Songbird Music Player Software Review

songbird logo Songbird Music Player Software Review

While many people prefer to use pure MSC or MTP drag-and-drop for music organization on their players, others prefer to use MTP’s ability to talk with software to manage the content on the player with a music player. Windows Media player, Media Monkey, Winamp – there are many of these programs out there as well as programs made by the player manufacturers themselves.

One of these programs is Songbird. Songbird is an open source, Mozilla based program that both plays back music and lets you organize the music on your MTP player.

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Overview

Songbird is of course free to download and install and luckily doesn’t require any less-intelligent software environment to run it (read: Adobe Air). It’s based on the same concept as other Mozilla programs like FireFox and Thunderbird with a core program and a very massive library of extensions and themes. The core installer will include some of the most used extensions such as WMA support, MTP support, mashtape and last.fm.

Like many glorified music players tend to be these days, Songbird is rather resource intensive – especially if you use heavy themes and extensions such as MediaFlow which is a coverflow clone (in other words: a list of album pictures). I ran the program on an old desktop PC with a 3Ghz Pentium 4 CPU, 2GB RAM and Windows 7 and it spiked the CPU several times while doing normal tasks. It should be fine if you have a much better, newer computer, however in these netbook times such intensive apps might not really be an option.

One noticeable thing about SongBird is that it has FireFox (or at least a web browser of sorts) built in. This is used to find extensions, help etc but also for normal web browsing tasks. When the browser is open, the program will have tabs where the music player is one of those tabs. As such, Songbird is kinda like a web browser with a built in music player.

Extensions and themes

There are so many extensions for this it’s impossible to cover even a small part of them, but there are some that are considered better than others. MashTape is included as an optional install in the core package and is basically a real time song info lookup tool that will fetch artist info, news, reviews etc when you play a song. It will also search YouTube for music videos and similar videos and let you watch them in the window.

Extensions are available to let you stream to last.fm and also use the streaming service from last.fm if you have it, install intern radio plugins and so on. I installed a sidebar extension which fetches lyrics from the net and displays them in pretty much real time from when you start the track. Bottom line is that anything you can really imagine is available as an add-on for Songbird. As mentioned earlier, MTP support and Windows Media support are also add-ons, but included in the installer.

Songbird also lets you install themes, called “feathers”, the same way you install extensions. The default theme is a generic half-iTunes looking theme which isn’t all that nice looking in my opinion, so I went ahead and installed an Aero lookalike theme that fit Windows 7. This will in some cases require more resources, so be aware.

Features and use

Songbird is a straight forward music program – there aren’t anything like a podcatcher included or even available as an add-on, and you can’t play videos in Songbird. When you start the program it will ask you for folders to keep an eye on and it will import media from there. One very annoying issue I found was that it doesn’t support the new library feature in Windows 7. This feature is OS-specific and lets you have libraries for music/video/pictures/documents that replace the “my ****” folders from earlier Windows versions by having a dynamic virtual folder that is a collection of various locations on your computer. For instance, if you had 5 different folders with music in various places on the computer and you set those as locations for the music library in Windows 7, the content of the individual folders would be accessed as a collection from the single music library folder. With Songbird, you have to manually tell it to look into each of the folders as it won’t recognize the library as a folder like it’s supposed to do. I’m guessing the Songbird crew is aware and will fix this in an update in the future (version used for this review was 1.2.0, build 1146).

Songbird isn’t the most advanced music player out there and things like the equalizer is pretty basic. Basically, Songbird is more like Windows Media Player stripped down but with extension support than it is anything like WinAmp. This is definitely not the app you’d want to use if all you do is listen to music on your computer and require a lot of tweaking etc, and frankly it’s too resource intensive for that too – more so than iTunes.

Syncing devices

Songbird can sync with MTP players but not with MSC devices. When I inserted my Sansa Clip into an USB port, it immediately appeared as a device in Songbird. For some reason I couldn’t select to manually handle music transfers, so I have no idea what that feature does. I thought it was for MSC devices at first, but when I connected it in MSC mode it didn’t see the device as a device at all. You therefor have to select to sync it with all your music, or just certain playlists.

The playlist sync works well and my Clip did read the playlists fine, but what’s lacking from Songbird is a way to select exactly which tracks to sync without having to put them in a playlist of their own (this would then probably be the non-functional manual mode it didn’t let me use). Syncing the entire library is really only an option if you have enough space on your device and actually want all the music transferred.

Conclusion

I’m not too impressed with Songbird to be honest. It’s resource intensive, rather glorified and lacking some “pro” features you can get with for example Winamp. It wasn’t able to handle syncing as well as other programs (again, the manual mode didn’t work) and it lacks things like Audible support and a podcatcher. It can’t compete with dedicated music players for playback and it can’t compete with media managers for MP3 players due to lack of support for so many things. Bottom line I think you’d be better off with another program unless you really want the eyecandy that Songbird offers. It’s simply not in the league with other Mozilla applications when it comes to usefulness.

