Digitalmeisters - Thoughts on Olive.....

Just starting to think about using a music server. I don't want to use a laptop, but a dedicated music server. What is the experience out there with the gear from Olive products across the line. Will I need an external DAC for the type of quality I am use to (most recently I've been using Accustic Arts and EMM Labs). What are the alternatives that function similarly in terms of storage, interface, and DAC. I am a complete novice to this music server approach, so I just want to learn as I start getting my mind around the whole new approach (relatively new) to digital playback.
The Olive stuff looks very tempting. My Rega dealer said he has a customer who bought one and compared it to a Rega Apollo in the shop. The Apollo was better, but it was close. That means something coming from a guy who lost a sale IMO. The customer kept the Olive, I think it was the 4.

I've stayed away due to all the bugs I've heard about their software. They have/had a forum, and there were a ton of complaints. Amazon sells them, and there's a ton of complaints there too. Very few complaints about sound quality and mechanical reliability though.

Have you considered something like an Apple TV and external DAC? Very cheap and easy to use. Install iTunes, rip CDs as Apple Lossless, store them on an external hard drive, and you're done.

Sonos makes great products too, as does Logitech (Squeeezebox).

Many people like using a Mac mini as a server. Haven't tried it personally.
I'm open to all ideas. I do feel like there is a lot of dust to settle with all the competing approaches, which is a bit confusing, and probably not fully sorted yet. I'd not heard about the software problems, but that is certainly the sort of thing that has kept me on the sidelines so far. So, it is search for the best storage and delivery system, maybe into something like a Berkeley Alpha DAC. Mac and Apple TV might be a first low cost approach to dabble with this, as I've been thinking of getting a MAC anyway. Computers seems to be getting more powerful for less and less, and I'm not sure the Audio industry has caught on to that approach (yet).
Dedicated Mac Mini is the way to go as long as you don't start a "Mac Mini - Best Server Ever" thread... LOL
You're right, there is going to be a LOT of dust in this area over the next year or two (at least). I think if I were going to get a stand-alone music server right now and didn't want it to be real fiddly, I would go to Sound Science and get one of theirs. I've never dealt with them but Neal seems to have a good reputation for knowing what he's doing, treating people right and selling very good products.

All this being said, I have a Logitech Touch right now and it's a lot of fun. I'm just waiting to see where everything heads. Many companies are getting into this area now in various forms (Bryston, Naim, etc.) so it should be fun!
That Music Vault stuff from Sound Science looks very interesting. Thanks.
If you just want to get started, and give things a try, a Sonos or something similar is not a bad place to start. You can get your CD's ripped to good quality digital files and enjoy them as well as Internet radio. The software interface is very good and if you eliminate some of the jitter, you have a system that does a reasonable job of CD quality (16/44) music.

A standard computer (Mac or PC) is another approach, but keep in mind that their audio output section is composed of about $.75 worth of parts and just because you feed trash into a $5000.00 Berkeley DAC doesn't mean that "Magic Happens". Sort of like putting lipstick on a pig. However, a system like Sound Science uses a high quality sound card ($600-$800) and is engineered for the best high resolution digital reproduction (24/192) and should be very good and worth the price.

Finally, if I wanted a high end digital player like an Olive, I would take a closer look at the new digital player from Bryston. They have taken an approach to the player that is very solid and well thought out. It also will do high resolution digital (24/192) and combined with their DAC should also be very good and worth the price.

The Bryston BDP-1 seems like an excellent piece of gear. I own a Bryston B60 and am a huge fan of their philosophy. The BDP-1 is expensive, but they followed a cost no object, sound quality over convenience approach. No wireless, no internal storage, etc. It simply plays digital files that you connect to it - ie thumb drive or hard drive.

What you could do is rip your CDs, save them to an external hard drive, then simply plug that into the BDP-1 and yoy're good to go. Well connect a DAC, then you're good to go.

Bryston is expensive, but more than worth their price IMO. They're a no-nonsense company that admirably stands behind everything they've ever built. I've dealt with them to upgrade my B60 and just some general questions. Great people. If it fits your budget and criteria, I highly recommend them.
Do you need any special kind of software to do this? Perhaps my questions are so basic that I am going to have research the rudiments here.
In addition to PuBul's question, as cool as the BDP-1 looks, how does it improve computer music file SQ over a device that outputs a bit-perfect digital signal, such as a squeezebox touch?
I'm making exactly this transition right now.

