Olive 4HD Hi-Fi Music Server

I love high-tech that appears simple.  I guess that's why I love competitive road cycling.  Think about it; there is some incredible technology in the top-of-the-line road bikes these days.  Aerospace grade carbon fibre, well engineered designs that provide stiffness in the right places and flex in others, high-tech shifting mechanisms and super light assemblies.  A whole bike can weigh less than 6.5kg without any strength sacrifices.  And yet for all of this technology, modern cycling has still got a wonderful simplicity to it.  You spin your legs and you travel forward.  It really can't get any simpler.

The Olive range of music servers has the same feel to it.  Great use of technology presented in a simple manner.  You rip a CD onto the inbuilt hard drive and, once ripped, you can search and play all of your library at the touch of a button, in full definition quality sound and minus the need for a computer to be turned on.  No need for multiple boxes, no need for audio streaming from an external source and no risk of computer-based viruses and performance issues associated with modern computer systems.  All of this in a stylish package that won't be put to shame in any high-end audio set up.

This is a high quality audio component first and a computer based music server second.  And I don't mean to imply that the computing power comes second.  In fact, the computing power on board is there for one reason and one reason only.  To get the best out of your music library.  The Olive doesn't need to multitask like we expect from a PC or Mac.

The Olive music server isn't perfect.  I find the touch screen to have it's own little niggles that cause it to be a little clumsy to use; the remote is basic, chunky and can make proper navigation difficult and slow.  The remote can do basic operations easily, however is unable to search through the library quickly.  Over time we might find the touch screen issues change due to the ability of digital updates, however there is an answer for the now. 

Using an iPod touch or iPhone with the Olive app changes all of this.  Scroll through lists at the flick of a finger, search quickly and easily by artist, track tittle, album name or genre.  These features are available with the Olive touch screen, however the Olive app takes this to another level completely.  These features are available at the touch of a button in the comfort of your own chair.  For me, this is what converted me from an enthusiast of the Olive to outright loving it. 

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The proliferation of compressed digital music has really eroded the landscape of quality music reproduction.  Audio enthusiasts have long recognised the MP3 as the biggest culprit.  I believe that the Olive could change this attitude.  With the ability to compress music into the recommended FLAC format instead of MP3, the Olive provides a compression onto the hard drive that halves the storage space of a CD without affecting the quality of the musical output.  The best way to discribe FLAC (Free Lossless Audio Codec) for the uninitiated is that it basically works in the way a zipped file works on a computer.  It compresses the music file for storage and then uncompresses it to play.  In this way you can store a massive amount of music onto the Olive while still reproducing high quality audio.

The Olive uses a propietary high resolution DAC capable of processing 24 bit / 192khz which is the same as the golden master recordings.  Sounds impressive doesn't it?  But does it really mean anything substantial?

For me it's not just about the quality of the reproduction, but making sure it's musical.  Without PRaT (Pace, Rhythm and Timing) music becomes clinical and dead no matter how resolving it is.  I can tell you this, the Olive is musical.  I dare you to not have your foot tapping along to the music.  There is only one thing I think the Olive can be improved upon.  The soundstage is slightly squeezed in and voices are pushed ever so slightly back compared to my reference DAC.  Is it by much? No, and without an A-B comparison it wouldn't be noticed, however this is something I believe Olive could improve upon.  With the ability to use the digital outputs, an external DAC could be utilised to change the sonic flavor to your own sensibilities.

What I really like about the Olive's sound is the dead black background.  Without the need to use any mechanical operating components the Olive has a dead quiet noise floor in both operation and in sound production.  No CD's spinning, no motors running and no cooling fans allows the music in it's cleanest and purest form to flow forth.  The digital edginess that is present in so much digital media is missing, allowing for a finer balanced musical experience. 

For me the Olive is the future.  It doesn't dispose of CD's or digital downloads but takes them to a beautiful new level where sound performance increases with all of the convenience of modern digital storage.  Truly high-tech with the exterior of simplicity.