Sonora: For When iTunes Is Overkill

I love iTunes. As Apple’s native music player and iOS powerhouse command station, it is unlikely that anything will ever wholly replace iTunes for me. It’s an integrated hub for surfing the iTunes music store, buying iOS apps, making playlists, the Ping network (even though it’s somewhat barren), managing the media and content on my iPhone and iPad, and more. But in spite of my love for iTunes, I will be the first to admit that with a music library the size of mine, it can be a bit slow, unwieldy, and bloated when all I want to do is play some tunes.

When I began reading up on Sonora, a beta-phase app coded by Indragie Karunaratne and designed by Tyler Murphy, I was impressed with the obvious target niche that Sonora was appealing to. At the risk of sounding “scoff-y”, independently developed music players rarely appeal to me because they so often claim to be an iTunes replacement–which, for the reasons listed in the above paragraph, is unlikely for me. Sonora, on the other hand, markets itself as a companion player, humbly leaving the heavy lifting of music purchases and iOS management to iTunes and providing a lightweight player for the express purpose of playing music. Hit the jump to read more about Sonora.

Prepare Ship for Ludicrous Speed!

Oh god, the speed. It would be unjust of me to begin this review by talking about anything other than Sonora’s lightning fast speed. The biggest problem with using iTunes when all I want to do is play music is the sluggishness (even on my relatively new MacBook Pro), so let it be known that Sonora does not have this problem. Even after importing my entire iTunes library (which it will do on startup, and rather quickly, I might add) opening and closing the app happens almost instantaneously.

To search for music, simply begin typing and this search bar appears out of thin air.

To search for music, simply begin typing and this search bar appears out of thin air.

I know this is a bit out of order, and I’ll fix that momentarily, but one final note about speed: searching the app is as snappy as everything else. Simply begin typing anywhere in the app, and a search bar shows up mid-screen with instant search results.

The Anatomy Of Sonora

Okay, we got a bit ahead of ourselves there, didn’t we? Let’s back up, and I’ll explain how Sonora works.

The Sonora interface, in all it's glory.

The Sonora interface, in all it's glory.

Sonora works on the premise that “music is flexible” and continually plays tracks from a versatile queue, which can be found across the top of the window. Tracks can be added, removed, or rearranged on this queue, allowing you a custom, and constantly changing, playlist based entirely on your mood. While a track is playing, a subtle progress bar creeps along the gap between the queue bar and your library near the top of the window.

If you feel like creating a mix that you can save and listen to later, tracks can be added to the column on the right side of the window, which can be accessed by clicking the + icon in the bottom right. When you’ve constructed a mix you like, click done and it will be saved to the “Mix” tab on the bottom of the window.

Playlists imported from iTunes also appear here as mixes.

Playlists imported from iTunes also appear here as mixes.

Sonora posits that your music library shouldn’t look like a spreadsheet, and offers an elegant remedy. Each album is displayed beautifully in a grid, pending available artwork. Hovering over an album cover displays a Play button in the corner, which will replace the queue with that album. Additionally, a good old-fashioned double click will reveal the albums track list in a gorgeous pop-out pane, and songs can be added individually to the end of the queue with the + icon, or dragged to a specific spot in the queue for on-the-fly playlist editing.

Double click an album cover to display the tracks on that album.

Double click an album cover to display the tracks on that album.

Finally, your standard player controls are fashionably implemented in the upper corners, including play, next track, and previous track on the left, and clear queue, repeat, and shuffle on the left.

To maintain it’s simplicity, Sonora focuses on only providing what’s absolutely necessary for an enjoyable music experience. Limited metadata, stylish tracklists, and a customizable music queue make Sonora great for listening, even when iTunes might be a bit more powerful for cataloguing purposes.

Flexibility And Integration

Part of what makes Sonora such a great iTunes companion is that it willingly syncs libraries each time it’s opened, so anything you import to iTunes will automatically be added to your Sonora library, and any playlists will show up in “Mixes.”

Growl notifications are also a plus.

Growl notifications are also a plus.

According to one of tenets outlined on their webpage, Sonora suggests that music should be social. It certainly follows through with full scrobbling integration, without the need to be running the standalone app in the background.

Lastly, and probably most excitingly, Sonora has support for the rare and high-quality audio file formats that even iTunes doesn’t. Listen to your lossless .flac files or your .ogg’s in style.

Final Thoughts

Sonora isn’t just a barebones music player. It’s thoughtful, elegant, and minimalistic. The only issues I came across were things like brief hangups or very minor visual glitches–nothing even close to unacceptable in a beta-phase app. Indragie is doing it right with Sonora, and I’m excited to continue following it’s development.

I’m thrilled to put Sonora in it’s rightful place in my dock… next to iTunes, of course.


A lightweight music player that serves better as an iTunes companion than an iTunes replacement.



Add Yours
  • I’ve tried it, and I just fell in love with Sonora! It’s so simple and beautiful and it is just like a music player should be!

