This article compares audio software that enrich the music experience or enhance everyday listening, and provide impressive music centric features. The best MP3 and audio player ought to quench our passion for music, such as by inspiring us to rip or download music, organize our music libraries, learn more about our favorite artists or music, or just listen to music.
The reviews evaluate products on sound enhancements, usability and unique features, support for common and useful audio formats (MP3, WAV, FLAC, WMA, and others), performance, security and privacy.
Thanks to our faithful followers, who have been pitching their favorite players and organizers, we have a set of carefully considered selections. We have 26 listed music players and counting!
Latest article update: Added more quick links at the top (8-27). Current product reviews in the discussion section are from a previous editor (they are his "I" statements).
Go straight to:
- Quick Selection Guide - Light Music Players and Organizers
- Quick Selection Guide - Full Music Managers
The following had to have light resource efficiency while impressing us with music centric features. They were the best candidates to be our primary music player and organizer, satisfying avid audiophiles for daily listening. They aren't the best for managing music files (ripping, converting, tagging), but they often have unique advantages over bulkier programs depending on your tastes and needs.
Jaangle was not, when testing first began, my first choice as my favorite music player and organizer, but when the others having first impressions wore off and they started to show their weaknesses, Jaangle returned to completely capture my attention and the Jaangle icon is now a permanent resident on my toolbar.
As it comes, Jaangle's looks are superior with a lot of built-in options to customize it to your liking. Along with a number of colorization options to ease or dazzle your eyes, as well as the library viewing options you can basically create your own player. You can select which panes you want to see, their size and where you want to see them. There's also a mini-mode for those who prefer to have Jaangle heard, but not seen.
For those who don't feel like creating play lists, just play a song. If you do nothing, Jaangle's auto DJ mode which will randomly go through your .mp3 files. It's like a radio DJ who knows all of your favorite songs and plays them all the time. The library is where Jaangle separates itself from the competition. It displays small thumbnails of every album in your collection along with the artist's picture and bio that it automatically downloads from the internet. Should Jaangle be unable to find the artist you can also manually insert or change the photos and bios. Right clicking on a song will bring up an option to download its lyrics.
A note of mocking laughter rang out when I saw the three-band equalizer, but it is surprising effective, more so than many 18-band equalizers I've used. There also an adjustable cross fading control. Click them off and automatic digital signal processing takes over for optimum sound.
While you can edit tags manually in Jaangle, extended tags cannot be edited. Just like any of the reviewed players, proper tagging, before you load up the library, is essential to your sanity and can reap many rewards. Seemingly, insignificant differences in entries can wreak havoc. Example: having or not having the decimal point in .38 Special will cause these items to be listed on opposite ends of the library. This looks like another motivation for using a separate tag editor. (Psst! You didn't hear it here, but I use a program called, MP3Tag. You can find it at Best Free MP3 Tag Editor.)
And here's a first for ANY music player. You'll notice a little icon on the top toolbar called "Games." If you click on it, you'll be presented with a "Name That Tune" type trivia game based upon the music in your library.
With all its features, Jaangle is the personification of a music player & organizer.
AIMP is a cute little Russian import that should win the award for doing much more with a lot less. It offers many features for its diminutive installation size of 9.39MB, something I found hard to believe and kept checking the properties over and over.
That tiny size is a bit misleading because, like anything that seems to be too good to be true, it comes with a couple of small negative aspects. The size of the AIMP folder grows as you create play lists. AIMP does not use the standard .m3u file that many of us are so used to. If you created a number of play lists with another player, they are useless in AIMP. The player makes its own unique play lists (.plc) that it stores within its own borders, which means the more you use AIMP, the bigger its footprint becomes. The other problem is that the average .plc file is 3 to 4kb and your AIMP folder will grow by that much with every play list you create. By comparison, the equivalent size of a .M3U file for the aforementioned files is less than 1kb each. Still, as I said, it's a little problem. If you were to catalog 1000 average albums in AIMP it would only weigh about 40MB more…still less than some of the other players here.
