Robert Altmann is Senior Vice President, Business Development & Operations, and co-founder of Olive Media Products. Robert is directly responsible for Olive's revenue generation efforts as well as its day-to-day operations. As a lifelong music and technology fan, Robert is following his passions to drive the full potential of music in the digital home.

Digital Audio Formats

Interview with Robert Altmann | OliveMedia

1. What do you think about lossless audio formats such as FLAC etc.?

We think they are crucial to experience music how it should be heard, and that is why we support them 100% with all our HD music servers and in full HD quality up to 24-bit/192 kHz. Lossless audio formats such as FLAC or Apple Lossless (ALAC), which is now also available under the Apache License, have the benefit that they contain all the music data.  Even though they greatly reduce the file size they therefore do not affect sound quality.

2. How do your products implement these formats?

All our HD music servers are set to FLAC as the default format for CDs that are ripped to the internal hard drive.  Our O3HD can store up to 1,500 CDs in lossless quality, our O4HD and O6HD hold up to to 6,000 CDs on their 2TB hard drive.  That is more music than most of us will ever own.  On the encoding side we also support WAV, and lossy formats such as MP3 and AAC.  On the decoding (playback) side we also support ALAC.

3. Do you think that lossy audio formats such as MP3 and AAC have a future?

Yes, without a doubt.  Lossy audio formats such as MP3 make a lot of sense for portable music players and mobile phones.  Not only because of their  lower bandwidth, but also because these devices have technical limitations that limit their capability to reproduce music at its full resolution, namely their Digital-to-Analog converters, amplification, circuit design and analog output stage.  And of course they are not designed for this use case, but for portable audio consumption through headphones. 

Lossy formats will also continue to be the format of choice for streaming of music from the cloud and internet radio for some time to come, while we already see some lossless audio formats and HD music content available for download.

4. On a wireless multi-room system, how many simultaneous stream of lossless audio are possible?

This is very hard to say as it depends on many factors such as the distance between the devices, the amount and material of walls in the home, the wireless standard used, the amount of traffic in the network and interference from other devices such as cell phones and microwaves.  And of course it also depends on your encoding, buffering and streaming technology as well as which audio formats you stream.  Multi-room streaming of lossy audio formats is nowadays less of a problem, it is a completely different ballgame when talking about HD audio however.

5. Do you see Apple Airplay as a competitor or expansion of UPnP solutions?

We see it clearly as an expansion to UPnP.  Digital music will always be on a wide variety of devices, and in different audio formats.  UPnP today has a clear advantage over Airplay regarding the supported Operating Systems and audio formats as it is not developed as a closed system. Many manufacturers adhere to the DLNA specifications which mostly ensures wide interoperability of UPnP compatible devices.

6. Will we consume music solely out of the Cloud in the future?

In my opinion there is no doubt about this.  However, we at Olive define the term "cloud" in a broader context.  We think that local storage has a clear benefit.  Not only allows it faster access to your music at home, but also can build your own cloud when connected to the internet.  All that without any monthly fees or privacy concerns that come with giving other companies access to your music library.

7. Do you think uncompressed audio will ever become available for mainstream music?

We clearly think that the industry is moving towards lossless audio formats.  If the music will be in a compressed format such as FLAC or ALAC, or uncompressed (e.g. WAV) will depend on the bandwidth development and the quality of the music.  Uncompressed audio formats also currently have the drawback that they do not provide a metadata container.

8. Will HD Audio formats be the new audio standard?

If one follows the developments in the music industry and the opinion of leading artists such as Neil Young and Bob Weir, then the current status quo with lossy music is not satisfactory and HD Music clearly should be the future.  How fast HD music will be adopted by the mainstream will depend on the size of the music catalog and the technical infrastructure to distribute it to consumers.  And of course it requires attractive and affordable products that are capable of playing HD music.  Olive has been a pioneer in the HD music category and all our products therefore support music playback up to 24-bit/192 kHz.

9. Can the DAC in your products be used as an outboard DAC for my other digital sources?

Yes, the O4HD features a digital input to allow it to be used as a outboard DAC.

10. Will your products play multi-zone audio (e.g. 5.1), now or in the future?

Unfortunately I cannot go into any details about future product developments at Olive, but we are constantly monitoring trends and new technologies that can make our products more attractive to music lovers.

11. Do you plan to support any streaming services such as MOG, Rhapsody or Pandora?

Please see above

12. What is next for Olive?

In the last few years Olive has grown tremendously and is now sold in more than 50 countries world-wide.  In the US we have just announced a partnership with Magnolia and are building up a dedicated network of Olive specialists.  It is a very exciting time for us.


About Robert

Since Olive's inception in 2003, Robert has been responsible for the strategy and development of the company's branding, advertising and corporate communications -- resulting in more than 130 awards and features from well-known media such as the NY Times, BusinessWeek, Forbes, Wired, MSNBC and WB11. In 2005 he took on the additional responsibilities for Olive's business development and operations.

Prior to Olive, Robert was Director of Business Development & Marketing at Formac USA, where he led the development of the company's online, corporate and reseller sales channel as well as its marketing and PR activities.

Before joining Formac USA, Robert held positions in marketing and business development at heller & partner, Young & Rubicam, Intrupa and German Parcel Logistics, bringing years of marketing leadership and general management experience to his role at Olive.

Robert earned a Bachelor of Arts degree in Business Administration from Middlesex University Business School in London (UK) and a Master of Business Administration degree from the University of Reutlingen (Germany), all of which were awarded with distinction.

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