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Once you are ready to sit and listen to the music you loaded up onto the 04HD’s hard drive, you can use the chunky, high quality remote, the touch screen interface, or the front panel buttons to select albums and tracks. I found my self using a combination of all three. My first impressions of the user interface were very positive. Response time was pretty quick, on only one or two occasions over a few months did the 04HD become unresponsive, and that was probably due to me overwhelming it with too many commands. Simply powering on and off fixed the problem. Other than that, I must declare that the 04HD worked flawlessly, without any issues during the review period.
When it was time to get into to some serious listening, I was very impressed with the sound quality, which ultimately is what audiophiles will judge the 04HD on. The best user interface and impressive conveniences will wear thin if a product falls short sonically. Not so here. I found the 04HD to sound as good as any CD player I have heard in its price range. It had excellent, punchy bass, plenty of soundstage depth, and great musical flow. I found my self very involved in the music, with long listening sessions turning into longer listening sessions, without having to leave my listening chair. On Over the Rhine’s excellent new disc, The Long Surrender, I found myself captivated by Joe Henry’s superb production, especially on the duet between OTR’s Karin Bergquist and the great Lucinda Williams on “Undamned”. There is plenty of acoustic piano on the album, and the 04HD did a great job with piano, and all acoustic instruments, preserving the natural timbres and dynamics of acoustic guitar, percussion, and vocals.
The 04HD also came preloaded with some music, including an excellent classical recording by Reference Recordings, some 24 bit music that I was familiar with, but that were sonically spectacular. I also transferred some of my own high resolution recordings and some downloads from HDTracks.com via the network. HDTracks now offers some very high profile rock, jazz, and pop albums in 24 bit/96 Khz, including titles from Paul McCartney, Tom Petty, John Mellencamp, Robert Plant & Allison Krauss, and John Coltrane. During the writing of this review, I also noted that HDTracks now offers the Rolling Stones Abko catalog in resolution as high as 176.4 Khz. This may be a signal that the flood gates will soon open. Regardless of what program material I cued up, the O4HD performed beautifully, really leaving nothing to be desired, but perhaps falling short of the very best, mega buck digital. But if you are not in the exclusive club that can afford a digital set up that costs more than your car, you will be thrilled. I know I was.
So how did the Olive compare to my own reference digital, the Naim CD5 XS CD player with external power supply? They were so close to point that if I did not know which one was playing I would not be able to pick it. They were tonally almost identical. In the end the Naim sounded slightly more analog like. That is probably the best I can do in describing differences. During the review period I received an outboard DAC for evaluation. Running both coaxial and TOSlink cables into the DAC from the Olive’s digital outputs made a subtle but easily noticeable improvement. Specifically, there was a bit more air around instruments and a slightly wider soundstage. Potential 04HD owners would be smart to factor in a high quality outboard DAC as a future, optional upgrade. Let me stress that the 04HD sounded terrific with its own internal DAC, so there would be no rush.
Now is where things get very interesting. Because the 04HD is not simply a music server with an internal hard drive. It is also a network player, which means it can access media that is not on its internal drive. It can connect to your home network via Ethernet of WiFi. You currently have a choice of three media server software packages. For PC you can use TVersity or XBMC. For Mac, Olive supports Twonky as well as XBMC. I used XMBC and I really liked the interface. Fast, clean, and simple. I did however, find it a bit buggy. It would crash rather often. This has nothing to do with Olive, as this is third party software. The 04HD can also access Internet radio.
There is more. The Olive allows you to burn any ripped CD on the internal hard drive to a CD-R. You can also create playlists and burn those to disc as well. There is even more. You can also use the 04HD as a DAC! You can plug in a digital source via TOSlink or Coax. This is a very neat, and convenient feature. In essence the 04HD can act a a digital media hub, streaming music from a network, playing music from its internal drive, or decoding digital files from another device,or a CD transport. Olive servers also work with an Apple iPod Touch, iPhone, or iPad as remote control. I used an iPod Touch and it worked perfectly. You can scroll through your entire library, select tracks, play, and pause. The app is available free of charge on the iTunes App Store. Olive also allows you do connect an external monitor via HDMI. No stone left unturned!