There is something very nice that I noticed about the play list editor. It reads the folder the music files are coming from and uses that name for the play list itself. Since most of my mp3's are arranged in complete albums, in folders with the album's name and year it came out, my play list naming is cut to almost zero.
Despite its little shortcomings, AIMP is a very versatile and useful little player. It supports more than 20 audio formats and 32-bit digital audio. AIMP can also access Shoutcast and Icecast internet radio and allow you record what you hear. It has a 16-band graphic equalizer along with controls for speed, tempo, flanger, pitch, echo and reverb. It will play your CD's, but it cannot rip them, nor can it convert files from one format to another because, unfortunately, the ripper and converter parts of the software have been separated and the only download is located on a site with a rather dubious reputation.
I did have a little trouble finding out how to access the top-notch library. After checking all the buttons on the player, I found you could bring up the library through the Utilities button on top, in the left-hand corner (or simply hitting Ctrl-M.) It will not only show you your play lists, but give you more information than need to know like the name every song you ever played on the player and when you played. The Utilities button also accesses the tag editor. Clicking on the center portion of the player's main window will bring up the visualizations. Being old school, I really like the VU Meters.
The player is skinable and comes with six skins already installed. A simple Google search will reveal a plethora of additional skins online.
All things accounted for AIMP a sleek looking player that is all about the music.
I would recommend this to beginners.
A word of warning…as stated AIMP is Russian and readily available on Russian sites, but please do not download from any Russian site due to security and virus considerations. I have provided download links located in the U.S.
The following are the best for managing music files and creating complex music libraries or play lists. They don't have light resource efficiency (sometimes doubling the light players above on some resource measures), but on modern computers they could serve as primary music players.
MusicBee is a musical Swiss Army Knife and I can see why so many people like it. Where do we begin?
Let's start with music management. You can listen to your music and categorize your collection in an appropriate manner with help of the program's array of utilities to help edit and find tags. You have your music arranged by genre, artist and album in the three top panes while other small panes display the current play list, song details, artwork and lyrics and a search tool to quickly locate any specific artist or track. Another panel helps you access internet services such as Shoutcast, internet radio, podcasts and audio books. You can import music from your personal music folders as well as from your iTunes or Windows Media Player libraries and sync with iPods and other MP3 players
The player itself has an impressive range of controls such as a 10-band equalizer with presets, along with a preamp, digital signal processing plug-ins, an AutoDJ and a volume analyzer to normalize your collection so that you never have to touch the volume control again.
The package also includes a CD ripper with secure CD ripping with AccurateRip verification and a file converter. MusicBee supports the following formats: MP3, OGG, WMA, AIFF, ALAC, APE, BWF, CDA, FLAC, M3U, MP4, PLS, TTA, WAV, TAK, SPX.
With all this functionality, I am surprised that I didn't find a CD burner lurking inside. I guess you can only pack so much into 40.6 MB.
MusicBee does require a bit of extra software in order to function. You'll need Microsoft.NET Framework 2.0 and the file converter requires the Lame encoder (Lame isn't a MP3 Encoder) to function.
Foobar2000 (Windows only) is a bit of a special case: if you're an average Joe or Julie with no particular skills in handling computers, Foobar will seem rather bland. Its features will appear to be very simple and perhaps limited or lacking imagination and style. Depending on the origin and previous manager of your collection, it might even fail to read a lot of tags (though that's not Foobar's fault). The majority of its configuration will look like Chinese to you (given that you do not speak Chinese already ;) ).
