Where on god’s green earth can I find a decent media player to handle my (120gb+) MP3 collection?
December 14, 2006 11:05 PM   Subscribe

Where on god’s green earth can I find a decent media player to handle my (120gb+) MP3 collection? I have 120 gb + of music that I can’t seem to get any media player to handle adequately. Any suggestions on one to try? Or how to make the big ones actually work quickly with this many files?

Ideally I’d like something that can:
- Cost nothing (although I may be willing to donate a little something to the perfect tool since no one seems to be able to handle my music collection)
- Handle multiple formats (Mp3, WMA, aiff, etc..)
- Ability to change tracks quickly (Everything seems to lag and it’s really a buzzkill at parties.)
- Ability to build playlists
- No extra junk or ads installed
- Oh, and PC friendly.

Cool bonuses I'd dig:
- Star-ratings or some other form of dynamic play lists are appreciated
- A graphic equalizer or some sort of preset system is appreciated, too.
- FoxyTunes control-ability would be cool, too.

I’ve tried all the big ones and they seem to fail each in different ways:
- Windows Media crashes regularly
- MusikCube plays for a few songs then will literally skip—like an old record—on a song.
- WinAmp locks up and just rotates the names of songs in my library.
- I hate iTunes, Musicmatch, RealPlayer and all players that add extra junk not related to the music player, and iTunes seems to need id3 info, which I don’t have for everything… and I also work in a directory structure, which I think iTunes hates.

Any cool tool suggestions OR suggestions how to optimize/use one of the big dogs for a massive library this size, would be greatly, greatly appreciated! (I really like WinAmp.. but I can’t deal with that random rotating bug!)
posted by jkl345 to Technology (23 answers total) 15 users marked this as a favorite
Foobar2000 (takes days to customize), MediaMonkey, musikCube (no ReplayGain support)
posted by aye at 11:24 PM on December 14, 2006

120GB isn't massive by foobar standards. I would use a giant autoplaylist (for the whole library) and maybe more autoplaylists for rated songs. You can try the 'playlist tree' and 'foo_browser' plugins too for album selection. Song ratings work by keyboard or context menu only; I have global shortcuts with my numpad 1-6 keys set star ratings, 8/9 for song skipping, 7 for previous track played, and 0 for pause. You'll need to create a 'masstagger' script to do song ratings, but global shortcuts are built-in.
posted by aye at 11:30 PM on December 14, 2006

Best answer: @aye: jk says: MusikCube plays for a few songs then will literally skip—like an old record—on a song.

have you tried mplayer? its supposed to be pretty good and infinitely customizable

another resource i like to consult are the comparison lists on wikipedia, media player comparison
posted by philomathoholic at 11:53 PM on December 14, 2006 [1 favorite]

IMO, with a little work, you can overcome a lot of your objections and be happy with iTunes. In my experience, iTunes seems to have no trouble playing up to 200GB of music. It can do everything you need, and even some of what you want. It doesn't need ID3 info at all, you can set it to whatever tags you want. Also, the "extra junk" can mostly be minimized or turned off in the preferences menu. iTunes will also let you work within a directory structure (View -> Show Browser). Give iTunes another shot!
posted by ifranzen at 11:55 PM on December 14, 2006

i really like musikcube, only have 20 gb tho
posted by Satapher at 12:21 AM on December 15, 2006

oh and since you really like winamp, you should know that mplayer is like the open source winamp

plus i've heard that apollo has been used by radio stations for their programming, and hence could be called one of the "big dogs"
- creates playlists, is foxy tunes compatible, and has no extra "junk"

i haven't found that windows media player is unstable, but when i'm viewing my 80gb music backup it does slow down. but, for now i'm stuck with it.
posted by philomathoholic at 12:53 AM on December 15, 2006

J River Media Center was born to handle collections like this. People on their message boards often have collections of around 350,000+ songs. It is incredibly fast at handling large amounts of songs, has all the features you asked for and more. No spyware or adverts.

The downside - it costs $40. However, it's well worth it in my opinion. I almost never buy software but I bought this one. Also, if you buy now you will get a free upgrade to the next version when it comes out.
posted by spark at 2:06 AM on December 15, 2006

I have to say, I'm baffled by the number of times people have posted here asking about media players and specifically said they don't want iTunes.

