Olive O6hd (£4500)

The flagship Olive server backs up convenience with audiophile credentials.

Olive Media Products has developed its digital range slowly and logically, initially with the less ambitious O2M multi-room player and O3HD and O4HD music servers, all of which feature 4.3in touch-screens and command lower prices. The O6HD is its premium product, aimed at audiophiles who desire the convenience of a music server but are not prepared to sacrifice sound quality.

It employs a 10.1in screen, which faces upwards on the sloping top surface of the case, while to the rear are balanced (XLR) and singleended analogue outs, plus three digital outs. The O6HD also offers a separate headphone amp with volume knob while a slot-loading TEAC CD-RW drive, via which CDs can be ripped to the hard drive, can also burn audio, MP3 and data CDs.

The O6HD also has a USB socket for backing-up the hard drive contents to external HDD, an HDMI output for connection to a TV and wireless ethernet capability. Having said which, Olive would prefer you to use a wired ethernet connection, particularly when importing files via your network. In fact, importation of music files – other than by ripping CDs – can only be achieved via a network connection, and is driven not from the O6HD itself but from a network-attached computer. So is the editing of metadata, via a browser app called Maestro.

Third-party network players cannot stream audio from the O6HD but Olive’s own O2M multi-room streaming player can. Supported audio file formats are WAV, FLAC, MP3 (at 128 and 320kbps) and AAC (at 128kbps).

In the audio circuitry, Olive makes extensive use of Texas Instruments technology, TI chips featuring both in the DAC stage – which uses an SRC4194 asynchronous sample rate converter to upsample to 384kHz, 24- bit and twin PCM 1792 converters per channel – and the headphone amp. Any lingering doubt about Olive’s seriousness in calling the O6HD an audiophile product is banished by its incorporation of a linear rather than switched mode power supply.

The O6HD has a refined, cultured sound quality rather than the uncompromising transparency that characterises the best of computer audio. But it will please many for whom a conventional computer in the listening room is unacceptable.

For example, Epigrams from Natalie Clein’s recording of the Kodály Cello Sonata on Hyperion (a 16/44.1 download) sounded delicate, smooth and spacious via the O6HD, but it missed the spark of vitality that the best audio equipment brings to the event.

A contrast both musically and technically was provided by the 24/176.4 HDtracks download of Explorations In Space And Time. Recorded, as usual for Chesky, using a Soundfield microphone configured as a Blumlein pair. It is as good a test piece as you’ll find for exploring an audio system’s ability to convey the complex harmonic structures and precipitous attacks of percussion instruments.

The Soundfield version of the track ‘Wood And Metal’ confirmed what I’d heard with the Kodály. While the O6HD did a creditable job, particularly on the wooden percussion, giving an overriding sense of spaciousness, cleanliness and control, I know that this piece can sound spacious in a slightly less generalised way, and a little more forthcoming about the particular character of each instrument.

The Olive O6HD has the advantage of being a one-box hard disk player that, despite its touch-screen interface, looks distinctly uncomputer- like – a disguise that will endear it to many. Its sound quality is also certainly good enough to delight most potential buyers, but hard-nosed audiophiles – for whom style comes second – may do better for less money elsewhere.

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Originally published in the Yearbook 2011