First, spend more time thinking about the interface. With CDs, you just walked over to your shelf and grabbed the disc, probably based on your familiarity with the color of the spine, and the location (alphabetical, by genre, whatever you used). So how are you going to accomplish that with an "all-bits" system? Even a tiny bit of interface friction can make you listen to music less than you otherwise would. And all the expensive gear in the world won't sound better than cheap stuff when it's sitting ther silently.

I really like iTunes on Mac. It's generally easy to use, and I can trust that Apple will keep supporting and improving it. Album art, lots of ways to reorganize, easy lossless-to-lossy conversion for you iPod. A free "Remote" app for that lets your iPhone or iPad control iTunes from across the room, designed by people who take interface seriously (and each version gets better). All in all, iTunes has the mix of features that works for me.

Sooloos/Meridian is another that people love. Big touch screen, lots of enhanced meta-data. But expensive.

All the others -- Olive, Sonos, "rip all your music to a hard drive and use the DAC" -- for me are far less useful from a user interface point of view. How do I browse from across the room? How fast is it to browse a library of 20,000 tracks by hundreds of artists?

Think first about how you want to "touch" your music collection. Then think about expensive DACs (BTW, I use a Halide USB-to-SPDIF bridge to get the bits from an iMac to a Benchmark DAC, or direct USB to Ayre QB-9, both sound great. There is tweaking to do, but don't assume that just because computers use 75 cent parts to output bits, that somehow they can't sound just as good as the SPDIF output on an expensive transport).
Fvl, certainly, you are correct in that there have never been more interfaces to choose from and it's a very personal decision. You will also find many people who like and hate the same interface so it has become almost as important a decision as the sound of the music.

To all... just because it says Bit Perfect, that still does not assure timing and distortion problems do not exist (jitter). In a standard Mac or PC, these still must be addressed, the 75 cent parts won't do it. Lots of converters to choose from ($100's - $1000's) and also DAC's that reclock the signal to clean it up.

So if you want to do the "tweaking", there are lots of options to choose from, but you will spend $$$ to get it right. If not, there are well engineered systems and you will spend $$$ for a good one.

BTW, I'm in the tweaking category... but I respect the efforts of those like Bryston who do it right.

Even though there are obviously 1,000,000s of folks down loading music and using their iPods and MP3 players, it still seems that the music server model is still very much in the pioneering stage as far as most audiophiles. I find it a bit daunting that there seems to be little standardization yet in terms of the hardwarde, interface, and software and till that happens, it will I'm sure, I think most audiophiles are going to take a wait and see attitude before taking the plunge and getting rid of the $$$$ transport and DACs. I would love to have a Mac Air with a 500GB SS Drive that some how connects wireless to a Berkeley DAC and that it would be SOTA and even I could figure out how to make it work. I tried the MAC stores, but I don't get the sense that serving audiophiles part of their regular business. It is evolving....
it still seems that the music server model is still very much in the pioneering stage as far as most audiophiles.
You are correct. From what I have seen the Olive and Soolos products are very expensive, but I have never heard them and cannot comment on the SQ. I second the idea of talking to Neal @ SoundScience. Depending on how you want it set up, one of his models will fill the bill. If you have a good DAC or if your EMM can accept a digital input, there would be one solution; if you want to use the DAC in a Touch or Transporter there would be a slightly different one. If you want to use a high end sound card to do the DAC, then there is still a different one, but he can customize a hardware solution for you. Most of his newer products use a very quiet power supply and CPU cooling solution so you could position if w the rest of your gear and use a wired connection if you want, or you could do like I did and connect wirelessly w the Music Server in a remote location. His music servers integrate ripping and playback software along with the storage and data transmission needs. He is a high end audio dealer so he will understand your language and goals to develop a one, two or three box solution, based on your needs. Or he will also act as a consultant to help you design and assemble the right software and hardware at an hourly rate.
When someone makes a server for a decent price, easy for even dummies to use, and has sound that doesn't degrade the original disc / file quality after burning / download with compatibility to high rez downloads, they will corner the market. Sounds like no one has done it yet. So many hoops to jump !
Struggling with these issues. Tried to start another thread (Primer request) asking the following question with no success. Good info here. Is there a single voice which compares/contrasts the various approaches - Linn DS vs Sooloos vs Sonos vs Squeezebox vs Olive vs Bryson vs PS Audio vs ...? A true apples-to-apples comparison?
Nonpoint -

Pkubica said it far better than I could have. Other than his reasons, wireless isn't perfect - there's dropouts, lag, noise from it, etc.

