Skytopia > Projects > Technology/science articles > MP3 Player Giants Rematch     (article massively updated on 31st January 2008 (first created on 27th March 2005).

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(WMP vs Winamp vs iTunes vs MediaMonkey)2


This article was first created on the 31st January 2008 and updated on 10th Feb 2008, and again on the 9th May 2008.

Contents

Page 1 - Overview & File type support
Page 2 - Searching/Filtering/Playlists & Tagging
Page 3 - Interface speed & Bloatware analysis
Page 4 - Library maintenance & Extras
Page 5 - Miscellaneous issues & Results + conclusion


Winamp (v5.51)   Nullsoft     (previously reviewed 5.02)     Download latest     Download.com reviews
iTunes (v7.6)   Apple (previously reviewed 4.7)     Download latest     Download.com reviews
MediaMonkey (v3.01)   Ventis Media       (previously reviewed 2.3)     Download latest     Download.com reviews
Windows Media
Player
(v11.05)
  Microsoft       (not previously reviewed)     Download latest     Download.com reviews

Library maintainence

By default, iTunes and WMP differ in the way they keep track of music files in the main library compared to MediaMonkey or Winamp. In a nutshell, when a file is played or created in iTunes or WMP, that file is automatically added to the library (optional with WMP). With Winamp or Mediamonkey however, a rescan of your music folder/s would be needed each time you want the library up to date. They can be configured to work like iTunes/WMP through the use of their "File Monitor" (MM - Gold version only) and "Local Media -> Watch Folders" (Winamp). WMP can also watch folders in this way for new files which may appear in them.

The default WMP/iTunes' approach may be preferable, but iTunes comes with a catch. Obviously, if you delete a music file in a windows folder, then iTunes would still contain the file in its library. Unfortunately however, iTunes is unable to delete the file internally (it used to!), so you need to do two actions to completely remove a file. Apple probably assumes that whatever file you download, you want to keep forever. The only way to semi-solve this would be to highlight all files in your library, delete them all, and then get iTunes to rescan your music folder/s. On the other hand, WMP handles the situtation better, allowing you to delete the file from within WMP itself quite easily.

"Inbox" system
As discussed in the previous article we did many moons ago, the best possible system would utilize what I call an 'inbox' or 'To Check' list. In a nutshell, any new files you've downloaded are automatically added to the inbox, ready for you to rate, add metadata, notes and whatever else. From the 'inbox', you would be able to archive any file to the main library, or delete it permanently. This solves the problem of cluttering up your hard drive with files you don't need as well as keeping a selection of files you've just downloaded recently so you can hear them a few times. Only when you're happy, can they be let loose into the main library. It's also a great way of making sure that MP3s which aren't initially tagged don't get forgotten about forever.

As I write this, it would seem that MediaMonkey and Windows Media Player may come the closest to realising this system. The simplest way would be to create two windows folders ("Inbox" and "Done"), and then get MM/WMP to watch them both with the "File Monitor" or "Library -> Monitor Folders" feature. You can then create an AutoPlaylist called (say) "Inbox" which only displays music with the file path matching your Inbox/ToCheck folder. From this point onwards, you can then save files to the "To Check" folder, and once you're happy with them being archived, move them over to the "Done" folder.

Perhaps the best way though (and the system I currently use) is to combine the File Monitor feature with MM/WMP's custom tag feature. Simply tag all old tunes "old" or "lib", and then you can set up a smart/auto playlist to exclude these from the new "inbox" stuff. This way, you don't need two actual windows folders (inbox and lib) - just one will do. The advantage is less housekeeping because you can do EVERYTHING from within MediaMonkey/WMP. The only outside transaction that would take place is when you save the music file to your single music folder in the first place (say from your browser). In MediaMonkey, to take advantage of this functionality, you would need the Gold version.

In Winamp or iTunes, it is possible to do the above, but you would need to use something like the "comments" tag which is rather inappropriate since it may have already stuff inside, or you may want to use it for its intended purpose instead.

Alternatively in Winamp, it is possible to create a temporary playlist as the 'inbox' list, and then every time you wanted to move a file to the main library, you would select "Send To -> Add to Local Media". It isn't perfect however, not least in part because you can't edit or even view the metadata for music contained inside the playlist view. Unfortunately, the "Now Playing" feature of Winamp isn't as good as the "Now Playing" in Mediamonkey, since Mediamonkey treats it like a playlist, but in the main library view, providing better unification.

In iTunes, the best you can probably do is set up a filter to look for songs saved within the past week or so, and/or files that haven't been rated yet. It's far from ideal.

Note to iTunes: Don't add a tune to the library unless I specifically ask!
Note to Winamp: Allow us to see metadata inside the playlist view, or make the library view be the playlist!

