I’ve found my perfect music player: MusicBee

Screenshot of MusicBee, playing Opeth "In my time of need" from Damnation (2003).
Screenshot of MusicBee, playing Opeth “In my time of need” from Damnation (2003). Click for full-size screenshot.

For as long as I can remember that I’ve had an internet-enabled PC (I got a Windows 98 machine in late 1999) I’ve been using WinAmp for listening to music. Last week I moved to the lesser-known MusicBee and it is perfect for my requirements. I can’t believe just how good MusicBee is.

Your mileage may vary

I had a long conversation with a friend of mine on Facebook the other day about how everybody’s music player requirements are different. A lot of factors influence your decision about a digital music player, e.g.

  • How much music you have.
  • How/if you tag your music.
  • When you listen.
  • Where you listen.
  • On which device(s) you listen.
  • Whether you need to share your collection with other devices on the network.
  • Whether you prefer visuals (e.g. album art) or text-based interfaces.
  • etc.

How I used WinAmp

I used WinAmp primarily for two things:

  1. Listen to music.
  2. Rip CDs to MP3 format.

I used WinAmp like a CD player (I’d load one album and listen to it) or a radio (I’d load it all 23,000+ files and listen to them on shuffle). I used very few other features to be honest.

A while ago WinAmp switched off its access to the Gracenote database. That’s a service that allows you to query the names of the album title and tracks of a CD you are ripping to MP3 (other formats are available). For my 195 metal CDs project that’s pretty important to me.

It was time to try to find something else that might let me make the most of my music collection: find stuff that I’d not listened to in a long time, better make use of my tagging of albums (I use the excellent mp3tag).

The contenders

Despite how popular it is to listen to music on a computer, there are surprisingly few mainstream players:

I opened Windows Media Player… and promptly shut it down again. I then reached for foobar2000, which a number of friends had warmly recommended to me. “I think you’ll love it,” said one. I didn’t last much more than an hour with it.

Tomahawk was installed, and then uninstalled within an hour too. I liked the idea but I don’t share music playlists with friends, I don’t need to find out what other artists sound like the one I’m listening to. I didn’t need all the connected stuff, I just wanted to better manage what I had.

I then tried Apple iTunes for a few days. I’d used iTunes as my main player at work for a while but I found it too bloated and quite unintuitive in places and so returned to WinAmp. What I liked about iTunes this time was the albums view.

Grid of album covers. Selected album shows a list of tracks beneath it.
I like how iTunes lists albums in a very visual way.

But what I found frustrating was how it handled metadata and artwork.

MusicBee

Which was when I found MusicBee and it is perfect for me. Within an hour I had customised the user interface to just the way I would like it:

  • I’m using the beautifully clean DarkGREEN Metro skin, which I find highlights the artwork.
  • I have lists of genre, artist and album on the left-hand side.
  • In the middle I have a grid of album artwork (very similar to how iTunes handles it).
  • On the right I have playlist and other metadata displayed.

Having pulled in my entire music collection, I discovered errors in the way that I had tagged some of the music, and how few tracks had album artwork embedded.

A few hours later, staying within MusicBee, I had a lot of the tagging sorted out, and MusicBee even pulled in the missing album artwork for the rest of my collection.

This would have taken me weeks to sort out using WinAmp and mp3tag, or iTunes on its own.

Android remote

My last PC had an infrared remote control for my Creative soundcard; I’ve kind of missed that with this PC. I discovered that some kind chap has written MusicBee Remote for Android which is also clean and simple.

MusicBee Remote for Android.
MusicBee Remote for Android. (Click for full size)

Conclusion

This hasn’t been a full review, just an immediate ‘gush’ about how wonderful this music player is.

I really couldn’t imagine going back to WinAmp now. Already this has helped me discover a number of CD box sets that I ripped to MP3 and then completely forgot to listen to all the way through.

If you fancy a rediscovering your music collection and are a Windows user then I wholeheartedly recommend MusicBee.

Purchase or download

That’s the problem with being able to download albums these days (and I mean legally, via iTunes or similar): sometimes you spend two or three days hunting around the house, in the car, down the back of the cat, for the CD and box of something that’s neatly downloaded onto your hard drive.

That’s twice I’ve done it now. Once for a Gary Numan album, and now for an Exodus album.

I need to keep a database, methinks.

My first iTunes iMix compilation

iMix screenshot from iTunes

This evening I compiled my first ever iMix: The Original Songs From The Mirror (link requires iTunes to be installed).

What is an iMix?

With iTunes and the iTunes Music Store, you can publish your music recommendations for friends and family anytime.

When you publish a playlist at the iTunes Music Store, it’s called an “iMix.” iMixes allow others to preview your favorite songs and purchase the ones they want. Creating your own iMix on the iTunes Music Store is as easy as clicking a button.

Creating an iMix

Creating my compilation was pretty straight-forward:

  1. Create a new playlist of tracks
  2. Go to File > Create an iMix …
  3. Add a few details
  4. Click Done
  5. Er …
  6. That’s it!

The Original Songs From The Mirror

Yesterday I was listening to Fish’s 1993 album Songs From The Mirror, a recording of some of the songs that inspired Mr Derek W. Dick as he was growing up and getting into this thing we call music. These were his songs from the mirror — we’ve all sung along to our favourite bands while miming into the mirror … haven’t we?

Well, my iMix compilation pulls together the original songs:

  1. Question by The Moody Blues
  2. Boston Tea Party by The Sensational Alex Harvey Band
  3. Fearless by Pink Floyd
  4. Apeman by The Kinks
  5. Hold Your Heady Up by Argent
  6. I Know What I Like (In Your Wardrobe) by Genesis
  7. Solo by Sandy Denny
  8. Time and a Word by Yes
  9. The Seeker by The Who
  10. Jeepster by T. Rex
  11. Five Years by David Bowie

Update: I’ve now included Jeepster by T. Rex.