MP3 Management and Playback Solutions

Maximum PC recently published an article how to best manage a large collection of mp3s. It focused on a product called Media Monkey which is often used by people with very large media collections and those who demand a large feature set. I tried an older version of Media Monkey a while back and figured I’d try it again since I’ve been wanting to fix a number of tags. I also played around with several other products this weekend and here are my thoughts:

Media Monkey 2.5.3 – Doesn’t give a great first impression. This program looks like it’s at least 10 years old and reminds me of an uglier version of Media Jukebox. But after you get by its looks it does include a number of advanced and helpful features. It gives you a number of ways to sort your music which makes it easier to tag files. It also manages all your media files, not just audio. I wish other players included the extensive statistics section this has as well.mmpanel 

Likes: Tons of features, many ways to sort media, easy album art import, the best library scan I’ve seen, finds duplicate files, easy global tagging. Fast library scan of all media. Awesome statistics.

Dislikes: A bit overwhelming, outdated interface, album art tagging options are limited and applying art is slow. Scaled down media player pumps out only average sound. Supposedly works with some WinAmp plugins but the two DSP plugins I tried failed to install.

iTunes 7.3 – I have no problem admitting I have a love/hate relationship with iTunes. When it works, it’s great. When it’s giving me problems I find myself vowing to eBay my iPod and find something that causes less frustration. iTunes does two things very well: Uploads my mp3 collection and playlists to my iPod and helps me find and download Podcasts. It does these two things very well. But it’s a terrible music manager and player. If you’re happy with included white earbuds on your iPod, you might tolerate the sound. Otherwise, look elsewhere for a better sounding player.

Likes: Does two critical things very well. If you own an iPod and listen to Podcasts, it’s a must have whether you like it or not. Locates album artwork well, but is very slow when it imports that art. Network share of collection is awesome.

Dislikes: Terrible performance, memory hog, and still quite buggy at times on Windows. Very few plugin options compared to other players. Default sound quality of player is horrible. Slacker stations are more numerous and sound better.

Recommendations:

If you have a large collection you may want to try Media Monkey. Or if you’re a stats nut. Otherwise I don’t see many reasons to switch from iTunes if that’s your current music manager. As much as I’d like to find a one stop solution for ripping, encoding, tagging and listening, I’m going to continue using several programs that have a more limited feature set, yet do a great job at those few functions.

Here is what I use today:

Rippers/Encoders

cdex My favorite everyday CD ripper/MP3 encoder is CDex. I’ve never used a faster or easier to use ripper. It includes the LAME encoder by default but you can configure it to others to your liking. Includes several CDDB options. This program is all about speed and simplicity. It’s the program I use to rip most of my CDs.

eac  For my favorite CDs I’ll still use Exact Audio Copy. I won’t go into details since I’ve written about this before, but if nothing by the best will do, this is for you. It’s not easy to setup. It’s not fast. But the payoff is worth it. I’ve been told that many of the online mp3 trading groups require this process resulting in mp3s created using the LAME Alt Preset Standard.

Tagger

I’ve yet to find a tagger that’s as fast and includes as many options as Dr. Tag Plus. If you’re obsessive about your tags it’s well worth the $35. My favorite feature is how it queues your tag changes which lets you see how they look before confirming the changes and saving to disk. This is very helpful when tagging large numbers of files. I also like how it allows me to change the file name. A fantastic product.

Player

ozone  When all is said and done, it really comes down to how my music sounds. All the ripping, encoding and tagging won’t matter much if the music sounds bad. With that said, I challenge anyone to find a better sounding solution for playback than the Quintessential Player with the iZotope Ozone DSP plugin. I’d be willing to give up a bit of sound quality to find an all-in-one solution. But the problem is that these two products make my music sound so much better than anything else I’ve tried that now I can’t go back to crappy sounding mp3s. If you’re used to iTunes sound quality, give this a try. If you have a nice set of headphones or good quality speakers I believe you’ll be blown away.

Several of my friends have told me that Q-Player is fine for playback but not great for large mp3 collections, and I agree. This solution works for me because I only listen by playlist. I’ve created ten or so playlists based on music type. If I want to discover new music I’ll fire up Slacker. Otherwise I stick to my playlists and add songs to them as I discover and rip new music.

What programs do you use for managing, ripping, encoding and listening to your mp3 collection?