iTunes is probably one of the most used applications on Mac. It comes pre-installed, plays music well, and has the iTunes Store where many people shop for new music. It’s the way we manage our iPods, iPhones, and iPads, lets us watch movies, listen to music, and more. It’s priceless to many first-time Mac users, even if it does have a few flaws.
Of course, there are those who enjoy alternatives. While iTunes should still be used for syncing one’s library to an iPod or iOS device, a lot of third-party substitutes do a fine job of playing music and other content. A more beautiful way to play music is something the Mac could use — iTunes isn’t really the most aesthetically pleasing right now — and until the iTunes 11 update is released, why not take a look at the additional solutions?
Let’s start off with some of the simplest apps, from menu bar iTunes controllers to standalone apps that access your library. In this section, you’ll find apps that sport beautiful, yet nominal design. Features are aplenty, just not so much that the apps are as slow as iTunes can be.
Green&slimy’s app takes a different approach at minimalism. (Luckily, it’s the exact opposite of the developer’s name.) Instead of the usual basic interface with a player and search, it offers album cover browsing, but not in the traditional manner. Vinyls turns all your album artwork into 12-inch singles (vinyl records from the 1900s). It aims to give a retro feel to all the music, though the size of the artwork on the vinyls limits it and you might have trouble making out what exactly you’re listening to by looking at the artwork alone.
Other than vinyl records, this app offers a feature known as Autofill. It swiftly adds random music to your playlist if it’s getting empty. This is definitely a good idea for all music apps to have, because nobody stops listening after just one song. With the press of a button, your whole library can be shuffling. Vinyls is a fun app, but its features and design are an acquired taste. Take a look at some of the screenshots on its Web site and try out the demo before spending $14.99.
Price: Free (20-day trial); $14.99
Requires: OS X 10.6.7 or later
This app is a fresh take on iTunes. In fact, it’s only in its first beta of version 2.0. It offers many advanced features, but sports them in a simpler way than you’d expect. Instead of the usual cluttered interface, Sonora puts all its great features to use with several small buttons. Clicking the volume in the top right corner, for instance, will bring up a volume adjustment tab along with sliders for bass, mid tones, and treble.
Sonora, by default, organizes albums in chronological order so when you start the app, the first thing you see is a nicely organized library. Expect bugs — this is a beta. Really though, for an app that’s still in testing, it does a great job of succeeding where iTunes doesn’t: playing music in a simple and elegantly-presented manner. Social network users will also love the sharing feature, which allows for letting all their friends on Facebook or Twitter know what they’re listening to. This app is my choice for the best minimal iTunes variant.
Minimal apps are typically missing big features, but that’s not the case with Vox. It actually has more features than iTunes when it comes to playing music. This little — it’s tiny at about 350 pixels wide at its largest — app lets you select tracks from your iTunes library by using the built-in browser, powered by Finder. If you select a single song from an album, it’ll add them all to the “playlist”, which it then begins playing back to you.
It’s complicated at first, but the app itself has some really cool features, like a progress bar for the song displayed on the icon in the dock (it looks like Google Chrome’s download meter), controls in the menu bar (along with song selection), and a miniature artwork display. Then come the effects, which give you the ability to play basic disc jockey sounds, add reverb, turn on a compressor, and have fun with a flanger. Playing music in Vox is a bit more complicated than desired, but the minimal interface is much better than iTunes’.
Requires: OS X 10.6 or later
Ecoute is one of the original minimal iTunes alternatives. The app’s name is French for “listen” and its focus is simply that. Ecoute’s most notable feature is the display of artwork in the dock using its icon. It’s a great way of displaying the imagery, as opposed to something like Bowtie, which puts the artwork and controls on your desktop. Ecoute also has a menu bar controller, though it’s not one-click like Vox’s, which is a shame.
Overall, the reason to use Ecoute is simple: you’re tired of navigating through the many panes of iTunes looking for what you want to listen to. This app is the best and most minimal experience available. It even syncs with iTunes upon quit to make sure your play counts are up to date. The next major version of the app will be better yet, but right now it’s a good idea to grab version 3.0 for free to try things out.
Price: Free until version 4.0
Requires: OS X 10.6.8 or later
Now, on to the more complex apps that offer functionality other than playing music. Instead of searching the Internet for a song, stream it from within your iTunes alternative. Whether you want to listen to different sources like YouTube or sync your Android phone, these apps have it all.
