Commentary

'In Search Of Incredible' Fails To Find It

There are a great many tasks that laptop computers facilitate -- looking at pictures of things, for example, or shopping for orphaned sock replacements. But even the most ardent digital audiophile would be hard-pressed to argue that they offer expansive sound quality. This isn't a matter of opinion so much as dumb boring science: a sizable percentage of audio content housed on or streamed through laptops is compressed. Anytime something is compressed, whether “Rubber Soul” or a tuna sandwich, something is lost. In the case of the former, it's clear, piercing highs and lean, rumbly lows; in the case of the latter, it's delicious bits of diced celery.

So "In Search of Incredible," a video campaign from Asus and Intel designed to tout the sonic virtues of Asus' N Series and Zenbook laptops, feels counterintuitive from the outset. The campaign throws out a tough premise -- listeners/orphaned-sock buyers can get "exceptional sound" from the N Series and "incredible sound" from the Zenbook -- and then falls over itself attempting to support it. This can't end well.

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(Separately, Asus has slapped one of its flagship products with the unfortunate moniker of "Zenbook." Aren't focus groups supposed to serve as a human firewall for stuff like this? Marketing confuses me.)

Anyway, "In Search of Incredible" sends singer/songwriter Jason Mraz on a series of road trips, during which he, like, totally grooves to the backbeat of the universe. The series intro finds him up in the hills, rhapsodizing about his charmed existence and waxing all mysterious-like about the adventures to follow. One six-minute ep  sends him to the Integratron, a desert shrine boasting the most pristine acoustics on this or any other planet; another pairs him with an individual identified as "World Loopstation Champion, Shlomo,"  who appears to be the hipster generation's answer to the “Police Academy” guy. Pretty much anything/anyone Mraz encounters -- Shlomo, the Integratron, an irregularly contoured pebble -- prompts him to break into song. That song, coincidence of coincidences, happens to be his latest single. It begins with the couplet, "The world as I see it is a remarkable place/A beautiful house in a forest, of stars in outer space." All together now: Synergy!

Whether or not you find Mraz and his music appealing - as an artist, he's best described as a slightly more butch Richard Marx -- he has sonic bona fides to spare. The dude can sing. But in the "Incredible" videos, he comes across less as an audio ambassador than as an amiable, too-easily-awed hemp aficionado. Indeed, the omnipresent bandana slung around his forehead, meticulously landscaped goatee on his chin and hoodie sweatshirt with ROCK AND ROLL inscribed across the back combine to paint him as the rarest of breeds: a hipster hippie. On the other hand, we live in a world where marketers have paid David Arquette and Mr. T actual U.S. currency to commercially endorse goods and services. By comparison, Mraz comes across as Sam Waterston.

But his lack of eloquence proves a problem. Mraz punctuates his every interaction with "wow," "whoa," "whoo!" or some variation thereof. He describes Shlomo as a guy "that has the most amazing voice in the world… I hear it's totally incredible." Imagine his response if he encountered, say, the Mormon Tabernacle Choir or a player piano. While laptops might not be the high-end purchase they once were (the Asus ZenKoanChiBooks sell for $999 and up at B&H Photo), it'd still behoove Asus to have someone articulate their virtues -- or the brand virtues of incredibilitude, or whatever -- more intelligibly.

For what it's worth, I viewed the "In Search of Incredible" videos on my years-old Lenovo laptop, which is amplified by a generic pair of speakers bought from the discount table outside Radio Shack. They sounded grand.

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