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Audio File Players
Olive O2M/O3HD/O6HD

Price: O6HD 2 TB – 4950 Euro/O3HD 500 GB – 1090 Euro/O2M – 800 Euro

Olive Media Inc.
555 Howard Street
San Francisco, CA 94105, USA

tel.: 1 877 296 5483 | fax: 415 908 3932


Country of origin: USA

Text: Wojciech Pacuła
Pictures: Olive, Wojciech Pacuła
Translation: Krzysztof Kalinkowski

Olive is a brand belonging to the company Olive Media Inc. managed by Oliver Bergmann. He founded it in 2005 together with Robert Altman. The two gentlemen created quickly a well managed company. The company became more and more known by the year, because it managed to combine things, that seemed totally separate: low price, high quality of manufacture and sound, worked out interface, ergonomics and easy handling. And a distinct external design. This may not seem much, but looking at many other audiophile companies, it is an exceptional achievement. And the unusual, yet attractive, looks played a part in this as well... Almost all players of that company (except for the O2M) have a color touchscreen, a CD-RW recorder, which can also be used for ripping CDs onto the HDD, and hard disk itself.
Until recently the company was strong in the lower and medium price levels. For testing we took the basic, full fledged player O3HD and a so called “station”, the model O2M (on the front panel there is the name Melody 2) without an internal HDD and CD drive. It communicates with the O4HD or O6HD using an Ethernet network – wired or wireless. And a complete novelty – the model O6HD.

The O6HD is something completely different – a much more expensive unit, although – for audiophile standards – still acceptable, price wise. Now because the user interface was already developed, in case of this device it was all about getting the best sound. Dr. Oliver Bergmann tells about it:
“When approaching the O6HD design we sought the highest possible quality for each component, without compromise. Primary for us was creating the most faithful playback of high quality audio in digital format. Nothing has been spared. Supporting 24-bit playback enables a rich and emotional experience not found with other digital music solutions. MP3 files are infamous for compressing tracks to the point of destroying the depth and nuances of a performance, even CDs are incapable of reproducing the way music sounds as it is recorded live in the studio. The O6HD achieves this and is the Olive ideal.” (Source: HERE)

This is why the power supply is made up from two parts – one for the digital part, a switching power supply, and one for the analog part, with a classic toroidal transformer. The audio signal from the beginning – two nice DACs from Burr-Brown PCM1792A per channel, splendid chips in the I/V conversion – till the end: XLR sockets made by the Swiss Neutrik – is balanced. We have also a headphone output with a volume knob. Here it is a completely separate circuit, with a separate Burr-Brown PCM1792A DAC, miniature Alps potentiometer, etc, on a separate PCB. And nobody is disturbed by a large, 10.1” touchscreen... Let us add, that the RCA output circuit is also separated, and has a dedicated DAC PCM1792A.
Such yummy parts inside mean usually that the device was manufactured in China or Taiwan. Not this time – according to the press materials, all Olive gear is hand made in San Francisco in the US.


Recordings used in the test (selection):

  • Brian Eno, Craft On A Milk Sea, Warp Records, WAV 24/44,1.
  • Cassandra Wilson, Silver Pony, Blue Note, 29752, CD; .
  • Charlie Haden & Antonio Forcione, Heartplay, Naim Label, 24/96 FLAC.
  • Chris Connor, Witchcraft, Atlantic/Warner Music Japan, WPCR-25166, CD.
  • Depeche Mode, Ultra, Mute, DMCDX9, Collectors Edition, CD+DVD+FLAC 24/44,1.
  • Freddie Hubbard, Open Sesame, Blue Note/Audio Wave, AWMXR-0012, XRCD24.
  • G. F. Haendel, Messiah (Dublin Version, 1742), Dunedin Consort&Players, Linn Records, CKH 312, FLAC 24/88,2.
  • Harry Belafonte, Belafonte at Carnegie Hall, RCA/Sony Music, 7783322, LPCD-M2 Mastering, No. 0953, HQCD.
  • Helge Lien Trio Hello Troll, Ozella Music, OZ021CD, FLAC 24/96;
  • Jim Hall, Live!, Horizon/A&M Records/Universal Music Japan, UCCM-9225, CD.
  • Pink Floyd, The Dark side of the moon, EMI Music Japan, TOGP-15001, SACD/CD.
  • Stan Getz & Joao Gilberto, Getz/Gilberto, Verve, 24/96 FLAC.
  • Suzanne Vega, Close-Up, Vol 1. Love Songs, Amanuensis Productions/Cooking Vinyl, COOKCD521, CD.
  • The George Shearing Quintet&Nancy Wilson, The Swinging’s Mutual!, Capitol/Toshiba-EMI, TOCJ-9468, CD.
  • Thom Yorke, The Eraser, XL Records/Warner Music Japan, WPCB-10001, CD.
  • Zbigniew Namysłowski, Open, Polish Jazz, vol. 74, SX2539, pliki „master”, 16/44,1, 24/96 WAV.