Two questions:
  1. what do you mean about "junk not related to the media player"?
  2. what do you mean, you think iTunes hates "a directory structure"?
I presume that last one is about iTunes' entirely optional "keep music organised" feature. That does put your music into a folder structure determined by iTunes, but of course, it's optional.

The other stuff about lagging and pausing between songs might just be about the HD(s) you're keeping the music on. Have you defragged, optimised, checked the disk? It shouldn't really matter if you have one gig or a hundred. Apart from a bit of cacheing, all players be able to do should do the same thing -- read files off the HD fast enough to play them -- and be able to play your files without any of those problems.
posted by AmbroseChapel at 2:38 AM on December 15, 2006

Best answer:

For #2, jkl345 is referring to itunes' dependency on ID3 tags in order to take advantage of the directory browser. Since jkl has some files that are tagged and some aren't, it does get more difficult to browse files, because itunes will automatically use the id3 tags (for those that have them).

I wouldn't recommend songbird yet: it's still early in development and has a lot of the bloat (video playback, internet browser, etc) that you don't want.

I'd ultimately try out foobar or possibly an older version of winamp if you haven't already (I still use version 2.9x, it just seems more stable to me).

(FYI: Winamp will just rotate the names if the files don't exist in the directory, so if you have moved the files to another directory or changed the file name, since you added them to the library, they'll just be skipped over).

I'd like to know how it ends up working out for you.
posted by fizzix at 5:23 AM on December 15, 2006

Have you tried XMPlay? I have to admit not having tried it out on a 120+ gig music collection, but it plays nicely with my 35+ gig set-up. It's like Winamp was 5 years ago...except modern. Plays any sort of file you can throw at it. Fast. Lightweight. Has plugins.
posted by Jimbob at 5:41 AM on December 15, 2006

Mediamonkey? Shareware, star system, equaliser, different views based on ID3-tags, even a party mode where you can disallow file modifications. Works fine on my approx 60 gigs. (features page)
posted by jonmartin at 6:16 AM on December 15, 2006

VLC. Simple, yet powerful.
posted by fvox13 at 6:29 AM on December 15, 2006

If fizzix is right, then setting Winamp to auto-scan your library on start and rescan every X minutes (default is 120) might solve your problem without the need to move to a new player. I know why you like Winamp - probably the same reasons I like it (and find other players to be either bloated or lacking). Worth trying the suggestion before you give up on it.
posted by caution live frogs at 6:37 AM on December 15, 2006

One major suggestion is to fill in your ID3 tags. I have about an 80gb collection, and it helps a ton, both in organizing, finding, and playing music. With iTunes, for example, if you tag your files, and tell iTunes to keep your library organized, it will put everything in its rightful directory. There's some stuff that is kind of "untaggable", but that's just where a little diligence comes into play.

Wired just put out a little article about tagger apps, so that might help. I use/suggest the Picard tagger from Musicbrainz. With the right tagging, rating your music, adding album art, and using a few smart playlists, iTunes can be an good experience.
posted by magnetbox at 7:08 AM on December 15, 2006

Best answer: I second the suggestion to take the time to tag your collection. I'd also add that after you tag it, you should rename the files themselves to include pertinent info, like Artist-Album-Track #-Song.mp3

I have a collection slightly smaller than yours (108gb!), and I'm happy with Foobar2000 after getting frustrated with winamp and the itunes/mediaplayer bloating. I also hate itunes because it loads itself into Windows startup and is a massive resource hog.

Apollo looks interesting, and uses Winamp plugins? Screenshot?

Is there any danger to installing a bunch of these at the same time, and trying them out? They all scan the media directories, but do they change anything?
posted by Pastabagel at 7:47 AM on December 15, 2006

Response by poster: You guys are awesome!

I'm kinda surprised there's no clear 'best of breed' player, but all the competition should make everyone's player improve over time.

Ambrose- On 'All the crazy extras that iTunes installs' I'm referring to is the internet stuff, their store software, how it preloads into system memory at start up, for some people that may be cool, but I'm just not interested and it takes crucial memory.

I'm going to try a bunch of these this weekend and if/when I settle on a clear winner I'll post back here.

