> Technology/science articles
> Battle of the MP3 giants (article created on 27th March 2005)
Winamp versus iTunes versus MediaMonkey
This article is somewhat out of date. Please visit this page for more recent versions of these players.
Following on from the Single Folder Filesystem
article, Skytopia goes in search of the perfect MP3 player/organizer for Windows. The judgement criterion favours the simplicity of the interface and also the organizational capabilities of each music program, particularly in regards to searching and tagging MP3 files.
After looking at various music players/organizers such as iTunes 4.7
(Apple), Musicmatch Jukebox 10
(Musicmatch), Winamp Full 5.02
(Nullsoft), Media Jukebox 8.0
(J. River), Visual MP3 4.3
(iProgram Development), musikCube 0.92.1
(Casey Langen), and MediaMonkey 2.3
(Ventis Media), we filtered the results down to three contenders:
Winamp (5.02) - Download latest.
iTunes (220.127.116.11) - Download latest.
MediaMonkey (18.104.22.1685) - Download latest.
In the end, it turned out that no music software in existence has the particular interface and features I was hoping for. For instance, take the idea of an 'inbox' of music. Just like email, music that has just been downloaded (or whatever) should be separated from the main library, and then only at your discretion should it be archived into the main library. All three programs have a "recently added tunes" playlist, but not only is the implementation somewhat flawed, but it is mixed in with many other playlists which takes up valuable screen space. See here for more details if you're not convinced.
Also, I believe the 'library' window (i.e. the main interface in MediaMonkey/iTunes, and the "Media Library" in Winamp) and 'mini-player' of such programs should be unified into one small-ish window. Unfortunately, the left panel and other GUI components force the main window to be large. On the other hand, the 'mini-player' that they have is too feature-less (apart from Winamp, but you still can't rate or add metadata to files there).
Before we go any further, here are some pics of the main interface, 'mini-player', music attribute list, and reviews at download.com:
Now onto the main comparison...
- Searching features
- Interface speed
- Importing media/MP3s
- Bloatware analysis
- General operation
- Miscellaneous issues
- The Winner
Winamp wins hands down here, as phrases or individual words can be searched for (even wildcards are supported). iTunes is next best, but it doesn't support phrases. MediaMonkey on the other hand only allows phrase searching which can be very limiting in many circumstances. If you search for two words which are in different field types (such "ELO" in the artist field and "All over the world" in the track title), or even two words in one field which are not a phrase, but where those words still appear at some point, then MediaMonkey won't recognise it (iTunes and Winamp will). Finally, none of the programs under review allow you to exclude certain keywords in the search field (ala Google).
Winamp comes out top in general searching, and scrolling of lists. iTunes can feel slightly sluggish on slower processors (say 1Ghz or less), and MediaMonkey is somewhere in between.
This is important as you'll need to import many files to begin with, and also as you update the library from time to time. For rescans, MediaMonkey falls behind Winamp and iTunes, as it seems to scan through all the files again. Finally, iTunes hangs when I tried to scan through my massive 40,000 file "Music" folder (it got stuck on a MIDI).
MediaMonkey definitely surpasses iTunes and Winamp on the number of raw tag attributes. You can even add up to three of your own custom fields. In Winamp or iTunes, if you wanted to add your own metadata, you would need to alter the information in one of the other tags, such as the 'comment' tag. Not exactly ideal, since it'd be nice to leave those tags intact for various reasons. It's a shame MediaMonkey doesn't have Winamp's powerful searching to take advantage of these extra custom tags though!
Also, iTunes and Winamp miss out vital information such as the copyright or publisher field. Many MP3s have information in these fields, so it seems a shame not to include them in the results. You can see from the pictures below that MediaMonkey has many more results when I search for the keyword 'konami'. Compare:
MediaMonkey library interface......... and the
iTunes interface or
It's impossible to display the file name or path in iTunes in the main library window - you need to open up a new window. Winamp manages the filename, but MediaMonkey does both - bravo! To see the filepath wouldn't be important in the long run, but in the initial stages, it's very handy to see where the file is so you can add tag info more easily.
Also, MediaMonkey and iTunes can display an "added" field (when the file was added to the library), and the timestamp (or 'date modified' attribute). This is really handy if you want to see how old the file is - i.e. when you first heard the tune. Unfortunately, Winamp and iTunes have a timestamp problem. When you alter the tag information, iTunes changes the all-important timestamp (date modified attribute) too. MediaMonkey has an option to keep the timestamp intact.
Winamp and iTunes only support up to 5 stars. MediaMonkey allows the equivalent of 10 stars. Much better.
All three programs allow you to change the tags of multiple files simultaneously, but Winamp has only 8 fields. Also, you can't slowly double click to edit a field directly in the library window in Winamp (you have to right click, and go through another window). This can slow down general editing somewhat.
iTunes comes in at a whopping 20 megabyte download, despite doing the same or less than MediaMonkey which is only 4 meg. Half the problem is because Apple forces its QuickTime player on you whether you want it or not. For further evidence of iTunes bloatedness, see this thread at UMDstudents.com. On the other hand, Winamp surpasses even MediaMonkey - 4 meg for the 'full' version (modern skin, media library and video support etc.), and you can even get the 'Lite' version at just 740k - see here.
