Music server’s have been a part of a home theater system for more years than some might want to count, but they’re popularity was always tempered by the fact that they needed a custom installation (i.e., having to pay someone to install the music server for you). Those days are long past, as custom installers have seen, and anyone who wants to have whole-house music can install a music server themselves.
But what constitutes a music server these days has become muddied. It’s obviously a device that will stream music to a specific location on demand, but it is also supposed to be about that music being from your personal library, not from Pandora or from what is on a smartphone. A true music server needs to be able to aggregate all of your music in one place — itself — and then disseminate it upon command.
Enter the Olive 03HD Music Server. It fulfills the basic obligation because it has a CD mechanism built in that will “rip” your CD music library and store it on an internal hard drive (500 gigabytes=aprox 1500 CDs at optimal quality). And because there is Internet connectivity through a home network, cover art and information on the CD acquired is stored as well. But in a nod to the 21st Century, the Olive 03HD Music Server can do two added things: 1)absorb a digital file directly, and 2)transmit the stored music content through the home network, rather than having to rely on just a physical connection to speakers.
The first thing you’ll notice about the 03HD is that it’s heavy — it’s a solid piece of electronics in an attractive shell where music text “flows” over the top in a semi-viewable form. As you look at it from the front, you see on the left a direction pad to the right of a generously sized LCD screen. On the other side is a wide-mouthed slot of the CDs, with corresponding operations buttons below.
Turning the 03HD around finds little: an Ethernet port, a pair of RCA analog stereo audio outputs and a USB socket which can be used for updates via a thumb drive, should direct access online not be used instead. It also can be used for backing up the hard drive to another drive.
The O3HD is mainly differentiated from the 04HD model by its lack of a wireless system (yes there are other differences, but this is the main one to me). This, to me, is in keeping with the idea of ease of use — since plugging in an Ethernet cable results in the O3HD automatically configuring itself to the owner’s home network. And when you consider the physical weight of the 03HD (about that of one of those first-gen DVD players), placing it in an area where a cable can’t reach it (example: a garage or basement) isn’t likely to be happening — it’ll be placed in a home theater setup.
To set up the 03HD, no custom installer is needed (sorry guys). Plug it in for power, after having plugged the Ethernet cable into the socket first. An uninterruptible power supply will insure that the music server stays “online” all the time — glitches and outages, however minute, in the electric grid are to be avoided if at all possible. But at least surge protection should be part of the mix. Once on, use the “Sleep/Wake” button at the extreme right to keep the 03HD operational but subdued– it consumes little energy when not in use. Since the intiial warm up takes a few minutes, you’ve plenty of time to nudge it around if necessary.
You’ll also want to leave some space around the 03DH so it can “breathe.” Remember, keeping electronics at a decent temperature will increase their lifespan (no one will berate you if a small fan is used to keep the air circulating around your home theater system during the summer months).
The 03HD comes with what I can only describe as a “kick-ass” remote. Not wanting to use a remote because it’s too tiny or flimsy is no excuse here — the 03HD’s remote is as solid and dense as the music server. Think of a very large Pez if you will; the remote has a really solid heft to it, with big buttons and a glow-in-the-dark coating. Lose this remote in the folds of the couch? Nah. Sure the 03HD has touch-screen access on the LCD, but trust me — you’ll be using the remote a lot more than mucking around with the screen. That’s partly due to the convenience any remote brings, but also because the 03HD’s remote is just so nifty to hold. Some might want to go and download the Olive app to use with their iPhone/iPod touch instead. That’s up to you and it’s a matter of personal taste, although I can see the point of using a WIFI-based control (the app) versus an infrared red line-of-sight remote. And sure, there’s an Android app too.
Okay, so back to getting your music library into the music server’s hard drive. The basic procedure for the 03HD consists of the following: Select the CD import quality from the 03HD’s screen — the type of format selected will not just alter how much space is used to store the CD, but will also affect the music’s quality. Olive recommends using FLAC and I agree; what’s the point of having your CD digitized if the quality is low-level?
