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Summary:

iTunes may be great for syncing your iOS devices, or buying songs, movies, apps and books, but it’s not exactly the most nimble music player anymore. Here are five great Mac-compatible alternatives that focus on the music, without the bloat that iTunes brings.

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iTunes has become more and more of a processor hog over the years as it has grown to handle more features. While it’s great for syncing your iOS devices or buying songs, it’s not exactly the most nimble music player anymore. Below are five alternatives that focus on the music, without the bloat.

Ecoute

Ecoute (French for “listen”) is aimed at being a minimalistic standalone player that syncs with iTunes. It’s been around the longest of the players listed here, having recently reached version 3.

The best way to describe how Ecoute looks is to imagine what the iPhone’s music app would like if it were ported to OS X. Navigation is done through lists, with album art on the left side to make it easier to distinguish between entries. There’s a breadcrumb navigation bar at the top, so it’s easy to get around.

Ecoute has a lot of nice touches. The Dock icon displays the currently playing album artwork, global keyboard shortcuts allow you to control playback in the background, and the controller (which can be customized with available themes) can display the current album artwork on the desktop. You can also share the current track on Facebook, Twitter, and Last.fm.

Ecoute is available in the Mac App Store for $8.

Enqueue

Enqueue’s name comes from one of its main features: a queue in the sidebar that acts as a temporary playlist. You can drag songs and albums into the queue and listen to them in order, making it easier to plan and enjoy long listening sessions. Enqueue also has a mini player view available that just shows the queue alongside controls. Being able to see the queue makes it a lot more useful than iTunes’ mini player.

The rest of Enqueue’s interface is more traditional than the others in this list, but that doesn’t make it less useful. There are four tabs at the top for your library, playlists, history, and preferences. The library tab adopts a staid browser layout, with filter columns at the top and results below. I don’t much care for this configuration, so I was happy to see I could change it in the view menu to display just a list of artists on the left and results on the right.

The history tab displays your most played artists or songs and how they relate to each other using a bar graph, which is unique among the apps in this list. Further features include iTunes sync, Last.fm scrobbing, and configurable global shortcut keys.

Enqueue is available in the Mac App Store for $10.

Sonora

Sonora (Spanish for “sound”) has a straightforward interface with a lot of power buried beneath. The toolbar houses the controls for play, pause, shuffle and the like. The middle of the toolbar is occupied by the queue, an area where you can drag albums or songs from different artists to make a temporary playlist, similar to Enqueue’s. By default, the queue will be populated by songs from the currently playing album, which makes it easy to skip to a different song while browsing music as well. A sidebar along the left lists all artists, and the main browser shows album artwork arranged alphabetically by artist, like iTunes.

The most interesting feature of Sonora is the ability to type anywhere in the app to bring up a search box, which works a little like Alfred. Type the name of an album, hit enter, and it starts playing. It’s slick, but hard to discover initially.

Unlike the other apps listed, Sonora is still in beta, so be warned you might run into a bug or two. It’s available from the developer’s website for free for the time being.

Rdio

Rdio is unique among this group in that it streams music rather than playing downloaded files. This allows for a much broader selection of music, as anything in Rdio’s vast catalogue is available to stream. Instant access to new releases and recommendations is also a plus for Rdio. The downsides, of course, are the requirement of a network connection and the lack of more obscure artists.

The Rdio app itself is basically a wrapper around a web app, though most people wouldn’t notice. The load times are fast; I’ve never had to wait long for a song to buffer, and the UI loads quickly as well.

Rdio also has social features built-in. Other users can follow you and see what you’re listening to, and you can share your activity to Facebook, Last.fm, and Twitter.

Rdio is available for free, with a variable song cap (basically, the more you use the service, the lower the cap becomes). Unlimited desktop and web access is $5 a month, and unlimited web and mobile access costs $10/month.

Note: A competitor to Rdio, Spotify, is also quite popular. The reason I’m not covering it fully is because I think the Rdio app is better, though it still deserves a mention.