Android users will know this app well: it’s the best music player available on the platform. I remember using it extensively when I had an Android phone because of its beautiful user interface and nifty features like remembering what the volume level was set at for headphones. The Mac app isn’t focused on being a music player so much as a manager. Its purpose is to help Android users manage their doubleTwist libraries. There’s also a wireless sync option known as AirSync. It allows Android users to keep the content on their devices up to date.
But as a free app, doubleTwist has more to offer than iTunes in some areas. For instance, you’ll have access to your iTunes library and also be able to download content from Amazon MP3 and Google Play. Podcasts available on Google Play are also supported. This isn’t the only app that has access to Amazon MP3, but it does give doubleTwist a little advantage, especially since it’s free. If you’re looking for a minimal app to listen to music, this should be on your list of ones to investigate.
Requires: OS X 10.6 or later
Developer: doubleTwist Corp.
This American Indian-named tool aims to be the chief competitor of iTunes. It offers access to nearly any song, even if it’s not in your local library. No, it doesn’t use pirating techniques, but rather free-to-use services like YouTube. (More on this below.) The developer hopes that the app will please more advanced users who search the Internet for songs daily. If you’re one who listens to all the songs you own, this app isn’t going to be the best way to do that.
Jonathan Garro of Mac.AppStorm reviewed this entry back in May. He gave it an 8/10, acclaiming its plugin features that allow for listening to YouTube, Grooveshark, Spotify, and other music streaming services. It’s definitely something that iTunes doesn’t offer now and likely never will. For an open source app, Tomahawk delivers a great experience. The user interface isn’t the greatest, but there are other apps for that.
Requires: OS X 10.6 or later with a 64-bit processor
For an audiophile, everything listed up until now has been a joke. Fidelia shouldn’t disappoint, though. It’s the fanciest music player available on OS X, but people shouldn’t just use it to listen to music like they would with any other app. No, this one is special. It has sample rate conversion tools tools, special adjustments for headphones, effects, and FLAC playback. But it doesn’t stop there.
Fidelia’s design is reminiscent of an old home stereo’s control unit. It’s skeumorphic, but nicely balanced with digital touches. This app makes sure you see a nice stereo when listening to nice music. Everything you hear using it can be converted to match the sample rate of your speakers or headphones so that nothing gets distorted. If you’re obsessed with perfect sound and convert all your vinyls to FLAC at 2000+ kbps, this is the perfect app for listening to your collection. iTunes doesn’t hold a candle to its abilities.
Price: Free (15-day trial); $19.99
Requires: OS X 10.6.8 or later
Developer: Audiofile Engineering
The Usual Suspects
Some of the apps above are probably new to you, especially the betas. Now I’m going to mention a few that offer a different selection than iTunes — one that’s either free (to stream) or costs a monthly fee to use. I’ll explain why to use one over the other so you know which is best for you.
First up is Rdio, the nicest streaming app available on Mac. The developers have enjoyed making this a minimal, yet social experience. It features Facebook integration and a good community. Now, on to the pros and cons.
- Free with no ads, just a monthly listening limit.
- There’s a very nice iOS app available.
- The community is great and not just full of Facebook folk.
- Maximum of 256 kbps streaming quality.
- There’s less content than Spotify; it’s constantly growing, however.
- Design is opposite of Spotify, yet still bland.
Price: Free with limited playback minutes, plans start at $4.99 per month
Requires: OS X 10.6 or later
Developer: Rdio, Inc.
Nearly everyone has heard of the Facebook-partnered music streaming service known as Spotify. It offers free streaming with ads and affordable plans to listen to unlimited music without ads and on a mobile device. Let’s go over the pros and cons.
- It’s free, if you don’t mind an advertisement every six or seven songs.
- There’s a private listening feature to hide activity from friends.
- The Facebook integration is solid and you can listen with friends.
- There are over 15 million songs available.
- Up to 320 kbps quality.
- No “play later” option like Rdio.
- Requires Facebook to sign up in the U.S.
- Dark and overly-minimal interface with no life.
- Glitchy at times with random pauses.
- Sophisticated sharing options for Twitter.
Price: Free with ads, plans start at $4.99 per month
Requires: OS X 10.5 or later
Developer: Spotify Ltd
Is Anything Missing?
That’s Mac.AppStorm‘s official list of 9 iTunes alternatives worth a try, but there are more great options out there. If we’ve missed anything, let us know in the comments. We’d love to hear what you use instead of iTunes, whether it’s for playing music or managing an iOS device.