However, the story becomes very different if you're an advanced user with perhaps some skill in programming or otherwise "understanding" computers. If you're looking for a very technical, serious, obedient and not-dumbed-down music player and are not afraid of spending some time on setting everything up, then you will love Foobar. Its features include
- small memory, disk and CPU footprint leading to very fast startup and reaction times;
- completely customizable interface (a panels system that you can rearrange as desired, custom colors and fonts, etc);
- easily created and instantly updated library;
- direct access to everything about every file (direct access to metadata tags in particular, even offering things such as stable batch manipulation of over 8000 files at once and automagic copying);
- built-in converter based on commandline encoders, just as customizable as everything else;
- and a plugin system on par with Firefox's.
The most powerful feature of Foobar comes by its own name: Title Formatting and the accompanying query syntax (think SQL queries). Basically, if you can think of something and you can turn it into a programming string, Foobar can do it for you.
Title Formatting is a scripting language centered around functions, return values and variables. Functions include maths, string and date manipulation, raw and semi-processed tag handling and control logic (if, then, else). You can specify the display value of each and every piece of the interface (and create new columns/fields as desired) by writing a simple programming string containing any of the functions mentioned. Processing tag fields is independent of the filetype and tag protocol (ID3, VorbisComment, etc), meaning you can write TF strings as if all your files were of the same type and format.
A very short and simple example of TF would be a string that displays a track's Composer or its Main Artist if the former is not specified: $if2(%composer%,[$meta_sep(artist,', ')]). Now take this example, and know that you can use similarly simple coding to have Foobar automatically
- create folder structures and move + rename the files accordingly;
- display any tag or combination of tags as desired;
- render a treeview of your collection where the branching logic is under your control;
- list specific tracks as if you were querying a database, either on-the-fly in the query box or persistently in autoplaylists;
- write scripts (for plugins such as Masstagger) that can automatically parse, clean and reform thousands of tags at once;
- etc. Your imagination is the limit.
Being a programmer and having a very serious attitude toward file handling and such, Foobar is the best music manager and player (if not software in general) I've ever used. Not only have I learned a great deal about the technical aspect of music and tag protocols, but I've also been able to make Foobar automatically do what would take me days of manual work in other players (Mediamonkey, Winamp, etc) to make my music march at the pace of my own, very strict tag rules, folder structure and display wishes. I absolutely recommend it to anyone who considers himself or herself a poweruser, such as Linuxers and programmers.
Foobar2K review by Faziri
MediaMonkey is on my "Nay" list, but I will review it because of its popularity.
Right from installation, my immediate impression of MediaMonkey is that it is not a monkey, at all, but a 1000 lb. gorilla. Just like another well-known media player that will remain nameless, it wants flex its muscles all over your computer and be your be all-do all media player. It instantaneously began searching my hard drives for media files, without my permission, while registering itself as the player of record making it necessary to go through my files and reset their associations so that all would be well once I uninstalled this beast. With all that off my chest, let's get on to the features as there are many.
First and most important MediaMonkey can organize music and edit tags in your audio library with a potent and insightful interface. It will rip and burn cd's. Its audio converter can convert MP3s, OGG, FLAC and WMA files into other formats. It will download and show album art. For those who want to play DJ for your church group or social organization, there is a Party Mode which lock down your media files while still allowing requests. Last of all, but most important some, is MediaMonkey's ability to synchronize with iPods and other MP3 players. There are more features, but they are too numerous to mention here.
While I shouldn't concern myself with the following, but believe I must bring it up for reasons which will become immediately apparent. There is Gold Edition with additional features available for $19.99 and $39.95 for a "Lifetime license for all future updates." In the computer world there is no such thing as "Lifetime." Does anyone remember music software known as MusicMatch? It's still around, but totally commercial payware. At Version 1.0 it was a fairly good program for its time and I purchased a "Lifetime license" for $39.95 for full program. Two years into the "Lifetime license," I began to have difficulty upgrading the software. The good folks at MusicMatch were very accommodating and issued new registration codes. A year later the company was sold and my continuing references to the fact that, "I wasn't dead yet." Fell on deaf ears. Despite the good intentions of the people at MediaMonkey, they cannot realistically, offer a "Lifetime license."
