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.

VLC media player on Windows 8

VLC media player
VLC media player

When I upgraded to Windows 8 Pro I wanted to make sure that I could still play DVDs. Now that I have upgraded I’ve moved from using Windows Media Player to VLC media player. Here’s why.

Having read up a little about Windows 8’s support of various media I was fairly confident that if I installed the Windows Media Center then I would be able to continue to play DVDs in Windows Media Player, as I did in Windows 7. I was wrong.

Having bought the upgrade early (back in October 2012) I was offered a free upgrade to Windows Media Centre — woop! — which saved me a whole £6.99. However, as I discovered, it only enables DVD playback in Windows Media Centre, not Windows Media Player.

On my old Windows XP machine I used Cyberlink PowerDVD, which costs between £30-£70 depending; I got it free, bundled with my graphics card, if I remember correctly. It was fairly easy to use, and the controls were pretty intuitive. When I moved to Windows 7 I discovered that this version of the software wasn’t compatible with that version of Windows and I was reluctant to pay for an upgrade and so I started to use Windows Media Player, which had a really terrible, confusing interface but was free.

And so once again another Windows upgrade requires me to find another application that will enable me to watch DVDs on my PC. A quick Google search suggested that I try VLC media player.

VLC media player ticked both boxes: it’s free and it’s really easy to use. The interface is incredibly clear, much simpler than Windows Media Player 10 and 11, and it’s incredibly fast.

I also really like that the software is created by the VideoLAN organisation, “a project and a non-profit organization, composed of volunteers, developing and promoting free, open-source multimedia solutions.”

I definitely recommend VLC media player, if you are looking for a free, user-friendly replacement for Windows Media Player on Windows 8 (or, indeed, any version of Windows from XP SP2 onwards).

Now playing–Windows 7 gadget that works with Winamp

Yesterday I discovered a Windows 7 gadget that I had been wishing for months someone would write. It turns out that it has been around since 2007, I’d just not found it yet.

The gadget is called Now Playing – With Lyrics by Lawrence and it shows in a small window the song you are currently listening to, including album art and, on hover, track details and player controls:

20110605-windows7gadgets20110605-windows7gadgets-hover

Compatible media players

The gadget works with a number of media players:

using custom plugins, but it would appear that the website where the plugins were all hosted has been taken down and so on first-run the gadget now returns an error.

Plugins

This is the point where I uninstalled the gadget the first time I looked at it a few months ago. This time I went to investigate and discovered that they’ve been moved to this basic site: Now Playing plugins.

Once downloaded, and with the gadget installed, place them in this Windows folder:

%HOMEPATH%\AppData\Local\Microsoft\Windows Sidebar\Gadgets\nowplaying.gadget\plugins

Then open your media player and click on the gadget. When I did that with Winamp  5.61 I was prompted to install the plugin. And then, as if by magic, I could see the album art in the gadget.

It’s really handy to, at a glance, see what track/album/artist is currently playing. I wish I’d found this before.

Since Microsoft have taken down the gadget gallery, I’ve had some folks asking me where they can download the gadget. So I’ve uploaded it here:

Download gadget and plugins (2.85 MB)