Other library maintainence aspects
Apple and Mediamonkey should be commended for providing a non-proprietary format for its database, allowing DB manipulation and easier migration between systems (also look for "Export..." and "Create Reports..." respectively in the File menu to export the data). In a nutshell, if you want to access all the metadata (including program-specific data, like rating, play count, and last played, and rating, which are not part of the ID3v2.3 format), for whatever purposes, then you can. I'm not sure that Winamp is so obliging.

Mediamonkey also provides library filtering, so you can define subsets of your music. This works like Smart Playlists, but Filters differ in that you can define the columns (tags) and tree nodes (such as viewing particular Artists, or Years etc.) to be customized to each subset. Even whether the tracks shuffle or fade in/out is an option for each subset. Any Smart Playlists that are created would be a subset of each Filter incidentally. Really, MM should unify Filters with Smart Playlists, but the fact that it has these two levels of filtering can only be a bonus.

For those who want it, MM also allows auto-organizing of windows folders based on simple or complex rules (iTunes supports this too, but only uses its own system of folder organization).

One final thing; ideally, each player should unify the playlists with the "smartlists", so that each playlist can also be filtered according to criteria, and each smart playlist can contain arbitrary tracks like a playlist.

  Mediamonkey
  WMP
  Winamp
  iTunes

A small victory for Mediamonkey - now on to the extras...



Extras

Visualizer
Watching colorful and swirling patterns entrance you while listening to music has always been a staple of music players. Winamp, WMP, Mediamonkey and iTunes are no different here, featuring the usual variety of plasma, fractals, firey explosions, melting clouds, and almost everything that you would come to expect from this kind of thing.

After hypnotizing myself for about 30 minutes in each player, I found that although iTunes default visualizer had some startling imagery at times, the graphics were a little more messy than Winamp ("Milkdrop 2" visualizer) or Mediamonkey ("Milkdrop" visualizer), which were also running at a higher frame rate. Mediamonkey can utilize (all of?) Winamp's Visualizer plugins. At least iTunes supports a good few others anyway as add-ons. WMP's visualizations are in comparison fairly poor, but once again, they can be added fairly easily.

Plugins
In comparison to Winamp and MediaMonkey, iTunes plugins are somewhat limited. They either seem to be based on things like visualizers, tagging functionality, playlist creators, or for synchronizing between portable players.

WA, WMP and MM on the other hand support plugins for skins, program functionality plugins, and perhaps most importantly, DSP/Output plugins, so you can change pitch or tempo, add effects like echo, and surround sound to all your music etc. Mediamonkey supports quite a few, so does WMP, and Winamp even more.

Incidentally, all players miss a simple tune pitch feature as default. It doesn't have to be time-stretching, I just want a different tune pitch sometimes, even if it does simultaneously affect the speed. It's great for giving an old piece of music a new lease of life. WMP does however have a basic music speed adjuster.

Shop
iTunes comes with an online shop as standard. Although they used to sell only DRM tracks which restricted just about everyone, they are now seeing sense, and have started to sell DRM-free music (AAC, 256kbps) under the "iTunes Plus" label since May last year (2007). Their store is certainly popular - it accounts for the majority of online digital music sales in fact. Many albums contain reviews and ratings, with each song allowing a preview of 30 seconds, and also ranked by popularity - a neat touch.

Winamp, WMP, and Mediamonkey lack an inbuilt music shop of any kind, though Mediamonkey links each track to Amazon or CD universe, and WMP links to their own web shop.

Hardware syncing
iTunes can sync with the iPod by default, along with others with an add-on. Winamp/Mediamonkey/WMP can sync with the iPod, iRiver, and many other hardware devices like USB mp3 players.

Video
All four players can handle video of various types such as AVI, MPG, MPEG, QT, RM, MOV, WMV, GIF, FLV. I'm guessing iTunes is least able to easily play various formats compared to the other players. This won't be looked into any great depth yet - sorry.

Podcasting & radio
All four players except WMP support podcasting as default, along with tons of radio channels for instant music streaming.

CD burning
  • Winamp supports burning up to 2x (48x for pro), and can rip CDs to AAC & WMA, but not to MP3, unless you buy the full version.
  • Mediamonkey supports burning up to 4x (48x for pro), and can rip CDs to MP3, OGG, WMA, FLAC.
  • iTunes can burn to CDs and rip from CDs (ripping supports aac, wav, aiff, .m4a/mp4 (Apple Lossless)).
  • WMP can burn CDs in audio or data format, and can rip in WMA, WMA lossless, MP3 or WAV at most bitrates. 24 bit CDs are also supported.

      Mediamonkey
      Winamp
      iTunes
      Windows Media Player
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