I have no idea how they managed to fit all this functionality into 34.2 MB, but as far as I'm concerned MediaMonkey is just bit too over the top and is far more than I or the average music fan needs and far more than the novice can handle. If I were a professional DJ, then all bets would be off.
Occasionally I see claims that a particular piece of software has superior sound quality, and I too would want the player with the best sound quality (regardless of its features or lack thereof). Sometimes I've played individual products and thought “gosh that sounds crystal clear and rich”, but then found that the volume was maxed on the player's initial settings (and that other players sounded the same at their max volume settings).
It's difficult to rule out wishful thinking and inexact comparisons until you try out many players on your sound system to judge for yourself. I've opened music players side by side, gone through their settings to ensure equivalence, and found that it's seemingly impossible to detect sound quality differences on the sound equipment that came with my computer (Foobar's FAQs and forum posters make this argument as well).
However, Gizmo noted in some of the first comments on this article that sound enhancement plug-ins, such as ASIO, have a noticeable improvement in sound quality on expensive equipment. Note that your sound card must support higher output settings, or the settings could degrade sound quality. And if you maximize the settings on your sound card, then music players will use significantly higher system resources.
Here is a list of music players with the best average of three measures: CPU use, I/O bytes, and RAM. The overall test list included MP3, FLAC, and WAV files (using Process Explorer and Vista Ultimate to measure).
- Cool Player
- Evil Player
- Winamp Lite
The lightest player above was measured as an MP3 player (and is included because no other product did better as an MP3 player).
Some micro players (that are light on RAM memory) didn't make the top 10 (they often have high CPU or I/O bit activity).
By the way, mini player modes and tray icon modes (that shrink or hide the visual size of a player's interface) don't decrease the consumption of system resources, but some players have graphics that subside when the player loses focus (resource hungry visualizations were disabled for this comparison).
There are also basic and further stripped down music players that either didn't make the cut for the main review or don't fit the review criteria. They are listed in order of impressiveness (for sound enhancements, usability and unique features, support for music formats, state of development, performance and security).
Winamp Lite: I recommend the separate lite download (you have to scroll to the bottom of the download page) since the lite installer doesn't have the controversial OpenCandy, but it still has a pre-checked option to send off your usage stats. Privacy issues aside (just be sure to carefully inspect all the installation options), it plays an impressive number of audio formats for such a lightweight and resource efficient player, and mimics the wide array of options and feature richness of the full version. It lacks a library for organizing music (unless you already have the full version and use the 'Winamp classic' skin). Quick tip: save your eyes and use 'Double Size' from the options.
Note from site: "Winamp.com and associated web services will no longer be available past December 20, 2013. Additionally, Winamp Media players will no longer be available for download. Please download the latest version before that date"
XMPlay: Has a wide range of sound enhancements (gapless output, 32 bit output, DSP and MOD settings), additional downloads (skins, visualizations, ASIO), and hidden capabilities (Internet streaming). It didn't support my primary music format (FLAC), but the site has many additional 'native input plug-ins' that expand XMPlay's compatibility. A minimal library sorts by various categories based on tag information (use control + A to select your folders and drag and drop them into the play list or queue or library).
The negatives: a scattered interface (with many independent components) may not be to your taste, and the random play feature didn't work (random play only worked for me by manually right-clicking the play button each time, which I would only do to test whether it works). Developed by un4seen (known for the BASS audio library and MO3 audio format). Portable installation, very lite download.
Spider Player: Solid 'middle weight' music manager and player. It uses the trustworthy BASS engine, has many impressive enhancements (32 bit output, DSP effects support, 9-band equalizer and many presets, cross fading) and music managing tools (CD ripper, converter). One of the most interesting capabilities is an auto lyrics down loader, which displays lyrics in a pane next to your play list (you can manually save lyrics to tags), and an Internet radio player and recorder. If only it came with a library organizer it could have been a contender. And I couldn't pretend that a 'favorites editor' was good enough since I ran into error messages with it. The Pro version is now free and unlocks many extra features (mentioned above).
