Its no secret that I don’t like iTunes. I’ve tried to like it over the past seven years but I just don’t. Perhaps its the fact that it uses up too many resources on an older computer. Maybe its the way it manages music or it’s interface. I know that the lack of support for Ogg Vorbis, FLAC, and other formats bothers me.
What about you? Do you want something better than iTunes? What else is there for Mac users who don’t like iTunes? Luckily, there are alternatives. Here’s three of the best:
The Two Schools of Music Management:
After working with iTunes and the various alternatives, I’ve noticed two approaches to music management. The first, and familiar way if you are used to iTunes is the library/cataloging system. This is where everything is on one page (your library page) and you select from there what you will listen to in the form of a playlist.
The second system is very different. In this system, there is no music library – It’s a simple player. Any music organization comes from the file system. At an extremely basic level, Quicktime Player falls in this category. However, if you’ve ever used WinAmp (a Windows App) then you are familiar with the second approach.
Personally, I prefer the second method of cataloging music – I like dealing with the filesystem for organization. This is exactly the reason why iTunes has never done it for me. Fortunately, I’ve found alternatives to iTunes that satisfy both ways of dealing with your music collection.
Alternative #1 – Songbird:
Mozilla’s Songbird is a project to create an open source, cross platform media player equivilant to iTunes. Like Firefox and Thunderbird, Sunbird supports third party extensions to further customize your music experience. While it’s still in beta, I found it runs rather smoothly and can handle alternative formats such as Ogg Vorbis and FLAC files.
To sum up what it’s like to use Songbird, I’d have to say it is very iTunes-like. So if you like the iTunes music management approach, you will want Sunbird over the other two alternatives. Here’s a screenshot of Sunbird in action:
Alternative #2 – Play:
Our second alternative to iTunes is the open source Play. Play falls in between the two methods of music management, it has a slimmed down library feature. Supporting FLAC, Ogg Vorbis, Musepack, WavPack, Monkey’s Audio, AAC, Apple Lossless and other formats, Play can handle almost any audio filetype you can throw at it. Play’s tight integration with CoreAudio and 32-bit floating point playback results in an excellent playback quality. I did notice a difference with Play, my audio files sounded wonderful. Play also supports gapless playback which is a big plus for me.
If you are looking for light management of your music library, great audio playback quality and various audio format support, try out Play. Here’s a screenshot of Play:
Alternative #3 – Cog:
The third alternative to iTunes is Cog. Cog has a simplified and streamlined interface. You drag the songs you want to hear into the playlist window and hit play. Cog handles all the major audio formats that I’ve ever encountered such as Ogg Vorbis, FLAC, Shorten, AAC, Apple Lossless, Wav/Aiff. It also handles Cue Sheets, .m3u and .pls playlist files, and even video game formats. Cog supports gapless playback and has a nice little file browser which opens up on the side. Here’s a screenshot of Cog:
Hands down, I liked Cog the best out of all the iTunes alternatives, although Play is a very strong competitor. I guess it really boils down to two things: ease of music management and the ability to play Ogg Vorbis and Flac files. Cog’s file browser drawer lets the file system do all the cataloging – just drag a folder into the window to play the entire contents.
Since all three handle the different formats equally, I preferred Cog’s simple interface to anything that resembles iTunes. While I preferred Cog, I highly recommend you download all three and see which one you prefer.