Last week, Radionomy CEO Alexandre Saboundjian revealed that the company plans to overhaul Winamp, the classic music player best known as a Windows-first alternative to iTunes, to make it more vital for our more streaming-focused audio media world. That version is coming in 2019.
In the meantime, the old Winamp is back! That is to say that it is now compatible with Windows 8 and Windows 10, which makes it a more viable option for people who aren’t using older hardware. Truth be told, despite the fact that it is, in many ways, an outdated tool that hadn’t been updated since 2013, Winamp has a committed fanbase comprising over 100 million monthly users worldwide, according to Techcrunch.
The current beta, Winamp 5.8, is the same Winamp you used to know. It remains an interesting and very customisable audio and video media player, one that may be worthy of your time if you’re still collecting Phish concert bootlegs or subscribing to podcasts via RSS feed.
What does Winamp actually do?
Winamp is a “universal media player.” It plays audio and video files and, more importantly, gives you an easy and visually appealing way to access those files in a single place. You could take your CDs and (gasps) pirated music and put them together into a single catalogue of “your music.” Back in the days of dedicated MP3 players, you could also use it manage what files went on your device. If you still have one — or want to keep music files onto an Android device—go nuts.
In its heyday, Winamp stood out compared to its peers because it was highly customisable. In the time before browser extensions were especially common, Winamp’s large selection of software plug-ins, which could give you everything from improved performance and hotkeys to broadcasting audio.
Many of its most beloved features were purely cosmetic, though. You could reskin the player, changing its browser windows and fonts, using thousands of official and user-made options. And, of course, there was the visualizer—a tool that turned a song’s sine wave into a sort of laser light show.
Why should I try Winamp (or go back)?
Though the average music fan generally has less need for an audio library, Winamp is just as useful now as it was in its prime for those who still do. Whether you download high quality audio files, need to sift through personal audio recordings, or store podcasts on a desktop or laptop where there are fewer podcast “apps,” there many use-cases where having a way to sort through your audio media easily is useful.
Since buying music is much less common now, the appeal of music player without a store attached is even more appealing. I stored my music in iTunes in my youth, but Apple’s modern sales tactics make it borderline unusable. (No Apple, I do not want you to add snippets of “suggested songs” to my playlists).
Technically, the same is true for storing and playing video files as well. Between the fact that I think of Winamp primarily as a music player and the fact that next year’s reboot will focus on audio, though, Winamp does not feel as essential in that space.
But what about the visualizer?
Oh don’t worry. It’s still here.
As we mentioned before, Winamp hadn’t been updated for five year until last week so, depending on when you last used it, probably not much.
Aside from become Windows 8- and 10-compatible, the biggest change in the latest version of Winamp was the elimination of the app’s paid service, Winamp Pro. Winamp Pro charged a monthly fee for higher quality services such as the ability to rip audio CDs at high bitrates and certain video codecs, which I doubt many would pay for in 2018.
If you have been keeping up with Winamp and want a detailed list of changes, you can check them out in the Winamp forums.
What’s going to happen to Winamp?
Next year, Radionomy will roll out a modernised version of Winamp. According to Saboundjian, that version will modernise the concept of the “universal audio player” by, among other things, incorporating libraries from digital radio and subscription-based music services like Spotify and Apple Music.
How will that work? Your guess is as good as mine.
If it does though, that would make many listeners’ lives a lot easier. Anecdotally, most people I know listen to music across multiple music services, YouTube, and download podcasts. Some even still download songs and/or buy records. If Winamp can compile all those things for each individual and make it searchable, it would be a must-have app.
Before you go... Can you hit me with another one of those sweet, sweet visualizer gifs?
Rock and roll.