The International

The International

I don’t know how this thing works, BUT BOY DOES IT SOUND GOOD!

Remember 1976…

Scratch that, you probably weren’t even alive back then. But not only was it the bicentennial year, the preoccupation of young males was the stereo shop. Saturday afternoons, nights alone with your magazines, you’d contemplate all the stereo gear you were gonna buy, TO GET CLOSER TO THE MUSIC!

Oh, I know, you’re a hipster, you’ve got those giant headphones, you want to show everybody…that the music you listen to sounds TERRIBLE!

Yup, if Jimmy Iovine were truly interested in sound, not only money, he’d introduce a line of headphone amplifiers, to show people what they’re TRULY missing!

Plug in the International and your jaw will drop… That’s how lousy MP3s sound, even your CDs, because with an International and a pair of decent headphones you’re so close to the music it’s like you’re on stage.

The International… What exactly is it?

It’s a headphone amp, with a built-in DAC, i.e. digital to analog converter.

And you don’t need a fancy home stereo, works just fine with your computer, it bypasses all the substandard insides and just pumps quality into your ears, assuming your source is that good.

But it comes with almost no documentation. It assumes you’re a tweak, that you haunt the boards and know exactly what you’re buying. And it’s not impossible to figure out, but… DOES USB POWER IT OR JUST DELIVER THE SOUND?

Yup, I plugged the thing into my Mac Pro (I mention that, because it’s got the USB jacks right up front, convenient, that’s one of the reasons I bought it) and when I turn it on, it immediately bypasses the system settings, it selects itself, and then…music starts to flow.

Well, that’s not what happened today. Today I could get no juice.

And after being flummoxed, completely nonplussed, figuring the thing was fried, having driven the big Sennheiser 800s with it last night, I decided to plug it in via the 12 volt adapter, AND THE LIGHT CAME ON!

And it worked for a minute in my computer thereafter, really, just a minute, and then the sound popped back to the speakers.

So I just plugged the juice back in and…

THE SOUND COMING INTO MY EARS IS TRULY WONDROUS! If you were here right now and you put the headphones on you’d be smiling like you were eating watermelon and eating ice cream and having sex all at the same time!

So I listened to some MP3s, and then I broke out some CDs…

Like Bonnie Raitt’s “Luck Of The Draw,” her best, engineered by my bud Ed Cherney. It was all wood, there was nothing slick and shiny about it, the sound was positively warm, it sounded HUMAN!

Who do we want to blame…radio, artists, mastering engineers? Even if you pay for the disc, it usually sounds like crap. I know, I tried many. But then there are the exceptions…

But truly, your MP3s will sound better than ever before, you won’t believe that what is entering your ears is MUSIC!

You remember music, that thing made by people with real instruments that reflects what they feel inside, not that processed junk that makes your ears bleed?

Oh, I’m not saying it’s got to be acoustic to sound good, but I will say digital has done a disservice to acoustic music, real music, it just doesn’t sound good…

As for all you vinyl jerks (e-mail me, tell me, I’ve still got all my vinyl, more than you’ll ever own), you want to hear something great as opposed to trying to look hip, purchase one of these little boxes, the size of a pack of cigarettes, then EVERYTHING you own will sound good, not just the overpriced vinyl you buy at the disappearing record store.

1. The International does come with a small card with rudimentary instructions, but I’ve still got so many questions, not only re power (did it come with the battery half charged and I ran it down or…), but what devices you can use it with, how much gain to employ (it’s adjustable) and… Why does everything have to come without instructions these days, I know most people don’t read them, but I do, because not only do I want to do it right, I want to eke every ounce of performance out of everything I buy. Hell, I read the “Missing Manual” for every new iteration of Mac OS X, to learn tips and tricks I guarantee you’re clueless about… Did you put the little mail icon at the top of the Safari window, so you can click it and e-mail any page to anybody? There!

2. I’m listening to Keith Urban’s “Who Wouldn’t Wanna Be Me.” It’s hard to describe, but I’ll try. I can hear the guitarist picking the notes, It’s almost like my eyes and ears are two inches away. And the banjo, it sounds like it’s two feet away, it sounds positively like MUSIC!

3. Wanna know one of the best sounding albums of all time? Elton John’s American debut, you know, the one with the black cover, that preceded “Tumbleweed Connection.” It sounds like it was cut in a cathedral… Just listen to “The King Must Die” or “Sixty Years On” in any iteration, MP3 original CD or remastered take. It’s a religious experience!

4. Do you know “Blue Of Your Backdrop” by Honk, from the soundtrack to the greatest surfing movie ever made, “Five Summer Stories”? Well, listening to it via the International it’s like you’re at Waimea or Pipeline or down on the shore at Huntington, it truly takes you away, you’re truly there.

5. This thing is not cheap, it’s $599. But that’s one third the price of a starter stereo of any quality in the seventies. As for headphones…the better the better, but truly you only need something in the two hundred dollar plus range to blow your mind.

I could listen to this thing all night… Hell, that’s what I did yesterday!

Leave them all to the trappings they choose
Values on what one may win or lose
I can’t discern between the two
But with no God above
Guess we all start with the things we love

And I love music.

And you do too.

And in this crazy world where gays can marry but it’s difficult for the underprivileged to vote, what’s there to do but put on a record, turn it up and drift away…

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