Five Best Desktop Music Players

Five Best Desktop Music Players

Everyone has a favourite desktop music player. For some of us, it’s the one that plays our music fast, with no fuss or hassle. For others it’s a tool that organises your playlists, syncs with your smartphone, makes your music collection easy to dig through, and looks good while doing it. This week we’re going to look at five of the best desktop music players, based on your nominations.

Title photo by audio-collage.

MediaMonkey (Windows)

Five Best Desktop Music Players

MediaMonkey is an impressive combination of jukebox and library organiser. Sure, you can use it to just play your tunes, organise playlists, and sync with your mobile devices, but if your music library is a mess (as mine is), you can also use MediaMonkey to clean it up without too much effort. The layout and UI is customisable, and the player is snappy and fast even with a library of thousands of songs, which is more than we can say for some of the other programs in the roundup. MediaMonkey does the basics too: It will rip CDs, download podcasts, and supports file types including OGG and FLAC as well as the expected MP3 and AAC options. It will automatically update your library based on changes to your library folder, so you can copy in new music without worrying MediaMonkey won’t see it. If you like auto-generated playlists seeded by songs you own or like, MediaMonkey can do that too. It can convert file types on the fly if you need it to, stream media via DLNA to other devices on your network. MediaMonkey is free — although $US25 gets you MediaMonkey Gold, which adds on some more features.

Winamp (Windows/Mac)

Five Best Desktop Music Players

Winamp has been whipping the llama’s arse for over 15 years. It has since its early Nullsoft days, and remains a solid jukebox and media player that’s relatively lightweight, fast and customisable. The interface can be as minimal as a shade at the top of your display with tiny playback controls, or as blown out as a full-screen jukebox UI that features search bars, library information in multiple windows organised by artist, album, and song name, and even a full web browser. Winamp handles all the tasks you’d expect from a media player: It can rip CDs, supports obscure file types, and syncs with mobile devices either via USB, or wirelessly through its well-crafted native Android app. Winamp is definitely more bloated than it used to be, but it’s still flexible, functional, and completely free. There are a few extra features available in the $US20 Winamp Pro version, but the free version is probably enough for most people.

foobar2000 (Windows)

Five Best Desktop Music Players

foobar2000 is one of the most flexible, customisable, and tweakable music players available. It’s lightweight, can play virtually anything you throw at it, and while it’s powerful and flexible, it can be a little daunting to get used to at first. More than a few people have given up on foobar because they’d rather spend more time listening to their music than tweaking their media player, but if you’re the type who wants a personalised listening experience and a player with just the tools you like (and none of the bloat you hate), foobar2000 is worth a look. It supports gapless playback, has lots of customisable hotkeys to control playback, and handles numerous file formats. foobar2000 supports ReplayGain, which does an amazing job of making sure your music is all played at the same relative volume and loudness. It’s completely free. If you’re the type of person who likes to start from scratch and build the ultimate music player that’s just right for you, foobar2000 will get you there, and you’ll be happy with the end result.

MusicBee (Windows)

Five Best Desktop Music Players

In contrast to music players that offers tons of options, tweaks and toggles at laucnch, MusicBee starts you off with a super-lightweight but still customisable utility. A little effort adds features such as song lyrics, album art, artist info, and so on. You get a wealth of built-in skins and customisation options to get you started, but none of them slow the player down or make it feel bloated or slow. MusicBee can also handle large libraries, podcasts, less-popular file types, CD ripping, and more. You can use it to organise your library, tag your songs, and download additional data about your tracks. It supports syncing to mobile devices as well, and much more, all in what’s often described as a “deceptively simple interface.” It’s completely free.