The best I've heard is thumb drives connected to DACs that can play them directly, or through a player than accepts them. Naim's DAC sounded far better tis way than any other way, yet the inputs were all bit perfect. One or two others were the same way, but I can't recall what they were.

I have not heard the Bryston BDP-1, so I can't say this is the case with it. I'd be very surprised if it were not though.
I just cannot get over how much it costs to get a high level of performance (converting computer data to digital music). However, I assume the R&D and manufacturing can not be cheap when you are dealing with smaller audio firms.

Do you need any special kind of software to do this? Perhaps my questions are so basic that I am going to have research the rudiments here.

There are plenty of free programs out there to do this. EAC is a very popular one that tries to correct for read errors and make sure you get a good rip. However, I just purchased a copy of dbPoweramp ($38). It has multiple methods for ensuring a good rip but the thing that sold me was the fact that it gets metadata from up to 5 different databases and compares the information attempting to make sure it's accurate. There's a lot of crap in the metadata databases and making sure you have accurate and correctly spelled song titles/artist/album name is a HUGE investment in time.
For this to really go mainstream, it does seem it really has to be more idiot proof, more standardized, and the availability of a large library of fast and easy hi-rez downloads. I see the appeal, and perhaps the inevitability of this, but the more I see where we are at this point, the less I feel ready for this kind of change. It really has to be almost as easy as buying a CD, putting it a CD player, and hitting play. The ideal would seem to be a universal music library stored externally (the cloud) and accessible for a monthly fee via a wireless 8G connection to a device in the home that receives and streams hi-rez digital data into a DAC (or built into the DAC box) - a variation on Netflix I suppose.
You're right. This will need to become more standardized and easier for this to take off ... and I believe it will. As an example, compare how easy it is to purchase and install an app on your smartphone these days with integrated app stores. Something like this used to be a royal pain.

I've given up trying to predict where the computer industry will go next and/or how fast it will get there. I just sit back and am amazed at the pace of progress. This area will be that way too. My interim solution was to buy the inexpensive but VERY good and versatile Logitech Touch. This allows me to experiment with how the music is delivered, different formats and, eventually, different DACs while I'm waiting for things to settle down.

The Touch has been a lot of fun. I particularly like Pandora through my main system. Even though it's not what we would consider hirez, it sounds pretty darn good and I've heard a lot of good music I wouldn't have heard otherwise.

It's a brave new world!
Re: software. For folks who have been at this a while, is the pursuit of hardware that can handle 24bit, higher sampling rates, worth it? Seems like the promises of higher-res music is nearing the end of its first decade and still hasn't gained a firm toehold. Do folks with a longer history feel like momentum is building and it is a matter of time for recordings, new & old, to be available in high-res glory? Or will we resort to recordings of obscure classical groups to hear the full potential of our purchases?

I already have a Squeezebox product and love it! The ability to listen to far-flung radio stations (KHUM to WXPN) plus Pandora & Slacker is awesome. But if streamed compressed audio is going to be it, no need to saddle myself with the hassles/maintenance of a RAID setup, hunting down cover art files, etc.
The Logitech Touch does seem like a good way to dip one'stoe in the water and internet radio is also an appealing possibility. I think there might be a very legitimate issue of how much it would cost to create hi-rez versions of all the music already available in Redbook, and I'm not sure we have much of an emerging audiophile culture to drive the demand for it by the masses accustomed to MP3 players. It is an interesting question on the prodcution side, and whether or not we need greater bandwidth [?] for providing fast downloads - like a minute for a typical album. I'm not even sure the download model makes sense over time - why take of the space, it does seem like a real time music stream, on demand is where this should be heading one day, ala Netflix. I would pay $10/month to have that kind of universal, wireless access. Though at my age, I am likely to be playing my 3000+ CDs for a long time, till the piolycarbonate starts breaking down....
That Logitech Squeeze Box Touch really does seem like a good first step to familiarize myself with the technology and jargon. I don't even own an iPod, so.....
That Logitech Squeeze Box Touch really does seem like a good first step to familiarize myself with the technology and jargon.
Agree completely. I went a little deeper since the only options at the time were Transporter or SB and I was having a major domestic issue w 1000 cds in the living room and only storage for about 850!!! I would read the primer at and give the Touch a try. The SQ w my Modwright Transporter is outstanding but if you're not having any real issues w CDs and just want to see what's up, definitely get a Touch, which will play back 24/96 and maybe 24/192. And yes, the SQ w Pandora is surprisingly good.