Some final notes on functionality. The 2 TB hard drive is easy to back up with an external USB hard drive. The back up drive must be at least the same size. As mentioned, I found the user interface very easy to navigate for all functions, and the I should note the 04HD worked flawlessly for several months in my system without freeze ups, or issues. I also did one firmware upgrade.
I believe the folks at Olive have covered all bases on the 04HD music server. I really wanted for nothing. The only function I put on my wish list was the ability rip, and delete selected tracks. You can only rip or delete entire albums. What was most impressive is that the 04HD did everything Olive says it does. It ripped CDs quickly, and converted them to FLAC. It streamed music from external sources. it burned CDs, and it made correcting or changing MetaData easy.
Best of all, it sounded excellent. It is also upgradeable with an external DAC. There is also a detachable IEC power cord, which means you can use the power cord of your choice. The user interface was very intuitive. If I was designing a music server from scratch, it would look and feel very much like the Olive 04HD. At $2500 I believe it is super value. Olive makes their products in the U.S.A, and I can tell you the build quality and workmanship are superb. Ultimately, the Olive 04HD is a smart, one box solution for digital music playback. It eliminates the complications and variables of multi box solutions and takes interfacing with an actual computer out of the equation, which I myself find tedious for music playback. I found myself so unstressed and enjoying the music instead of worrying about playback and ripping software, operating systems, drivers, file formats, or other possible issues. I believe the 04HD is an elegant server solution, and I highly recommend it.
- Olive 04HD: $2499
- Ultra-quiet 2TB AV hard drive
- Holds almost 20,000 HD tracks or
- 6,000 CDs in original quality
- Cushioned in 8 layers of noise cancelling padding
- High fidelity TEAC CDRW mechanism
- Import: Audio CDs
- Burn: Audio CDs, MP3 CDs, Data CDs
- Analog Output: 1x RCA, (24k gold-plated)
- Digital Output: 1x digital S/P DIF optical Toslink, 1x digital S/P DIF coaxial cinch, (24k gold-plated)
- Digital Input: 1x digital S/P DIF coaxial cinch, (24k gold-plated)
- Supported Audio Formats: Bit rate: 16-bit, 20-bit, 24-bit / Sampling Frequency: 10kHz up to 200kHz / WAV, FLAC, MP3 (128 and 320 kbit/s), AAC (128 kbit/s)
- Networking: Wireless, 802.11n (54 Mbit/s)
- Encryption:WEP, WPA, WPA2, 64- and 128-bit 1x Wired Gigabit Ethernet
- Other Ports: 1 x HDMI (480p, 60Hz) 1 x USB 1.1/2.0, Infrared Receiver Input
- Measurements: Width 17.38" Height 2.63" Depth 12.25" Weight 13.2 lb
- Color: Silver or Black
- CD Player: Naim CD5 XS with Flatcap 2X,
- DAC: Arcam rDac
- Preamp: Audio Research SP16
- Amplifier: Audio Research VS55, Belles Soloist 5
- Speaker: Thiel CS2.4, Harbeth Compact 7ES3
- Cables: DH Labs Revelation (IC), Kimber KCTG (IC), Transparent MM2 Super (IC), Transparent Plus (Speaker) Acoustic Zen Tsunami II (AC),Transparent (AC).Element Cable Element Cord, (AC) Shunyata Venom (AC) Pangea AC-9 (AC) Audience powerChord e.(AC)
- Accessories: Symposium Rollerblocks, Shakti Stone, Sound Anchors stands, Audience Adept Response aR6 power conditioner, Cable Pro Noisetrapper, Salamander rack.