PART ONE:  A player by any other name

If you love music at all then you know what a MP3 is.  There are a ton of apps out there that deal with MP3s in a multitude of ways.  There are players, converters, rippers, sorters and I could go on and on.  Every apps has one thing that it does better than others and in my opinion there isn’t just one apps that does everything perfectly.  That being the case I use multiple apps to handle my MP3s.  Now if you’re an iTunes user, you are kind of pigeon holed into just using iTunes to handle your tunes, but don’t you worry, there are alternatives out there.

The MP3 has been around a while and has caused quite a lot of commotion in it’s time.  I am going to assume that all of your music files were obtained legally and I am in no way telling or showing you how to illegally download music.  This is just a guideline on what to use to either play, sort or manipulate your music.  Remember that the RIAA is a little sensitive as to what you can and can’t do with music you legally own.  I am working on a future blog to tackle that subject in detail.

Like I said there are a lot of apps out there to choose from and in the end it’s going to come down to personal preference.  Over the years I have tested, used and still use various apps to take care of my precious MP3 collection.

Winamp

This is the old faithful of MP3 apps.  It’s been around a while and is still going strong.  Winamp has a strong following and it shows in the extensive library of add-on apps, skins and visualizations.  They also promote independent bands by providing free downloads of their music.  Like most apps I am going to talk about Winamp has a free version and a pay version.  The free version is what I’ve been using for years and it suits me well.  Winamp is highly customizable, has built in FLAC support and will even let you burn music CDs at limited speeds; the full pay version lets you burn at higher speeds.  My biggest gripe with Winamp has to be that in recent years that have added a bunch of bloatware and software trials.  If you’re careful during installation you can avoid all that unnecessary fluff and Winamp will serve you as faithfully as it has me.  Download

Windows Media Player

Media Player has come a long way since it’s early days.  It has gotten much better, easier to use and Microsoft has added a lot of great features.  It works well with Windows (as it should) and if you want to just play your music then it will do the job.  The current version of WMP suffers from the same affliction as all previous versions.  The user interface has not changed much and it can be difficult to set up certain things, like playlists.  I have WMP set as my default player for most media including MP3, that way I won’t screw up my default playlist when I double click on a single file to play it.  WMP also suffers from codec troubles that have yet to be corrected.  If you’re savvy enough, you already have a codec pack installed that will over come WMP’s shortcomings.  I will talk about codec packs in another part of this series.

Xion

After getting tired of the bloatware and fluff of Winamp, a gentleman by the name of Cliff Cawley wrote Xion.  Xion Audio Player does exactly that, plays your audio files.  It is free of bloatware and any other unnecessary features.  It is small and compact enough to run from a flash driver, supports FLAC and the other popular formats.  It’s popular with folks who like to make custom skins due to its handling of .PSD files.  There hasn’t been a new version released in nearly a year, but don’t let that stop you from trying this little gem.  It can be a little difficult to use until you get the hang of it and support is a little lacking, but Xion works great on netbooks or as a portable app on a flash drive.  Download

MediaMonkey

This is one of the most well rounded and feature rich app that we’ll talk about.  It plays your audio files and most importantly it will also help you cataloge and sort your music library.  If you’re like me, you probably have doubles and in some cases triples of some of your MP3s; MediaMonkey’s most useful feature is the ability to weed out duplicate files, compare them and get rid of the ones you don’t want.  The interface can be a little confusing, but once you get the hang of it, MediaMonkey will become your app of choice.  It has a free and a pay version, but the free version is more than enough to get the job done.  Another more valuable feature of this app is that it will play iTunes files.  Download

Foobar2000

The world of open source software can sometimes be a little rocky.  Most open sourced software is made and used by more advanced users and can have a pretty steep learning curve.  Such is the way with Foobar2000; when first installed kind of lays there like a dead fish.  What makes Foobar2000 so great is the library of addons that can turn it into the Swiss Army knife of MP3 apps.  One of my personal favorites is an add on that will search for the lyrics for your MP3s.  Foobar2000 is not only extremely powerful, it is also flashy and adds a lot of eye candy that makes you look like a real audiophile.  If you want to show your friends that you can flex your geek muscle, show them you can use Foobar2000 like a pro and have them bowing at your feet.  Like most open source software, it has a big support community that will help you with any questions and a library of powerful add-ons.  Download

VLC Media Player

Here is another well rounded media player.  VLC will play audio and video files with a light, highly customizable interface that is also well suited as a portable app.  A small learning curve is the saving grace of this app because it works with practically everything.  It works with all popular formats as well as it’s own proprietary format.  No matter what player I use by default, I always have VLC has a handy and reliable backup.  This app is skinable and has a robust set of features for more advanced users.  Download

That should give you a good head start when it comes to players.  In part two we will discuss codec packs and plug ins.  Be sure to check out this week’s edition of The Word and feel free to leave questions or comments, I love to hear feedback.

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