VUPlayer: Plays many audio formats and has a simple and user friendly interface (though some of the icons seem outdated). Comes with several sound enhancements (32 bit mixing, gapless playback, adjustable cross fade, 9-band graphic equalizer, and MOD/MIDI mixing) and other tools (converts files, grabs/rips CDs, retrieves freedb tags). In the forum some users report that it works in Windows 7. But it hasn't been updated since 2007 (it uses an old BASS library version) and has 1 moderately critical Secunia advisory (related to opening un-trusted play list files).
Winyl: Refreshingly simple and lite BASS player that is well worth watching for future improvements. For now it has a few basic enhancements (32 bit processing, equalizer) and tools (tag editing). More interesting is the care that went into its design. The library comes with long lists of radio stations and a few 'smartlists'. The smartlists automatically display your most played or highest rated songs, and you can create additional smartlists. The 6 skins that come with it are diverse and useful to fit your taste. To further please music fans, Winyl needs to work on additional sound enhancements and play options (I'd also like a random play option or perhaps better play list access).
Here are music managers and players that are impressive enough for a quick mention, but not quite enough to get featured in the review:
Quintessential Media Player (qmp) had great potential, but testing was mired by equally great difficulty in finding a FLAC plug-in. Otherwise, it surprised me with a small download size, a thorough MusicID updater, and feature richness. Massively edits tags, renames files, and writes MusicID info to tags (or updates its library info from tags). It has flashy visualizations, three mode sizes, and automatic online radio lists.
JetAudio: Surprisingly lightweight and efficient for such a feature rich, flashy, and capable music/media player. It has many features to help build and manage your media library. Rip, Convert, Record, and Burn all in one program. Use countless auto play lists (the most I've seen, but some are based on tags you must create) in its library, view a simple lyrics windows, get radio stations (many languages), browse to music stores and fan sites from within the player, and choose between several unique skins. However, I found its separate media center/main window setup confusing (the media center does not reduce to a mini player and I kept accidentally exiting the whole program). Other negatives: limited tag editing, no 32 bit output capability in the free version, and 1 'less critical' Secunia advisory (and four past advisories in a previous version).
Songbird: An open source, refreshingly simple interface that highly integrates to Internet resources like a browser (integrating many Mozilla Firefox features). One advantage is the ability to expand and customize it through add-ons, but the underlying interface is still the most bulky and inefficient of all tested music players (nearly as heavy as Firefox and getting heavier all the time). But I keep going back to it, so maybe they have something for the future there. It's in constant development, with nightly Beta versions for testing. See its "Roadmap Wiki" for information on its ever growing list of new features.
Some of these have fans, but didn't impress me in comparison to other players in the review. The quick negatives beside each aren't comprehensive comments; visit the respective sites for plenty of positives. Listed alphabetically.
- 1by1. High I/O bit activity, limited support for music files.
- Billy. High I/O bit activity (esp. for WAV files), limited support for music files.
- Clementine. Stealthy association of files.
- Cool Player. Unpatched Secunia advisories (related to using un-trusted play lists and skins).
- Cool Player+. High memory use (near Media Monkey size).
- Evil Player. Simplistic interface, problems running in a standard account.
- iTunes. Ad-supported: promotes purchasing Internet products as an essential feature.
- J. River Media Jukebox. Ad-supported: promotes purchasing Internet products as an essential feature.
- Moo0 AudioPlayer. High CPU use, limited support for music files.
- QuuxPlayer. Poor interface design/usability.
- Trout. Problems with interface usability (slow loading of audio files, error messages).
- Xion. Problems with interface (CPU spikes, crashes), Secunia warning (un-trusted play lists).
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