Olive Symphony

Olive Symphony

The Symphony offers a nice way to integrate digital music into your home entertainment center, if you'd rather leave your Mac out of the picture.

 

Olive Media Products calls its Symphony a "wireless music center." It's a single device that handles pretty much every listening-to-digital-music function you can think of: It rips, mixes, and burns music to CD; plays music; streams tunes to your Mac; and uploads songs to an iPod. It's great - unless you have a Mac, which already does most of what the Symphony can.

 

The Symphony comes with an 80GB hard disk and a CD drive. It's shaped like a stereo component, with gold-plated RCA jacks in addition to four Ethernet, two USB, and two S/PDIF ports. The most basic use of the Symphony is to rip your CDs to its hard disk-you can copy in FLAC (a lossless compression format), MP3, AIFF, or WAV-and play the music back through your stereo. The Symphony plays music in the aforementioned formats plus Ogg Vorbis, WMA, and AAC (though not protected AAC songs purchased from the iTunes Store).

 

Music transferred directly to the hard drive sounds great, especially when stored in FLAC format-songs are essentially indistinguishable from CDs played on a good CD player. The Symphony has a special quiet hard drive, a custom low-noise power supply, and no fan, so there's no distracting equipment noise. Olive also touts the quality of the Symphony's CD player, but on our unit, the CD drive made the same kind of noises your Mac's CD drive does - that's fine for ripping, but it interferes with music listening.

 

Once you've transferred your tunes, the Symphony becomes an all-purpose music server. Aside from just playing songs through your stereo, you can use the Symphony's Ethernet or 802.11g wireless-networking capability to stream audio to your Mac, or stream your Mac's music to your stereo. You can also connect your iPod to one of the Symphony's USB ports and copy music from the Symphony to the iPod (though not the other way around) or play music from the iPod through the Symphony.

 

The Symphony can also help you digitize an extensive vinyl or cassette collection. Since the Symphony plugs into your stereo system, it can digitize music from any of your other components, such as your turntable or tape deck. It can also burn CDs of your digitized music, provided you use CDs labeled as Music CD-Rs (rather than the cheaper data CD-Rs you probably often use).

 

Some stumbles. It's frustrating to have to scroll through menus on the Symphony's little iPod-like 3.25-inch-wide, 400-by-160-pixel screen to do anything. The primary control consists of two concentric jog wheels: The inner wheel scrolls through the menus, while the outer wheel makes a selection or moves back through the menus. The Symphony's long list of capabilities means you have to navigate extensive hierarchical menus, and since the screen is small, you have to do it while standing or sitting within arm's reach of the unit. A remote control with a screen would improve the Symphony tremendously.

 

Not everything worked every time, either. Copying CDs to the hard disk: no problem. But one of our recordings from a cassette ended up with a digital stutter that made it unlistenable. Also, when streaming from iTunes, changing a playlist would often cause the Symphony to lose its connection with iTunes; it would then refuse to reconnect without rebooting (the Symphony, not the Mac). No error messages popped up to explain the glitches, so we were left scratching our heads and just trying again, never knowing what went wrong the first time.

 

The bottom line. The Symphony is a fairly complete and mostly satisfactory digital music package - but so is your Mac, and you can add the Roku SoundBridge ($149.99 to $199.99, www.rokulabs.com) or Apple's $129 AirPort Express to handle streaming from iTunes to your stereo, and ADS Tech's Instant Music ($49.99, www.adstech.com) to attach an analog music source to your Mac. Putting all of those functions in one stereo component and using it to clear the CDs, tapes, and vinyl (not to mention your cassette deck and turntable) out of your living room definitely has appeal - but for someone who already has a Mac, probably not $899 worth.

 

COMPANY: Olive Media Products

CONTACT: 877-296-5483, www.olive.us

PRICE: $899

REQUIREMENTS: Stereo with audio-in jack

Integrates with your stereo system. Handles most digital music functions.

Awkward controls. Duplicates many musical functions that the Mac can already perform.

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