Japanese versions of the discs are available at CD Japan.


I started the listening sessions from the most expensive component O6HD – I hope, that you can understand my impatience... In case of the CD I compared it with the Lektor Air, and in case of the high resolution files the reference system was composed as follows: the files were played from my laptop (HP Pavilion dv7, 2 MB RAM, 320 GB HDD, Windows Vista, Foobar2000) via USB-S/PDIF (32/192) KingRex converter, plugged ito the Arcam rDAC powered by the Teddy Pardo power supply. The power cable for the power supply was the Acrolink 7N-PC7100. The Olive players were placed on an anti-vibration platform from Pro Audio Bono.
The most expensive Olive player is one of the few devices, I did not feel necessary to upgrade with an external DAC. Because it is usually so, that sound from file players, even if it is OK, needs some “boost” from an esternal DAC, even a not so expensive one, as if the audio part would not be important for their designers. Olive is different – this is a full fledged player, which can be placed on any shelf, preferably an anti-vibration one, and play music from it, not being distracted by the fact that this is a specialized computer. The sound of this device has breath and impresses with dynamics. Those two things are often duped when passed through anything more complicated than a CD player. The American unit gives arguments to people, who claim, that this is not a fault of the technology, but its proper application. And I think they are right – in fact the journey starts now, and the CD needed more than 20 years to become a refined audio format. However currently the file players start from a higher level and will use that, what we have learned using the Compact Disc format.

As I said, the sound of the O6HD has breath and is dynamic. Actually in many moments it resembled the sound of a reasonable turntable. I would not say that this is an ideal sound – turntables have their problems, especially when they cost below 10000zl (just to name a figure), but the way the sound is composed by the Olive is similar to what we hear from inexpensive turntables from Transrotor or Thorens, not even mentioning Rega. This is a dense sound with a strong bass and fine treble.
The latter was a surprise to me, because treble, just a step behind dynamics, are usually lost somewhere inside the processors. Comparing them to the Ancient Audio Lektor Air CD, it could be heard, that they are not as well defined in time and space, and the sound is a bit “wetter”, I mean it “glues” to us better, but it also harder to detach (please do not get mad at me, but this “description” of a phenomenon by something coming from a completely different world is in case of describing art – and audio is a part of that – absolutely necessary). This is not a bad sound, but we can hear, that the best sources using the optical CD format can do it better, giving a dryer, but also more real sound.

I did run a little too much forward – please take that what I wrote in parentheses and stay on the “it’s OK” track. Olive shows fantastically the elements concentrated in the midrange, especially, where it develops in the direction of the bass. This is the reason, that the disc Fourth Wall Dominic Miller was so moving. The device created big, palpable shapes, very well defined, with fabric and dynamics. There was no washed out attack, no softening or warming. The timbre of the Olive is very well balanced, and although I will say in a moment, in what it differs from the reference units, it would be extremely difficult to show any area, where it would depart from being thorough. Like I say, the O6HD has a big sound. This is also true for the sound stage – it is slightly blown up, but – again – so is it with most turntables. Is it a shortcoming? I cannot really answer that question, because mechanical reproduction of music differs so much from a live event, that we cannot compare those two things directly. This is why the way sound is composed by a turntable and by a digital source differs from each other and from the real event. Olive just tries to impress with momentum – and it succeeds in that.
This is especially audible with high resolution files. Together with devices from that brand we receive preinstalled the recordings from Reference Recordings, some of the best available – mostly classical. I do not know what is their quality (only the next software upgrade will allow to display the bit depth and sampling frequency), but on HD Tracks we have those recordings available in 24/96 and 24/88.2 qualities, while originals are sold on DVD-R discs in 24/176.4. Anyway – those recordings are brilliant! In terms of breath and size of the stage they were much better than their CD counterparts played from the Ancient Audio. With other discs the difference was not that spectacular, and Air won the direct comparisons, but not by a big margin.

