With your music scattered around the house—on computers, on
iPods, on CDs, on the Internet, and maybe even on cassette tapes and vinyl—it would be nice to have a single device that could store and play it all. A number of both wired and wireless stereo components have been released in recent years in an attempt to become the convergence device of choice, and Olive’s
is one of the latest entries into this growing market.
Features, features, and more features
The Musica is a feature-packed “Wireless Music Center” that hopes to satisfy both gadget freaks and audio buffs via a number of unique features. At first glance, the Musica’s stylish silver case, CD slot, and familiar button layout could be mistaken for just another CD player. However, a small wireless antenna sticking up from the back of the player is a hint that this device can do a bit more than standard CD players.
With both a wireless 802.11g access point and a 4-port 10/100 Ethernet switch built-in, the Musica acts as a hub for digital music, bringing together audio from a variety of sources to be played on your stereo. The Musica plays music to and from iTunes on nearby Mac and Windows computers as well as via streaming Internet radio stations. The Musica’s Samba-based file server allows you to mount the Musica as a network file share on both Windows and Mac computers to transfer files onto the device.
The Musica also supports iPod music playback via two USB ports on the back of the unit. Songs can also be transferred from the Musica’s library directly to an iPod. However, synching iPods with multiple music sources can be tricky; to avoid overwriting synched tracks, iTunes users will need to turn off automatic iPod updating.
On the rear of the Musica are gold-plated RCA jacks, as well as coaxial and optical Toslink digital outputs, for connecting the Musica to your home stereo receiver or amplifier. A headphone jack is available on the front of the unit; headphone volume can be controlled from the face of the unit and via the remote.
The Musica includes RCA input jacks for connecting analog audio devices, such as a turntable or cassette player—a recording function lets you transfer your old records and tapes to digital format. Individual songs can be separated automatically or manually and track information can then be added. The recordings are initially stored as uncompressed AIFF files, but can later be converted to other formats.
When storing audio transferred from analog sources or ripped from CD, users can choose from among several storage formats. For uncompressed storage, the Musica supports AIFF and WAV formats. Using compression, both MP3 and the lossless FLAC format are supported. The Musica is capable of playing back additional formats, including OGG/Vorbis, AAC, and WMA. Unfortunately, as with every other “home player” we’ve tested, although unprotected tracks can be played back from iTunes and iPods, DRM-protected tracks are not supported. This includes songs purchased from the iTunes Music Store or tracks in Microsoft’s Windows Media Digital Rights Management format.
The Musica’s face includes a backlit LCD display with four buttons along the side, which change function depending the mode or menu being used. A knob with inner and outer dials is used to navigate menus and advance within tracks. The menu structure and dial controls—similar to those on the iPod—allow for fast navigation of even very large music collections.
The usual play, stop, eject, and track advance buttons on the front of the unit are used for controlling playback, as well as a record button for importing audio. Curiously, although the Play button doubles as a pause button, it’s not labeled as such.
Operating the Musica via the included remote control proved a bit frustrating. Four arrows in the center of the remote fill in for the dial controls on the main unit. Unfortunately, the buttons fail to mimic the fluid control of the dials, and advancing or reversing within a track requires that you press the up or down buttons repeatedly, rather than simply holding down and then releasing once at the desired spot in a track.
The main unit’s display is also a limitation when using the remote. The menus used to navigate tracks are too small to read from more than a few feet away. A larger display mode appears once a track has been playing for a few seconds, but the smaller textual display is used for any menu navigation.
The Musica also offers a Web interface for editing playlists and track information. Unfortunately, the Web interface lacks the sophisticated look and interface design of the unit itself.
When hooked up to a Sony STR-DE698 A/V receiver and a pair of Polk Audio Monitor 40s, the Musica did a great job of reproducing a wide range of music. In MP3 format, the breathy saxophone and subtle piano of Dave Brubeck’s
were very clear. The whispery voice of Morcheeba’s lead singer, Skye Edwards, was clear and clean after converting
to FLAC format. Even when connected to an off-brand bookshelf stereo system, the Musica sounded surprisingly good.
Pauses, skips, freezes, and reboots
Unfortunately, the Musica’s wealth of features and great sound quality were marred by a number of technical glitches. Although the manual does warn against using the Web interface or importing music during the processor-intensive audio recording procedure, in my testing, several of the Musica’s features tended to cause audio hiccups.
For example, when trying to listen to music while simultaneously encoding audio or transferring tracks to an iPod, the audio playback sometimes skipped and at times even stopped playing altogether. A few times, when trying to eject a CD that had just been ripped, the Musica locked up, requiring a reboot to retrieve the disc. Another time, the unit spontaneously rebooted while playing music off of an iPod.
Although these glitches were vexing, there is hope in that the Musica’s software can be upgraded to take advantages of fixes as they are released by Olive. Upgrades can be installed via either a network connection or the CD drive. Recent software upgrades have included stability enhancements, so it is likely that in future releases Olive will address some of the issues mentioned above.
The Musica offers many of the features I want in an all-in-one digital music component—even if your computer is turned of, the Musica can rip new CDs to or play tracks from its hard drive. And at standard MP3 bit rates, the Musica is capable of storing a rather large music collection.
Unfortunately, I was put off by the Musica’s technical issues. It’s not unheard of to experience audio glitches while listening to music on a computer, especially when multi-tasking; however, I expect more out of my stereo components, especially ones with price tags as high as the Musica’s. The Musica is clearly a step in the right direction, but I’ll wait to see what enhancements Olive can make going forward.
is a technology consultant, Web developer, and freelance writer living in Austin, Texas.