Olive and MusicGiants Team Up

Olive Media Products, manufacturers of audiophile-quality Olive music servers, has partnered with MusicGiants, the leading site for CD-quality music downloads. Olive's well-received Opus line of digital players now allows users to download, store, manage, and play large collections of CD-quality music directly from MusicGiants without needing to buy or rip CDs, select track by track, or use a computer. (You can find John Atkinson's positive review of the Olive Symphony here.)

MusicGiants' pre-selected, "ready to enjoy" music libraries, accessible at www.olive.us/p_bin/?cid=music_playlists, consist entirely of lossless, DRM-free files. As the companies' joint press release boldly states, "Customers finally have a reason to replace their CD players and CD racks with [our] high quality, convenient, easy to use, DRM-free audio system with amazing sound."

The partnership's first playlists are organized into four categories: "Inspiring," "Entertaining," "Relaxing," and the timely "Season Spirit." Within these groupings, the playlists "Late Night Jazz," "Blues Kitchen, "Autumn Harvest," "Classical Storm," and "Soul to Soul" are top favorites among owners of the 15,000 Olive servers now in consumers' hands.

Each playlist sells for $32.50 ($1.29/track) and contains 25 tracks whose playing time is anywhere from a stingy 1:11 to a generous 2:44. (Some consumers may balk at paying almost double the list price of a single full-length CD for a 72-minute playlist.) The classical playlists, dominated by single-movement, one-mood excerpts from longer works, might not please composers who intended their works to be complex journeys through varied emotions, but they work well as background music. Olive's music page currently includes a survey where customers can offer feedback about the playlists.

"Olive's Opus 5 has new software features," boasts Olive's Oliver Bergmann. "It's now much easier to find and access content. We now have 70 fields available to precisely describe what you need to select your music in the most effective way, and easily navigate to it. In addition to huge storage space, the newest Opus 5 also offers a major breakthrough in digital-to-analog conversion. We've built a completely new DAC board with higher oversampling rates, and offer four completely separated DACs and two separate power supplies. While we currently only play lossless 16[-bit]/44[kHz] files, at [the Consumer Electronics Show in January] we'll announce a new unit with a larger hard drive that stores and plays 24/96 files."

Bergmann says that most Olive customers use their device as a huge jukebox "where everything is perfectly presented and easily accessed." Many people without PC experience also take advantage of Olive's preloaded service. When people send their CDs to Olive, the company loads them directly into their server as lossless FLAC files (unless someone inexplicably insists on MP3), and sends everything back in two to three days.

"It was our customers who initially suggested the partnership with MusicGiants," says Bergmann. "Most tell us that they don't want a network at home, or stacks of CDs lying about. Nor do they want to deal with viruses or PC problems." As of the first quarter of 2008, customers will also be able to purchase single tracks or entire albums directly from MusicGiants using their Olive device.

MusicGiants continues to lead the way in lossless downloads. The site has recently licensed a large number of classical, jazz, and blues DVD-Audio and SACD files from Telarc, Concord Music Group, Fantasy, and Naxos. Remastered in WMA and/or FLAC format, these files can be purchased and read with Olive's new server. Fifty such files are now available, with files from all of the 1000 high-resolution albums MusicGiants has licensed so far promised in the near future. As more labels drop DRM, MusicGiants will be able to post more files. Olive owners will be able to download these 24/96 tracks beginning in the first quarter of 2008.

"People who download from iTunes buy only a fraction of the sound quality you get from CD," says MusicGiants CEO Scott Bahneman. "When they plug their iPods into their home stereos, they feel they were taken advantage of. It's like buying a watered-down drink at a bar. We have such a good relationship with our customers because we deliver music in the highest-quality form. If people decide they want to diminish the quality later, they can, but the master CD-quality files will still exist. This gives people the versatility and control they want.

"Folks who attend CES will run into our big Airstream trailer right inside the front door of the central hall. There, they'll be able to hear 24-bit high-definition surround sound, plus be able to compare it to the live music we're presenting onstage. This is part of a major push to get people interested in full-quality, high-resolution sound.

"The best opportunity we have to get kids to understand the difference in sound quality is via car audio. If kids are going to spend $15,000 on car audio systems, they need quality lossless files to enjoy the benefits of their investment. We treat iPods the same as the Walkman when it first came out: they're great for walking to school, but not for plugging into the stereo. Every bit matters. Playing MP3S is like taking octane out of the gas you put into your car. We sell premium and racing fuel. Our Super HD stuff is like 109-octane racing fuel that you put into a racing car. When we go to video, it'll be like jet fuel."

Video? Prepare for takeoff-MusicGiants is currently licensing movie content. Expect some announcements at CES. (It will be at least another year before Olive products are able to support video.)

MusicGiants also has good news for Mac users, who can't currently download files from MusicGiants' Windows-exclusive website. Although it will take some time, MusicGiants is on its way to becoming entirely Macintosh-accessible. Meanwhile, Mac users can view all of MusicGiants' content using Firefox, and download files using Olive equipment.