Ecoute 3: iTunes Without the Fluff

Ecoute, created by PixiApps, has been a moderately popular alternative to iTunes for over a year now. With version 3, developer Louka Desroziers and interface designer Julien Sagot hope to catapult their audio player’s status from semi-popular indie app to major-league success. So is the latest version of Ecoute ready for the big time?

Listen up!

Ecoute's main window

Ecoute's main window

First things first: Ecoute is not a complete iTunes replacement. Instead, PixiApps have decided to leverage the strong library management already present in iTunes, and simply hook in to the iTunes library already on your Mac. While this does mean that users still have to use iTunes to import, purchase, and organize their media, it does mean that they have a well-organized library to work with. Many may not like having to switch back and forth between iTunes and Ecoute to manage their collection, though, and there currently seems to be no way to import music directly into Ecoute. This is likely a limitation with using the iTunes library, but is still a potential pitfall for many potential users.

Of a larger concern is the fact that as of version 3.0.1, which we tested, Ecoute seems to have some problems with video content purchased from the iTunes store. HD TV episodes didn’t seem to want to play and, because iTunes groups HD and SD versions of the same episode together, Ecoute was not able to select the SD version to play. For a non-beta app claiming to be able to handle all of your iTunes media, this is a fairly major drawback. It is clear at this time that PixiApps main focus has been on the music side of things.

User Experience is Everything

All the above being said, for those users who are primarily looking for an alternative to playing their music through iTunes, Ecoute offers a simple, intuitive user interface with some added extras on top.

The decidedly minimal aesthetic may not appeal to all users, but it fits well with Apple’s own design language (many would argue that it does this better than iTunes itself, which has become somewhat cluttered), and it works well. The three-column view for the track listing can be sorted by artist, album and genre as well as all the other usual suspects. Additional columns only appear when needed which helps the interface to feel clean and simple. Ecoute’s search function works well, results showing in a separate column grouped by the same headings. This search uses fuzzy matching, too, so you don’t need to be able to remember the first word of a song title to be able to find it in your collection.

Ecoute's desktop widget, bottom left, and main player controls, top right

Ecoute's desktop widget, bottom left, and main player controls, top right

Ecoute is not currently supported by utilities such as Bowtie, so the developers include their own desktop widget with the application, which is fully themeable (the best place to find themes at the moment seems to be iconpaper). Again, this is a feature not all will have any desire for, but its nice to have in there for those that do want it.

Ecoute's "Now Playing" view

Ecoute's "Now Playing" view

Ecoute also features a “now playing” view (which can be switched to automatically after a number of seconds), which offers a simple view of cover art for the song currently playing. Its not particularly useful view (apart from giving the user access to rating stars), but it is pretty.

Sharing is caring

Ecoute offers easy access to social functionality

Ecoute offers easy access to social functionality

What will be of more use to many people is Ecoute’s ability to hook directly in to Last.fm, Facebook and Twitter. You can “love” a track on Last.fm right from the player bar, or choose to share what you are listening to on Facebook or Twitter. Last.fm scrobbling is fully supported, too, which is an important extra for many users, as the Last.fm scrobbler does not currently work with Ecoute. The ability to instantly love or share a track with others is a nice touch, and one that I admit I used a number of times during the course of writing this review. There is some basic playlist management, too, with the ability to reorder queued tracks, or add a track to “play next”, but the support is rudimentary at best, with no ability to save or create new custom playlists – Again, this has to be done through iTunes.

The Competition

The obvious major competition to Ecoute is, of course, Apple’s ubiquitous iTunes. Ecoute is in a strange position here in that it both depends upon, and competes with, Apple’s software. Ecoute simply cannot function at the moment without iTunes to manage the library, but at the same time, the creators would obviously rather users chose to purchase Ecoute rather than carry on simply using iTunes on its own. iTunes does have the obvious benefits here of being free and being installed on every single new Mac, and to that end Ecoute is fighting a distinctly uphill battle.

The rest of the competition is a mixed bag: Songbird is a fully-fledged alternative to iTunes, complete with its own library management etc. It is also open source, which to you and me means free. It is to be praised for its massive functionality, and the ability to add functionality via plugins is great, but for me it misses the mark from a user interface point of view. It is just too easy to tell that this is software based on the Mozilla browser, with extra bits added on, although the latest releases do address this in part.

