Ask LH: Can I Ditch iTunes If I Have iOS Devices To Sync?

Dear Lifehacker, I love my iPod, but I don’t like using iTunes on my computer. What’s the best way to use a different desktop player while still syncing my music and playlists to an iPod or iPhone? Sincerely, Infuriated with iTunesDear Infuriated,

We all feel your frustration. Lots of people these days have an iPod, iPhone or iPad to sync, but few people actually like iTunes. Sadly, it’s the only thing that will sync and sync well with your iOS devices. Note that I’m talking about touchscreen iOS devices here – iPhones, iPads, and iPod touches. If you have an iPod Classic or older generation iPod, many apps (including Winamp, Songbird, MediaMonkey, and others) will sync your music just fine. The touchscreen devices all require iTunes, but you can still avoid using it as your daily music player. Here’s how.

Essentially, you can use iTunes to manage all your music – import CDs, create playlists, edit album art and other metadata – and then use another player as your daily music player. iTunes is so ubiquitous these days that any media player has some sort of “iTunes Import” feature, in addition to a “watch folder” feature that will automatically update with any changes you make to the library in iTunes. OK, so you’re not truly “ditching” iTunes, but you won’t have to deal with it on a daily basis, which is a big step in the right direction.

I can’t show you how to do it for every media player out there, and they’ll all be a tad different, but the general idea is the same for all of them. Here’s how I do it with Winamp, our favourite music player for Windows:

  • Open up Winamp and click on the “Library” button in the bottom left corner. Hit “Import iTunes Library” to get all your iTunes music and playlists into Winamp. In other programs, you may need to head to the players “Options” window to find this feature.
  • Once everything’s imported, just head into your player’s options and look for a “Watch Folder” feature. In Winamp, this is under Options > Preferences, and under “Local Media” in the left sidebar. Click on the Watch Folders tab and hit add folder, navigating to your “iTunes Media” folder on your hard drive. I like to check the “rescan folders at startup” box, just so it stays up to date.

From now on, whenever you add music to iTunes, that music will show up in your other player’s library. If you change the metadata in iTunes (like Artist, Album or Album Art) you’ll see that change in your other player. You may, however, need to manually rescan your watch folder or restart the program to see the changes. If you ever create a new playlist in iTunes, you can import iTunes playlists directly from Winamp (some other players, like Songbird, let you export your playlists to iTunes, which is another great way to keep the two in sync).

Like I said, it’ll be a bit different for every player, but in general, every player out there has some sort of iTunes integration, and you can use that to your advantage. Just make iTunes your primary hub for importing music and creating playlists, and then your music player of choice and iOS device will stay in sync using iTunes as a middleman. It isn’t a perfect solution, but if you really like Apple’s mobile devices, it’s a more than worthy workaround.


P.S. MediaMonkey is a rare bird in the sense that it can, in theory, sync with iOS devices. However, in my opinion, it almost isn’t worth the trouble and makes more sense to go the above route instead. However, if you’re a MediaMonkey user, know that you do have other options.

P.P.S. Got your own method for avoiding iTunes while keeping music on your iOS device? Share your strategies in the comments.

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