the “fun” level of the EXs, but I have to agree that the LXs are more fun. I think that can be attributed to a couple things.

First, the better vertical dispersion. You can move around more without feeling like the treble has gone AWOL. There’s a certain freedom to that, which is fun.

The other one is the better bass performance. There’s just more slam, more of that bass thump that you can feel as much as hear. It’s not just bass extension (though that’s improved, too)—the LXs just feel like they hit you harder even when not pushing the lowest of the low end (and again, I worked to make this comparison level-matched). Like I said before, they’re just more visceral. And as a bassist, I think I’m contractually obligated to believe that’s more fun.

Also, I have to say, there’s something fun about watching the LX woofers do their thing when the bass is loud. All woofers move, but not all woofers move like these do. The EX woofer looks better with that cool shiny phase plug and all, but when the LXs are cranking you it’s fun to see the crazy high excursion.

Power handling might be part of it, too, for some people. Since I’m in a small room I can easily hit over 100dB with the amp turned barely past noon, I can’t really comment directly on that.

The Final Verdict

As I expected, neither speaker was universally better than the other—but it was a near thing. The LX is almost always better. I wasn’t going to crown a winner but honestly I do think overall that the LX is a superior speaker. The LX is better at more things, and for some of those things, the difference is pretty large. Where the LX it’s worse, it’s not much worse. (Someone on the Ascend forum said that when the ES is better, it’s 20% better and when the LX is better, it’s 80% better. It’s hard to argue with that.) The fact that the LX is cheaper is the deal-sealer. If you don’t already own Sierras and are in the market, go buy the LXs now, before Dave raises the price!

I mean, I guess I can imagine cases where the EX would be the preferred choice over the LX. First, you know you will have your ear level with the tweeter; going vertically off-axis wipes out the EX (in a relative sense). Second, you really prioritize high-range clarity. For me, it would be if I listened primarily to sparse acoustic music, e.g., solo acoustic guitar. (I preferred the EXs for Michael Hedges and Rodrigo y Gabriela, for example.) Third, you either don’t care as much about bass extension or have a well-integrated sub to handle that. Fourth, you listen a low to moderate volume levels. It’s kind of a weird set of things all together, so I’m not sure how many people are in that situation. For most folks I’d say if you have to choose between them, get the LXs.

The LXs are also cheaper, which is bananas. What I really don’t understand is Dave’s strategy from a marketing perspective—I cannot imagine the LXs won’t wildly cannibalize sales of the EX. That’s Dave’s problem, though, not mine.

The much more tricky one for me would be “if you already own EXs, should you upgrade to LXs?” As of this writing I haven’t seen pricing on the upgrade, but I’m going to guess it’ll be around $900 for a pair of speakers. The LXs are mostly better, but are they that much better? Assuming I’m in the ballbark, I’d probably only recommend that you do it if you really care about the bass or if you find yourself listening vertically off-axis. If my HT mains were EXs, I would definitely upgrade them to LXs just to get the better vertical dispersion—the other advantages are just freebies. In particular bass extension is less of a concern for HT because that’s with a sub anyway. (Side note: I have to wonder if Dave is going to produce Duos with the Titan tweeter. This would probably also mean new woofers for the Duos, but I would almost certainly make that upgrade.)

So, for my small room where I sit perfectly tweeter-level pretty much all the time and only rarely listen loud? I would probably not spend the money to do the EX to LX upgrade. The EXs are still great speakers and I would be perfectly happy just keeping those in my study, despite having heard and preferring the LXs. If someone forced the issue and said in my study I could only keep the EXs or the LXs, but it would cost me $900 to keep the LXs, I’d probably stick with the EXs. Fortunately I’m not in that situation.

So, there you have it.

Appendices

Musings on Engineering

I’ll just quote myself from my review of the S2 (coming from the S1 NrT):

I was originally trained as an engineer and while I’m not one now (nor was my training in speakers or acoustics), I do enjoy a bit of wild speculating from an engineering perspective. I’ll be the fist to admit I’m not really qualified here, but when has that ever stopped anyone on the internet?

