Featured Member – mountainpics

An adventure photographer and an Audiogon member, how cool!  Whether Audiogon member-mountainpics, is at his home in New Orleans or in an exotic locale for an extreme shoot, he is always finding ways to crank up the music.  Below we take a look at his magnificent home system, as well as find out what kind of equipment he suggests for an on-the-go lifestyle like his.

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Equipment Pictured:

Bryston 4B SST amp
Bryston BP-26 preamp
Bryston MPS-2 power source
Bryston BDA-2 D/A converter
Apple MacBook Pro digital source
Anthony Gallo Reference 3.5 speakers
Anthony Gallo Reference SA sub amp
California Audio Lab CD transport
JA Michell Gyro SE turntable with Michell Tecnoarm and Ortofon 2M Black cartridge atop a JA Michell ISO Base
Graham Slee Reflex M Phono Stage Preamp
all interconnects and speaker cables are AntiCable

Audiogon: Could you give a little background on what you do and how you got into audio?

mountainpics: I am an adventure travel photographer and an author.  I am also a musician and having been playing instruments since I was 7.  I got my undergrad degree in music, and music has been a central part of my life since I was very young.  My grandfather was in charge of South American operations for General Electric, and RCA was a subsidiary, so he had tons of RCA albums that I heard when we’d visit my grandparents.  My dad went to high school in Rome and had the opportunity to train as an opera singer, so we had great classical music playing in our house most days.  I had a little record player that I played my favorite 45’s on and was really into my collection of records as a kid.  My dad had a good stereo system, and was an early adopter of the CD format, so I’ve been around “hi-fi” for much of my life.  In my 20’s, I purchased an NAD amp and preamp and a good CD player.  I then purchased some Klipsch speakers in 2003, and a Goldring GR2 turntable (my first TT as an adult) in 2006.  That setup served me well, but I knew there was more out there.  I decided in October of 2012 to upgrade my speakers, and that started the ball rolling.  In two months, I had upgraded every component in my system except for the CD transport, and finding great sellers on Audigon was an integral part of this upgrade.

A: We visited your website and see that you are a photographer.  Your work is great!  Is that your full time job or just a hobby for you?

mountainpics: I’ve been in business full time as a photographer since January of 2001.  My websites are marcpagani.com and paganiphoto.com.  My first book, “Fearless Photographer:  Travel” came out in early November of 2012 and can be found on Amazon at http://www.amazon.com/Fearless-Photographer-Travel-Marc-Pagani/dp/1285063872.  I’ve recently been hired to shoot British Explorer Mark Wood’s expedition to climb Mount Everest this coming spring. It will be my fourth expedition in the Himalayas.

A: You must travel a lot for your photography – how often?
mountainpics: I travel for photo shoots (on average) 6-8 times per year, with 2 to 3 of those being longer trips to more remote places like Patagonia, Nepal, Tibet, Vietnam etc.
A: What equipment do you use on-the-go?
mountainpics: In addition to 50-150 pounds of photography and mountaineering/climbing/diving gear, I make sure I have my “music gear” as well.  When I’m traveling somewhere more remote where I will have less access to electricity, I always bring my iPod Classic 160gb, an iPod shuffle, and my Westone 3 in-ear monitors (they sound pretty fantastic for the price).  When I’m traveling to a area like the Caribbean, where I’ll have a nice hotel room to work out of, I will also bring my SoundFreaq Sound Kick portable speaker.  I still need to travel light, considering I have to carry all of the other gear, as well.  It’s both battery powered and AC-powered, and can be controlled via Bluetooth from a distance.  The bass response is impressive for its very small footprint.
A: How did you get your room the way it is?
mountainpics: I purchased the preamp/power supply (igork), amp (docaudio), phono stage (rnrmf1971), speakers and sub amp (audioguy_net), and turtable/tonearm/motor/tt power supply (ontology) on Audiogon.  The DAC came from AudioAdvisor, the cables and interconnects are from AntiCable, and the cartridge came from NeedleDoctor.  The ISO Base came from Artech.
A: How much did it cost?
mountainpics: The retail price for everything I purchased in October, November, early December is around $29,500.  Using Audiogon for many of the purchases, I got everything for about $18,000.
A: Explain the process of how you’ve tweaked your system and room to get it to where it is now.
mountainpics: Besides making the purchase, finding the right interconnects and cables, and setting up the tonearm/cartridge properly, the only real tweaks I’ve done is to get 2 sets of Pangea Audio Pico sorbothane feet to separate the DAC/preamp/power supply a little further, and to purchase the Michell ISO Base, which, although it was purchased more for its aesthetics, it does further isolate the turntable from unwanted harmonics/vibrations.  Lastly, simply adjusting the speaker location has also been an important part of increasing overall transparency in the system.