I think the closest to your idea (and accidently mine too) is the Pacific Valve music server:

You can download, or rip your files on your main computer in your office and then wirelessly move them to this server in your listening room, attached to your system and where use short digical cable to your DAC (my APL HiFi SACD/CD Player with digital input)

You can manage it from your listening chair using their remote and small (or big) flat screen.

Because they use solid state drive their capacity is still limited (0.75 TBytes) but you can add later on.

No other music server in industry (at reasonable prices) can do the same.

If I would have main computer in my listening room I would approach the Neil from Sound Science, he is true hifi engineer but he does not have this wireless capability to move [NOT TO STREAM or PLAY] files across one room boundary - to the best of my knowledge

All The Best in your search - please report, as I have similar philosphy [ I don;t care where to store files, I can buy a hard drive]
My Olive 04 stopped working after a few days , and was returned . Cost me almost $500 with restocking charge and shipping , Sound quality was not that great , even with a DAC .
Forgot to mention , I had to get VISA involved to get the money back .
I have been looking into an Olive for motnhs and cannot find anyone who has anything good to say about it long-term. Too bad because I hate computers, which I use all day at work.

Wow. Glad for the feedback. I really like its look, but....
re Wireless: I have been using an Airport Express to send my music wirelessly from iMac in one room to audio rig in a different room. Digital files made by iTunes (with error correction selected in prefs) in Apple Lossless (the Express converts everything to Apple Lossless upon transmission anyway, so better to spare the CPU the burden). I run the digital output from the Express through a Genesis Digital Lens to reduce jitter, then into the coax digital input on my Levinson 390S CD player/processor. Control interface is Apple's free Remote app on my iPhone (iPad would be even better).

Sound quality is indistinguishable from playing the same disc in the CD player itself.
I had bought the 4 D and returned it. Sound was ho hum and the software is terrible. It couldn't recognize 13 out of the 15 discs that I attempted to load.
I decided to go with a 2 TB iMac. I had previously used both a MacBook Pro and a MiniMac and sonically I was happy with both.
My experience with the older Olives has been very positive. I've got several Olive Musicas in a couple different systems and have been impressed with them. One is stock, one is modded by Red Wine Audio (RWA) and one has Bolder Cable mods.

The digital out of the stock unit is quite good (though slightly improved through a Genesis Lens) and the modded Olives' digital outs are on the same playing field (and in some ways better than) my $2.5K transport (which I rarely use these days). The analog outs need the mods to compete in the current high-end market, IMO, but as music storage with digital out to a good DAC, the Olives shine and are a great option. I haven't heard the latest incarnations, so maybe the newer DACs are better and the PS noise reduced, and of course 24/96 capability is a plus, but most of my music is still 16/44.

I've considered getting one of the newer models and getting power supply and digital out mods done to them, to access high resolution. Without mods, I think an Olive matched to a PS Audio PW DAC w/Bridge, for example, would be a killer combo. If I was starting from scratch, I'd also look at the new Wadia 171i iPod/ iPad dock and the Cary MS-1 server (see Stereophile's CES report).

I prefer to use a stand alone unit as a music server. I have a Macbook Pro but prefer a direct digital connection via coax (the RWA has a BNC with pulse transformer, the Bolder uses a 75 ohm Nextgen). Battery operation in the RWA makes for a wonderfully quiet background, a definite plus with computers. I use a Nokia tablet as a remote, though the iPhone/iPad products are probably better. I love being able to access my whole music collection while sitting in the sweet spot, and without any hit to musicality.
A nice review by Laurence Borden can be found at Dagogo.

Anyway, just wanted to let Nglazer know that some long-term Olive users are quite happy....
I had no idea Olive was having these types problems. They have been around for a while, and apparently have a fairly vigorous advertising budget - you would think they had their house in order. So the Airport Express is the device that wirelessly connects a MAC to the input at the DAC - simple as that?
Airport express is a router with increased connectivity compared to standard routers. The WiFi signal from AE (or any other router) will then be captured by any device capable of receiving a Wi Fi signal. Alternatively, it can be directly connected ("wired") via it's ethernet or other connections to a device that accepts
a similar connection.
I have my AE in a closet in my upstairs. It beams a WiFi signal to my MacBook
downstairs. My MacBook is physically connected to a DAC (via firewire in my case, most people will be using USB or S/PDIF). My DAC is then connected by RCA stereo jacks into a receiver.
Some DACs are capable of receiving a WiFi signal by themselves. Logitech Squeezebox is such a device (and then it has other functionality to bring to the party).
I hope the above is not to confusing.
No, that is clear. Thank you.
Two facts about using Airport Express with iTunes on Mac: (1) it is bit perfect, if you disable volume control in iTunes prefs; (2) it converts all lossless audio to Apple Lossless before transmitting (and then back to uncompressed SPDIF at the optical TOSlink output).