When, indeed. So here goes. I’ve been thinking about the design of the EX vs the LX and the idea of compromises, or maybe trade-offs. Dave has said several times on the Ascend forum why he likes the RAAL tweeters: low moving mass, wide and linear horizontal dispersion, no break-up modes, and essentially zero stored energy. These are all highly desirable properties, to be sure.

But that doesn’t mean they don’t come without some downsides, too. The RAALs are expensive, don’t have great vertical dispersion, and generally need to be crossed over higher than domes. That last one in particular leads to other compromises. To really get the midrange, you either have to ask an awful lot from the woofer (the 2EX approach), or you just have to grit your teeth and go with a three-way design (the approach taken with the Towers and the Philharmonic BMR). Of course, if you’re locked into cabinets with only two openings—and bless Dave for sticking with that, giving us all the chance to upgrade, which I personally have done many times, thank you—you’re stuck with a two-way design (unless you want to go to concentric drivers, which is another set of tradeoffs). The EX woofer is great and handles this really well, but it’s a big ask. I think the EX woofer is amazing given how wide a frequency range it has to cover and how well it does so. I have to think part of the motivation for the LX was to not ask the woofer to go so high.

In fact, to me, Dave’s description of the Titan tweeter in the LX announcement thread is essentially “I wanted a dome tweeter that had as much of the positive aspects of the ribbons as possible, but being a dome, wouldn’t have those downsides.” That frees up the woofer from having to do the upper mids, so the woofer can be pushed lower.

As far as I can tell from listening, the Titan tweeters are indeed a big leap in this direction. I don’t think they quite get all of the advantages of the RAALs, but they’re pretty close, while simultaneously skirting the downsides. Still, there is a little something lost, and I can certainly hear that loss when I’m really listening for it, but there’s so much more gained. I think overall it’s the right tradeoff to make. The measurements certainly suggest that’s the case, and my ears agree.

My guess, and this is completely unsubstantiated speculation (feel free to laugh at me, Dave), is that the Titan tweeters also cost less than the RAALs. It wouldn’t surprise me if the LX woofers were also slightly less costly than the EX woofers. Both drivers being cheaper = less expensive speaker. $250 less for a pair of LXs might be the most amazing part of the whole thing.

Gear Notes

The room (one of the more important pieces of gear) is my study, which is basically a 9′ x 11′ room with ceilings that slope up to 12′ high. It is thankfully not quite rectangular, and has a mixture of different treatments in various places, from 1/2″ tiles to 4″ panels. It’s not recording-studio quiet, but if you’re having a conversation and you walk in from another room, you immediately notice a big drop in reverb.

The speakers are normally separated by a little less than six feet center-to-center and I sit about six feet away. (The speakers were a little closer together for this because I had all four speakers in the room at the same time, the EXs to the left of the LXs.) The EXs normally sit on custom 38″ high stands so that my ears are exactly level with the EX tweeters. I bought a second pair of height-adjustable stands and had one of each speaker on each stand type to even that out, all height-matched.

The source is an iMac Pro running Audirvana Origin. When I’m working and not listening carefully it’s just Apple Music playing back my library (mostly ALAC, mostly 16/44.1 but a few 24/96), but when I’m really paying attention it’s Audirvana, so that’s what I used for all testing.

I normally use two DACs which I call the subjective DAC and the objective DAC. The “subjective” DAC is a 1st-gen Schiit Bifrost that got sent in for the R2R upgrade. You might remember a bit of a kerfuffle about this DAC when ASR first reviewed it because it did not measure well—but of course a lot of people like how it sounds. I have kind of a love/hate relationship with it. Just depends on the material. The “objective” DAC is an SMSL Sanskrit 10th Mk2, which is an inexpensive DAC based on the AKM 4493 that measures amazingly well, particularly for the price. I did my main test listening here with the Sanskrit just to avoid any weird DAC interactions.