That, what is better in dedicated CD players, is the ability to handle less good recorded material – simply the Air and other CDs above 10000zl have a better resolved sound while playing such discs, they extract the information from low signals better. And I am not talking about being detailed, but about creating a more credible sound. The quality of the headphone amplifier is very good, and I do not see any purpose of using an external one, if we have less than 1000-1500zl to spend. The unit has an open and precise sound, a bit lighter than that, what we can hear on the line outputs. The only element to watch out for, is the quite strong upper midrange, which is needed to be leveled by not overly bright, not overly “punctual” headphones. With the Sennheiser HD650 it would be really fine.

O3HD + O2M

I will write about those two players together, because they sound in a very similar way, as if the O2M would be the O3HD without the optical drive, HDD and with the power supply placed outside. The last solution has its advantages and disadvantages. The advantage is the separation of the transformer from the electronics. The disadvantage – we supply a single voltage to the main unit, while having the transformer inside we can have many secondary windings. In addition the power supply for the O2M is very simple – this is a switching power supply the size of two matchboxes, supplying single voltage 6V DC. I am sure, the sound will be better with a better power supply.

It is good, that I started listening from O6HD – it gave me an additional reference point. Based on that, I can say, that the O3HD sounds the same, but “less”. The timbre of the sound is similar, as is its structure. It is just, that the relationships between the instruments, dynamic relationships, timbre relationships, etc, are all covered in that statement “there is less of everything”. We should have no delusions. It is now, that we can appreciate, what was achieved in the O6HD!

And it is not about the fact, that the cheaper model (or actually two models, because I am talking about the O3HD and O2M) is worse, because it is, but that it is not bad. For not much more than four thousand zlotys we get a very competent device, sounding with a strong and palpable sound. Dynamics was also there, everything was springy and jumpy – there was nothing muffled.

And I was again surprised by the quality of the bass and treble – even in dedicated CD players for that money it is similar. And with hi-res material Olive gets the upper hand, at least in that respect. The bass is strong and springy. For me it could be less contoured, but then the whole would be too undisciplined. The midrange is not as melodious, as velvety as in the O6HD and we cannot do anything about that. It is a little contoured and there is a little too little of reverb, but this is not a big issue.

Starting my description I told you, that the O6HD does not need a “boost” from an external DAC. The O3HD does not have that problem, as there is no digital output. That was the choice of its designers. But there is in fact no need to do that. The Olive sounds like a good CD player from the 3000-4000zl price range, not in all elements of the sound (fluidness of the midrange and sound scale) but differences are by far not big. It is better with hi-res files, but the differences are not that dramatic as with the O6HD. O2M has a bit smaller sound than the O3HD. I think, that this is due to the power supply. But when we take into account, that this is rather an addition to the main system, then it should not be a problem. Both devices sound very competent and will be liked.



