In an attempt to give six other applications a try (I’ve been an iTunes user), I wrote up a review comparing several freeware media players with a focus on those that are designed to manage, organize, and use your music collection. I’m fairly satisfied using iTunes at the moment, but I have been searching for a open source solution in particular. And I’d like a computer-based solution, not just an iPod manager.
As an incomplete list (ordered by priority) of my most-wanted features, the ideal program should have:
- simplicity (don’t mind a bunch of features, but do mind ease and usability)
- filetype support (in order of necessity: mp3, aac, ogg, flac, wav, wma, etc.)
- smart playlists (I don’t want to code out complex filters, but I would like extensive drop down parameters like iTunes [custom playlist coding would come in handy as a bonus feature])
- batch tagging/editing
- search feature that is at least equal to iTunes. Should be able to search all tags, and single fields (phrases would be nice though). Not a must-need feature, but search support for lyrics in id3 tags would be an amazing add-on.
- hotkeys or custom shortcuts (at least with a plugin or something) that work even when program is inactive
- Easy browsing by artist, genre, and album
- display and sort by any fields (custom or user-defined input fields like mp3tag)
- Like iTunes, the now playing track area would have an arrow/link that shows (goes to and highlights) the track in context with the playlist or library (depending on where you initiated it from)
- inline editing (edit title in library); no constant right clicking (especially for rating)
- typing will navigate/highlight the corresponding term (If my library is ordered by artist, I would type “Pa” and the window would reveal artists that start with Pa… like Paul Westerberg, Paul Williams, etc)
- ability to delete a file from either library or library+computer
- folder and file change monitoring
- mini-mode isn’t too important, but I do enjoy iTunes Companion (widget) as a pseudo-mini-player (You can toggle stay-on-top as many other excellent options).
- I’m honestly not too sharp when it comes to fancy digital EQ, but sound playback quality should already be optimal without messing with a virtual rack of EQ switches and sliders.
- I’m sure I’m missing lots of tools (like gapless playback and other things), but these are ones I’d want the most
I’m assuming you are somewhat familiar with iTunes, and that many of the ideal features are already in iTunes (and I’ve written about plenty of ways to make it even better). On to the reviews of alternative freeware programs…
Winamp 5.35 Website Rating: 6/10
An immediate thumbs up that it works with iPod which is included without a plugin (although you can boost iPod support with this plugin)
A few things bugged me right at the start:
- Nearly or just as bulky as iTunes with full installation. The plus side is that you can unselect certain things to be installed.
- ratings requires a right click through a menu in the “local media” (not possible in the playlist window). You can assign hotkeys, but the rating does not show up until I switch from another source
- When trying out the delete functions (to remove from my computer), I accidentally had a wrong file selected. Yet when pressing “no” upon the delete pop-up dialog, it still is removed from the library.
- Reminds me of Musicmatch Jukebox. The included skins looks similar to Musicmatch, but there are things that it does much better and things that it does a bit buggier.
I don’t think I could stand Winamp, but I can see there are some things which do stand out. It’s just not for me.
Foobar 2000 (Version 0.9.4.3) Website Rating: 8.5/10
Quick and lightweight. Low memory usage, yet high involvement for basic tasks (without adding plugins, read next paragraph). To find a song through the media library when viewing by artist, I must click each item in the tree, Artist>Album>Song before I can play a single track. I couldn’t see a way to get the entire library to play continuously outside the tree/folder structure (Edit: I figured it out after a couple minutes, but still clunky). Everything seems like it takes a few more steps than desired. In my opinion, I think it lacks immediate user-friendliness. To its credit, I didn’t take the time to read the FAQ, the forum, the help guide, or any other tutorial. However, glancing over the interface and the preferences and options tells me that I don’t want to mess around with this if this is all it can do. Before throwing in the towel, I did question myself and I found that the primitive interface can be spiced up quite a bit. There are a bulk of add-ons just like firefox, according to lifehacker.