You might consider putting the digital output of the Airport Express through something like the Genesis Digital Lens to reduce the jitter. I found it made a big difference with my Mark Levinson 390S. Of course, more modern DACs have jitter-rejection schemes built in (Benchmark, Bel Canto).
I was in your situation about 4 years ago when I decided to sell my Accustic Arts CDP-1 and migrate to a computer audio source. It was a disappointment at first with USB DAC's from computer type cheapies to $1800-$3500 priced units. That was a wake up call. I realized I would need a comparable DAC to match, if not exceed, what I was accustom to hearing with my prior CDP. And based on your digital source I think it's safe to assume you're in the same situation, unless you're looking to downgrade. I eventually ended up with a Reimyo DAP-777 and Wadia iTransport/iPod (Apple Lossless) after being quite impressed by what I heard with a SB3. That served me well for 2-3 years. Now I'm currently looking for another solution, one that has a better, larger GUI and simple one-box design. I've always wanted to use my iMac/iTunes but still not convinced with USB converters, not that having my iMac on top of my audio system is ideally what I want. iPad is what I want to control playback so I'm considering the Meridian/Sooloos Media COre 200 or Bryston BDP-1.
I considered Olive in the past but didn't care for their proprietary design, SW (WIN?), and small GUI screen, nor the fact I'd have to re-rip all my CD's. And if I did use one it'd only be with a DAC.

So here's my advice; audition what you can and don't waste time with AppleTV and Airport Express. It's garbage (Optical/Toslink), regardless of the DAC used. Take it from experience. And since you already have a highly regarded DAC you're half way there. Personally, I doubt you'll find a satisfying USB/FW DAC unless spending over $5K (such as the Weiss). If you have a Mac or other computer I would try USB converters (Evo, Wavelink, Stello U2,..) to hear what you think. Your opinion is the only one that matters. This is far more subjective with sound, GUI, set up,..etc as well as system integration, compatibility then with other audio gear. You really need to experience it, hear it, see it, interact with it, to know if it's right for you. You may not like the interface, or it may require being wired (ethernet) and you don't have a router near by, or it doesn't have the connection you want/requires,..etc. It's computer based. What'd you think. ;-) Take your time if possible and audition, audition, audition.
Pubul57: No problem. Migrating to a computer based music server can be a daunting task with so many options out there. And as I mentioned the best way to know if it's right for you is to audition it in your system. A lot depends on what kind of interface and set up you want, whether it's multiple pieces with a Mac Mini->USB Converter,..etc or a simple one box solution such as a SBT. If you have a mac or PC I would start with a SBT or Sonos to hear what you think. These are easily returnable for full refund if not satisfied direct from manufacturer, also Best Buy. I would also try USB converters if there is a local dealer. Personally, I just decided to try the Bryston BDP-1 after contemplating some others; Sooloos Media Core 200, Linn Majik DS, Naim,..etc. And there are all-in-one play/rip/store types from Sooloos, qsonic, Sound Science, Olive,..etc. Lot's of choices, but I can't say what's the right one for you.
I'm not kiddding when I ask, is there some kind of consensus
that USB, while improving, is not the likely to be the best
approach to DAC connection? Seems like it does not quite
approach the best digital. True?

It is for this, among other reasons, that I am leaning
towards a dedicated music server versus the PC/MAC approach.
Am I missing the boat?
Have you tried anything yet? Just forget USB and find another solution as mentioned. I'll be receiving my Bryston BDP-1 and Lampizator v3 Level 3 tube DAC soon. Excited and looking forward to hearing that.
No. I think I am going to stay on the sidelines for a while. I've been to some audio shops to look into this, but not much expertise there other than a standard Sonos approach. I guess I'll stick with my several thousand CDs and EMM Labs gears - easy to use, and sounds pretty good. But I do know a different future is coming, but I don't feel like I am in much of a rush at this point. Now if the EMM fell off the shelf....
It's your choice. I wouldn't put it off though. Gain the experience. You might be pleasantly surprised and consider replacing your CDP sooner then you imagine. Doesn't cost anything to audition from dealer, or buy/return SBT, Sonos,..etc from local stores, even online (Amazon), or direct from manufacture.
Sakahara, SBT is the Squeezebox Touch?