  • Only thing i dont like is the application icon.
    It looks outdated.

    • I thought the exact same thing when I first saw it.

      • Funny I thought it was a great icon replacement for iTunes which I dislike lol

  • Only problem is iPod sync, listen songs in sonora and then add to playlist in iTunes or rate it.
    and no smart list support yet

    • I’m the developer of Sonora. There’s absolutely no means by which we can add proper iPod or iPhone syncing into the app right now. Those APIs are all private to Apple. We had to compromise by having Sonora interface closely with iTunes so that you can use iTunes as the app to sync and manage your library and devices, and then use Sonora as a light weight listening companion, as the article explains.

      On the other hand, Sonora can also be used as a fully functional standalone music player completely independent of iTunes. We have our own importing and library management system (even though certain features aren’t quite as powerful as iTunes’ yet) and format support for many formats that iTunes doesn’t support. The goal is to allow ultimate flexibility in how you use it and also to play nice with Apple’s software at the same time.

      • Are you working on better cover art identification?

        It seems on par with iTunes right now.

      • I love Sonora—thank you for your work!

        A couple of questions:

        1. Do you plan to support other (arguably more obscure) audiophile formats such as APE, TTA or WavPack?
        2. Will there be a plugin system in place?
        3. Will Sonora stay free or will you start charging for it once it’s ready to ship?

      • 1. We already support APE and WavPack. TTA isn’t supported yet.
        2. We can’t have a plugin system due to App Store restrictions
        3. Sonora will be $9.99 when it ships

  • Thanks for the hard work on the app Indragie (and Tyler). There are too few music players of quality available on the Mac. I feel like i’ve been searching for an iTunes replacement forever. Sonora is a great app. A few things i’m not sure about or still getting used to, but happy to be presented with the opportunity to try. Cheers again.

  • I really like the app, but I really miss browsing by genre and thats a big no for me, once (if) they add it I’ll happily use it as an iTunes companion

  • A lightspeed app, huh!
    I absolutely have to try this one!

  • how come it requires lion…there are a lot of people still on snow leopard =[

    • Yes; I second that. I would love to use this but there is no way I am downgrading to Lion from SL. Any chance of this being made so that it will work on SL as well?

      • “no way I am downgrading to Lion from SL”


  • I downloaded Sonora hoping that it would be light weight (I don’t really care about startup speed), but unfortunately found that Sonora’s memory footprint was on-par with iTunes. Big fail — I want to enjoy listening to my music without using memory that I need for running my applications.

    • Most of Sonora’s memory usage comes from the album artwork. If you’re in All Artists and you’ve loaded artwork for every album in the grid, there’s a good chance that memory usage will be high (thousands of pieces of cached artwork isn’t easy on memory). If you’re browsing a specific artist, however, the memory usage will be substantially lower (30-40MB).

  • I saw this a few days ago and was looking forward to trying it, but for some reason it’s crashing on startup =/

    • You might wanna give our latest update a try (Sonora 0.71), we’ve fixed a few of those crashing bugs. Make sure to delete your ~/Music/Sonora folder and do a clean import just to make sure.

  • I totally like Sonora. Its clean and simple.

    But the Sonora icon is ugly as Hell. Boring idea, no proportions… Please redesign this.

  • After reading yesterday’s review of Ecoute, I went out and tried it. I love it! Would you say Sonora is better?

    • I didn’t write the review of Ecoute, so I can’t say much about it’s performance. However, from the brief test drive I did give it, I enjoy the experience of using Sonora more, I think, even though Ecoute has a few features I’d like to see implemented in Sonora (like more integrated social features).

  • I really like it, but I cannot get to work. Anyway, it is much better than iTunes.

  • 10 bucks for what you are basically describing as an iTunes addon? I’m sorry, but that is ridiculous. I’d rather buy Enqueue for that price.

    Thanks but no thanks.

    • Gotta agree. Sonora comes up strong, but for the few features and formats inside and outside of iTunes-the-hog, I think Sonora has overpriced itself.

    • I agree. For that price, I might as well just buy Ecoute, which is much prettier.

    • Yeh $10 is a bit steep for what it is at now. I’d drop it to $5 to compete with other companions or lower :P Only put it back up when it has reason to buy over other apps.

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  • I’d happily pay $10 or $20 dollars to make up for the demonic sluggishness of iTunes trying to work 116000 songs… And the design looks good too.
    But you’ll just have to tell me when you get it working with a Windows OS…

  • Is there a possibility to integrate multiple outputs. It would be so nice to play the playlist and at the same time check-out music to play on a head phone. A simple external soundcard can do the trick, but it needs software support. Kind Regards Ralph

  • estoy con problemas con el programa no abre y me indica lo siguiente:
    The last time you opened Sonora, it unexpectedly quit while reopening windows. Do you want to try to reopen its windows again?
    If you choose not to reopen windows, you may have to open and position the windows yourself.

    Don’t Reopen Reopen
    y no puedo acceder a la aplicación?