Spotify’s desktop app for Mac also features the ability to play local audio, and has the added benefit of the core streaming service being in the same app for those who are subscribers, and those who don’t mind the streaming limits on the free version. Its interface is relatively universal across platforms, though and this is something of a detriment on Mac, in my opinion.

As for the rest? There are almost too many options to mention here without doing a full roundup of alternative media players for Mac – Vox feels a little like WinAmp for Mac, which some will love, and others will hate. Miro is very good for video, but for me feels a little weak on library management on its own. The list of options goes on, and it’s a very personal choice for those who are not satisfied with Apple’s offering.

So, what’s the verdict?

Ecoute currently costs $10, and is purchasable either directly from PixiApps or from the AppStore. Many will feel that this is a bit much for a piece of software with so many shortcomings, and I almost agree. Video support needs to be greatly improved as a matter of urgency, and better playlist support would be nice, too. There are some bugs around artist/album artwork not always importing correctly from iTunes (particularly when you make a change to an existing album), too, but this is a relatively minor concern.

However, for me a large amount of what makes me choose to use an app comes down to the “feel” of it. Ecoute gets the look and feel right for me, as a user who only wants it for music. iTunes looks rather like a troll when compared to the simple elegance of Ecoute, and that is why I will continue to use it, and hope for updates to patch missing or buggy functionality. Does this make me superficial? Probably, but then I am a Mac user, after all!

Do you use an iTunes replacement or companion? If you do, which one, and why? Let us know in the comments!


Summary

Ecoute's elegant interface and integrated social features are lovely, but issues with iTunes video playback and lacking features in terms of playlist and library management currently hold it back.

7
  • Luke

    I’ve started using Sonora (http://www.getsonora.com/) as my primary music player (iTunes for my library, app etc.). I love it, very well designed and simple, much like Ecoute. One thing that I love about it is automatic itunes library syncing which mean I can still use iTunes to manage my music but play and see it in Sonora. It’s just entered beta but is still a great music player.

  • Maarten

    @Luke,

    I wanted to thank you for mentioning that app, i immediately downloaded it and started using it today :) Seems like a great app and it’s completely free!

  • Fabian

    Sonoare is very similar to Ecoute’s and currently in Public Beta (http://getsonora.com/).

  • http://mac.appstorm.net David Eglin

    You guys will likely be pleased to know that we should have a review of Sonora coming some time in the near future. I agree that there are a number of functional similarities between the two apps (including the iTunes library syncing), and I think it will very much come down to a personal choice between the two for most people.

  • B30

    One important question for me is, does this app refresh the iTunes stats, like play count, rating an so on?

  • http://www.wiredfractal.com Nate Legaspi

    I disagree with the author as it may seem that ecoute is a competitor of iTunes it is not. Sometimes you just want to play your music without the bloat of iTunes and a global shortcut means I can pause, skip any music playing on ecoute. Now I only use iTunes to add new music, create new playlist and you don’t really do that everyday so I only open iTunes for those sole purpose. I’ve been using this app since version 1 and I’m so glad the dev brought back the cover view. I just hope they fix the album cover bug that’s been there since version 2 of the app.

  • http://steven.at Steven

    Also check out Enqueue: http://www.enqueueapp.com/ – Playlist oriented and free

  • http://www.goncalorodrigues.com Gonçalo Rodrigues

    I use iTunes but with the Alfred App Powerpack iTunes controller.

  • http://cyruswu.com Cyrus

    YES! ANOTHER APP named after a french word without any signs that the app is in french.

  • Ricardson Williams

    I just bought Ecoute but I must agree to the review, have some bugs and the support is just “so, so….” but I like the interface.

  • Jason

    Love Ecoute, purchased it a while ago. But it doesn’t work with iTunes Match! This isn’t wholly PixiApps’ fault, but my ideal iTunes controller would be able to read my songs in the cloud.

  • Nathan

    I’ve been using it since v1.0. I love its aesthetics and functionality, because it’s great for us with only a few pixels to spare.

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  • Woody

    I use Fidelia. Very noticeably higher resolution output, into a DAC via USB. The browser is not as flexible as iTunes, but the signal processing is much better into a decent quality DAC and amp.

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