This is the smallest Olive player. It was designed to be a “client”, an external unit working together with a “central unit” – in this case the Olive O4HD or O6HD players. Hence the qualification of this unit in the company materials – it is called a “multi-room player”. This is so, because we can use up to 15 of those units in parallel in different rooms. The signal can be supplied from a NAS disk or a computer, if those are working in a network. The network signal can be supplied via an Ethernet cable or wireless (Gigabit Ethernet, 802.11g WEP, WPA, WPA2, 64- and 128-bit) – there is a single antenna on the back. The sharing of the files must be using UPnP servers.
From outside the O2M looks very nice. This is a small device, with a sloped top cover, which has the function of the front panel. It is made from a thick, aluminum plate, bent in such a way, that it becomes the front, top and back cover. This is a rigid and nice cover.
In the middle there is a color display with a 4.3” diagonal (480 x 272 pixels) which shows the disc cover and information about the status of the player. And the setup. Important is the fact, that it is a touchscreen! The company offers also a free application for the Apple portable devices (iPod and similar), which can then function as a remote for the O2M. There are not many switches, there are the basic buttons for controlling playback like in a classic CD player, there is a standby switch and some buttons to navigate the menu. The front is clean and nice, what is underlined by the special finish of the surface – this is not brushed aluminum, but aluminum covered with writings, fading in the background. Those writings are the names of musical genres: jazz, alternative, rock, etc.
There are not many connections on the back – there is an analog, stereo RCA output, a digital TOSLINK and RCA output and a Wi-Fi antenna. Only the connector for the antenna is gold plated, while all the others are of very low quality. The RCA are close together, excluding usage of thick plugs. Close together are also the ports related to data transfer – Ethernet and USB. Let us add, that to the side there is a socket for the external power supply 6V 3A. I think that changing it (it is a switching one) will benefit the sound.

The device is really user friendly. On the display we can see the covers and titles, as well as information about the volume, time, etc. However I could not find any information about the kind of file we use (WAV or FLAC), or about sampling frequency or bit depth. Probably most users would not even notice this fact, but for me it was disturbing. Fortunately a suitable firmware update is ready, and it will be already installed in the players while you read this text.
The player handles WAV, FLAC, MP3 (128 and 320 kbit/s), AAC (128 kbit/s)16/20/24 bits, with sampling frequencies from 10 to 96kHz files. So 192kHz files are out of the question. The device is controlled by a nice remote. Although it is quite big and bulky, it really fits well in the hand. Nice are also the green soft buttons. It has more buttons than there are on the front panel, because there are also volume, mute, rating and direct access to the file library ones.
One of the nice features of the Olive is to play internet radio stations. It really looks nice, and the only thing I missed was the headphone amplifier.


This player has the shape, that made Olive known in the world. The sloped front panel with a color touchscreen, a characteristic slot for CDs with a bright green edge and the top cover with writing – the same as in the O2M.
The O3HD is a fully fledged player, with an integrated optical drive, working with ripping software, with a biult-in HDD (here 500GB) and Ethernet connections. 500GB allows for ripping of 1500 CDs in FLAC format. The player accepts WAV, FLAC, MP3 (128 and 320 kbit/s), AAC (128 kbit/s); 16/20/24 bits, with sampling frequencies from 10 to 200kHz – so this time we can use 24/192 files.
Functionally, except for the drive and hard disk, the unit resembles the O2M station – the same display, the same set of buttons, and a similar set of inputs and outputs. There is a difference however; there is no digital output, what closes the unit from upgrades by an external DAC. Here the power supply was integrated inside the main enclosure – on the back we have a standard IEC socket.

As I mentioned, the unit has a slot-in CD drive. While playing a disc, or ripping it, the unit connects with Internet databases and downloads necessary information, including the disc cover. In case needed we can backup our collection (highly recommended!) sending them outside via the USB port. If we want, we can also burn them on CD – the drive is a CD-RW drive made by TEAC. Similar to the O2M we can play internet radio; the remote controller is also identical.


This is a player, that is the visible answer to signals coming from the audio and hi-end society – its description names it a “HD Music Server for Audiophiles”. Its shape is different to other Olive products – narrow in the front, it broadens to the back. Let us notice, that the designers treated similarly the newest products from the French company Atoll Electronique – the IN400 amplifier and CD400 player (I tested the amplifier recently to “Audio” – a very interesting device, highly recommended!!!).
In the front there is a slot for the CDs, as known from the models O3HD and O4HD, and – something new! – a headphone socket with a nice, knurled volume knob.
But most important is the top of the unit – sloped, a bit like in the O2M, but there is a giant touchscreen, with a 10.1” diagonal. The data on the display is grouped similar to the other Olive players, but bigger and better visible. The buttons are the same as in all the other models, but the connectors on the back are different – besides the RCA analog outputs we have there also balanced XLR ones. We have also digital outputs TOSLINK and RCA and balanced AES/EBU. There is also a HDMI output, which can display a copy of that, what is visible on the touchscreen. From the FAQ section we can learn, that also audio is outputted there – from 24 bits 96 kHz. We will not send a 16 bits signal out, even if we have only such files, because it will be automatically upped to 24 bits. The RCA sockets are very good – big, and made from good materials.
On the back plate there is also a section for communication. Two WiFi antennas deliver a stable connection, but preferable is wired connection via the Ethernet port. There is also an USB 2.0 port available. All those elements work exactly the same as in the O2M.

