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Reviewer: Jeff Day
Analog: Garrard 301, Cain & Cain plinth, Denon 103 MC cartridge, Pete Riggle Audio VTAF, Fi Yph phono stage, Auditorium 23 moving coil step-up transformer, Origin Live Silver MkI & MkII tone arms, Paschetto Empire 208 turntable [in for review]
Digital: Meridian 508.20 CD player, Audio Logic 2400 DAC, Red Wine Audio Olive Musica [this review], Shindo Arome CD matching transformer [in for review]
Preamplifiers: Tom Evans Audio Design Lithos 7 Vibe with Pulse power supply, Shindo Monbrison [in for review]
Integrated amplifiers: Leben CS600 [in for review], Almarro A205A Mk1 & Mk2
Amplifiers: Fi 2A3 monoblocks, Tom Evans Audio Design Linear A, Shindo Cortese [in for review]
Speakers: Avantgarde Duo 2.1, Harbeth Super HL5 (with 18" Skylan stands), Omega Super 3 (with matching Skylan Stands), Omega Super 3 XRS [awaiting new Omega hemp drivers for follow-up evaluation], ASA Monitor Baby [in for review]
Cables: 47 Laboratory OTA Cable Kit; Nirvana S-L & S-X interconnects, S-L speaker cables, Duo wiring harness, and Transmission Digital Interface; Cardas Neutral Reference digital cable, Auditorium 23 speaker cable; Tom Evans Audio Design interconnects; Shindo interconnects [in for review]
Stands: McKinnon Bellevue Symphony walnut media cabinet, Atlantis Video Reference equipment rack, Skylan speaker & amplifier stands
Room sizes: 20' L x 17' W x 17' H and 11' L x 11'W x 9' H
Review component retail: Modifications to Olive Music Centers are $729 . You can supply your own Olive or Vinnie can order one for you to mode. Vinnie points out that the Olives are identical except for their hard drive size.
Olive Symphony (80GB hard drive) - $899 | Olive Musica (160GB hard drive) - $1099 | Olive Musica (250GB hard drive) - $1499
The review of the Red Wine Audio modified Olive Musica is the first review in the Music Lovers series of articles. This focuses on the needs of the music lover over the desires of the traditional audiophile. In case you haven't had a chance to read the introduction to Music Lovers, let me give you a little orientation to the music lover's paradigm. It's a bit of an alternate reality compared to that of the typical audiophile. Music lovers mostly want HiFi equipment that flatters all music regardless of how well it is recorded. After all, there's lots of great music that isn't recorded all that great. The equipment must serve the music, not the music the equipment - as is often the case in audiophile circles. Music lovers often want a presentation just to the warm side of neutral, with a natural and organic presentation but lots of tone color and musical texture. Music lovers want to experience the full glory of the music's beat, rhythm, melody and mood in such a way that they can get lost in the music. Remember that music lovers are not necessarily interested in sonic "Holy Wows!" For them it's about feeling and getting lost in the music. Gear for music lovers must possess that elusive and controversial element called musicality. If the gear can do both musicality and whiz-bang sonics with equal prowess, so much the better. A HiFi system that plays music really well can forever change your perspective on what this hobby's all about. Ultimately it can change your life for the better. Save the music, save the world?
One of the trends music lovers are getting interested in is hard-drive music servers. That way they load all their music onto their computer's hard drive and play it through their HiFi rig. That also allows them to load it onto their iPods for use in their cars, office systems or anywhere else life might take them. Checked out Podcasts lately? Internet radio? There's lots of cool stuff to listen to.
Enter the Olive music center. The idea is to provide the music lover with the flexibility of a computer-based music server in an easy-to-use high performance CD player-like package that can be placed in a component rack with the rest of your HiFi gear. If you have multiple Olive music centers located in different systems in your home, they can reportedly connect to each other because they include both wired and wireless networking ability. If you really want to go wild, Olive says their music centers can support "playback of up to 20 different songs simultaneously and on a range of devices". How you would actually accomplish that I have no idea - it boggles the mind.
Unlike with a computer, Olive says its music centers avoid the hassles of installing software, configuring networks and beleaguering the user with a shape and size unfriendly to conventional audio equipment racks. Olive says their music servers connect automatically when they sense a network after you've configured their IP address. If you have a PC or Mac on your home network with music software like Apple iTunes loaded, they will reportably display the music located on your Olive, allowing you to do all the sorts of things you can normally do from your computer with music files.
