I'd already gone through the process of fixing up the "whole disc" portion of my music collection into "Album Artist - Album\Track - Artist - Title" and downloading cover art as cover.jpg into the folders (helped by Bulk Rename Utility and some regular expressions) then tagging from the file/folder data with the simply-named Mp3Tag. The latter is a worthy successor to Mp3 Tag Tools; the only thing you need to be aware of is that Album Artist is stored in the Band tag, since there isn't an Album Artist slot in the ID3v2 spec. Winamp, MediaMonkey and many players are quite happy to use this. Album Artist is the best way to deal with compilations, making them easy to locate (under Various) without cluttering a list with hundreds of artist names who only attach to a track or two in your library.
I went through current versions of Winamp, AIMP2, Songbird, and Foobar in quite rapid succession. Bear in mind these are fleeting impressions; there may be ways to do with them what I eventually found I could do well with MediaMonkey.
- Winamp has entered development mothballing, with minimal resources being devoted to it. The skins available for it don't allow much control over what goes where, and controls tend to be small, reminding me of kids making websites in 6pt fonts.
- Songbird feels like it's improved a lot over the last couple of years, and people looking for an alternative to iTunes should probably check it out since the Gonzo "feather" (skin) is a good homage. Currently needs extensions to handle playlisting well.
- AIMP2 essentially takes up where Winamp left off. Not a bad thing if you like skinned players, which I don't.
- Foobar remains incomprehensible to me. I'm quite techy, but couldn't quickly work out where to get started, which is a shame.
Which left me skimming the "freeware" section of Snapfiles under "MP3/Music Management" and noticing MediaMonkey. Offering a free version of software that isn't crippled is a very good sales tactic — in fact there wasn't any note attached stating it was a cut-down version of something (which would've put me off, for the record. I've seen too much bad shareware.)
There was a warm fuzzy moment when I installed it and discovered that it can be run without skins. Unless non-standard window controls add functionality, I'm all for staying in what's now referred to as Windows Classic. Retro listeners may also be interested to note that MM accepts many Winamp plugins (I still use the last version of Winamp 2 plus some plugins as a swiss army knife for simple production tasks, though I suspect I'll continue using Winamp for that out of habit.) Plus the developers have a reasonable sense of humour:
As for usage, the node called Library contains my sorted files, and the My Computer node allows browsing through hard drive folders for stray tracks. Filters mean that I can keep the "whole disc" stuff separate from the relatively small number of loose, untagged files I've picked up over the last decade and just dumped into folders that reflect the period I encountered them in.
The main reason for using a player like this is the ability to quickly find files, which the top columns work well for. I've got the file area underneath set up as a compromise to work with the part of my library that's "whole disc" and the rest that's just stray tracks... showing Filename both here and in the playlist (and naming my files by Track - Artist - Title) means that all relevant info's available whichever node I'm browsing. The player can also be switched into a couple of different cover view browsing modes, which is nice for reminding me what's in the library and having a visual attached to songs makes a surprising amount of difference to the listening experience after not bothering for years.
MM's top selling point is that it copes well with tens of thousands of files in a library; I have fewer than ten thousand sorted as discs or hard playlists, but it's still nice to have a responsive application — again, this is something I associate with non-skinned applications, but that's psychological as MM is similarly snappy with them turned on. Another novel feature is a locked-down "party mode" that prevents guests from casually breaking things. There's also the by-now-typical handling of portable players, plus a slew of less common file management tools I haven't really looked at yet.
MediaMonkey is a bit cheeky in giving you a time-limited version of the LAME MP3 encoder, since the encoder is freely available, although they do note on the site that you can add in an unrestricted version yourself. The Gold version also adds a "sleep" timer, full-speed audio CD burning, more advanced searching than the already good functionality in the regular version, various automated file-managing functions and probably other stuff. None of which I'm too interested in at this stage; most of those features are there to compete with iTunes. The main reason I registered was because I like the program so far, and to get rid of the "MediaMonkey Gold" entry at the end of the menu and put a small toolbar in that space.
Which brings us to the second point of this blog entry... you can get a Gold license for minor version upgrades (eg, 3.1, 3.2, etc) by completing an offer with TrialPay, rather than paying $19.99 up front. Some of these seem to be dodgy auto-subscription stuff, and I'd suggest using a throwaway email address, but the principle isn't a bad one. For four-quid-something I got both the license and 250 minimalist business cards with just my name and website address — which I can then scribble an email address or phone number on depending on who I'm giving them to. 74p + VAT of that was opting for a blank reverse side rather than "get free business cards at VistaPrint" but I think that's a worthwhile extra, and four-quid-something with some cards effectively thrown in for free is excellent value. As I see it, there's little point getting a Lifetime license for all upgrades, since I may well wander off to other software despite paying for this, and even if 3.x doesn't work with Windows 7 or whatever's next there'll probably be another TrialPay or similar opportunity around by the time it comes to switch operating systems.
Hell, if the developers add a PayPal donate button, I might chip in a few more bucks if I keep using this. Especially if my one complaint thus far is addressed: there doesn't seem to be an option to configure using a single-click on the tray icon to restore the window, rather than pause whatever's playing; I'm conditioned to it not requiring a double-click. And, like Skype, attempting to send the window to an icon in the tray with the software I already have installed to allow that for any application, the window still remains in the taskbar... very minor stuff, though. I'm happy so far. The interface is generally simple and non-cluttered, but there's plenty of additional functionality to grow into.