Of all the gear that I reviewed last year, my favorite component by far was the Squeezebox Touch. Having instant access to all of my music, and high resolution downloads, was just a fantastic thing that led me to listen to far more, and varied, music that before. However, the one thing I always said about the Touch is that while I loved it, I wasn’t going to buy one for my Dad since I’d have to install a PC server component, or hook up an external hard drive that I’d have to keep ripping his music to for him. For him, a simple, all-in-one solution would be what I would want.
Thankfully, Olive has just the component to do that. While they have been making music servers for many years now, their 03HD is their first full-featured server to come in under $1,000 with support for 24/192 high-resolution media. Would this be a solution that is much easier to use?
- Design: Music Server (Music Servers have Storage Devices Built-in, while Music Streamers do not)
- DAC: Cirrus Logic CS4351
- Networking: 10/100/1000 Ethernet
- File Format Support: MP3, FLAC, WAV, AAC
- Sample Rates Up to 24 bit, 192 kHz
- Inputs: CD drive for Importing Music on Discs, Ethernet for Copying to Internal Drive or Playing from Another Music Server
- Outputs: Analog Stereo RCA, USB for External HD Backup
- Storage: 500 GB Hard Drive
- Dimensions: 2.6″ H x 17.4″ W x 12.3″ D
- Weight: 10.7 Pounds
- MSRP $999 USA
Design and Setup
The Olive 03HD was much larger in person that I expected from the photographs. The size of my five-disc SACD changer, the Olive houses a 500 GB hard drive to store your music, a CD-RW drive for ripping and burning albums, and a 4.3″ LCD panel for playback. The back panel is very minimalist with only L/R RCA outputs, a USB jack for making a backup of the drive, Ethernet for Internet Radio and Metadata retrieval, and a standard IEC power cord. Unlike the higher end models, there is no Wi-Fi, digital inputs, or digital outputs, but the integrated Cirrus Logic DAC can play material up to 24/192.
The front panel is also very clean, with your standard CD controls (Play/Pause, Forward, Back, Eject) in addition to a cursor control if you don’t want to use the touchscreen. I did like the cool engraving of different musical genres on the top of the player, but I did wish the green plastic around the CD mechanism had been a more neutral color. The color display was a good size and relatively sharp, with enough resolution to display all the information on the current track during playback.
Setting up the Olive proved to be incredibly easy. I put it into my rack, attached all the cables to the back, and then setup the network. I like to use a static IP address so I can more easily access my components over the network, but had I chosen to use DHCP my setup would have been completed once the Olive was turned on. When you purchase the Olive they have a service to pre-load the server with your music, and the first 100 albums are included. While I didn’t take advantage of this, their servers come loaded with some of the 24/176.4 HRx albums from Reference Recordings to help show off the ability to play back those higher resolution files. Being able to unbox a component, turn it on, and have music going in under 10 minutes was a very nice experience.
As wonderful as the included music on the Olive was, the first thing I wanted to do was load up my music. I started out by testing the importing of some CDs I had around. I set the Olive up to use FLAC so there was no loss of quality and began with REMs debut album, Murmur. Unfortunately, it detected Murmur as the Mobile Fidelity release and not the standard release, so it didn’t grab the appropriate artwork. This worried me a bit as I thought it would be an easy album to start with, so I tried a few other albums I thought might be harder. Abbey Road from The Beatles was identified correctly as the 2009 stereo remaster, as was the 2010 mono version of Bob Dylan’s Bringing It All Back Home. After it got those correct, I tried for a compilation CD from a local Portland radio station, KINK Live 13. Surprisingly, the Olive detected this correctly as well. Other than the initial misstep on REM, which is easy as both albums have identical track lengths and numbers, the Olive never had an issue importing a CD I gave it.
Since I had already ripped all of my music to my PC, I wanted to be able to simply copy it over and not have to repeat the process. With the Olive, all I had to do was browse to the IP address in Windows Explorer, where an Import folder is visible. All that I had to do then was copy over my music library to this folder and the Olive automatically imported it (though copying 300 GB of albums takes a while). One thing that I did discover is that some people like to rip their albums as a single FLAC file for the whole album, and a CUE file that tells the software programs where the track breaks are. This allows for a bit-perfect copy of the album to be made later with no extra gaps between tracks or any other small changes. However, the Olive is currently unable to read the CUE file for these images and so you will just have a single FLAC file for the entire album.
