iTunes is great. It does everything you’d ever need from a media player. However, sometimes everything is just too much. Having so many features can be a little more of a drag on your computer’s processing power, and makes the app cumbersome and difficult to use.
This is where Ecoute comes in… Developed by PixiApps, It’s a lightweight, fast, and simple standalone application for playing your iTunes library without iTunes! I love iTunes, and I was skeptical that I could be tempted by something offering less features for a small price, but I’ve been pleasantly surprised. This review will offer an overview of what you can do with this excellent piece software.
The Main Interface
Ecoute is designed to be small. Even it’s main window takes up very little screen space and looks very smart.
It works much like the iPod Touch does in many ways; click on an artist, playlist, or something else, and the menu scrolls across to reveal the next set of items in a clean and effective way. Double click on the name of a song, and the list slides over to display the album artwork while playing.
The cover art screen also fades in the audio controls as you move your mouse over it, giving you quick access to play/pause/next/previous, as well as the volume slider.
This is certainly the greatest feature of Ecoute. Once you’ve got some music playing from your selected playlist, artist, or however you’ve chosen to play it, then you need not even keep the main window open at all.
This is thanks to the Desktop Controller which is a very simple controller that just sits in the background on your desktop. It shows you the Album artwork, along with the details of the track currently playing. It also gives you easy access to the music navigation controls.
This controller can be dragged around to wherever you like on the screen, and you can even change whether it sits on the desktop or floats above everything else. Right clicking it, you can lock its position, display lyrics, or show the main window.
A great feature which I stumbled across is that if you place your cursor over the Desktop Controller and scroll up or down, the volume adjusts accordingly.
The Desktop Controller is also very customizable. There are a few free themes that can be downloaded from here, and I imagine many more will be created in the future.
How It Works
Whilst you don’t need iTunes open at all to play music from Ecoute, this is not a complete replacement. You still need to use iTunes to set up all of your music and organize it, along with compiling playlists and adding album artwork. But once all of that is wrapped up, you can close iTunes up for a while and use Ecoute as your main player.
The reason you are required to have everything set up in iTunes first is because Ecoute then simply accesses your iTunes library to gather all of your music, podcasts, and videos. You can’t add songs to Ecoute and you can’t edit details of songs. It all has to be done from iTunes.
Whilst this sounds like a bit of a pain, and it can be if you see something you want to change while using it, I think it’s actually one of Ecoute’s strengths. It keeps it simple, and that’s the way it needs to be.
Here is a comparison of Ecoute and iTunes using up computer resources while both playing music. Ecoute is significantly more efficient.
Despite the unfortunate lack of support for this application, I managed to unearth quite a number of great features hidden within Ecoute.
Some of the obvious but useful ones are the way that the dock icon displays the currently playing track, which is a clever feature, or the fact that you can just get rid of the dock icon all together from the preferences of the application.
A simple menu item is another way you can access great features such as lyrics, or find the preferences. A great thing about the lyrics feature is that it gets the lyrics straight from the internet, so even if they are not in your iTunes library it will still find them.
In the preferences of Ecoute, you can enable plenty of great features such as keyboard shortcuts, themes, and even last.fm Scrobbling (records which songs you listen to, to make more personal recommendations on last.fm). Hidden in the ‘File’ menu, you can access a powerful album artwork search window, which will find and apply album art to your music.
Ecoute is packed with a great search feature tucked down in the bottom of the main window, and works with the iTunes controls on your keyboard, and the Apple Remote.
Whilst Ecoute is great, it is not without flaws. These are mostly minor issues though, which will hopefully be updated in the future.
For example sometimes a few odd things can happen… Such as the controls not coming up in the main window, or the lyrics not going away when told to.
A problem that really bugged me though was that if the main window was closed then the Desktop Controller would only work in the space that the window was last open. This is a real pain, because whilst the Controller travels with all spaces, clicking on play/pause for example in another space flings you back to the initial one, where you have to click the button again to make it work.
I did however discover that this issue can be resolved by leaving the main window open, but using the keyboard shortcut to hide it from view, and turning on “Keep main window on all spaces.” This means that although you can’t see it, the main window is still there in every space, and the Desktop Controller now works everywhere.
As I said in the beginning, I didn’t think I could be tempted by such a product but after giving it a thorough try, have come to like it. Ecoute is shareware, meaning that you can use it for free and if you like it, you pay for it. Ecoute isn’t perfect but it is very clean, fast, and easy to use, and with all of its great features, definitely justifies the bargain price of $10 that PixiApps sell it for.
For the last week, I have left Ecoute open with the Desktop Controller just sitting on my desktop and its been great. I’ve been playing music much more than I used to with iTunes, and I’ve really enjoyed the way it all works.
Let us know what you think of Ecoute, or if you use anything similar for controlling iTunes.