Amp is a Yamaha A-S500 integrated amp, rated at 85wpc into 8 ohms. This is more than enough in my little room—it easily hits over 100dB just past 12 o’clock on the volume knob. I don’t listen that loud hardly ever, but I did want to check. I had both the LXs and the EXs hooked up, one as the A and one as the B. No room correction or EQ, amp on Pure Direct. This was a test of the speakers, not the other electronics.

I’m not a huge believer in break-in but I do like to get things a little warmed up so when I first get new speakers or headphones I run them hot for about an hour with something that has a lot of bass, the TRON:Legacy soundtrack and a couple other bass-heavy tracks. Wow do the LX woofers move! Amazing amount of excursion.

In my room with the door open, the EXs are louder with pink noise by a little less than 3dB. For a lot of music, it was closer to to 2dB though it depended a little on the music. When I switched back and forth between A and B I also adjusted the volume in software to keep them pretty much level-matched. It’s not perfect because different material interacts with the room somewhat differently and so sometimes the LXs seemed a little louder and sometimes the EXs seemed a little louder, but it was always close and not a consistent advantage for either speaker.

Also possibly relevant: my first Ascend speakers were Sierra-1s which I bought in 2010. I have upgraded them to NrTs, then to 2s, then to 2EXs. I still have S1s in my office on campus (2.0), and S1 NrTs in the master bedroom (2.1 for the occasional TV or movie). My home theater setup is Ascend Luna Duos for LCR and Philharmonic Mini Philharmonitors (the RAAL ones) as surrounds, QAcoustics 3020i as front heights (needed white for WAF reasons) with a Rythmik L22 sub. I have PSB Image series speakers (circa 2001) in the upstairs home theater, Philharmonic AA monitors in the garage, and Ascend HTM-200s in the kitchen. Yes, essentially every room in the house where I spend significant time has a pair of speakers in it.

Full Song List

“Il Pleure (At the Turn of the Century)” by The Art of Noise from The Seduction of Claude Debussy
“Into the Void” by Nine Inch Nails from The Fragile (Right)
“Stinkfist” by Tool from Ænima
“Wild Flower” by The Cult from Electric
“Start of the Breakdown” by Tears for Fears from The Hurting
“Breakfast in the Field” by Michael Hedges from Live on the Double Planet
“Hanuman” by Rodrigo y Gabriela from 11:11
“Spring Creek” by George Winston from Summer
“Concerto No.2 “L’estate”, RV 315; III. Presto” by Janine Jansen from Vivaldi – The Four Seasons
“Concerto for 2 Violins, Strings and Continuo in D minor, BWV. 1043: I. Vivace” by Hahn/LA Chamber Orchestra/Kahane from Bach ・ Concertos
“Some Like It Hot” by The Power Station from The Power Station
“Little Speaker” by Underworld from A Hundred Days Off
“Root Beer” by Thomas Newman from American Beauty
“Oasis” by Shadowfax from The Odd Get Even
“Precious Things” by Tori Amos from Little Earthquakes
“Every Little Thing She Does Is Magic” by The Police from Ghost in the Machine
“Strength to Dream” by Propaganda from A Secret Wish
“The Happiest Days of Our Lives” by Pink Floyd from The Wall (Disc 1)
“Escape Artist” by Zoe Keating from Into the Trees
“An Dio” by Rene Lacaille & Bob Brozman from Dig Dig
“The Chain” by Fleetwood Mac from Rumours
“Homeless” by Paul Simon from Graceland
“Driven to Tears” by Sting from Bring on the Night (Disc 1)
“Came Back Haunted” by Nine Inch Nails from Hesitation Marks (Audiophile Mastered Version) (24/48)
“View From a Stairway” by Deepsky from In Silico
“Money” by Pink Floyd from Dark Side of the Moon (MFSL)
“Bodyrock” by Moby from Play
“The Pot” by Tool from 10,000 Days
“The Game Has Changed” by Daft Punk from TRON: Legacy
“Violin Concerto in D, Op.77: 3. Allegro giocoso, ma non troppo vivace – Poco più presto” by Janine Jansen [Violin], Orchestra dell’Accademia Nazionale di Santa Cecilia [Orchestra] & Antonio Pappano [Conductor] from Brahms: Violin Concerto; Bartók: Violin Concerto No.1 (24/96)
“Haydn: Symphony #95 In C Minor, H 1/95 – 4. Finale: Vivace” by Colin Davis; Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra from Haydn: The London Symphonies [Disc 1]
“Handel: Water Music Suite #1 In F, HWV 348 – Minuet For The French Horn” by Bamberg Philharmonic Orchestra from Handel: Water Music Suite, Etc.
“Saving Buckbeak” by John Williams from Harry Potter & the Prisoner of Azkaban
“Helm’s Deep” by Howard Shore from The Two Towers
“Possible” by Zoe Keating from Snowmelt (EP) (24/96)
“Sat in Your Lap” by Kate Bush from The Dreaming
“Blinding” by Florence + The Machine from Lungs
“Rollercoaster” by Everything but the Girl from Like the Deserts Miss the Rain
“Super Blaster” by Curve from Cuckoo
“The Working Hour (2014 Steven Wilson Mix)” by Tears For Fears from Songs From the Big Chair (24/96)
“Pneuma” by Tool from Fear Inoculum (24/96)
“Discipline” by Nine Inch Nails from The Slip (24/96)
“Time” by Pink Floyd from The Dark Side of the Moon (Immortal Edition)
“Joy Joy” by Kinga Glyk from Feelings

