Five Best Desktop Music Players

Five Best Desktop Music Players

The best desktop audio players organise your playlists, ensure your massive music collection is easily searchable, and sync with mobile players. But which ones excel in all of these areas? This week we’re going to take a look at five of the best desktop audio players.


Foobar2000 (Windows)

Foobar2000 is probably the most customisable and flexible music player in this roundup. It’s completely free, plays just about anything you throw at it, supports gapless playback, features tons of customisable keyboard shortcuts so you can keep the music playing without taking your hands off the keyboard, and keeps your music library neatly organised. Foobar2000 also allows developers to build plug-ins and add-ons for it, so there are dozens of components you can download to extend its feature set further. Even with those components installed, Foobar2000 is super-lightweight and easy on system resources. [clear]


MediaMonkey (Windows)

If you’re looking for a jukebox that plays your audio files but also helps keep your music and media organised, MediaMonkey is for you. MediaMonkey is a podcast manager, CD ripper, music player, tag-and-rename organiser, audiobook player and portable device syncing tool all rolled into one. The app will look up tags, album art and other song information for you automatically and seek out duplicate songs and tags, all for the low price of absolutely free (there’s a $US25 “Gold” version, but the free version is enough for most users). It’s not the prettiest app, but if you’re obsessive about the cleanliness of your music collection, you can’t go wrong here. [clear]


Winamp (Windows/Mac)

Winamp has been “whipping the llama’s ass” for over 15 years now, and while much of its recent emphasis has been on its excellent Android player, the Windows desktop player still rocks. It’s completely skinnable, incredibly customisable, pretty fast and completely free (there’s a $US20 pro version, but the free version will suffice for most people). You can use Winamp to rip CDs, play video as well as music, and sync your music with your mobile device (wirelessly, if you use Android). It also features its own podcast and music directory. That said, Winamp’s basics are where it shines: it’s simply a killer music player. Mac users can get in on the action with Winamp for Mac Sync, which allows you to sync and listen to the music on your Android device and import iTunes playlists. [clear]


iTunes (Windows/Mac)

iTunes is one of the most popular music players in the world for good reason — it offers a great music store, the best syncing options for Apple-branded mobile devices, a podcast manager and a fully featured jukebox. Mac users are essentially stuck with iTunes — it’s easily the most functional music player in OS X. It’s a less clear choice on Windows, where iTunes is notoriously greedy for system resources, but it’s an essential requirement if you are rocking an iPhone. Combined with iCloud and iTunes Match, you have a desktop player with powerful wireless cloud features that help you keep your music playing on the go. [clear]


MusicBee (Windows)

Fast, lightweight and free, MusicBee is easy on your Windows resources, well-designed and a great tool to not just listen to your music but also tag, organise and download information about your songs. Add your own tags and organise your collection, use the app to find duplicate tracks and tags. MusicBee also wins points for supporting lots of different file types and formats, making it easy to rip CDs and sync playlists with your mobile devices. [clear]

Honourable mentions this week go out to Spotify, which is as great desktop a music player as it is a solid streaming service. Also worth mentioning is the Zune player, which many praise for its great-looking interface, access to the Zune Marketplace and a Smart DJ feature that blows other apps out of the water.

Have something to say about one of the contenders? Want to make the case for your personal favourite, even if it wasn’t included in the list? Have your say in the comments below.


  • Very surprised to see no mention of VLC and Media player classic here?
    Although I stopped using VLC on Windows 8 because it seems to be borked, maybe needs new drivers or something, but MP Classic is a ball tearer in it’s place..!!

    • For video I would agree but its not really an audio player which is what this article is about. I know you can play music in it but it doesn’t the sort features of the others listed here

  • What about Quintessential Media Player? I find it very good for just playing music and I’m surprised that iTunes is in this list. I’ve always had problems with iTunes, it’s a resource hog as well.

    • I’ve the same complaint. iTunes is the one Apple product I just hate to use. The inability to drag and drop to transfer any media file is just frustrating. One of the reasons why I’m switching over to Android.

  • I keep trying the other players, and keep going back to Itunes. On a decent machine it runs like absolute butter as long as your tags are correct. Also it allowed me to setup a 3 zone music system in the house for less than $300, that can all be driven by the ipad.

    My l33t friends who still drag folders onto winamp look like cavemen banging rocks to me.

    • Then you have some insight into how I view sheeple who use iTunes. What do you do if your tags aren’t correct? And what tags in particular need to be correct?

  • I would like to know how these apps go with large libraries and libraries stored on network locations. That has always been my problem. Zune seems to hit critical mass, and with my music library, which includes every CD I bought since 1990 as well as all my digital purchases , clocks in at nearly 250Gb and in stored on a WHS2011 box, Zune grinds to a halt, as does WMP and Spotify.