The Olive is feature rich. It allows the user to place a CD in the drive and play it just as you normally would with a CD player. Or with one click, you can copy the CD to the internal hard drive at full uncompressed data quality and play it from the Olive's hard drive along with other downloaded disks like a music jukebox. You can listen to Internet radio through the Olive or play music through it from your personal computer or Mac and even upload music to your iPod. You can burn CDs as straight copies or as compilations from play lists. If you run out of space on the internal hard drive as your music collection grows, you can add an outboard hard drive with as much storage space as you want. Through the Olive's analog inputs, you can archive any analog source (like your LPs or a radio show) and then upload to your iPod or burn to disc for listening in your office or automobile. That's cool.
Olives support the UPnP/AV protocol and are compatible with a lot of music clients like Olive's own Sonata, which allows remote access to music stored on your Olive(s), Mac or PC. That way you can use your Olive as a source for multi-room sound and access music on the Olive or on any of the computers throughout your home. For the music lover, the flexibility the Olives offer will be a nearly irresistible draw.
How would you like your music served?
Olive makes three models: the Symphony with an 80GB (gigabyte) hard drive that is designed to appeal to classical music aficionados who own Mac computers by including playlist software (Mac only) to label and manage a classical music library. The next model is the Musica with the same electronic guts as the Symphony but either a 160GB or 250GB hard drive. Olive says the focus for the Musica is the music enthusiast, which fits in perfectly with the Music Lovers series now playing at the 'Moons theater. The third model is the Opus designed to appeal to audiophiles. To increase audiophile lust factor, Olive charges three times as much, includes up to a 750GB hard drive, a more robust chassis, a quad of 24-bit DACs, a beefier power supply and a tonal balance that's great for sonics but can't play music worth a damn (okay, that last part is just a music lover's joke directed towards audiophiles, not a real assessment of the Opus' sound quality which I assume is just fine).
Would you like a little red wine with your music?
Vinnie Rossi and his company Red Wine Audio have received quite a lot of press of late here at the 'Moons due to Vinnie's uncanny ability to fit excellent sonics and musicality into innovative and well-crafted products that sell for reasonable prices, especially considering that they are knockin' on heaven's door performance-wise. Srajan went positively gaga over Vinnie's $1399 Red Wine Audio Signature 30 amplifier in July and awarded it a Blue Moon Realsization Award for 2006. Srajan said "The Signature 30 is a true breakthrough. It takes its place proudly beside the similarly groundbreaking First Watt F3 as a true equal while lowering the price of admission and box count significantly enough to belong into our -- still very short -- list of Realsization winners." I suspect that Paul Candy's upcoming review of the Red Wine Audio Signature 70s amplifiers will be similarly giddy.
In July 2006 Michael Lavorgna stopped by Vinnie's new Connecticut headquarters for his Road Tour Exit 5 article and listened to a system consisting of the Red Wine Audio Signature 30 amp, a RWA-modified Olive Symphony digital front end, Omega cables and an Omega prototype open baffle loudspeaker. The Road Tour system was a very creative combination of ultra-performance audio that can be bought for a reasonable price. I notice that Michael's amplifier stable includes a Sig 30 of his own since. Michael's Road Tour Exit 5 article, along with Srajan's purchasing a Symphony for his headphone system piqued my interest in the Olive music server for the Music Lovers Series I'm focusing on this year.
Red Wine, Olives and Musica
Vinnie became aware of the Olive music centers back in the fall of 2005. He said, "I remember seeing a link to Olive's website somewhere on one of the online audio forums. When I read about their new Symphony and Musica products, I was really impressed with their 'music server' approach. Before the Olive, other music servers seemed to be large and clunky repackaged computers with noisy fans, grunge-inducing switch-mode power supplies, long ribbon cables and a whole mess of internal wiring. Taking a look at a picture of the insides of the German-designed Olive (from parent company HiFidelio's website in Germany), I was impressed with the exceptionally clean, custom designed motherboard layout that made use of very short signal paths and surface-mount components. There was no plug-and-play sound card and generic PC motherboard, no fans, no mess - this machine was designed just for home audio."