Now for Something Completely Different: BUG Aggro

Well, it’s not completely different, as I guess that Bant Hexproof is on the aggro end of the world, but normally I don’t play much aggro, I’m more for the midrange or control decks, but I dip into the aggro pool for a while. When I do, though, it’s usually something at least a little off the beaten path. This one is definitely off the beaten path. I saw a couple lists kind of like this in the States lists, and came up with my own version. Here’s the list:

I think half my desire to play this deck was just because I wanted to play with Duskmantle Seer. I know other builds with this deck play Zameck Guildmage, but Varolz just seems so much better. Also, most lists I’ve seen didn’t run Lotleth Troll, which seems zany to me; that is a pretty sweet 2-drop. I’ve also been on something of a hot streak at my local FLGS, having finished in the money with great regularity lately. So I thought I’d push that pretty hard. I have to say, my initial thought is that this deck looks like a pile of crap—but it plays a lot better than it looks. The night before my son insisted that I actually build it and test against him playing RWU control. Much to my surprise, I won probably 75% of those games.

So, off to my FLGS Sunday Standard. Only 15 people showed up, so just 4 rounds cutting to top 4.

Round 1: Zach, playing BR Vampires
OK, so not exactly a tier 1 deck on the opposing side, but it’s actually not that bad: Vampire Nighthawk, Falkenrath Aristocrat, Stromkirk Captain, Bloodline Keepers, Olivias, various black removal spells for 1 and 2 mana, a couple Vampire Nocturnus, and a full slate of Blood Artists and a couple Killing Waves. I’ve played worse (and played against worse). To be honest, I don’t really remember game 1 all that well. I know I had some early plays, used Decay to kill a Nighthawk, countered something with a Rupture, and got there. I sided in the Appetites, the Far // Aways, and the Sever. I didn’t have a fast enough early draw, got a little flooded, and he got a Bloodline Keeper going and it was over when he dropped Olivia. Game 3 he came out with two early Blood Artists, which meant this game took a while because he kept gaining life. I eventually got everything off his board except the Artists and fused a Far // Away, which slowed down his life gain, and got Varolz out and was scavenging onto it, which got me there.
1-0 matches, 2-1 games

