Olive 4HD Music Server

Many companies seem to have lost sight of the fact that, at the end of the day, their products are supposed to be fun. This is especially true for music servers, which by definition are supposed to serve up enjoyment. But complicated setup and clunky interfaces bog down most models. Top that off with clunky industrial design - 99% of the components I encounter are sterile, utilitarian-looking black boxes - and any potential fun is quickly sapped away.

Even before unpacking Olive's 4HD, I could tell that this company understands fun. Printed right on the carton is the slogan "Save the sound," along with the playful welcome "Hear. Hear. Your music is here." This was a hint at the breath of fresh air to come - and also a sure sign that Olive hasn't lost sight of the fact that it isn't manufacturing jackhammers or artificial heart valves.

Put simply, the 4HD is a music server. But it's also a fresh take on the music-server category. Its big innovations are a built-in color touchscreen to access the user interface without a separate video display, a giant 2-terabyte hard disk, and digital-to-analog converters capable of handling highresolution audio files. Olive even enables music listening in other rooms via its Olive 2 Hi-Fi Player client. (Up to 20 clients are supported on a wired network and 10 via Wi-Fi.)


The cool-looking Olive 4HD is offered in black or silver finishes, with musical genres - Reggae, Rap, Jazz, Alternative, etc. - discreetly silk-screened onto its top panel. When sitting out in the open, this array is rather eye-catching and definitely invites guests to check it out. (I can vouch for this, as the Olive was the star of a party I threw during its stay in my home.)

Beyond its pretty face, the 4HD has a sturdy aluminum chassis that Olive says eliminates noise and vibration. Further, its hard disk is isolated in eight layers of noise-canceling padding; I never once heard it whir, click, or hum during operation.

The 4HD doesn't throw any curveballs during setup. Its back panel is clearly laid out and offers the necessary outputs to connect to any audio/video system. Both TOSlink optical and coaxial digital audio outputs are available, as well as RCA-jack stereo analog connections. Its Burr-Brown 1792A digital-to-analog converters can pass up to 192-kHz/24- bit files, but more on that later. Another nicety is the inclusion of a coaxial digital input, which lets you plug in an external source that can benefit from the Olive's high-end DACs. There's also an HDMI output for viewing its graphical user interface on your HDTV, although this connection doesn't carry audio. Audiophile tweakers -you know who you are! - will like that it uses a detachable power cord.

Any music server worth its silicon requires some kind of Internet connection to retrieve album metadata, and the Olive is no different. Conveniently, it has both a wired LAN connection and Wi-Fi (802.11n). If you go the Wi-Fi route, entering your network security settings is easy and straightforward using the touchscreen interface. Also, a USB connection for backing up music stored on the 4HD to an external hard drive is on hand.

The Olive 2 Hi-Fi Player mirrors the 4HD's form factor in a much smaller (roughly one-third the size) package, making it great for your bedroom or desktop. It eliminates the latter's digital input, HDMI output, and CD-R/RW drive, and is meant to be connected directly to powered speakers or a separate minisystem. It didn't require a lick of configuration, automatically finding the 4HD and displaying the available music. With the 4HD, I also found that little was required in the way of configuration. The setting most users will be concerned with is the import quality of ripped CDs, with options available for WAV, FLAC, ACC (128 kilobits per second) and MP3 (128 and 320 kbps). However, with a 2-TB drive capable of storing nearly 20,000 high-resolution tracks or 6,000 CDs (stored using lossless compression), lossy codecs would be difficult to justify here.