Pop the CD into the slot and the front-loading mechanism pulls it in. You then see information about it on the screen, as it was pulled from the Internet. Olive provides a procedure for manually editing in information if the CD doesn’t get a “hit,” or if you just want to do this yourself on a specific CD.
What you see on the touch-screen should not come as a surprise — a section for accessing the music library contained via genre, album, artist, track or playlist; a section for accessing external music sources, such as from your networked computer; a section for Internet radio; a section for configuring the 03HD. A navigation bar at the bottom of the screen allows for quick access through the functions and also displays the status of the network connection (and Internet access). Some, like me, will find using the “hard” buttons easier than the touch-screen. The size of your fingers plays a part in this apparently.
Now you might be surprised at how the 03HD seems to “slow down” during the copying procedure. This is due to the processing power it takes to work the CD over — if I owned this 03HD, I would be devoting a weekend to import all of my CDs and do them in short batches of 10-15 at a time so that the 03HD doesn’t get overworked. Each disc self-ejects too. Olive points out that using the uncompressed audio format will speed up the process, but you’ll need to balance the higher amount of hard drive space needed for each CD in this case against how many discs you have. A tip — don’t play from the 03HD at the same time you’re ripping — it seems to slow the rip down.
Having mentioned earlier about the connectivity that the home network allows, you can also access the music server through its IP address (server command) on a Mac or PC. Music can then be transmitted over and converted as if it was a disc that had been inserted. The only two caveats here are that 1)a WAV file sent won’t have the metadata needed and so will show up on the 03HD as “unknown,” unlike sending a FLAC, MP3 or AAC file, and 2) accessing the 03HD from a computer must take into account the peculiarities of the program being used; for example, you can access the music server from a Mac using iTunes for playing over the internal speaker (bah!) or externals that are connected, but since iTunes hasn’t the capacity to handle FLAC, it won’t see files in this format. Other DLNA-compatible devices on the network can access the library as well.
Using the Olive 03HD music server is simple for the iTunes generation: you just access the music library, search for or select a song or album and then play it. You can also create playlists to aggregate music together — such as for a party or a themed event like Valentines day or Halloween (that I lump the two together should give you a too-good idea of how I think). Having a playlist also gives you the means for burning the music back to a recordable CD — yes the 03HD’s CD drive is a burner, not just a player. While some might find this of limited use, it’s always better to have it than not — once this would have been great for cars, but who uses the CD slot on a car’s dashboard anymore when an iPod/iPhone/MP3 player plugs in so readily?
Should you want to listen to the “radio” instead, a few flicks on the LCD, combined with the physical buttons will provide any of a number of Internet radio stations — and yes you can add your own station and have it stored in the 03HD’s memory.
Lost in all this is how you’re hearing that music — if you don’t connect speakers directly to the music server through an amplifier, then you’ll be accessing and listening to the tunes via other devices accessing the 03HD. There’s no complexity involved in this — follow the steps provided, use a bit of common sense and you’ll be fine.
No doubt you won’t be surprised to hear that the quality of the music sounds as good as it should: importing CDs at high-resolution maintain their intensity during playback. Olive says they’re using a high-end DAC (digital analog converter). I can’t argue against that as far as my ears go — of course I do use high-end speakers, not some rinky-dink models to play the music in my home theater system.
Bottom line: What you’re getting with the Olive 03HD Music Server is more than just a means for holding all of your music library in one physical place — good as that is. You’re also getting the means for accessing it and playing it not just where the 03HD is seated, but throughout your home since it supports multiple streams. A $999 retail is not to sneer at, but when you consider the high “build” quality of the 03HD, CD drive included, and combine it with the technology it has for ease of use, it beats some “playlist” program on a computer all hollow. The Olive 03HD Music Server is definitely not for everyone — it’s for those who want total control over their music library in today’s digital age.
- 4.3-inch color touch-screen
- Networked access of music library
- Backups possible via externally connected USB hard drive
- No headphone output
- Does not support SACD/DVD-Audio
- Setting changes require long reboot
Marshal Rosenthal is a Los Angeles-based freelance writer and journalist specializing in technology, consumer electronics and pop culture.