Zune Music (Windows)

Five Best Desktop Music Players

Well, colour us surprised. The actual device is long gone (having never even officially arrived in Australia), and the Zune Music service is now Xbox Music, but many readers nominated for the Zune Music desktop player. Whether it’s the player’s gorgeous interface, podcast organisation and downloading options, auto-generated backgrounds, seeded and custom playlists, or unique look and feel, it’s earned a lot of love from many of you, and even though it’s possible Microsoft will pull downloads for it tomorrow, we have to agree: Just because an app isn’t in development anymore doesn’t mean people shouldn’t use it if it’s great at what it does. It’s free, and it’s still available, but we’re not sure for how long. If you want to give it a try, grab it now and save the installer in case you ever need to reinstall.

Honourable mentions this week go out to the two media players that come with every Windows or Mac machine: Windows Media Player which is very effective, and iTunes . iTunes was surprisingly distant from the top five; while it’s an essential tool for iDevice owners, as a music player it doesn’t seem to cut the mustard anymore.

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? Tell us about it in the comments.


    • I imagine you only use it because you have an iDevice and you are forced to. If you didn’t have an iDevice, would you still use it? Probably not.

      • Back before Apple got big with their iPods, Sony had been releasing Network Walkmans. The software Sony forced you to use, SonicStage was a) limited to Windows (understandably for the time), b) forced you to use ATRAC (a bad thing) and c) unstable, buggy and difficult to use (cumbersome, slow, crashed, not user friendly). Now, I can understand how that may be regarded as a forceful move by Sony. You might feel ‘forced’ to use bad software. However iTunes as a ‘mandatory’ software for interfacing with your phone is not bad in any of those ways. The advantages outweigh the benefits, and if you look at the alternative – using it as a free hard drive, there may be issues with that which prevent the streamlining and therefore causing bugs in daily operation. They did it for an overall better user experience. The only reason you should use the word ‘forced to use’ were if you didn’t spend enough time learning about the best ways to use the phone or the software to your choosing. Otherwise, don’t complain about iTunes, because you just sound like you’re following other people’s opinions and not thinking for yourself.

        • You’re right, Sonicstage was worse – but how is that relevant? iTunes isn’t as bad as a discontinued piece of software from years ago, so we shouldn’t criticise it? … what?

          Assuming that somebody dislikes iTunes because it’s popular opinion is lazy, and slightly pathetic. The bloat, restrictions and lack of organisational and time-saving features have resulted in many people seeking alternatives. It’s as simple as that.

      • Itunes does several things that none of the players on this list do. In fact its a very shallow article and doesnt go into the best functionality of a music player as a media hub. Itunes has its problems but is also way advanced over the options above:

        At the moment, my Itunes and Airplay setup allows me to :

        -Listen to music in three zones in the house. All remote controlled by ipad/iphone whatever.
        -Send video to any screen in the house, send audio to any speakers in the house.
        -Download podcasts on desktop, listen on airplay in the house, go driving in the car and start listening to podcast on phone where it stopped in the house.
        -Smart Playlists, genius playlists, etc etc.

        When it comes to this, none of the above players are any better than dropping a file into VLC.

        • Yeah I agree, everyone loves to hate it, but I’m yet to find a decent alternative. I don’t even own any iDevices anymore and yet I still stick with iTunes on my home PC as I find it the best. I have my whole collect converted to Apple Lossless and it plays it flawlessly and gapless.

          Every other player I have tried to play lossless audio through I have to a bit jerky and resource intensive, even though I have a high specced PC.

          • That lossless issue is a bit strange – certainly not the norm. I’m mostly a FLAC user and have no problems with MusicBee or Winamp.

          • MusicBee is pretty ugly too without any customisation. iTunes certainly wins the out-of-the-box pretty award.

          • Yep, Ive recently done the same thing and reripped my CD collection to ALAC. (ALAC will also convert back to FLAC bit-perfect if needed)

            If anything, Itunes is faster and more responsive now, especially as all the tags are perfect. Also, airplay streams ALAC natively to Airplay devices at 44.1/16. The difference over airplay between my old 192 rips and my new ALAC rips are night and day.

          • Yeah once you go lossless you never go back. Uses a bit more space but considering how cheap hdd’s are now days not a huge issue.