As for the memory they take up, iTunes comes in at around 35 megabyte, MediaMonkey is second best at 20 meg (non-skinned), and Winamp is lightest of all at 15 meg. Unfortunately for iTunes, it comes with two extra processes - "iPodService" and "iTunesHelper" - both hogging around 3 meg each. What's really annoying is how they are kept resident even when iTunes isn't open!
Mini-player and library window integration + general operation
This section is going to be the hardest to write, because quite a bit comes down to taste and experience. As has already been written in the intro, none of the three programs aim for what I consider to be an ideal - a single unified window combining the library interface and the mini-player. Nor do they offer what I call an "inbox system"...
Inbox system - Imagine being able to download (or take the music from anywhere) to a single dumping location, and that 'latest batch' of files is under one of two tabs ("Inbox", or if you prefer, "Recent" or "To check"). You can rate them, edit the tags, classify them, do whatever, and then you can move one or more of these files into the main library archive ("Archive" tab). This "Inbox" list would always look out for newly saved MP3 files (or you can add them yourself at any time). It's a great way of making sure that MP3s which aren't initially tagged don't get forgotten about forever.
Granted, in iTunes (and less efficiently with MediaMonkey), you can make a new custom playlist, insert files into it, and then delete the playlist at the end. But for various reasons, this is rather more cumbersome than directly implementing the inbox system as described above (i.e. you need to create/delete playlists, and keep the 'big' library window open).
Anyway, ignoring these fundamental shortcomings, let's get on with the comparison...
None of the programs can loop a single tune continuously in the miniplayer if the music is being taken from the playlist. Sometimes, it's nice to listen to a tune twice or more before going on to the next one.
iTunes has a slightly cleaner system of switching between the main program window and the 'miniplayer'. MediaMonkey and Winamp treat them more as separate entities.
Unlike MediaMonkey, iTunes has a volume control in the miniplayer, but it doesn't have a 'song position' slider. Winamp has both. Also, MediaMonkey enables you to edit tag information in the mini-player which is one step closer to the perfect system.
iTunes can't 'drag and drop' music files onto the miniplayer.
In iTunes and Winamp, the "recently added" playlist includes files according to (a day's worth of?) time instead of just the list that would be added from "added folder to library" function.
- MediaMonkey has an option to sort by two or more field types. So for example, I can sort by quality with name as second priority. Or sort by name with filesize as second priority. I bet that could be useful.
- All players miss a simple tune speed feature. It doesn't have to be time-stretching, I just want a different tune pitch sometimes, even if it does simultaneously affect the speed.
- The library window in Winamp and MonkeyMedia looks somewhat worse than iTunes because each line is not 'colour alternated'. Also the left panel is the same colour as the main tune list panel (though not everyone will take to the iTunes' brushed metal look).
You can't delete a file easily in iTunes, only clear it from the library. (updated 30/12/2005)
- They are all free to download, though MonkeyMedia and Winamp will offer some extra features if you pay a little extra. You get most of the functionality for free though!
Winamp and MediaMonkey (which uses the G-Force plugin) have the best visualization graphics, with iTunes' visualization lacking the variety of MediaMonkey, and the overall action of Winamp.
Ripping and burning a CD
Winamp can burn and rip CDs, but only if you pay for the pro version ($15 at time of writing (21:16 26/03/2005)).
iTunes can only burn, while MediaMonkey can burn and rip. (updated 30/12/2005, iTunes 4.7 CAN rip aswell as burn)
Winamp wins hands down by supporting a large range of sounds formats including au, mod, mid, and many more with the appropriate plugins.
Only Winamp can support many video formats (avi, wmv, mpeg, asf etc.), but iTunes can handle its own QuickTime format.
Of course, only iTunes can sync with the iPod by default, but there are various winamp plugins to do the same thing.
All of them have some kind of a shop for those who need that.
All players can stream music and handle new playlists, though you need to upgrade to MediaMonkey Gold to get the best out of its playlist filter.
I'm sure some of the things I've mentioned won't bother you one bit, so decide for yourself. I'm the last person to say something like that, as I usually love to rate everything and give scores and lowdowns. But each player under review is so from ideal that it's not really worth it.
As for myself, I would love to organize my music, but I simply can't stick to one standard unless it's exactly what I want/need. If a program in the future comes out that addresses the points on this page (especially in the general operation section), then it would mean painfully tagging and resorting all of my MP3s again (after all, ID3v2 tags don't cover information such as the rating and other custom info, so it won't be possible to switch later on). So for now, I'll stick with Winamp, but won't bother organizing beyond putting them in the usual folders.
I think I'll have to make my own music organizer program :-)
(UPDATE: added Mediamonkey adverts on this page on the 27/03/2007, two years after first publication).
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