Best Free Music Player and Organizer

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Introduction

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 more than 25 listed music players and counting!

Index:

 

Full Music Managers

The following are the best for managing music files and creating complex music libraries or play lists. They don't have light resource efficiency but on modern computers they could serve as primary music players.

MusicBee  

A musical Swiss Army Knife


Our Rating: 
5
License: Free (Private/Educational use)
All-in-one music manager without the shady background connections, excellent tagging and music managing features, many sound enhancements.
Some tag categories not updated. Not much else, but it's still a bit buggy - online help didn't always connect, memory use jumped extremely high (in very rare instances), experienced a few bug/error messages (without program crashes or data loss).
Read full review...

MediaMonkey  

A music manager excellent for organizing complex music collections


Our Rating: 
4
License: Free (Limited features)
All-in-one music manager, excellent for organizing complex music collections, user friendly navigation.
Heavy on system resources, simplistic mini-player.
Read full review...

Foobar2000  

A very technical, serious and obedient music player


Our Rating: 
4
License: Free
Extremely customizable interface, native Windows appearance (consistent, fast and predictable), many extra components and a forum at the official site, typical library capabilities, includes all necessary tools for building and maintaining a collection in detail.
Not very flashy design, no mini player, somewhat steep learning curve and requires moderate to advanced computing skill.
Read full review...

Light Music Players and Organizers

The following have light resource efficiency while impressing us with music centric features. They were the best candidates to be our light 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  

The personification of a music player and organizer


Our Rating: 
4
License: Free
Attractive and easily customizable interface with large album art, artist's photo, bio and easy access to lyrics.
Doesn't display some some extended tag info, not yet fully 7 compatible.
Read full review...

AIMP  

A sleek looking player that is all about the music


Our Rating: 
3
License: Free
Visually stunning design, special focus on sound enhancement features, excellent mix of features and light design, comes with two other utilities (tag editor, online radio browser), decent library and history features.
Security concerns, requires patience finding features, most support materials not in English.
Read full review...

Micro Music Players

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).

 

Cuts: The Other Players

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.

  • Winamp Full has privacy concerns and now includes the controversial OpenCandy in its installer. Read its privacy policy to see if you agree with its automated data collection of non-personal information (some of which you can only opt out of by hiding or not using certain features). Privacy concerns and nags aside, the program is popular and professional with excellent support for many music file formats, good integration with Internet resources, and top-notch library and music organizing features (it's somewhat incorporated as the media library in The KMPlayer).

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).

 

Notes

Note 1: Sound Quality

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.

 

Note 2: Lightest Players

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).

  1. Cool Player
  2. Evil Player
  3. XMPlay
  4. Winyl
  5. VUPlayer
  6. Winamp Lite
  7. Trout
  8. Foobar
  9. AIMP
  10. Jaangle
  11. JetAudio
  12. Spider

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).

 

Related Products and Links

You might want to check out these articles too:

Download Music

Manage Media -- Rip, Tag, Convert, Burn, Record

Audio Editor and Music Creation

Play and Organize Media

Related Hot Finds and Articles

Guides

 

Editor

This software review is copy-edited by Jojo Yee. Please help edit and improve this article by clicking here.

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Comments

This information is wrong. MusicBee does play wma files perfectly fine and recognizes most esoteric audio file formats, nearly 40 of them including playlist file formats.
Bonis Audio Player is a very easy to use application that was especially designed to help you listen to your favorite tracks stored in high-quality formats like FLAC or OGG. The program comes with a set of commands for loping certain parts of the loaded music file, changing the speed and panning the audio left or right: http://www.bonisaudio.com/Bonis_Free/baplayer.html
I do not know if we had this or not, but Amarok for Windows is now officially supported by Amarok Team: http://amarok.kde.org/ http://community.kde.org/Amarok/GettingStarted/Download/Windows Beware, portable version of it is still in beta.

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