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 Last.fm scrobbling integration, without the need to be running the standalone Last.fm 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.


Summary

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

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