In the cases where the Olive does identify a CD incorrectly, it offers a web interface called Maestro to let you correct this. Once you point your web browser to the Olive device, you can browse all of your imported music, edit and delete albums or individual tracks, and control playback on the Olive directly. Additionally Olive has apps available for iOS devices, like the iPhone and iPad with an Android version coming soon. I initially had some issues getting the iPhone version to work, but after getting the issue resolved quickly with their tech support, it was working and made searching the Olive library much faster and easier. You can quickly scroll through your lists of albums and artists, and jump right to a letter. On the iPad the interface is the same, just a lot more albums and artists are visible at once due to the larger screen area.
Of course, all of this doesn’t matter if the Olive doesn’t sound good when playing this music. I loaded up my music on the Olive and went straight to some of my favorite evaluation tracks. On the MoFi version of Natalie Merchant’s “Tigerlily” album, I found that the soundstage of the Olive was a big more narrow and shallow than on the Oppo BDP-83SE. Her vocals were more forward than they were through the Oppo, though still remarkable clear. Bass notes were strong and detailed without being fat. At the very top end of the scale some violins and bells sounded perhaps a little bit thin and edgy, but not to the point of being harsh for listening.
While unable to compare it directly to anything else, as I don’t own the titles myself, I did listen to the HRx material that Olive had preloaded onto the 03HD for me. Music that is recorded and mastered at 24/176.4 resolution is truly wonderful to listen to at home. Instruments have far more air and detail compared to their CD counterparts. Instead of just hearing the pluck of a guitar, you’ll hear the string reverberate after the note has been played. The position of instruments in the soundstage is far more precise, and individual instruments keep their sounds instead of just blending together. It’s often been said that downloaded music is the future, and if it’s the same quality as this, I think we will all be happy.
On The Bench
The Olive 03HD was measured using 16/44.1 test tones recorded at -5 db using SpectraPlus. Higher sampling frequencies and bitrates were not used at SpectraPlus doesn’t support those in Windows 7 currently.
On the 1 kHz test tone, the Olive shows very nice results; with 0.002% THD+N and a noise floor over 100 db below the test tone.
Results are similar with the 10 kHz test tone, with just a hair more distortion, but once again a very low noise floor.
The 19-20 kHz IMD test shows no visible B-A peak at 1 kHz.
Finally, the 60 Hz, 7 kHz IMD test has a very nice result of 0.0011% IMD and no sideband peaks.
The Olive 03HD shows very strong results on the bench with just slightly better performance than the Squeezebox Touch displayed.
After spending a few weeks with the Olive, I was a bit conflicted in my feelings for it but talking to Olive about it was a very good experience. I came to them with a list of things that I saw on the player that could use a bit of tweaking or improvements (support for the Album Artist tag on imported FLAC files, a better way to burn a CD) and they took those suggestions to heart, and will be trying to get them into the updated software as soon as possible. I also made a mention that there were some things about the interface that I would like to see tweaked in the future, and they were very open to discussing those with me. Some of those changes were things they had done in the past, but had changed to the current method after other users gave them similar feedback that they would like to see it handled differently.
Of course, no company can make a product that is going to be custom tailored to every user, or designed exactly how a user wants it to be. However, it’s very nice to see a company that was as receptive, and solution oriented, to the suggestions that I put forth as Olive was. They want their product to be the best on the market, and will listen to what all their users have to say to make it that way.
I would recommend that people that are interested in a home music server that requires no computer backend or external drives check out the Olive 03HD, and even more so if you have an iOS or Android device to browse through your library from your listening position easily. It does what it advertises, sounds great, and is ready for the future of 24/192 downloaded music. Since many others and myself think that high resolution, downloaded music is the way of the future, the Olive is a great way to get there and still enjoy your current CD collection as well.