When iTunes was first released, it quickly impressed users with its intuitive interface and extensive feature list, soon becoming the standard music app not only for Mac users, but many Windows users as well. Though it started out strong, the constant addition of new features and subsequent decreases in performance have left many dissatisfied users complaining of sluggishness and feature bloat.
Enqueue is one of several new apps attempting to offer an alternative to iTunes for frustrated Mac users, offering a simplified experience, better performance, and improved features. Let’s find out if it delivers!
First Thing’s First:
Enqueue is not a replacement for iTunes: it won’t sync your music to your iPod, it won’t connect you to the iTunes store, it won’t support AirPlay or iTunes Match, and because Apple keeps these features to themselves, you’re stuck with iTunes if you want them. Enqueue is an app purely meant for playing music on your Mac, and I’ll evaluate it as such.
Getting Started with Enqueue
Since we all manage our music through iTunes, we’re going to need to grab songs from the iTunes library. When you first open up Enqueue, you’re offered the option to import your music from iTunes, add files manually, or ‘watch’ folders. The iTunes import is surprisingly quick and painless, and can be updated at any time from Preferences.
Monitored folders is also a handy feature, it allows you to set a folder destination for your new music, and Enqueue will add new files from this folder to its library. Again, you can add new folders to be monitored at any time from Preferences.
Enqueue features a customizable browser that allows you to browse your music by genre, artist, album, or title, and gives you an option of two main browser layouts: the default has a three-pane drill-down browser at the top, or you can switch to a 2-pane browser where the left panel lists genre, artists, albums or composers, and the right panel lists tracks (you can also choose to show tracks by album). All these options can be configured from the View menu. Enqueue also has an option for full-screen mode in Lion if you’re into that.
Queue it up
Unlike iTunes, where you select one track, album, or playlist to listen to, Enqueue lets you create a queue of the next tracks you want listen to with a simple drag-and-drop interface. You can drag a track, album, artist, or genre to the queue panel on the far left of the interface to add it to you lineup, or double-click a track to add the entire list it is displayed in to your queue (e.g. the ‘Pop/Rock’ genre or a specific artist or album). A music queue, created on the fly without the commitment of a playlist, is a simple, intuitive idea that’s been adopted by a number of new music players, and once you’ve used it you’ll wonder why iTunes never came up with it.
If you’ve created a queue worth keeping, you can save it as a playlist from the gear menu at the top of the queue.
Listening to Music
Enqueue features a smaller mini-player showing only the queue and playback controls (Shift + Cmd + M) and you can also control playback from any app using customizable global keyboard shortcuts. I liked the default Ctrl + Alt + Cmd shortcut prefix because you can hit it with one hand and minimal accuracy. As you go through your queue, Enqueue will display growl notifications when the track changes so you know where you’re at.
Enqueue gives you equalizer control with the option to save your custom settings, though it doesn’t have many useful pre-set equalizer settings.
You can take a look at your listening history from the History tab, where your top artists and songs, and recently played or added songs are displayed in a subtly attractive table.
You can also keep track of your listening habits using last.fm by connecting your account through Preferences. Last.fm integration is seamless, and doesn’t require you to download the client.
Enqueue isn’t alone in the field of minimal music players, but its intuitive interface and customizable view options make it a strong competitor. Sonora shares the queue feature and minimalism, but I find the focus on browsing by album to be inflexible. Ecoute is an iTunes-integrated, standalone app with a very minimal interface, but lacks the queue feature that makes Enqueue and Sonora so handy, and the interface can seem a bit ‘dumbed down’.
My biggest grippe about Enqueue (and about an increasing number of apps theses days) is that it’s exclusively available on the app store, meaning there’s no free trial, and there’s more pressure on me to write a thorough review! So here’s my conclusion: Enqueue does what it does very well. It does not, and never will, sync with your iPod, or support iTunes Match or AirPlay. However, if you regularly play your music from your Mac, and are looking for a more streamlined and efficient experience than iTunes can offer, I can confidently recommend Enqueue. It’s a solid app with a well-thought-out experience and enough flexibility to suit most users.
How do you play music on your Mac? Are you happy with iTunes or are you losing patience with each update? I’m sure I’ve missed plenty of alternative music players, let’s hear about them in the comments!