Inside we can see different PCBs. The biggest one houses the audio circuits. In the beginning of the signal path there is an upsampler, a chip from Burr-Brown, the SRC4194, converting all signals to the form 24bits/384kHz. Next to it there is a nice word clock. Next there are three, identical, paired DACs, Burr-Brown PCM1792A. There are three of them, because the path for the unbalanced outputs and balanced ones is separate – I saw something similar in hi-end Accuphase players.
Converting current to voltage (I/V conversion) is made in the splendid TPA6120A2 chips. The output amplification is also IC based. This unit works with a current feedback loop. Let us add, that those chips have a very quick slew rate 20V/μs, and we have 2. order Bessel filters with a slope of 12dB/oct.
Most elements are surface mounted, except for the capacitors – those are WIMA polypropylene capacitors. Precise montage, choice of elements and fully balance architecture allows achieving 124dB dynamics!
Interesting is also the circuit with digital outputs – we can see transformers there, which allow for a very precise impedance control - 75 Ω for RCA and 110 Ω for XLR. Before those there is a very precise sender. The whole is clocked from a precision clocking circuit, thermally compensated, which reduces jitter to very low 10 ps.
The headphone amplifier is also well designed. It is placed on a separate PCB. In the beginning there is a fourth DAC, another Burr-Brown PCM1792A. On its output there are further splendid TPA6120A2 chips. Volume is controlled by a miniature Alps potentiometer.
The power supply is equally advanced. There is a double filter reducing noise at the input. According to the company materials it can damp the power line noise by 80dB. The digital section, meaning the drive, processor, display, etc, is powered by a switching power supply, while the audio board and headphone PCB are powered from a large toroidal transformer with worked out stabilizing circuitry.
It looks fantastic, and the price to pay for the O6HD seems different in this context, than it was in the beginning.
The device is supported on rubber feet – the company claims, that it is a patented anti-vibration solution (AVS - anti-vibration feet system).


Olive Media Inc.
555 Howard Street
San Francisco, CA 94105, USA

tel.: 1 877 296 5483
fax: 415 908 3932


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  • Phono preamplifier: RCM Audio Sensor Prelude IC (tested HERE)
  • Cartridges: Air Tight Supreme, tested HERE, Miyajima Laboratory Waza, tested HERE.
  • Preamplifier: Ayon Audio Polaris III with Re-generator Power Supply; version II tested HERE)
  • Power amplifier: Tenor Audio 175S, tested HERE and Soulution 710
  • Integrated amplifier/headphone amplifier: Leben CS300 XS Custom version (reviewed HERE)
  • Loudspeakers: Harpia Acoustics Dobermann (tested HERE)
  • Headphones: Sennheiser HD800, AKG K701, Ultrasone PROLine 2500, Beyerdynamic DT-990 Pro, 600 Ω version (reviewed HERE, HERE, and HERE)
  • Interconnect: CD-preamp: Acrolink Mexcel 7N-DA6300, article HERE), preamp-power amp: Wireworld Platinum Eclipse
  • Speaker cable: Tara Labs Omega Onyx, tested HERE
  • Power cables AC (all equipment): Acrolink Mexcel 7N-PC9300
  • Power conditioning: Gigawatt PF-2 Filtering Power Strip (reviewed HERE)
  • Audio stand Base – under all components
  • Resonance control: Finite Elemente Ceraball under the CD (article HERE)
  • Pro Audio Bono platform under CD