Wireless, whole-house audio for the most upper of crusts
It would be easy to dismiss Olive’s networked music systems as being designed for audiophiles with too much money, but Olive’s 4HD Server and Olive 2 Hi-Fi Player really are something special. The combo can form the basis of a wireless, whole-house music system—just like the excellent and far less-expensive Sonos Digital Music System, but Olive’s devices do a lot more.
Each Olive 4HD and Olive 2 is hand-built to order, but they’re more than just luxurious toys: Olive uses components that are a cut above less-expensive multi-room audio systems.
The two devices reviewed here can be purchased separately, and each can function together or independently. We’ll examine the Olive 4HD Server first. It might look like an oversized, over-engineered CD player, but its thick, brushed-aluminum chassis harbors not just a CD player/burner but also a 2TB hard drive, gigabit Ethernet and 802.11g Wi-Fi network interfaces, a high-end DAC (digital-to-analog converter), and a graphics processor that drives both the front-panel touch-screen and an HDMI output.
The entire system is passively cooled to eliminate ambient noise, and Olive’s engineers also wrap the hard drive in eight layers of acoustic padding to thwart the escape of any noise or any mechanical vibrations from transferring to the chassis. If that isn’t anal-retentive enough, the slot-fed CD drive is rimmed with a neoprene gasket to block the sound of the motor—and even the whir of the spinning disc—from leaking into the environment.
Slip a disc into the 4HD and it will automatically rip the contents; encode it to your choice of WAV, MP3, AAC, or FLAC (up to 24-bit/48kHz); download the appropriate track list and album art; and store everything on its internal hard drive. When you play the music back, the track and album name and cover art are displayed on the integrated 4.3-inch touch-screen and output to the rear-panel HDMI, for display on your big-screen TV.
The wireless Olive 2 Hi-Fi Player can play music from a USB storage device, or it can receive audio streams from the Olive 4HD or any DLNA-compliant media server.
The 4HD features Texas Instrument’s top-shelf DAC, the Burr-Brown PCM1792A, which boasts 24-bit resolution, 192kHz sampling rates, and outstanding dynamic range of 129dB. Olive thoughtfully provides an optical digital input, so you can use the 4HD as an outboard DAC with other digital gear. But if you already have an outboard DAC you think is superior, the 4HD also has optical and coaxial digital outputs. The hard drive can be backed up to either a network server or to a hard drive connected to the 4HD’s USB port. The 4HD is too beautiful to hide inside a cabinet, but Olive provides a jack for an external IR receiver if you think otherwise.
The Olive 2 Hi-Fi Player can function as a stand-alone receiver, playing music from a storage device plugged into its USB port or from a DLNA server or NAS box connected to your wired or wireless network. It can also function as a wired or wireless satellite to the 4HD server. Olive maintains the 4HD can support up to 10 Olive 2s on a wireless network or 20 on a wired network.
The Olive 2 is smaller and much less expensive than the 4HD because it doesn’t have an internal CD or hard drive. It does have the same 480x272-pixel touchscreen and a similar brushed-aluminum chassis. You can play the Olive 2 through analog connections to self-powered speakers, or use the optical or coaxial digital connections to link them to a receiver or outboard DAC.
Olive’s high-end audio systems won’t fit everyone’s budget, but they’re reasonably priced for the amazing performance they deliver.