Round 2: Tony, playing Junk Midrange
This was a pretty terrible round. Tony mulled to five both games, apparently all on 1-landers. At least in game 1, he immediately topdecked a land and was able to cast Farseek, so he was OK on mana. Unfortunately, I came out blazing: Experiment One followed by Strangelroot Geists on the next two turns put him on his back foot, and I Hybridized a Giest to evolve my human ooze to put way too much on the board for him to deal with. I read him as playing Reanimator so I sided in the Deathrites, the Sever, and the Evil Twin. Game 2 he again mulled to five on one land, but he drew out of it in, but even with a Centaur Healer and a Smiter he could not keep up with another relatively fast start from me. The Smiter got Decayed and Rancor let me swing through the Healer and keep the pressure on, and he scooped to me casting Duskmantle Seer with him at 5.
2-0 matches, 4-1 games

Round 3: Zachariah, playing Junk Rites
Zach was 8-8 at Pro Tour Dragon’s Maze, which was his first PT; so this was a real test for this deck. Game 1 he had a slowish start whereas I went Experiment One into Strangleroot, so I quickly had him at 12. He came back with a Thragtusk, but I came back with a Lotleth Troll and eventually a Rancor, so eventually he had to chump with the Thragusk. Then I came back with a Duskmantle Seer. That was kind of interesting, as having him draw cards wasn’t likely to actually be good for me unless he drew something monstrous to take a big hit of damage, which he never did. He also never drew an Unburial Rites, which was good for me because he had Salvaged an Angel of Serenity fairly early. However, he made a tech play after that, and cast Fiend Hunter then cast Restoration Angel with the trigger on the stack, meaning he took out both the Troll and the Seer. Fortunately for me, I had another Seer. My next turn, he was at 7, took 4 from the Resto he drew off the Seer trigger, but he thought he was OK because he had Resto back to block. However, I had not one, but two Rancors for the Seer, so the trample damage killed him. I sided in the same anti-reanimator package I put in round 2. Game 2 he got an early Rhox Faithmender, followed by a Thragtusk (bringing him to 31) and I had a Seer and a couple other dudes with me at 10 and him at 15 when he did pull off the Angel of Serenity, wiping my board. I just scooped to that. I sided in two Appetites for Game 3, and that was definitely the right call, because when I did it I discovered he had no land in hand and was relying on two mana dorks, plus I managed to get the Faithmender in his hand. I also had a Deathrite Shaman out so I wasn’t too worried about reanimation shenanaigans. Next turn I Slipped one of his mana dorks, leaving him with only two mana sources. From there I pretty much ran him over, though at one point I did lose a Dreg Mangler to Renounce the Guilds. I knew he had it from the Appetite, but I wanted to get it out of his hand and I thought I’d rather lose that than the LolTroll on the board. When I played a Seer, he just scooped.
3-0 matches, 6-2 games

Round 4: Daniel, playing Jund
We were the only two undefeateds, so we ID’d into the top 4.
3-0-1 matches, 6-2 games

Semifinals: Zachariah, playing Junk Rites
The top 4 ended up being me, Zachariah, Daniel, and another Junk Rites deck. Most of them wanted to leave to go eat so I agreed to a top 4 split.
3-0-2 matches, 6-2 games

I got about $20 in store credit, which I used to buy a Progenitor Mimic so next FNM I can play 4c Progenitor Reanimator, and I also got a Domri Rade to go up to 2, or maybe 3 of those.

Now, 3 rounds isn’t exactly a stringent test, so I played a few other matches afterward. One of them I played against the BUG Walkers deck that just top 8’d an SCG Open. I rolled that game 1 with turn 1 Young Wolf, turn 2 double Rancor; lost a sideboarded game 2 off a hand I should have mulliganed, and easily won game 3 with the Experiment One, Strangleroot, Rapid Hybridization EOT turn 3 to just come in with a huge attack the following turn. I also played against a RUG Control deck and beat that 2-0 without too much difficulty, particularly fun was the double-Seer game where he drew Turn // Burn to take 5, then Ral Zarek to take 4. Oops.

So, while the deck kind of looks like a pile, it’s actually surprisingly good. Don’t get me wrong, it’s not a great deck, but it catches people by surprise and is definitely not an easy out.

