I have always been a fan of the Windows Media Player software that comes bundled with Microsoft’s operating system. It’s very easy to use, looks attractive, and well, it just works! A music player is just exactly that. It should play my music. I don’t need anything fancy that hogs up system resources and whatnot. However, a very irritable feature in Windows Media Player 12 (using Windows 7 at the moment) has forced me to find alternative choices for music playback on my laptop. So far, I have been using the Windows 7 RC build since it was released to the public and everything has been butter smooth except for one problem in WMP12. The newly refined music player from Microsoft does a lot of new things besides just being able to play music. My music collection is somewhere between 25-26GB at the moment. One thing I do love about the new player is that it’s much more responsive than WMP11. Scrolling through my massive collection of music is very ‘lag-free’.
The problem, however, stems in the way it indexes my music collection. At startup of the player and at random times, the player would all of a sudden start indexing and ‘updating’ my music collection even when I haven’t added anything new to my library. This is also happening to a lot of other users as well judging from what I read on other forums and it’s becoming quite frustrating. For the most part, it’s putting a huge strain on my CPU utilization during the updating process. It would put my CPU utilization to about 50% workload and the memory consumption would start to rise as well. It’s also putting a huge strain on my hard drive as the hard drive light indication continuously blinks indicating read/write operations being done. However, the process would continue again at random periods of time and it’s driving me crazy. I have turned off almost every feature in the player but it’s still doing the same thing. I have reported this to Microsoft so hopefully when the final release of Windows 7 is out, this would be fixed. For now though, I have searched and tested numerous other music players and I’ll tell you about them.
This nifty music player is lightweight but yet one of the most customizable music player I have ever seen. It was created by a freelance developer that worked on the Winamp project. As I’ve stated earlier, I just need the player to do one thing, play my music! This player can be as boring as you want it to be or it can be one of the most complex one you have used, it’s up to you. There are a lot of plugins available that allows you to customize the player and enable new features. For example, have you ever wanted to change the pitch or speed of a song? Well now you can. Visit Foobar2000’s official 3rd party components website to find the plugin you’re looking.
In my opinion, one of the major advantage of using Foobar2000 is its low overhead. My current Foobar2000 configuration has used no more than 30MB of memory. In fact, it seems as if my CPU doesn’t even realize Foobar2000 is running! There is zero spike in CPU utilization as if my computer was idle. Oh, and no more constant hard drive blinking light anymore! Very awesome! This is a godsend compared to the other players I will list shortly. However do realize that the more you customize and tweak the player, the memory consumption will increase.
At one point in time, Winamp was considered one of the most popular music player to grace a user’s desktop. However it hasn’t been talked about in a long time, well at least in my perspective. The new 5.55 version boosts a lot of features. For example, iPod support, Winamp Remote which allows you to stream your library to different devices, online radio, auto-tagging of your music and much, much more. As always, there are thousands of skins you can download to totally customize the look of the player. To be honest, I was into Winamp skins back in the earlier days but it’s different now. Ask yourself, how often do you actually look at the player itself? I just select my music to play and minimize it. All that eye candy is meaningless to me. Memory consumption is pretty high. There are so many features that most users will never use and therefore, this player can be considered overkill.
If you are looking for a multifunctional all-in-one music jukebox, look no further than MediaMonkey. It helps you organize your music library by giving you the ability to tag your music from info gathered on the web. You can sync music to your favorite MP3 player and also gives you online radio access. There is a Gold version of the software that allows you to do more stuff but the free version should suffice for most users. I’m currently using this as my MP3 tagger and I’m loving it, especially when using it to embed album art covers. It’s so easy to use.
Yeah, you knew sooner or later I would list this one! This has got to be one of the most bloated piece of software I have ever seen. Shame on Apple for bundling all kinds of other services during a iTunes install. This is one of my least liked music players out there. It’s slow, consumes a lot of memory and the user interface just plain ol’ sucks. The only reason why I would recommend iTunes is if you need to buy songs from the iTunes store or have an iPod but even then, there are now other better alternatives of purchasing DRM-free songs and syncing music to your iPod, Amazon and MediaMonkey being two of them respectively. The iTunes software is a great way to find podcasts of interests but once again, that feature alone is not worth the installation of the software as there are other alternatives as well. The Cover-Flow feature looks pretty but that’s pretty much it. You do not need to own an iPod to actually use iTunes.
# Zune Software
Similar to iTunes, you don’t actually need to own a Zune MP3 player to actually use the Zune software. It works similar to Windows Media Player but sports a cleaner and more attractive interface. You can organize your music library as well as your video, picture and podcast catalog in here. You’ll get much more out of the software if you actually own a Zune, but it still gets the job done if you don’t. Memory consumption can spike pretty high at times. There is a cool looking ‘Now Playing’ view in which it will use all of your album’s covert art to display as a collage background. Again, it’s pure eye candy and unless you spend your time just starting at your music player software, this is completely useless.
Songbird is a fairly new music player developed under the Mozilla platform. It has a lot of features and look one part Foobar2000 and another part MediaMonkey. It has a Last.fm integration as well if you use that online music service. I haven’t personally tried this one yet so I can’t judge it. It looks fairly simple to use and the ability to customize its skin (feathers to be exact) should appeal to a lot of users. I have read in the past that memory consumption is really high but I’m hoping that has been fixed.
Aimp2 is very similar to Winamp in looks. It looks simple enough for anyone to use and still has some cool features like music conversion, library support, support for all types of music files, online radio, customizable skins, equalizer, and the ability to shut down your computer after a certain period of time, which will allow you to sleep under your favorite tunes.
There you have it. These are some of the most popular music playing software out today and I’m sure there is one that should satisfy your needs. The winner in my situation is clearly Foobar2000. Being light on system resources is one of the main reason I’ve picked this over others. Being totally customizable with lots of plugin support is an added bonus.
On a side note, if you spend a lot of your time browsing the web on Firefox while listening to music (who doesn’t?), there is a free plugin that allows you to control your music player directly in the Firefox browser! No longer must you switch back to your music player just to play the next song or pausing it. FoxyTunes comes installed with a lot of default player controls so no matter which player it is you are using, FoxyTunes should be able to control it.