Ever wondered which is the best player to play music on your PC? Or do you believe that nothing is perfect and that everything has its advantages and disadvantages and we have to carry on with what we have got. Or is the default (provided by Microsoft) Windows Media Player good enough? Or further still do you believe in not locking down to one particular application and believe in having a variety of applications on call? Some of these reasons may seem absurd to you, but believe me I have come across each one of them and many times over.
If on the other hand you are looking for a great application to play your music, as well as do something in addition like tag your mp3s, sort them, generate playlists, post to Last.fm or your personal blog, then this is for you. Hang on though! I am not offering the Holy Grail of music players, just some of the programs that I have used and have liked and not liked for many reasons which I will be stating as we go along.
First things first! If you have noticed I have headlined this review as Windows Media Player, Winamp, iTunes, & MediaMonkey! Well I would rather you do yourself some service and give iTunes a miss altogether, unless of course you would like a software that wants to take over your computer. I still remember the day I installed iTunes and whoa before I knew it iTunes was running the show. Even transferring songs to the Motorola RAZR that came integrated with iTunes was a difficult chore as iTunes would accept songs only if they were loaded in its library. A simple drag and drop (something we take for granted in Windows) would not work thanks to iTunes. There is a lot more that one could say about iTunes, but suffice it to say that just do not bother with iTunes and you are best served by giving it a miss. Now I agree if you are an iPod user then you need iTunes, but I have always used my mobile to play my music i.e. Motorola E398, Sony Ericsson K750i, Nokia N70, and now the Motorola ROKR.
Anyways moving on now onto the real choice and a choice it is. As many are aware there are many freeware music players available and since they are too many in number I have narrowed it down to the big two i.e. MediaMonkey and Winamp all things considered. I have been a Winamp user for many years now, and have loved it for all its many features, be it its CD ripping abilities, its graphic equalizer/presets, its integration of album art or many of its plug-ins which allows for a great deal of customization to your own personal preferences. Winamp when it started out was freeware, but now there is a pro version where if you pay a little all the features are unlocked, and the features available in the pro version are CD ripping with higher speeds and burning software. Now anyone with a CD/DVD writer would obviously have burning software and definitely would not rely on Winamp for burning CDs. Ditto for ripping CDs, but if you are a newbie and want to find out about CD ripping then EAC is the best there is. All of this means that the free version of Winamp is very good for 99% of the users. Of note, Winamp also handles video files, but that is something that is left out of here as we will only be concentrating on music players. Winamp has an inbuilt media library i.e. it scans all your hard disks or folders that you specify and adds all the music files to the media library. What this means is that you have all your songs displayed in one location along with their path shown and you do not need to remember exactly where each song is stored if you want to listen to them. The search feature of the media library is the best in Winamp and just does not get any better. It is accurate and displays results very fast. The media library also is very good when you add songs or move them to another folder Winamp keeps track of them and will only scan for newly added/moved media content and its rescanning is very fast. Tagging is supported in Winamp though for all practical purposes it is nonexistent as it will require you to go to each individual file and tag it. This is very cumbersome and does not give the functionality of an online tagger like Tag&Rename which is supported and very well by MediaMonkey.
Winamp also connects to the AOL Music Store with a collection of 2,000,000 songs for you to purchase and download. Winamp also lets you connect and watch old episodes of TV programs. There are other online services like SHOUTcast Radio & TV, AOL Radio Featuring XM, SHOUTcast Wire Podcast Directory, and Predixis MusicMagic Dynamic Playlists, but honestly these are features many will not be accessing on a regular basis or not using them at all. One area where Winamp scores is in the skins department and you can download a lot of different skins so you can have a different looking Winamp whenever the fancy strikes you. On the whole, Winamp is a great music player, but it is a resource hog and does take some time to start up, which may put people off.