    • Zune manages my 7761 songs, in 735 releases by 290 artists very well, even though they are stored on a relatively slow external drive. It also manages to ignore another 1031 songs I have in another collection I use only for DJing, which makes it even better. I get the impression it caches a lot of info because sometimes there can be a slight delay when I hit play, as the drive spins up from idle, even though I have been able to navigate through the collection without any problems. Maybe you don’t have pre-fetch switched on or something?

      • I have used iTunes for years for everything except for playing music. It is horrible and slow. When I want to play music, I want something fast, lightweight and not a memory hog… iTunes fails on all three of these points

          • “Just go and spend an assload of money upgrading stuff and it’ll work well” Here in the real world people shouldn’t have spend money just to make iTunes work as it should… Unless you have a 10yr old PC playing music should not be a problem at all.

    • People seem to hate it because they hate Apple, they hate the closed way of doing things or they have underpowered hardware. And that’s fine, but there’s no need to conclude their needs apply to everyone.

      I use iTunes and it runs very smoothly on both my systems. Also, it’s the only tool other than WMP that uses the layout I want without stuffing around. With the album covers down the side.

  • Winamp keeps rocking. I use it in a very different way to 10 years ago (a fully tagged library that I can flip through by cover art, quickly filtering by any criteria I feel like – no more dragging folders, although that still works in a pinch).

    While Spotify was fun for the trial period, it has a patchy selection of music and using the desktop software was like having my hands tied behind my back after using Winamp.

  • Nothing against your top 5, but I couldn’t do without VLC for general use. I’ve used Jaangle for years for my serious music collection. We also find it very effective at our local community radio station.

    • Winamp has a feature that sounds similar, but I haven’t explored it as I wasn’t really into Genius on iTunes either as my listening is album-centric. I’d recommend giving it a look-in though.

  • the ONLY reason that iTunes is the most popular is because it’s pretty much needed for all those iUsers out there. If it wasn’t for the popularity of that hardware no one would use iTunes other than OSX people I’m sure.

    • I was using long before I had an iPod or iPhone or was using OSX more often than a few times here & there. Why, because I liked the way it worked and it was better than Media Player, i’ve been using t since it was available for Windows just about.

  • I finally left Songbird for Winamp in fairly recent history. There was lots of promise but just kept on having problems with it. I too am interested in what works well with larger libraries shared from a NAS. I use Squeezebox for some purposes playing straight off the NAS and for this it it amazing but still want a robust stand alone player.

  • I can’t go past Zune. Looking at the screen shots of all the others, they just look like file managers, Zune looks like a music collection. It is the only software solution that seems to see my collection as more than just a bunch of files with metadata that needs organising. The now playing screen can be a bit of a resource hog but it looks awesome and if you need your CPU/GPU for other things, you can just use the mini-player instead.

  • I’ve been using a combination of Winamp and VLC lately. For playing a single song or 2 that I downloaded, I’d use VLC, but if I want to listen to an album or browse through my entire collection, I’ll fire up Winamp. It’s slow to start up to play an individual track, but I can’t fault it as a media library manager.

  • I would have searched for literally years to rid myself of iTunes (it never ran that slowly on my machine, but the feature creep and inability to sync with an Android phone). I tried pretty much everything here, plus a few left field options, before discovering MusicBee. I love that it is lightweight, skinnable, syncs with android (and iDevices if you want), has an infinitely customisable UI and has good sorting and metadata functions. Couldn’t be happier with it.

  • iTunes for MAC with Amarra is the best player I have found for playing high quality audio. Suprising it is quite bad on PC but then I switch over to Foobar2000 it’s good but not quite as sharp or user friendly UI.

  • there are lots of nice players out there.. miro is getting quite good as an all-inclusive media player
    still haven’t found anything that is as quick, useful or usable as media-monkey for a seriously large music collection though

    • Indeed.

      What’s all this talk about “cavemen dragging folders” and “the best for seriously large music folders”. Try foobar, add your folders to the Media Library and it’s set and forget.

      Oh, but it’s ugly? Hop onto DeviantArt for instance, grab one of the AMAZING skins people have made and you have a pretty, light and full featured media player with instant access via search function to the continuously monitored folders set in the Media Library.

  • And no XMPlay? seriously? it’s the schweetest most modular and portable music player around. No install, no nothing, just whack it on USB or wherever you want.

  • iTunes – is not great. Yes, it will play your music – but organizing? Not good. Classic example: of all the fields you can select, “Path” isn’t one of them. To see that, you need to Get Info. For each file. One At A Time.
    In fact, it just got worse: in the latest version of iTunes, the “Display Duplicates” option seems to have vanished.
    Media Monkey is better, BUT it doesn’t handle video (or books, or apps). So you are stuck with iTunes when you want to sync to iPad / iPhone. Show me an app that sorts AND keeps the iTunes database file updated. THAT would be a winner.

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