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.

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)

Using a Creative RM-1800 remote control with WinAmp

Creative X-Fi Platinum soundcard, breakout box and remote control
Creative X-Fi Platinum soundcard, breakout box and remote control

What a fabulous discovery: I can now use my Creative RM-1800 infra-red remote control to control WinAmp.

Creative drivers

For the last few years my shiny, silver Creative remote control has sat beneath my PC monitor looking rather forlorn and underused. So a few months back I emptied it of batteries and handed it over to Reuben and Joshua’s toy box.

The remote control was one of the reasons that I went for the X-Fi Platinum in the first place.  I had visions of sitting in my study and being able to control my music from the other side of the room.

It was great for a couple of weeks.  I had to make do with Creative Entertainment Center rather than WinAmp but that was fine. I could live with that.  But then the first time I had to do a clean reinstall of Windows XP and upgraded my Creative X-Fi Platinum drivers I lost use of the remote control.

1. Install Creative Entertainment Center

I had assumed that the remote control drivers were a part of the soundcard drivers, after all the infra-red receiver is firmly embedded into the break-out box that is installed just beneath my DVD-RW drive.  But they are not: they are installed with Creative Entertainment Center.  I only discovered that yesterday!

I installed the Creative Entertainment Center software this evening.  It ended with a rather abrupt error message but it did install ok — at least, both the remote control driver and Creative Entertainment Center are installed and appear to be functioning correctly.

2. Enable Remote Control

Once installed I fired up the Entertainment Center Settings, which brings up this dialog box in which you need to enable the remote control:

Screenshot of Creative Remote Control Settings window
Creative Remote Control Settings window

3. WinAmp plugin

The final step was to install the Creative Remote Control plugin for WinAmp.

Under Windows 7 I had to install by right-clicking the installer file and selecting “Run as administrator”. This is because the plugin installer needs to write to the C:\Program Files\WinAmp directory and for security reasons it needs administrator rights to be able to do that.

4. That’s it

And that was it!  When I fire up WinAmp I can now sit in my study and control my music from the other side of the room.

I’m running

  • Windows 7 Professional (32-bit) and (64-bit)
  • Creative Entertainment Center 3.40.21 (19 December 2007)
  • WinAmp 5.581; upgraded now to 5.623
  • Creative Remote Control plugin (25 July 2002)
  • Creative RM-1800 infra-red remote control

Winamp Global Hotkeys and Microsoft Digital Media Pro keyboard

I’ve just spent, on and off, about 2 hours trying to work out why the media keys on my Microsoft Digital Media Pro keyboard weren’t working properly with Winamp 5.541 Pro.  I’ve finally managed to solve the problem by rolling back to older keyboard drivers.

It appears that the Intellitype 6.3 drivers aren’t compatible with Winamp 5.541 Pro.

Intellitype 6.3

When I reinstalled Windows XP Professional a couple of weeks ago I did as I was supposed to: I installed the latest keyboard drivers (Intellitype Pro 6.3). But when it came to setting up Winamp I discovered that it didn’t work as expected.

Winamp has a Global Hotkeys setting within its preferences. As the explanatory text says:

Global Hotkeys are keyboard shortcuts that you can use from within any running application.

And here you can “enable default multimedia key support”. My keyboard (the Microsoft Digital Media Pro) has multimedia keys, so what could be more simple?

Global Hotkeys enabled

I ticked the option, both options in fact, and closed the preferences dialog box.

Pressing the Play/Pause button once started the MP3 track.  Pressing it again paused it.  Success!

But then I minimized Winamp, pressed Play/Pause again and Windows Media Player started.  Eh?!

Troubleshooting

I tried a variety of solutions on the Winamp forums. Tick one, close, stop itype.exe, restart Winamp, reselect the option, close Winamp, start itype.exe … all that jazz.  Nothing worked properly.

How frustrating!

Rollback to Intellitype 6.1

I know that it worked with the last Windows installation, and I knew that I’d used the Intellitype 6.1 drivers, so I uninstalled Intellitype 6.3, rebooted my PC and reinstalled version 6.1.

And do you know what?  It worked.

What I’ve had to do in the Intellitype options is disable the Play/Pause button (because enabled it was still opening Windows Media Player) but it didn’t have any effect on Winamp’s ability to recognise or use the key.

Now when I press Play/Pause, no matter whether Winamp is minimized or maximized it toggles play and pause.

What’s missing

Intellitype 6.3 appears to offer a few new features not present in 6.1, such as the ability to save keyboard profiles, but to be honest I don’t need such a facility.  So long as my keyboard shortcuts work and my multimedia keys control Winamp I’m a happy user.

Audio playing too fast

Here’s a weird thing. Ever since installing my new webcam (Logitech QuickCam Pro 9000 with QuickCam v11.7 software) and after using it for a while, mostly with Seesmic my MP3s play at about 3x or 4x normal speed.  They should like a chipmunk band!

I’m still trying to work out what the issue is.  Could it be to do with the way that Adobe Flash Player is interacting with the webcam and audio input/output?

Strangely, normal service resumed as soon as I’d closed the Seesmic tab in Firefox and closed down Twhirl (Twitter client).

I’m also not sure what software/drivers I should have installed.  It came with QuickCam v11.7 but the download version (for XP) from the Logitech website is QuickCam v11.5.  Hmmm…

Update, pt.1

Saturday 21 June

I’ve just uninstalled Adobe Flash Player and reinstalled it.  Everything appears to be working as expected now, which is promising.  That may have been the issue … I’ll keep an eye on it.

Update, pt.2

Friday 27 June

The problem is still continuing, although not as much as previously.  It happened again this morning when I fired up WinAmp.  However, I’ve discoverd that if I exit from Last.fm that fixes the problem.  Not sure what’s going on.  Seems to have happened around the time when I upgraded to Firefox 3 and installed the Logitech webcam.

Investigations continue …

Update, pt.3

Wednesday 02 July

Having lived with this issue over the last couple of weeks, it certainly looks as though the main culprits are Flash player in Firefox 3.0 and Last.fm.  The audio in WinAmp just went ‘chipmunk’ again this morning and wasn’t resolved until I did the following:

  1. Stop WinAmp playing (not exit, just stop)
  2. Exit Last.fm for Windows 1.5.1.29527
  3. Start WinAmp playing again

Music returned to its normal tempo.  Very odd, rather annoying.

Update, pt.4

Monday 28 July

I’ve now not experienced the chipmunk audio effect for nearly two weeks now.  I found somewhere on the Adobe website that in order to run the Flash uninstaller fully it required a /clean switch:

  1. Download the Uninstaller
  2. Open the Windows Command Prompt ( Run > cmd ).
  3. Navigate to the directory where the uninstaller was downloaded.
  4. Run “Uninstall Adobe Flash Player.exe /clean.”

After that I reinstalled Adobe Flash Player 9.0.124.0 and all has been well again ever since.