CAS 2014: Olive ONE is one elegant solution


Dyn_CAS-logo-2Recently, I had a small dinner party with some friends. Or that would be the refined way of putting it. Really, I had some friends over, we cooked an enormous dinner together, and then we stayed up way too late listening to music and talking. At a certain point of inebriation, switching from LPs to digital started to seem like a really good idea.

As we passed my iPhone back and forth, building a playlist, I thought about how earlier in the night, I’d sent my friend’s girlfriend to the racks of LPs against the wall. “Grab something you want to hear,” I said, and went to chop some garlic. When I came back, she’d pulled out an even dozen records that looked interesting, and we started up some music. Building a playlist using a somewhat kludged-together app on my personal phone seemed somehow… a lot less fun. I found myself thinking, “Man, I gotta get an iPad or something at least, so that we can all play without my having to hand a bunch of drunk schmucks my personal phone.” We needed something that we could all have access to, something that maybe at least started to mirror the feeling of flipping through a stack of records or CDs with friends.

The team from Olive who designed the Olive ONE clearly had similar thoughts in mind. This nifty little device was originally crowdfunded on Indiegogo back in April 2013 to the tune of $552,242 raised from 1,413 backers, and thus its appearance as a fully functional — and shipping! — creation deserves some fanfare.

The ONE looks essentially just as pretty as the Indiegogo campaign video would have led you to believe. It’s a sleek little disc, angled slightly for comfortable use from a tabletop or shelf, and a little over an inch and a half tall at its thickest end. It feels great to use; the glass and aluminum construction, rather than plastic, means it’s got enough heft not to slide around while you scroll through menus. I though the user interface was great — really intuitive, and lightning fast. The song selection screen is cleverly divided into three parts: one column for artist, one for album, and, once an album is selected, the third for the list of songs. This meant no clicking incessantly in and out of different screens; instead, all the necessary information was right there in front of me. I found this not only efficient and easy to grasp, but much less frustrating for browsing than other digital interfaces. It’s still not quite as primed for serendipity as flipping through a rack of LPs, but it’s a little bit closer. And for a little more serendipity, the forthcoming Session mode will allow the device to track your listening habits and build playlists accordingly.

Pricing for the ONE starts at $499, going up to $599 with the addition of a one terabyte hard drive, or $699 for two terabytes. At any price point, it includes a built-in DAC and dual 32 watt per channel amplifiers, which means the user has the option of just plugging in a pair of suitable speakers and calling it good. It also has coaxial and RCA outs for those with an established system. Input’s through either Bluetooth or wireless, so files can be loaded to the hard drive via another device on the network. It supports WAV, FLAC, AIFF, MP3, AAC, Apple Lossless, and Ogg Vorbis. It also works with any streaming service like Pandora or Spotify that has an iOS or Android app.

Oh, and speaking of apps — if you’ve been thinking, “But … I’d have to get up and walk ALL THE WAY OVER THERE to queue up new music!”, never fear. The device also reportedly comes with an iOS or Android app that will allow you to control your music selection from the comfort of your chair. I didn’t get to see this in action, due to a mishap with someone’s lunch break and an iPad with a passcode, but if it’s anything like the interface on the ONE itself, you’ll be in good shape.

While I dearly love my esoterica, I’m always on the look-out for gear that makes enjoying music easier and more fun, especially for those social listening occasions. Personal digital listening has been a snap for ages, but many people, even many audiophiles, don’t have an easy, intuitive way to play digital files on their home stereo system without mucking around with smartphone docking stations. This is an exceptionally elegant solution.