The Good Digital music server/streamer with large (500GB-2TB) internal hard drive for onboard storage; wirelessly streams music from networked PCs or Macs via integrated 802.11g or Ethernet connection; streams Internet radio stations; plays, rips, and burns CDs; encodes recorded tracks to lossless formats or MP3; impressive sound; very useful Maestro network portal; control via built-in touch screen or free iPhone app.
The Bad No video output; no support for WMA files; no support for Rhapsody, Pandora, or other online music services; no support for WPA2 Wi-Fi security; doesn't play or burn MP3 CDs; can't play music from connected USB drives or portable players; no built-in amplifier; very expensive.
The Bottom Line The Olive 4 is a fantastic-sounding digital audio server, but its high price and limited feature list limit its appeal to die-hard audiophiles.
These days, digital music solutions are often focused on streaming--either pulling music files from a networked PC hard drive or accessing online music services. But there's still a place for digital music servers, which offer built-in storage to keep the experience local--obviating the need for complicated network setups and the need to keep a PC server running. The Olive 4 splits the difference: the system can pull music from your home network, but it's also got a built-in hard drive--anywhere from 500GB to 2TB--and it even sports a slot-loading CD drive, so you can play, rip, and burn CDs without ever going near a computer.
Versions and accessories
The Olive 4 is the sequel to the Olive No. 3 that we reviewed back in 2006. (Terminology note: the Olive No. 3 was originally called the "Olive Musica," and the Olive 4 originally carried the "Olive Opus" moniker, before the company just decided to go with the numeric designations instead.) We were impressed with its (at the time) hefty 160GB internal drive, and its ability to rip CDs in a variety of formats and stream music from a network-connected PC.
Before we dive into the Olive 4's features and performance, we should add a bit of a disclaimer. The Olive 4, like the No. 3, is not cheap. In fact, the high-end (2TB) version goes for an eye-popping $1,800. Though DIY solutions (NAS drives, laptop servers running iTunes, and so forth) and cheaper alternatives (Squeezebox, Sonos) abound, the Olive 4 justifies its premium price tag with audiophile street cred and boutique appeal.