While iTunes is far from perfect, its numerous features and deep integration with Mac OS X and iOS devices make it your best bet when playing and managing your music on Mac OS X.
Platform: Mac OS X Price: Free Download Page
- Manages all your media (assuming you use iTunes supported formats)
- Create and manage playlists with the ability to organise by folder
- Create smart playlists, which update dynamically based on criteria you set
- Burn standard audio CDs and MP3 CDs from your music library and playlists
- Sync your media with pretty much any Apple device
- Share your iTunes library with other computers running iTunes via the Home Sharing feature
- Create Genius Mixes, which take one song and put together a playlist of music with another like it
- Buy music, TV shows, movies and more in the integrated iTunes store
- Share your music interests on Ping, iTunes' built-in social network
- Subscribe to, download, and manage podcasts
- Purchase and create custom ringtones from the iTunes store
- Listen to free web-based radio stations
- Use iTunes DJ to create a continuous, endless mix for your party that allows guests to make requests from their iDevices
- A few visual effect plug-ins are included to add a visual component to your music
- Easily fetch album artwork from music that's missing it
- Share photos with your Apple TV 2
- Integrates well with Audible audiobook content
- Browse your music using several different methods, including the visually appealing (but not necessarily practical) Cover Flow
- Stream media to AirPlay-compatible devices
- Built-in sound enhancer and equaliser
- Sound check feature that adjusts the volume of all tracks to similar levels
- Built-in song crossfading support
Where It Excels
iTunes does everything. It manages just about any type of media you can think of in a simple and intuitive interface. Like most of Apple's software, it's nice to look at and isn't hard to learn. iTunes also comes with an enormous amount of features (as you can see above). There really isn't much it can't do that Apple hasn't explicitly chosen to omit (more on this below).
Where It Needs Work
iTunes does everything. That is to say, it does far too much. While it was once an application designed to manage your music, it now manages your (Apple) mobile devices, video, books, ringtones, podcasts, apps, and a number of other things that aren't, well, tunes. On one hand this is useful, but on the other it makes for a big and bloated piece of software. This is more evident when syncing any device with iTunes, as the syncing process can be slow and tedious (not to mention archaic, as there's still no wireless option). While iTunes is very capable, it's often frustrating and slow.
Despite being so capable, iTunes only supports a handful of media file formats. Its technologies really only work with formats adhering to Apple's fairly strict specifications. So long as you're willing to do everything Apple's way, iTunes' lack of support for several file types isn't a drawback. However, that's not a description likely to fit anyone reading this post.
And then there's Ping, the music-centric social network built in to iTunes. It's not so much that this feature needs work, but that it really shouldn't exist in the first place. It's an unnecessary feature that few people use and care about.
There are nearly no comparable alternatives on Mac OS X because iTunes is so deeply integrated into the Mac OS X experience. That said, there still is one particularly good alternative called Clementine. It matches many of the features of iTunes (including synchronisation support for Apple and non-Apple music playing devices alike) and adds a number of new ones (Wiimote playback control, additional supported formats, tabbed playlists, and more). The primary downsides are the lack of a fair number of features that iTunes does have (as Clementine is pretty focused on music rather than all types of media) and the interface hasn't been thought out for each individual platform. Clementine looks almost identical on every platform, which is nice for consistency but prevents it from feeling like a truly native application. Nonetheless, it's still a very good alternative.
While it's not much in the way of competition, it is also worth mentioning Vox for those who don't have iDevices they need to sync and only want to play their music. Vox is a lightweight music player with plenty of features geared solely at making your music — in practically any format — sound its best. You'll find a built-in equaliser, effects, album art, gapless playback and more. It's likely not going to be the first choice for many Mac users, as it's difficult to exist in the Apple ecosystem without using iTunes, but it's likely to be cherished by the niche group who aren't tied to the features only iTunes can provide.
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