Varolz is a great addition to this deck, as being able to scavenge everything in the graveyard is really excellent, especially onto Experiment One, giving that regeneration. The really fast draws with this deck are almost as fast as the Gruul Aggro decks, but this deck is a little more resilient in the long run because of all the undying and regeneration. As I said earlier, half the reason I wanted to play it was to see how Duskmantle Seer really plays out. Since other than the Seer, everything in the deck costs 3 or less, he’s actually pretty decent. Given the number of decks running big expensive spells, Seer is actually a real threat, since the opponent is often under 10 life by turn 5 or so, which is when he usually comes down. He’s not a general-purpose card, but in the right deck (like this one), he’s not bad at all.

So, if you’re looking for something different that’s fun to play and a little off the wall while still being good, give this a whirl.

Mage-Blade Takes Down FNM

Missed FNM last week because I went to GP Austin, where I scrubbed out at 3-3, but that let me catch the second half of the Texans’ playoff game, which was absolutely worth watching. Also played in a great side event on Sunday, Standard Sealed. One pack of everything from standard, with the exception of Innistrad, which was two packs. Lots of zany decks. I didn’t end up actually doing all that well in that, either, but it was definitely a fun format.

Anyway, I’m back, and since I played Mono-Black Infect last time around, I had to play something different. I find it humorous that Mage-Blade is now a real deck, as I designed a deck along the same lines right when Innistrad came out. It was Esper and more of a control build, and definitely not as good as the current versions, but some of the same concepts are there. Here’s that list, which my computer tells me I generated back on October 7th:

The mana base was terrible and there were too many cards with double-colored casting costs, and it never tested well, but I’m gratified to know that in the long run it had the right direction in mind. I obviously didn’t recognize how amazing Vapor Snag is, and wasn’t up on Delver, but I got Snapcaster/Blade/Haunt/Stalker/Geist, anyway. So, here’s what I actually played:

Note that this is not Gindy’s list from SCG Atlanta, though it is obviously similar. My local meta is pretty aggro-heavy and I really wanted main deck Missteps, and Swords are a little slow at a cost of 3, so I cut down to only one of those.

Five rounds of Swiss, cut to top 8.

Round 1: Mike, playing RDW
Game 1 I got turn 3 Geist, got a Pike on it, and that carried it on my last turn to live. Game 2 he burned me out with a large Shrine on his last turn to live. Game 3 I got a Stalker early and we were pretty even after that, until eventually I got a Pike on the Stalker and that won me the race thanks to a little help from Vapor Snag.
1-0 matches, 2-1 games

Round 2: Scott, playing RDW
Game 1 was very close; he got there because of a Spikeshot Elder—I didn’t realize anyone played those anymore, but it seems very good in this matchup; many Spirits died to it. I drew very badly in game 2, missed turn 3 land drop with only an Island and a Haunt out, then drew another Haunt, and missed the next land drop, and finally drew a second Island, but it was too late.
1-1 matches, 2-3 games

Round 3: Chris, playing Tempered Steel
Game 1 he got double Tempered Steel but was light on dudes and with Vapor Snags, a Geist, and a couple chumps, I got there pretty easily. Game 2 was a near thing. He opened turn 1 with triple Memnite. I played very conservatively, holding back counters and an O Ring in case of Tempered Steel. He did stick an Etched Champion but I had Spirits and Delvers to block the rest of his team, and got there with a flipped Delver wielding a Pike.
2-1 matches, 4-3 games