More suggestions are welcome as well. Thanks so much for everything so far! Music means a lot to me, and not being able to cruise my catalog effective has been really bumming me out.
posted by jkl345 at 8:38 AM on December 15, 2006

magnetbox - things get a little difficult when you need to tag tens of thousands of files, even with the help of Musicbrainz or similar programs. It's a huge time investment, and not necessarily worth it if one's system already basically works. Those of us with older collections often have things very well organized along the lines of Pastabagel's second suggestion - a directory structure plus filenames with a lot of information. Players like WinAmp can deal with this, but iTunes and other id3 tag-dependent players freak out.

I second the idea of checking out foobar and older stable versions of WinAmp. I've done the latter once or twice to address problems I found in newer versions - you might find that one of these other versions will address your problems. [Note that I can't give you specific version suggestions, as with a collection larger than yours, I don't bother with a library, and instead just drag-and-drop files straight from directories to WinAmp playlists.]
posted by ubersturm at 8:49 AM on December 15, 2006

You know, it occurs to me that the thing to do would actually be to associate files with .mp3 with a very tiny app like foobar or VLC, so that if you happen to click an MP3, you don't want 20 seconds for a larger app to launch.

The way I organize my collection is I create a folder for each album, the folder name = Artist - Album (Year). In the folder are the files titled as above and tagged, each MP3 file includes an album cover within the file. The folder also includes folder.jpg, which is the album cover.

I run at very high resolution 1920x1200, so in windows xp I have changed the default folder thumbnail size to 200 (I think, I forget and I'm not at my pc now). You can do this by getting Microsoft's Tweak UI utility or by following the instructions here (not recommended).

I use MP3Tag, but I'm a few version's behind. This lets you do the tagging and changing of filenames in bulk very easily and efficiently.

Note: I used to use MusicBrainz but I found it had absolutely atrocious support for older jazz and classical albums, as well as lousy support for out of the ordinary rock and electronica. This was about 18 months ago, so maybe it has improved.
posted by Pastabagel at 9:25 AM on December 15, 2006

... to need id3 info, which I don’t have for everything

MusicBrainz Picard is here to save the day. http://musicbrainz.org/

I moved my old repository to one side, and I created a new canonical music directory. I then loaded my tunes into Picard, and let it sort things into the new directory, tagging as it went. Now, everything is beautiful: No "Beatles" and "The Beatles" directories, et c. Just "Beatles, The". Let it be the only way stuff gets into your music directory, and you'll be very happy.
posted by cmiller at 10:58 AM on December 15, 2006

The Musicbrainz tagger can, at the very least, rename the mp3s to the proper filenames and directories in the format you want... it may not have every album, but you can help solve that problem by adding the albums it doesn't have in its system, so that you and future taggers/organizers can benefit.
posted by magnetbox at 11:37 AM on December 15, 2006

Winamp handles well over 200Gb for me, as does foobar, Musikcube, and well... all the good ones. I don't think your problem is the software, or if it is, it may be fixable with some settings tweaks.

- MusikCube plays for a few songs then will literally skip—like an old record—on a song.
- WinAmp locks up and just rotates the names of songs in my library.

These two lead me to believe that your issue is OS level, either software or hardware. I used to have choke-up issues like this (occasionally) on my old, very slow PC, before I built the new one 18 months or so back. Got your media files on a slow, old disk? Running without enough RAM?

I'm baffled by the number of times people have posted here asking about media players and specifically said they don't want iTunes

iTunes is hands-down the worst media player I've ever tried (on Windows), and I've tried them all, I think.

And yes, tag your files, if you haven't. It's sheer madness not to, and a great deal of the functionality of any good media player depends on it. Start by organizing a 'physical' folder structure you like, and then take it bit by bit.
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 4:42 PM on December 17, 2006

Low tech solution - Winamp and Windows Explorer

What I use for my collection is that I just used Windows Exlorer to subdivide my collection into simple Windows directory-tree folders (divided by genres and play lists).

Then when the time comes, I just use winamp (light and easy) and I just hit Ctrl+A to select all the files, then hit Enter, and it starts to shuffle play the mix. No need for thought.

So in my computer I have folders called "hip hop" and "alternative" and "classic rock" and what not, as well as "Inspirational Mix" or "Ibeza Techno Mix"
Some of the Mp3s I have are copied into several folders, but who cares.

Point is, no matter what I feel like, I can just open a folder, and am 2 keystrokes away from music bliss.
posted by earthwalker7 at 7:03 PM on December 19, 2006

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