A true audiophile hard-drive audio solution that not only looks great, but is a cinch to set up and use.
Like it or not, the dusk of physical media is upon us: DVD and even Blu-ray will eventually join the long list of extinct formats as downloads and streaming content become easily (and cheaply) available, while CD is under increasing and irrevocable threat from the likes of iTunes and other similar services.
For the moment at least, CD still holds sway as the most popular hard copy format, but nowadays there are better ways to utilise your collection and take advantage of the plethora of sites available for music downloads.
Enter the rise of the music server, with its ability to store your precious grooves on computer hard drives which function a bit like a stationary iPod.
There are a number of music servers on the market, but most require a computer to store and provide the server software. American based company Olive has a slightly different approach than most: its new Olive 4HD is equipped with two 1TB drives so you can rip and store music without the aid of a computer. This stylish device does connect to the internet for titling/cover art and internet radio, and will also connect to a PC or Mac so you can access any music you have stored away for posterity.
Aesthetically, the Olive HD is a sure-fire winner. The sturdy aluminium casework is angled so users can operate its juicy touch-screen without having to crawl around on the floor, while the top of the casework is silk-screened with music genres (reggae, rap, metal, blah-blah), adding a touch of industrial designer chic.
The simple front fascia sports a slot-loading CD mechanism along with the standard eject/next/previous/play buttons, while the menu can also be controlled using the rubberised controls adjacent to the touch screen.
The rear fascia is where the action is with twin wifi aerials, a coaxial input so the Olive can be used as a D/A converter, digital outputs, USB & Ethernet jacks, and a nice HDMI output so the Olive HD can be used with a TV or larger display.
File compatibility is pretty strong with FLAC, WAV, AAC & MP3 playback and storage, but I lamented the omission of Apple Lossless and AIFF, which constitutes the majority of the music I have stored on my Mac.
Still, this didn’t perturb me as I loaded the first CD – ripping takes around four minutes per CD, not an inconsiderable amount of time compared with the likes of iTunes, but Olive claim an extremely accurate bit-perfect rip for better audio. Aha, that made perfect sense to me, and after 20 minutes of rip time I was ready to roll with five of my precious discs bit-perfectly archived.
To put it simply, the Olive 4HD sounded really, really good. Pink Floyd’s landmark Meddle album shone through with increased detail over my regular CD source, while the lower noise floor also made its presence felt. Comparing the Olive with my Squeezebox Duet/DacMagic source was even more interesting, but once again the more expensive component showed its mettle with better soundstaging and an increased height to the image.
Dynamics were to the fore when my next archived CD leapt from my loudspeakers, and here the Olive 4HD showed a clean pair of heels to both my CD and Duet sources as I played percussion maestro Trilok Gurtu’s ‘Vak’ from his excellent Believe album.
This track had stunning drive and impact, with a definite feeling of stick on drum skin and palpable kick drum strikes.
I was expecting this type of performance from the Olive, and it certainly didn’t disappoint. In fact, the only critique I can throw is one of operability. The touch screen works well enough, but the remote layout did take a bit of getting used to and was tricky to read from across the room when changing artists or albums. Thankfully, Olive has included a rather handy HDMI output so the GUI can be used on a modern telly.
One of the great aspects of being a technology writer is to be able to experience the latest tech products, but a sad fact of life is the pang of regret as the gear is packed up and returned, and such was the case with the Olive HD. It’s a cracking machine with excellent sound quality and a definite upgrade from my Squeezebox/Cambridge Audio DacMagic set-up.
The Olive 4HD is not priced for those on beer budgets, but those with the readies should do more than glance at this sophisticated music maker – it’s kick-arse. GARY PEARCE