The Olive Media Olive 2 is a network audio player to bridge the gap between computer and hi-fi.
Bridging the gap between the home PC and a high-quality audio system is the aim of the Olive 2 from Olive Media. It's a network audio player, able to receive digital audio over a local wired or wireless network - and it can also be used to play streaming internet radio.
The Olive 2 (formerly known as the Olive Melody) is no one-stop music system solution though. Instead it's designed to sit among hi-fi separates, and features regular stereo phono outputs for connection to a pre-amp or integrated amplifier, as well as Toslink and coaxial digital outputs for use with an outboard digital-to-analogue converter (DAC) or AV receiver.
The Olive Media Olive 2 casework is made from folded aluminium and designed to present a sloping upward-facing panel to the user, with the unit ideally sited at home at around waist level. In the centre of this panel is a small colour touchscreen display, just 95 x 55mm, through which you can setup and control the unit.
Additional buttons on this panel duplicate some functions from the touchscreen, and while these proved quite tough to press, they did come in useful for several basic operations; we found the resistive LCD panel itself somewhat insensitive to finger presses. Compared to the capacitive touchscreens found on modern smartphones, this was an unwelcome trip down memory lane to yesteryear's touchscreen tech.
And that sloping top on the Olive Media Olive 2 also means that any information on the screen is effectively impossible to read when sat even just a couple of metres away.
A remote control handset is included, a painted plastic piece that mimicks the real metal types found on high-end audio separates - but this at least thankfully bypasses the underperforming touchscreen. Given the display visibility problems already noted, though, you'll still be working blind to control the Olive 2 from your sofa.
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There is an iPhone app which gives you much easier control of your music playback, thanks to the Apple phone's friendly interface and responsive touchscreen, but this will only control the company's larger Olive 4 model.
The Olive Media Olive 2 is available in silver or black finishes, and our sample had a distinctive gloss black text patterning over its matt black anodised aluminium, comprising a endless list of general music genres. While distinctive enough, we'd suggest that few well-heeled opera lovers, for instance, would want to be faced with a ‘PUNKGARAGERAP' legend emblazoned across their audio player.
You interact and select tracks from your music collection on the Olive Media Olive 2 through a black and yellow-themed screen interface, with text showing in white; behind the scenes, the Olive uses a Linux operating system. The graphical user interface could be slow to update as menu items were selected, and while we usually got to where we wanted to go eventually, it was neither slick nor intuitive.
Scrolling through long lists of albums or artists on the Olive Media Olive 2, for example, tested our patience as only five lines are shown on the screen at once, and to sift through a long list was always a slow process.
With a few hundred albums on file, and a desire to get to somewhere further down the alphabet, our thoughts turned to just picking the CD off the shelf, rather than have to painfully scroll through page after page of listings, each slow to refresh.
Trying to navigate the online radio station options was if anything a slower process. We couldn't scroll through the list of available stations without endless delays as the Olive Media Olive 2 tried to download station lists and availablity.
There is an option to save favourite stations, but it's far from obvious how to add a playing station to the list. We were pleasantly surprised, though, that the scrolling display of large characters that shows a playing song was capable of displaying non-Latin text characters, an essential touch for some foreign stations.
We also encountered random freezes where the unit was unresponsive for minutes at a time.
You can use the Olive Media Olive 2 with an existing music collection on your network, such as stored on a NAS drive, or to play music stored on the company's accompanying server-style player, the Olive 4.
This unit offers similar functionality but in a full-width case, and adds a CD drive and internal hard disk, in order to rip and burn discs as well as store CD albums internally.
For wired connections, the Olive Media Olive 2 has a gigabit ethernet port on the back panel. Wireless connectivity is covered by a hinged plastic aerial, ugly enough that it's best folded out of sight, and which allows wire-free Wi-Fi connections on a home network, albeit limited to slower 802.11g technology.
The Olive Media Olive 2 player can play WAV, FLAC, MP3 and AAC files, although the latter is only specified up to an unsatisfactory 128kb/s bitrate. And as with many similar network players, iTunes users who've preserved their music collection in Apple Lossless format will be faced with a long transcoding process to convert their library into a format the unit can read.
Audio quality was good, with an even, smooth sound free of edginess or digital glare. And with no internal hard drives or fans, the unit has no moving parts and is blissfuly slient enough for siting in a listening room.
While the Olive Media Olive 2 could play our selection of MP3 and FLAC tracks ripped at or below 16-bit CD quality, we were disappointed that it couldn't play higher resolution 24-bit audio, such as the 24/96 files now available from quality-conscious music download sites.
Given that this Olive Media Olive 2 product seems to be aimed at a more affluent audiophile customer, this is something of an oversight, forcing a would-be Olive customer to look much further upstream to the Olive 4 HD server at around £2000.
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