Apple is killing iTunes, as announced in June 2019, and like a lot of people with a significant digital music collection I thought it’d be a good idea to survey the scene and see what other options are out there for music playing and music management.
I didn’t find much out there.
Or nothing that worked very well.
It’s hard to believe that a good audio player, browser and management tool would be such a pain. An mp3, after all, can be played within every web browser in the world, and also directly from the MacOS itself. I mean, it wasn’t all that long ago that websites had to develop all kinds of crazy work-arounds and custom Flash players just to handle a short bit of audio. I remember 5 Mag actually had some kind of pop-up player, because of the huge resources needed to play a 60 minute audio DJ mix. Playing an mp3 on a website is now as simple as an HTML tag.
The internet has come a long way, and as you’d expect, there’s no shortage of apps that can play mp3s and wav files just fine. It’s in file management and user interface that most are suffering. Something that a first generation iPod handled with a scroll-wheel and LED screen is still the biggest struggle when it comes to music players.
Someone suggested VOX – not the website but a “premium music player” – and I checked it out. Unlike iTunes, VOX can play soundcloud streams, and also every manner of hi-res files (iTunes hates FLAC). And that’s pretty cool. Unlike iTunes, VOX was apparently designed to be an app first and foremost, and the user interface looks like it – it’s a tiny rectangle on a crescent of your desktop. I keep trying to pull open the app to browse the full range of my library but it remains inscrutably compact. VOX also decided to go with a “music cloud” solution to sync between devices – a novel and maybe even necessary approach given Apple’s monopoly on device syncing but one that I don’t really have much interest in.
I also found that most iTunes alternatives have the same “bloat” problem that users and even Apple developers mocked in iTunes itself. We’re looking for basically the same functionality WinAmp had back in 1997, and instead we get “music clouds” and “client/server solutions for streaming multimedia” and ways to play ancient Chicago House mixtapes on your TV.
Apple’s new Music app is designed, in part, to cut through the bloat, as pointed out during its joyous funeral for iTunes. And maybe the new Mac app that will replace iTunes will do a good job. Maybe it’ll slowly start squeezing Apple’s streaming music app into the forefront as a result of market forces.
Maybe it’s just smart to have a good alternative in mind.
“Audio for Mac” is unlikely to have a good Google search ranking but, as GearNews pointed out in a post today, starts on the right foot with a minimal and simplified clone of iTunes’ own look and feel. Everything is exactly where you expect it to be, and where it’s most useful. After using VOX for a couple of weeks, you have no idea how big that is for me.
In addition to playing wav, aiff, mp3 and flac and managing playlists, Audio for Mac offers some improved file organization – a place where iTunes, by having to be everything to every possible Mac user, had struggled mightily as the years went on. As GearNews notes:
Audio for Mac will not sync across devices, but by using the existing iTunes look, will make organization and archiving pretty easy to handle. Based on screenshots, anyway, this looks pretty much like what we came here for.
The Kickstarter has a (very modest) $7,520 goal and Bowler expects to release the app in January 2020. The only thing I dislike here is paying yet another annual subscription for what one would think could be a stand-alone app. The Kickstarter notes that Audio for Mac “follows the lead of indie Mac apps like Ulysses and TextExpander by charging a small annual subscription for usage. That ensures that I can dedicate development time to Audio well into the future.” Pledging £30 or more (about $38) gets you an annual subscription in the Kickstarter bonuses; a comment from Bowler suggests “around £4 per month or £40 per year with potential for a collectors and pro additions with the collectors addition being slightly less and the pro slightly more as we build out integrations with DAWs, music distribution services and DJ software.”
But that’s actually pretty clever. If Apple’s new music app picks up the slack seamlessly for what people used iTunes for, there will be no demand for Audio for Mac outside of the kind of niche market of the sort and size that VOX services. If Apple’s app is a little “off” or a complete disaster, though, users – and especially collectors and the industry professionals Audio for Mac is aimed at – will have to weigh how much a real music app is worth. Chances are a few bucks per month will be right in that price point.
And, ironically enough, most would be happy if it just worked like WinAmp.