There has always been a love/hate relationship with iTunes on Windows: It runs poorly, but is the only application that can sync your beloved iPod. If you want to break free of iTunes’ grip, then these three media managers would be a good place to start. They all support nearly every format that exists, and will be able to handle anything you throw at them. Nothing can fully replace iTunes’ syncing ability, but for just managing your music library, these are great alternatives.
When I first started Foobar, I was amazed at how quickly it opened. The ancient laptop I was testing on didn’t flinch like it did with the others, which struggled to open. It is very barebones, and perfect if your looking for the lightest and most powerful player available.
Foobar is not designed to sync with anything, it is strictly a computer-side media manager. Sadly, Apple has done a good job at keeping third party applications from syncing with iPods, so it seems the Foobar team hasn’t tried.
It is incredibly customizable, and if you can dream it up, you could theme it. It focuses more on function and efficiency over fancy graphics, and utilizes a familiar column and row layout that can be altered in any way you wish. You can map shortcuts, create playlists, and browse your music in a tree structure for easy access. It has a lightweight plugin system that uses “Components” to provide extra functionality. These are nothing more than DLL files, so they won’t bog down the app.
While the other applications will annoy you with bloated features, Foobar will get out of your way, and do exactly what it is told with zero fuss. It doesn’t hide your media behind a GUI, it’s a lightweight middleman that makes enjoying your music as easy as possible.
Foobar can be minimalistic and simple when it needs to be, but it also gives you access to an incredible amount of settings and modifications with a few clicks. Foobar does almost nothing – but also everything – at the same time.
Winamp can sync with all of Apple’s non-touch screen iPods, from the Classic and Nano to the Shuffle. There is a plugin available that attempts to enable support for some iPod Touches on older firmware, and it’s worth a shot. (But no guarantees.)
Winamp is highly customizable, and has thousands of skins and plugins available, perfect for power users. It does everything iTunes can do and more, including downloading podcasts, lyrics, and integration with the 7digital music store. If you have a massive music library and want full control, then Winamp is the manager for you. A full list of features can be found here.
But, all of this comes at a price. The program is full of crapware, and tries to install toolbars and other bloat on your system. When I first started up the program, it played some audio clip at full blast across my room. (“Winamp, it really whips the llama’s ass!” Which, according to Wikipedia, is a mascot/promotional tool, but annoying nonetheless.)
The $19.95 Pro version offers video playback, faster CD burning, and higher quality encoding. There is also Winamp Lite, which is a barebones version of the player for quickly playing back audio files.
Media Monkey is similar to Winamp, but focuses more on managing your audio with powerful tagging and media scraping abilities. It has support for skins and plugins, but nowhere near the amount that Winamp or Foobar has. The interface is pretty cluttered, so if you’re looking for something minimalistic, this is not it. The application has an overwhelming amount of buttons and menus that make it difficult to do anything.
Media Monkey is the only one of the three with the ability to sync with every iDevice. (Except the iPhone 4.) So if you’re looking for a full iTunes replacement with syncing and everything, this may be the only option.
Here’s a list of features from their website:
- Organize music and edit tags in your audio library with a powerful, intuitive interface.
- Automatically lookup and tag Album Art and other metadata.
- Manage 50,000+ files in your music collection without bogging down.
- Manage all genres of audio: Rock, Classical, Audiobooks, Comedy, Podcasts, etc.
- Play MP3s and other audio formats, and never again worry about varying volume.
- Record CDs and convert MP3s, M4A, OGG, FLAC and WMA files etc. into other formats.
- Create playlists and let Auto-DJ & Party Mode take care of your party.
- Sync iPhones, iPods, & MP3 players, converting & leveling tracks on-the-fly
There is also a Gold version available that adds additional features like “On the fly converting” for $19.95.
My suggestion is to use Media Monkey to organize your music initially, and Foobar2000 for playback. The other two options are resource hogs with insanely cluttered interfaces, making playing music secondary to actually finding it. Unless you absolutely have to have syncing, then there is no reason to use bloated programs. Do yourself a favor and streamline you media experience with a lightweight alternative like Foobar.