Round 4: Festus, playing Esper Control
Similar in spirit to the list LSV has been playing on CFB. Festus is a great guy but a slow player and I was worried about how much time we’d have to finish this. Game 1 was close; I had him down to 2 with a Gut Shot in my hand and another in the graveyard, but was facing down a Sphinx and just could not draw either a Snapcaster or the third Gut Shot. I spent the entire game with a dead Misstep in my hand. Oops. Game 2 I had decent early pressure via a turn 1 Delver, which flipped turn 2, and drew just enough permission to keep him off his big plays, which I knew were coming courtesy of a very timely Probe. Game 3 was a near thing. I drew all 4 Snapcasters through the course of the game, snapping back two counters and two Midnight Hauntings. The end was zany: Haunting end of his turn, swung my turn, he cast Day on his turn, I snapped back the Haunting end of his turn, swung, he snapped back Day, I used the Snapcaster with the Haunt, and also snapped back the Haunting to swing for the lethal 5 on the first turn of extra time. Whew.
3-1 matches, 6-4 games

Round 5: Paul, playing RDW
Since we were both guaranteed a spot in the top 8, we ID’d.
3-1-1 matches, still 6-4 games

Quarterfinals: Tyler playing WW
Not even Haunted Humans, just straight-up White Weenie with Honor of the Pure and a lot of 1 and 2 drops. Game 1 I got counters and Gut Shots and flipped a Delver early and pretty much sailed in. Game 2 was close, we went back and forth, and unfortunately the Timely and the O Ring in my hand were dead because I never drew a source of white, and he killed me on his last turn to live. Game 3 I opened with both Missteps and a Snapcaster, and countered three of his early plays, Leaked another, and pretty much cruised through with Vapor Snags.
4-1-1 matches, 8-5 games

Semifinals: Kevin, playing Uw Delver Illusions
Game 1 he kept a one-lander and was tapped out on my turn 3, so I put down a Geist. I got a Pike on it and he went all the way in three turns. Game 2 I remember my exact opening hand: Misstep, Gut Shot, Midnight Haunting, Plains, Glacial Fortress, 2 Haunts. He went Island, Delver, I Missteped, he Missteped back, and EOT I Gut Shot his Delver. Whee, five cards out turn 1 before I even played a land. My first draw step was a Leak and then next was a Pike. I Leaked his next play, cast Haunting at the end of his turn 4, put the Pike on one of the tokens. He got in once, then got Vapor Snagged, and the other Spirit carried the Pike to victory.
5-1-1 matches, 10-5 games

It was late and I wanted to get my son home since he had a sleepover the next night, so we split the finals. Not a bad night for a deck I had never played before and threw together right before heading over to FNM. The other nice thing was that last weekend at GP Austin I punted numerous times, but I played pretty clean Magic tonight. Not perfect, of course, but a lot better than I played last weekend.

A few deck comments:
• I’ve played some UR Delver and some UW Delver Illusions lately, and I definitely like this better than Illusions.
• Vapor Snag is one of the best cards in Standard when it’s in this deck. I think I boarded in the Disperse against almost everything, so I might go to main deck for that.
Gitaxian Probe was great against the control deck, but continues to underwhelm me against everything else. I think 2 would be plenty, and zero might even be right.
• I didn’t like Ratchet Bomb out of the sideboard, but then I didn’t play against Haunted Humans.
• I was very happy with the decision to run only one Sword, and I could see cutting it completely. Pike is great, though. Pike plus Geist is amazing.
• Main deck Misstep was great vs. everything except the control deck. I would definitely keep those; there are just so many juicy targets for that right now.

Also, my 11-year-old son Simon played as well. He played Mono-Black Infect, which either I or he have played a few times now. Here’s the current list:

Here’s how it went for him:

• Won 2-0 vs. a Black-Red Vampires deck, which he said wasn’t a very good deck.
• Won 2-1 vs. Esper Control, my round 4 opponent.
• Lost 2-0 vs. Haunted Humans. Deck is solid against Humans, that was a little odd.
• Lost 2-1 vs. RDW. Apparently drew zero Spellskites in game 3, despite boarding up to 4. Grr.
• Won 2-0 vs. a “weird Quicksilver Amulet deck” in a very fast match.

Not a bad showing, really, considering that he’s 11.

NFL Week 16

Saturday Night
Cowboys @ Arizona(+7.5)
Cardinals are awful and have given up. Give the points. Al is taking the points.

