Vox: A Minimal Music Player

By the time that Apple introduced iTunes 11, many were hoping for a radically redesigned and rewritten version of the world’s most popular music player. While version 11 did feature an updated UI, it still left some wanting a music player focused not on Apps, device management, and videos, but rather the music itself.

Into that void steps Vox, a new music player from the makers of Focus, Wallpaper Wizard, and Forismatic, which is designed to put music front and center.

The Design

Vox, alongside the iTunes Mini Player.

Vox, alongside the iTunes Mini Player.

Where iTunes is a behemoth of an app, Vox is something much different, with it’s main interface most closely resembling the iTunes Mini Player. Beyond the player’s tiny size, it also features a color scheme outside of what you’d normally find in a Mac app. The heavy use of orange and dark grey reminded me a bit too much of a construction site, but I suppose it could be appealing to some. In that same vein, the app’s icon is a recreation of a professional grade speaker which looks almost too industrial to fit in with the other apps in my dock.

But while those are all nitpicks and matters of personal preference, what really counts is how the app works. On that front, Vox is a winner with well placed controls that put your music first. It’s menu bar features a button to show or hide the playlist, standard playback controls, and a volume control that, when selected, lets you choose your audio output including AirPlay devices. Like pull-to-refresh on the iPhone, I hope this combined volume and input control is something that catches on across other Mac apps. Overall, while the color scheme and icon design wouldn’t be my first pick, the team behind Vox took time in creating the layout and controls, and it shows.

Music Management

You can drop in a song from anywhere on your disk to create a playlist.

You can drop in a song from anywhere on your disk to create a playlist.

One of Vox’s most notable features is it’s drag-and-drop playlist creation functionality which does what it’s name suggests. It’s essentially a queue on steroids allowing you to mix together songs from anywhere on your hard drive. Once songs are in the Vox Playlist, you can reorder them as you would a list on a touchscreen; it works great if that’s all you’re looking for in terms of music management.

Outside of the Vox Playlist, the app relies on iTunes to supply it’s music library. Taken in isolation, that’s a huge negative, but if you add in the fact that there’s absolutely no support for browsing by artists or albums, Vox seems like little more than a third party iTunes Mini Player. If you can look past those omissions, Vox also supports Last.fm scrobbling and Internet Radio which are nice to have but, don’t exactly break the mold of what we’ve come to expect from an alternative music player.

Behind the Scenes

An optional Preference Pane circumvents Apple's sandboxing restrictions.

An optional Preference Pane circumvents Apple’s sandboxing restrictions.

Then, with the installation of a separate Preference Pane, you can enable the use of keyboard media buttons, an Apple Remote, or headphones to control Vox. While this isn’t ideal, it’s a clever workaround Apple’s App Store sandboxing policy. Its playback core is also robust, and Vox, unlike iTunes, is a friend to most any audio file, supporting the standard AAC and MP3 formats as well as more obscure ones like ALAC, FLAC, and OGG. Windows converts will likely also appreciate it’s support for WMA files.

Unfortunately, though, no matter what format your music is in, you’ll have to obtain it elsewhere, as Vox doesn’t include any sort of music store, streaming service, or recommendation engine. Any time you want to hear a song that’s not in your collection you’ll be forced out to a third party store like iTunes or Google Play. This is a pretty big drawback, preventing the application from providing the seamless listening experience it was designed to provide. It plans to add support for internet radio with an in-app purchase going forward, but that’s still not enough.

Conclusion

Vox isn’t an iTunes replacement in any meaningful sense. For even the most common tasks including purchasing songs and even basic library management, you’ll have to go back to iTunes. That begs the question: where does Vox fit in? For users with audio files scattered throughout their hard drives an app like VLC will probably work just fine, and for those looking for an iTunes alternative with a focus on music there’s Ecoute. So while Vox lives up to every claim it’s creators make, in such a wide market, it doesn’t seem to have a place.


Summary

Vox is a music player that despite some interesting design choices, fails to provide a meaningful solution to any major problems.

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