I began investigating options for a better music player/manager after I got an Archos 604 wifi. It’s a great little gadget. It allows me to browse the web with a wifi connection, watch videos on the go or display them on a tv, and listen to my music. I have the 30 gig flavor and it’s quite sufficient for my music collection with videos getting cycled around to holding unseen episodes. It acts as a mass storage device when plugged into the machine so it’s quite easy to work with.
I also have an iPod shuffle. The Archos beats the Shuffle hands down in all areas: it has a display (so I can tell what song I’m listening to), 30GB > 512 MB, Shuffle is limited to music and few other purposes. But all of this is reasonable, given the price difference between the two. However, I’m not ready to shelve the Shuffle yet. It has the distinct advantage of being flash memory-based instead of hard drive-based. That makes it lighter and smaller, and me less worried about jarring shakes or vibrations. This latter fact is particularly important to me as the Shuffle serves the primary purpose of being my running partner.
So, I have two devices and one library to sync with. Why do I have to have two applications? I have to use iTunes (a rather bloated media player) to sync with the Shuffle and I can use almost anything but iTunes to sync with the Archos. With this setup and growing frustration while trying to get new songs onto both devices without having to duplicate playlists, I began researching my options. I looked into plug-ins and things that would allow me to use iTunes to sync with something besides an iPod. BadApple, apparently the solution I was looking for, had gone under just as I began looking. Unable to find anything else that would allow me to continue using iTunes, (even though I wasn’t completely satisfied with it, it did have my library fully set up) I began searching for a solution from the other angle, a different player that would sync with my Shuffle. I found a list of three or four different players and really wasn’t satisfied with a polished product until I got to the third one: MediaMonkey
MediaMonkey is a high-quality, finished application and it did exactly what I was seeking: syncing iPods and other media players with the same application. Along with that, it also does much more. It’s interface is pretty similar to iTunes, which is simple and intuitive, Apple’s specialty. I recommend allowing it full skinning through the setup to take advantage of its interface further. You can reduce it to a mini player, a microplayer, or to the system tray to get it out of your way but still allowing the tunes to play. MediaMonkey is also compatible with a wide variety of music formats, unlike iTunes.
My favorite feature of MediaMonkey is definitely the auto-organize features. At the same time I was looking for a media player, my music library was also a disaster. I recently moved it from one computer to another after completing a RAID setup to back up my files. My music was never really organized well and moving computers only complicated matters. Well, I set MediaMonkey on the task of organizing the songs and it picked through the ID tags and sorted it into subfolders by genre. The auto-organize feature is really pretty spiffy. You point MM at the folder to organize and tell it where to put the songs and how. You could put them in any folder and then specify further sorting by year, genre, artist, album, filename, track number, and many more. It can also rename all (or a specific set) by those same rules, like <Artist> – <Track name> <track number>.mp3 MediaMonkey organized my files descriptively and since genres seem to fit my musical tastes by mood, it’s worked perfectly. I can just throw on some classical, alternative, or whatever other genre to fit what I feel like listening to. It can also be setup to monitor folders for new files and automatically file them away for you. Of course, you can set up playlists like any other player as well.
The only thing that iTunes has that this lacks is the storefront. You can buy songs easily through Amazon or other stores and put them in your folder. It will also grab track info from freedb. You can still keep iTunes for its store if that’s your preference, but it means you can kill services like iTunesHelper and Ipodhelper. If you use the File Monitor, just point it to your typical download folder and have MM seamlessly move those songs to the appropriate folder.
Some other cool features also worth mentioning:
Podcast subscription compatible
Auto-volume leveling per track or per album
Sleep timer (which can fade the volume gradually or shut down the computer at the end)
A fix from 2.5 to 3.0 is that editing the ID tags, including rating, no longer interrupts playback.
There is a free version or the professional version. Some of the features I mentioned are only available in the Professional edition, but those are extravagances that you’ll have to test for yourself to see if it’s worth the cost.