Sunday 1:00
Lions @ Miami(-3.5)
Detroit has somehow won two in a row, and I don’t like taking the Dolphins at home. Love that half point as I feel like it should be fish by 3. (Yes, I know dolphins aren’t fish.)

Niners @ St. Louis(-2.5)
Another game that feels like a field goal game. I’ll take the Rams at home, to take home a playoff berth!

Jets @ Chicago(-1)
Beating up on the Vikings doesn’t count for anything; beating the Steelers in Pittsburgh does. I’ll take Gang Green.

Patriots @ Buffalo(+7.5)
Tough call. Pats are on fire, but Buffalo is tough to blow out, even if they don’t win many. I’m going to stick with the Pats this time, though I’m worried about the half point.

Redskins @ Jacksonville(-7)
Normally I’d take the Jags but MJD is hurt and I think Jax may have had their spirit broken last week, so I’m taking Washington.

Titans @ Kansas City(-5)
Tough spread, I was hoping for Chiefs by a field goal. Is five too many? Nah, I think I’ll give em anyway.

Sunday ~4:10
Colts @ Oakland(+3)
Another tough spread, since the Raiders can really run the rock and the Colts can’t stop it any other way than playing from ahead. With Collie out again, this could go either way. I’m picking Indy just because I really want them to lose, so they’ll win.

Texans @ Denver(+2.5)
Foster is hurt but will probably play, and Andre probably won’t. So, the Texans will have what offense, exactly? And we know they have no defense, so yeah, I’m taking Denver and the points.

Chargers @ Cincinnati(+7.5)
I still can’t believe the Bungles won last week. Won’t happen again, give the points.

Seabags @ Tampa(-6.5)
Still not picking Seattle on the road, thanks.

Giants @ Green Bay(-3)
I’m not high on either of these teams right now. Packers, I guess.

SNF
Vikings @ Philadelphia(-14.5)
Yeah, Minnesota is done. Iggles.

MNF
Saints @ Atlanta(-2.5)
Not picking against the Falcons at home this season, thanks.

Turkey Day Picks

Patriots @ Detroit(+7)
The Lions have been pretty good against the spread this year and the Pats are only really awesome on the road. On the other hand, the Lions have a history of getting just killed on Thanksgiving, and no Stafford, and the Pats are in a tight divisional race. No chance the Pats lose, but will they cover? I think the spread is just right because I feel a push is likely here. If there’s a stronger force at work here than the Lions being awful on Turkey Day, I don’t know what that is. Pats.

Saints @ Dallas(+4)
Tough game to pick. The Cowboys seem rejuvenated but the Saints are playing well, too. I do think Dallas will keep it close but not quite close enough to cover. I think the Saints want a little payback for last year, so I’ll take them to cover.

Bengals @ New Jersey Jets(-9)
The Jets are a lot better, no doubt about it. However, that’s a lot of points and the Jets really have been keeping it exciting lately. Just to riverside Al, I’ll take the Bungles and the truckload of points. Hopefully the Jets will be looking past this game.

Housecleaning

A little housecleaning before the weekend. First, the blog’s been upgraded to WordPress 2.7.1.

Second, of course, is the name change. “SunBBlog” was always a horrible name and it really, really needed to go.

So, why “Raised Weird”? It’s a play on the age old “heredity vs. environment” or “nature vs. nurture” question that came up in my family when I was a kid. I was giving my parents a hard time, noting that regardless of which mechanism was in play, how I turned out was their fault. So, the only real question was whether I was born weird, or raised weird—but whichever it was, it wasn’t my fault, but theirs. It’s silly, I know, but it sure beats the hell out of “SunBBlog.” I really don’t know what I was thinking with that one…

Of course, my brother now has a blog called “Born Weird.”

So, now that the name change is in place, I plan to start a new series of posts next week. Keep an eye out for it, Mac fans…

Outlets in airports

Somebody please explain to me exactly why the hell it is that in airport terminals electrical outlets are harder to find than integrity in Washington? Is it really that hard to put more than two outlets per gate? Sheesh…