Vinnie was already modifying the Slim Devices Squeezebox for greater performance at the time. He felt that the Olive offered a lot more functionality than the Squeezebox. "A lot of my modified Squeezebox customers liked the idea of playing music stored from a hard drive but didn't necessarily want to have to interface with their home computer as required with the Squeezebox. What made the Olive very appealing to me was its built-in hard drive and CD-RW drive. You could treat the Olive as a stand-alone CD player or rip music to its internal hard drive with literally the press of the 'import' button. With its analog input jacks, you can record analog (e.g. vinyl, radio etc) onto the built-in hard drive. With the CD-RW drive, files stored onto the built-in hard drive could also be burned onto CD-R. Similar to the Squeezebox, the Olive also had built-in Ethernet and Wi-Fi capabilities (think Internet radio, steaming from your computer and more recently the ability to control the Olive via a computer or wireless PDA [like the Nokia 770 - Jeff] connected to the network). Let's not forget USB input jacks to connect an external hard drive and the slick 'iPod-like' user interface."
The features of the Olive intrigued Vinnie enough that he ordered one in November of 2005 to evaluate for modification. "Once I received it, I decided to learn how to use it and become very familiar with its sound before deciding whether it would be a good component for modification. When I also discovered that it used components that were fairly energy efficient, the gears in my head began to really turn. I was already experimenting with my own SLA battery-powered CD player/transport prototype, which was something that I believed would really complement the SLA battery powered Clari-T-Amp I was making at the time. This combo would completely take my customers off the grid. That really fueled my fire!"
The Days of Wine & Olives
After spending time with the Olive, Vinnie decided that it had so much potential for modifications (including a complete power supply conversion to SLA battery power) that he began exploring potential improvements. Vinnie thought that with the planned mods, the Olive would be "the battery powered CD player/transport, but with a whole lot more to offer!"
Vinnie likes to use high current, sealed lead-acid (SLA) battery power. Like other designers of high performance audio equipment, Vinnie stresses how critical the power supply section is to achieving a product's sonic potential. "Conventional high-end audio products that run on AC power use a power supply unit to convert the high voltage AC to lower voltage DC. Typically, the power supply is installed inside of the audio component. In the case of a linear power supply, the AC is passed through a transformer, diodes, voltage regulators and other components. This conversion process is not perfect and there is noise from the rectification process of the diodes, the coupling of the magnetic fields of the AC power supply onto other internal components, and noise that already exists on the AC power line from computers, household appliances, local industry etc. This noise finds its way through the power supply onto the DC voltage rails at the power supply's output. In the case of switch-mode power supplies (SMPS), there's even more noise to deal with from the high frequency switching and harmonics that are at the heart of the SMPS design. This noise is not only conducted into the lower voltage DC rails at the output of the power supply but it is also radiated in the air as electromagnetic interference (EMI). This EMI couples to other internal components and sometimes even escapes the enclosure and causes interference with components nearby (e.g. FM radio, amplifier etc.). It also works its way back into your AC power line and pollutes your other components connected to it."
"The best source of power for audio equipment is one that skips the entire AC to DC conversion process. Choosing battery power frees your music from the noise and grunge of AC power but not all types of batteries are ideal for high-end audio applications. We believe that SLA batteries do a remarkable job because they have very low internal resistance and are very robust in delivering clean power. This should be no surprise as the lead-acid battery family is used to crank over your automobile's heavy engine via its starter. There are no transformers, diodes, voltage regulators or other components in the path choking the delivery of current in an SLA battery. Large soda can storage capacitors are not needed nor are power-conditioning equipment, dedicated power lines to the circuit panel, after-market power cords and 'magic' outlets and plugs (and we all have seen how expensive these power improvement products can be)!"
|Red Wine Audio Mods an Olive
Vinnie does extensive modifications to the Olive's power supply, output stage, analog input stages, connectors and grounding, digital output and adds vibration control in the form of damping, all of which is itemized on his website. There are two battery options for the same price - internal or external. My review unit had the internal battery that can play for 5 to 6 hours between full charges. The external battery option can play for 24 hours between charges. With the external battery option, a custom power jack is installed on the rear panel which includes a custom cable (built-in fuse and ring terminal connectors) for attaching to an external battery. With the external battery, the purchaser supplies the battery of their choice. The internal battery is supplied and mounted.