            And now Google Music recognises ALAC, I have it pointed at iTunes and I have my whole collection in the cloud on Google Music that I can access from my Android phone and table in compressed format and can download it through the service to play locally from my phone if I want.

        • With the exception of smart/genius playlists, none of those things are particularly relevant to the point of the article, which is that these are the best desktop music players. If this were an article about a system of streaming media to other devices, then perhaps iTunes would be mentioned.

          None of the things you mentioned interest me in the slightest from the perspective of a desktop music player. Except perhaps Smart Playlists, and I know Foobar does this just fine (and I presume others do as well).

      • I use iTunes for Airplay. That’s about it, and if I could replace it, I would.

        Media Monkey does all the organising, tagging and cleanup. One button to tag, add art, rename and shift the files to my media server? Winning.

      • No I actually don’t own any apple devices. I don’t even use the itunes store. I’ve tried other programs but I just prefer using itunes.

    • It works well on Macs. Except my library is on a NAS, which has quite a few performance issues.
      On my PC’s I use Foobar.

    • if your only using it because you have an iPhone id have a look for alternatives. in fact maybe that should be a feature story soon with the new iphones

  • I run CrossOver Office on my Mac just so I can use Foobar 2000 (because somehow all of the media players on the Mac fail to even come close to being as good, which I find bizarre).

  • I’ve used all of the above at different times, but JRiver Media Centre has proved the best and most stable for a large Flac file connection. It also provides excellent control when connected to external DACs. Has been worth every cent paid for it. Hope this might help anyone having troubles managing a large media library.

    • +1 JRiver is the one for high quality music production. I didn’t think I could hear the difference between lossless and mp3/aac files until I tried JRiver Media Centre. Then a whole world opened up…..

  • iTunes doesn’t cut the mustard anymore? You’re joking, obviously one of those Android fans with a gripe! I never last with these other music players, they are either cumbersome, have bad design, are buggy or are simply ripping off what others are doing. Half the people going on about FLAC are people who download it illegally, or who don’t even go beyond one style of music. iTunes as a standalone product is the highest quality player there is, I’ve found. So much for not cutting the mustard!

    • Ive also seen time and time again, that the people who hate Itunes the most, often have a library full of downloaded files with corrupt or wrong tags.

      They seem to think that filling a database with junk data will have no ill effects. No wonder that a music player that just shows them their file system is a relief to them.

      If you have a large, curated collection as teh hub of a home media center, there is no beating Apple at the moment for ease of use.

      • iTunes is slow, buggy, and worst of all, part of a closed ecosystem that encourages a monopoly.

        Nothing in it is ‘high quality’ in comparison to other offerings.

        • What are you running it on to find it slow? Loads instantly on my PCs and runs all my lossless files in all their glory without gaps.

          It might “encourage” a closed ecosystem but doesn’t mean you have to take part in it. I’ve never bought anything off iTunes I just get my media and drag and drop it in there.

          I’m always up for trying other applications but always end up back on iTunes (even if version 11 sucks compared to 10). What would you suggest?

    • Spotify is not really the same thing as the other programs being described here. And even if we were to compare it to the other media players here, it’s missing a whole bunch of features which are pretty standard on the rest.

    • I couldn’t agree more.

      It’s funny how I don’t miss things like a customizable UI, ogg,flac,mp4 support, eq and id3 tag support when the player comes with a free subscription to an infinite library of music.


  • Still rocking the ol WinAmp over here 🙂
    I have never used iTunes or Windows Media Player for my every day music.
    Plus you get some nice effects with milk drop if you have a projector in your home.

  • a lot of what i saw above was blah blah blah apple blah i…..

    im just glad they included Winamp, ive been using it since 1997 or something like that. ever since my tech savvy friend introduced it to me.

    simple, easy to use, included EQ, drag and drop, playlists.

    ahh to be free.

  • I use MusicBee. Love it. Switched from Songbird after Songbird had a long term bug where it didn’t always update the play count and scrobble with MusicBee

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