There’s nothing wrong with iPod docks, except for the corners they cut. Everything from the audio processing to the amps are low end, producing a sound reminiscent of bigger earbuds. But what’s the alternative? Drop unbelievable amounts of money on some hocus-pocus "audiophile" rig? No, thanks.
You probably haven’t heard of Olive because it’s one of those respected audiophile companies most of us avoid, known for building pricey ($2,000+) media servers. But their latest creation, the Olive One, is designed for the everyday consumer market. It’s a $399 media server that stores music locally or streams from Spotify and Pandora in the cloud. It’s filled with a high-end digital audio converter and dual HD amplifiers, but it’s designed to accept a modular iPod-dock-like speaker. It’s built for one room, but it networks with other Ones around the house, or it will stream your music anywhere in the world. It features touch-screen navigation, but you can always just control the One through your Android or iOS tablet instead.
"[The goal was] to package an insanely sophisticated and hyper-technical sound engine inside a super-friendly and approachable form, a concert quality listening experience that is so simplified that literally everybody can enjoy it instantly," designer Scot Herbst tells Co.Design. "It’s about shedding the myth that audiophiles have access to this exclusive sound sphere—great music is for everybody."
But shedding that myth is easier said than done. For every Bose, there are a hundred fantastic audio companies that no one has ever heard of. Looking through the stark, metallic edges of Olive’s older line, the design message is clear: This is serious, industrial-level gear that might not be right for you, dear Ke$ha fan. The One is the exact opposite. Its rounded design couldn’t scratch a toddler.
Herbst calls this cylindrical approach "pure friendly," adding that "people just smile when they see the One." No doubt, there’s something true about that simple idea. Consider the Roomba. Now imagine it as a sharp square. Our rectangular screens, cut that way to make the most out of LCD manufacturing, have added a hard edge to most of our electronics. But the One doesn’t want to be just another electronic. It’s aiming for appliance status, even making mention of an LED light add-on that could allow the One to double as a lamp. Feature creep? Maybe. But the One as a networked smart device is certainly an interesting model, especially if developers actually get their hands dirty in the One’s open SDK.
Because if the One has a single, consumer-oriented feat, it’s actually the software design. The system consolidates all of your music—from locally stored MP3s, to networked iTunes music, to Spotify and Pandora in the cloud—into a single, album-cover driven frontend. In other words, the One doesn’t care where your music is coming from; it will juggle the files, you just choose what you’d like to hear next.
Does it all sound too good to be true? Maybe. As of today, the One has launched on IndieGoGo. It’s available for pre-order for delivery in 2013, but the speaker and LED lighting configurations won’t be put into production until the company gets roadmap feedback from its customer base. So while the One has a lot of promise on paper, it may be a while until we see all of the pieces come together in person.