Now onto MediaMonkey, which is an alternative to Winamp and other music players. MediaMonkey is rated very highly by many and was recommended by a friend and hence I decided to try it out for a while even though I was perfectly happy with Winamp. MediaMonkey too offers two versions, a free and a pro for which you have to pay a little extra. The pro version offers file monitoring to automatically update the library, advanced searches and auto creation of playlists, advanced portable device synchronization with on-the-fly format conversion which means you can synchronize and change format of songs so that they can be played on portable devices like the iPod, unlimited mp3 encoding, virtual CD and previews, advanced filters and even a sleep timer. Obviously, most of these features will not be used or required by the majority of users with the exception of iPod users who would prefer to go the iTunes way which is free rather than pay for MediaMonkey pro. The free version of MediaMonkey is a fantastic player and does just about everything. This is the closest you will get to a “Holy Grail” of music players, a do-it-all music player, a Swiss army knife of music players is a better way to put it. It is a very impressive product and has not only met my expectations, but also bettered them on some fronts. MediaMonkey offers a slew of features like managing a library which can include 50,000 plus songs located on the hard drive, CDs or a network. MediaMonkey betters Winamp in this area for it even shows the location of the songs i.e. which drive/folder they are located in. The other day I wanted to listen to Shakira and all I did was search for Shakira and viola all the songs of Shakira were displayed along with the path to their location in the results from which I could select the songs I wanted to listen to. This displaying of location is very good so there is no more losing of songs in some remote folder and it enables you to pool all the songs in one or multiple folders and yet keep track of them through the library. One area where Winamp scores over MediaMonkey is in keeping track of files that are moved, which MediaMonkey does not keep track of on the fly, and you would have to end up rescanning the system or folders, which can be cumbersome as MediaMonkey will rescan from the start and scan everything from scratch. MediaMonkey synchronizes very well with iPod and other portable audio devices in seconds. You can configure MediaMonkey once, and then click the synchronize button to synchronize tracks and related properties including album art, ratings, play history, and playlists with a broad range of portable devices. This however is mainly of use to iPod users and I am not one of them. MediaMonkey lets you burn CDs/DVDs, but then again those with CD/DVD writers would probably go with something like Nero or Ashampoo for all their burning activities. MediaMonkey is very good at encoding and lets you convert audio files from almost any audio format to OGG, MP3, WMA, or WAV files, and preserve tag information when converting from OGG, MP3, WMA, WAV, APE, FLAC or MPC. Tagging is an amazing feature with MediaMonkey and it does this as well as a professional software like Tag&Rename and that too for free. It even surpasses Tag&Rename in that you can add multiple album art images to each track, and add more details to each track than you can in Tag&Rename. With MediaMonkey doing tagging better than professional tagging software it leaves Winamp and others way behind in this area. Another great feature to go along with the tagging is that MediaMonkey lets you rename all files in a single step and I do mean your entire music collection, though be careful when using this feature as a single mistake will mean loss of important information. MediaMonkey even has auto volume leveling which lets you play all tracks at the same consistent volume so no more reaching for the volume control with every track change. Another outstanding feature of MediaMonkey is the Auto-DJ which will automatically play tracks when manually selected tracks/playlists run out so you can have songs playing all the while without having to queue up the playlists. This is very useful if you want something playing all the time or even in the background without having to tend to it every once in a while. MediaMonkey also keeps track of which track is played how many times and also the last play of the track, but this feature is also available in Winamp. MediaMonkey is very lean and does not have any bloatware when compared to Winamp or even iTunes which basically leads the pack in terms of bloatware and other intrusive software getting installed on your system and even taking over your system. Give us back control of our systems Apple!
MediaMonkey too does have a lot of online features like NetRadio, which lets you connect to Shoutcast and Icecast so you can stream music and listen to songs, and even has an inbuilt browser which connects to Amazon, Barnes & Noble, CD Universe, PlayCentric, AllPosters, and AllMusic. In summation, MediaMonkey is very fast to start up, takes up very little in the form of system resources and responds very well to the demands of any user. In terms of speed and response time and interface it is excellent to say the least.
After going through many music players and also extensively using Winamp and MediaMonkey I can say that these two are the best out there right now and you just cannot find anything that would better either of them at this stage if you are looking for an all-in-one music player, library manager and music tagger. Choosing an outright winner is difficult to state the obvious and it will come down to individual preference and choice so decide for yourself. As for me, I love to listen to music, tag them with all sorts of information that would be available, keep track of them, and also like a utility that does nearly everything if not everything and MediaMonkey is the closest you will get to in this regard. I will be sticking with MediaMonkey for some time now, but that does not mean I will be getting rid of Winamp anytime soon. It will be worth your while if you can download and check out these two amazing softwares for yourself and let me tell you they beat Windows Media Player hands down any day, which reminds me I have not reviewed Windows Media Player at all here, but it’s better left alone what say?
You can read my Review of Foobar2000 here.
You can read my Review of XMPlay here.