Vox

Vox is different from the other apps mentioned. Instead of choosing music from within the app, you choose it from the Finder. This behavior goes back to the early days of music players, when you chose music from the file manager instead of within the app itself.

The UI consists of several palettes rather than one unified window. The palettes can be hidden or shown with simple Cmd-number shortcuts, i.e. Cmd-1 to bring up the player, Cmd-2 to bring up the equalizer. The advantage of this kind of design is that it’s easy to show and hide what’s necessary. Of course, the downside is that it’s a little harder to use.

Vox has a large list of supported file types, including FLAC, OGG Vorbis, and Apple Lossless. There’s also an export feature, which can convert every file type it supports into a good selection of formats, including AAC and WAV. It can even apply effects to the exported version.

There’s also a menu bar entry for Vox, which lets you easily pause, skip, and choose a new song. Vox is available at the developer’s website for free.

Are you sticking to iTunes for listening to music, or have you switched to a different app to fulfill that need? Let us know about your favorite in the comments.

  1. If you just want something simple and that works try Decibel. It’s in active development and a really nice music player. I believe some of these other programs actually use the elements written by the Decibel developer.
    http://sbooth.org/Decibel/

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    1. I hadn’t heard of Decibel before. I’m not sure if the others use any of Decibel’s code, but it seems unlikely since it looks like Decibel’s not open source. Thanks for sharing.

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  2. Oh. My comment just got lost. Anyway, I’m not writing it all out again, just to say Vox and Enqueue are both great players. Set the EQ correctly on Vox and you will blow iTunes away.

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    1. Sorry your comment got lost, I would’ve liked to read your thoughts in more depth. Vox is nice, but I can’t get past the file manager thing. I haven’t messed around with the equalizer much as well. I love Vox’s export options, though.

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  3. I actually use winamp beta in mac, works like it should, its barebone and only plays songs synced in itunes.

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    1. I considered including Winamp, but it seems like it’s more focused on syncing with Android than playing music at this point, so it didn’t really fit.

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  4. I actually rather like iTunes, but there are a few things that bother me:

    • When playing MP3s located on a gigabit-connected NAS device, changing tags will often cause the music to stop for about half a second. (This limitation only applies to MP3s, not MP4s, AACs, etc..)

    • When playing AACs downloaded from the iTunes Store, located on a gigabit-connected NAS device, changes made to tags will not be saved to the currently playing track.

    • Smart playlists do not allow searches for multiple instances of a string, e.g. two commas in the Artist field.

    • Tracks can only be assigned to one albums, disc/track number, etc., at a time.

    • Track numbers must be integers.

    • On my brand new Mac mini, playback of some videos is disabled because “This movie requires QuickTime, which is not supported by this version of iTunes.” Deleting a preference file (which doesn’t seem to hurt anything) temporarily fixes the issue.

    Do any of the alternatives offer solutions to these?

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    1. Oops… *one album

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    2. I actually like iTunes as well. It’s a little slow, but it’s never given me trouble.

      I’m not sure if the apps mentioned would do what you want. A lot of those are edge cases, especially the NAS stuff. The only one that can actually edit tags is Enqueue, though, so you might mess around with it to see if it meets your criteria.

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  5. While I’m interested in a few of these… Airplay. When is it coming to Mac apps without Airfoil?

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    1. It is pretty annoying that third-party Mac apps can’t use AirPlay when third-party iOS apps can. Hopefully we’ll see it in the future.

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  6. Sonor will be changing $10 dollars once it is out of beta. Way to expensive for an app that is basically just an addon to Itunes and can’t even sync to ipOD!

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  7. Sonora doesn’t mean sound in Spanish, Maybe in Portuguese or Italian. Sonora is the name of a state in Mexico for sure.

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    1. True. Sonido is the Spanish word for sound. Sonora is the name of a Mexican state but also is a word used more to describe the human voice. A “película sonora” is a talking film. To “sonorizar” would be to voice your opinion (though I think it’s rarely used, at least here in México).

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  8. surprised not to see VLC on this list

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