I never thought I’d say this, but it’s almost too customizable! That reaction stems from my initial response that not enough comes straight out of the box after installation: No volume adjustment button, search and library views open in separate windows (I HATE having assorted windows open when I can do otherwise). I did like the tab functionality though. It might take a bit to get used to (longer than I’m willing to take to instantly and blindly make it my default media player as of right now), but this is a possible option mainly because of the vast fine tuning capabilities. It’s closed source, but it acts like it’s open (I’m not sure if that’s a good thing). Plus, if I do deck this out with skins and plugins, I might just bloat it like all the others. We’ll see. I might take a closer look and write a in-depth review later (since this one appealed most out of all of them).
iTunes plugin that will use iTunes interface with foobar2K as well as a ton of other options.
A more basic version of the above plugin without all the other options. Abandoned project?
Skinning Foobar to make it more like iTunes.
Songbird 0.2.5 (Developer Preview) Website Rating: 7.5/10
Slow or slower than iTunes for use as a full fledged music player/manager. With a large library (over 60GB), Songbird was unusable. But it amazing for browsing websites for music. It compiles a list of music files on a web page as if it were already in your library. You can seek through a song on the internet like you would on your hard drive (given that the stream has downloaded or you wait a fractional moment). It’s essentially the firefox for music (both based on the same engine). Other than for online music use, there is little in the way of features I need. It does support iPod, last.fm, and a few others, but there isn’t much else. I didn’t see a way to make a dynamic playlist, or even a playlist at all; just a playlist import function. Worth a look for online music lovers or people with smaller music collections.
MediaMonkey 2.5.5 Website Rating: 7/10
- Like an itunes clone, but with extra features that iTunes lacks. Also missing key features like full aac functionality and features you have to fork money over for (there’s a plugin for AAC to play in media monkey, but it won’t transfer to iPod).
- strongest feature would probably be the auto tagging and semi-automatic tagging from sources like amazon.com, freedb (and even allmusicguide with a script)
- good folder structure capabilities.
- proprietary code just like iTunes (they have a payware Gold version)
- good scripting support, not as crazy as foobar2000 though
- crippled playlist creation
- I noticed some delayed responses from the program as well, although I had only a few windows open.
Not exactly what I am looking for. It is handy for keeping your library in shape and organizing it, but for me doesn’t hold up as a player.
MusikCube 1.0 Website Rating: 7.5/10
- The best thing here is the unique “Collected Library” (a repository of non-library files like an inbox)
- responsive and more minimal on resources than the popular players
- lacks iPod sync functionality
- basic and flat aesthetics
- SQL based dynamic playlists (unlimited ways to create custom playlists, but not easy to program for non-techies).
Way behind the pack in many aspects, but so far nothing is truly wrong other than lack of features and attractive GUI (skins). If this can catch up to the rest of the media world, I’d keep my eye on this open source program. It’s sort of the middle ground between foobar2000 and iTunes, but not up to par yet.
Windows Media Player 11.0.5358.4827 Website Rating: 4/10
I come from an already biased position against WMP. I dread using it when playing videos, getting unkown license confirmations, and other assorted nightmares. The only thing I do like is the default black skin (no racial pun intended). For a Microsoft product, they forgot to make it look bad. Other than that, it’s pretty much all nicotine and gravy under the hood. It’s not a horrid as I expected (a computer freeze or a indecipherable error message), but it was the slowest of all media players. After 15 minutes, it was still importing music from who knows where (I didn’t ask it to monitor any folders, yet it did silently upon first run). I had dragged about 3.5GB of music onto the hard drive for testing all players, but there was probably less than a gig of other media already on the computer. There is nothing that stands out or is interesting with this heap of XPired program. There are no amazing features. It’s not minimal either. It’s got every component and attribute that nobody will ever need. A perfect compliment to any inefficient system. (I’m not a total anti-Microsoft hater, but like an occasional serving of hyperbolic satire). It might do the trick for those with small (or no) music libraries or casual music listeners who don’t want to fumble around with foreign media players like me.