A: Do you have any room treatments? If so, what are they and how do they help?

mountainpics: I don’t have any real room treatments except for a piece of audio foam opposite the right side woofer to decrease the bass frequency that hits that wall, since it is a wall that faces an elderly neighbor.  The room has two large carpets from Tibet, a stuffed leather sofa, loveseat and chair, so the reflective surfaces are not many in number.

A: What is your favorite component and why?

mountainpics: The JA Michell Turntable (with Michell Tecnoarm and Ortofon 2M Black cartridge) is a winner.  Compared to my Goldring with and RB-250 tonearm and Goldring 1012GX, there’s more channel separation, more transparency and clear instrument identification, less record (source) noise, and an overall fuller sound.  It looks incredibly beautiful, as well.  It’s so popular with friends that I have developed what I’m calling the “Vinyl Wino Salon Series” (if you happen to be in New Orleans, and would like an invite, contact me:  https://www.facebook.com/VinylWinoSalon), which consists of 8 diverse people, all invited to participate once a month (a different set of 8 people each month) to drink good wine, and listen to vinyl (it sounds pretentious, but this is New Orleans – no room at all for pretension)  They each pick out 3 songs, and stand in the front of the room to discuss why they chose each of the songs.
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A: What is your favorite music to listen to?

mountainpics: I grew up with classical and my own favorite pop songs, but in late high school, and throughout college, I played in jazz quartets/quintets, and in an alternative rock band.  I also listened to a lot of underground/progressive rap in college and classic R&B stuff like James Brown and Stevie Wonder.  Being a percussionist, most of my adult life has been focused on music that has a great groove.  Since I’ve put this new system together, I’ve rediscovered my love for jazz,  have been purchasing great jazz classics on vinyl, and have been really appreciating the subtleties of recorded music on a system like I’ve never heard before.

A: Is there any rule, theory, or advice you abide by with the set up of your system that you’d like to share?
mountainpics: Generally, I felt as though it was a good idea to stick with one brand for many of the components (Bryston) with the idea that they would work well together and present a cohesive version of the music.  I also really liked the idea of a 20 year warranty!  I like the idea of separate power supplies as I have on my phono stage, my line stage (preamp), and my turntable motor.  The more independence given to components that actually process musical signal, the better.  Beyond that, I would just encourage people to read the reviews, do your research, audition components if you can in order to allow your ears to be the judge, and don’t skimp…purchase the best components you can afford.
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Thank you, mountainpics, for all of your insights.  To become the next Audiogon Featured Member, submit pictures of your room here.  Where have you traveled with audio gear?  What portable gear do you use?  Tell us by leaving a comment below!

11 thoughts on “Featured Member – mountainpics

  1. soundofovoid says:

    An all Bryston set-up (bar turntable) isn’t too far away.
    Thinking about it?
    The 20 years guarantee is very reassuring when returning from a long trip and want everything to be as it was when you left it! 

  2. Robert says:

    I don’t see myself in the big easy any time soon, but what a cool way to spend an evening,meet some new people and share some wine & vinyl

    • It’s a lot of fun, Robert.  After the first Salon, we got comments on Facebook like “one of the most fun social nights I’ve had in a long time” and “it was different and just down right FUN!”  LAst time, we had a guy who played a Prince song because it’s the song he lost his virginity to the babysitter to, and another guy who brought in an album that was a recording of the punk band he was in in 1995.  He hadn’t heard ANY of the music since 1995 because they only put it out on vinyl, and he hasn’t ever owned a turntable.  Here’s a video from the most recent Salon:  https://www.facebook.com/photo.php?v=10151389767466253&set=vb.670836252&type=2&theater

  3. Simonnisbett says:

    Very pretty…
    I’m surprised by the vinyl front end, I must say, especially given Marc’s stricture re not skimping and purchasing the best components you can afford.  If you admire English engineering, as you clearly do in choosing Michell, surely a Nottingham Analogue Dais, or an SME. Or at the very least a Michel Orbe.  And a budget cartridge and arm, when so much has been spent on the rest of the system?  Looks like the stands cost more…  Remember the old adage, garbage in, garbage out?

    • thanks for the input.  I am considering upgrading the platter to the Orbe.  I purchased the Graham Slee phono stage a while back, so if I were to go with a pricier MC cartridge, I would also have to upgrade the phono stage.  Wasn’t prepared to do that just yet.  The Ortofon 2M Black is quite remarkable for a $700 cartridge.  The arm got GREAT reviews, and actually came with the table (bought used).  I’m happy so far, and I’m sure someday I will switch to a fancy MC cartridge….baby steps

  4. Mduval105 says:

    Very interesting interview. A friend and I have been tossing around an idea for a community radio show where we match a wine to an album and discuss both while the album plays.  What is the stand holding your MacBook?

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