UPDATE: Some commenters have pointed out a couple of thigns with regard to this review. First off, podcast support is called “subscriptions” which is why it appeared not to be there (nor did a search on
the Songbird site result in anything, which is somewhat of a FAQ fail). Also, a new version of the software was released the same day this review was, so it’s not up to date. However, even with the new improvements, Songbird isn’t good software in any sense of the word – I as well as most people who have commented agree that there are far better alternatives out there for anyone to ever use Songbird, so I think my time is better spent reviwing those programs instead of re-doing this one.-Andreas

36 Comments

waris on September 27, 2009 6:12 AM

Songbird is a dud. It’s what you get when you slapped together a half-assed web browser with a half-assed music player. On top of that, some of the so-called ‘must-have’ extensions didn’t even work properly.Even iTunes is better than Crapbird as far as anything but web browsing is concerned.

jupitreas on September 27, 2009 9:35 AM

Indeed, Songbird still seems to have a long way to go before it can be any real competition for Winamp. I like the idea of it being open source though. With this said, Amarok seems like a far better open source choice and the Windows version is either already available or will be available soon…Would be interested to see some more reviews of music player software on this website, a lot of people use their PCs to play music after all.My personal player choice is Winamp thanks to the brilliant Audioburst plugin.

goanoos on September 27, 2009 10:08 AM

try musicbee

Garmon on September 27, 2009 10:26 AM

I have tried several iterations of Songbird and have always found it lacking. I keep hoping that someday they will get it right.

Ma_t on September 27, 2009 10:48 AM

Songbird is a actively developed and every release makes major improvements. As you can see here: http://wiki.songbirdnest.com/Roadmap improving performance and stability are always an objective for every release. I have really high hopes for this program.

Foggy on September 27, 2009 12:02 PM

Since I forced to use iTunes (iPod Touch need it), I miss my Zune Software, take back all those complain about how stupid it is, cause iTunes is more dull and can’t watch folder properly. I tried Songbird caus it have a plugin to sync with iPod.Songbird still lacking in UI but all those feature is good enough. If staff make the UI more easy to customize like foobar, it gonna be big one in future.PS:@Andreas: you should change your pc, an AMD rig with mainboard include decent integrated vga not cost more than an mp3 …

kugel on September 27, 2009 1:49 PM

Songbird 1.3 which was released just today can sync MSC/UMS devices.One pro of Songbird is that it’s multiplatform. But I largely agree with your conclusion and don’t use it

Andreas Ødegård on September 27, 2009 2:02 PM

@Foggy lol that one isn’t my only PC :p even if it was it’s more than good enough for any task I need it to perform.

Brandon on September 27, 2009 5:59 PM

I use Songbird and love it. If I hear a song I like and want to see the video, its there. If I want to jump to facebook, CTRL+T and I’m there. Want to buy concert tickets, it’s right there. Want a track scrobbled to Last.fm, it’s done. Need an alarm clock, there’s an extension for it. Want to build playlists of similar tracks, there’s an extension for that. Lyrics, same. On a website and there’s an MP3 embedded, it downloads it and adds it to your library. Songbird is resource intensive but I can guarantee you’d be using more system resources having separate applications handle all of these tasks. Songbird isn’t perfect, but its potential is great. It’s still a yound application.

Evan Prodromou on September 27, 2009 10:05 PM

“there aren’t anything like a podcatcher included or even available as an add-on”I made the same mistake. Songbird calls podcasts “subscriptions”, and you can add a new subscription using the File/New Subscription… menu option. New episodes show up in the “downloads” tab.I have no idea why the interface is so oblique; trademark worries? concerns that the term “podcast” isn’t mass-market enough? I don’t know.But clearly the terminology mismatch has at least tripped up us two; probably lots of other people, too.

Sony Owner on September 27, 2009 10:43 PM

Too bad Sony doesn’t have media software for their mp3 players or SE phones! It’s nearly non-existent!Content Tranfer is just a file transfer program; No file editing features like album art tagging or ripping music or playlist creation!Sony must think that the majority of people just want to see their logo while playing music, hence, drag n drop feature, which everyone seems to love!Some of us would actually like to see playlists and album art but it’s very difficult to find a good media software.iTunes may not be perfect but it’s one of the BETTER ones available and it’s F-R-E-E!People complain about iTunes but use iPods/iTouch! Why?! If you don’t like iTunes, do NOT buy/use iPods/iTouch! Period!At least iTunes is Much better than drag n drop and WMP!

waris on September 28, 2009 12:04 AM

^^Stop spamming this shit in every site entry

Andrew on September 28, 2009 12:43 AM

I have tried Songbird several times, each time thinking “Surely it has improved now”. Never againIt has now joined the ranks of applications that are banned from any machine I use, such as iTunes, RealPlayer and ICQ.Started using MediaMonkey and it is the by far the best music player I have tried out. If anyone hasn’t tried it yet, or considers WinAmp / iTunes “good enough”, then I would recommend at least giving MM a go for a week.

Andy on September 28, 2009 12:46 AM

Guys, Songbird isn’t fully-baked yet. Version 1.2 is a good player, but as you can see, there’s nothing outstanding about it. It doesn’t even support CD ripping yet! To see what’s coming, take a look at the roadmap (http://wiki.songbirdnest.com/Roadmap).Version 1.3.0 beta, which is available for download now, is supposed to support MSC and MTP syncing with devices, as well as other cool features. Due to reasons I don’t understand, there won’t be a version 1.3 final. It will instead get absorbed by version 1.4.Version 1.4 is the one to get excited about. It’s due for release sometime in October, but it may get pushed back. It’s set to include full mp3/wma transcoding (automatically convert incompatible music files, such as m4a, to compatible mp3 or wma files when syncing with a external device). It’s also set to include external device firmware update notifications whenever a new firmware becomes available. Also, it’ll finally get CD ripping!Version 1.5 is set to include video support, but don’t expect to see that fully-baked until at least January. Also, the numbering scheme for the version releases is definitely subject to change.

foggyflute on September 28, 2009 1:32 AM

@Sony Owner: I choose PMP before choosing software, not other way around. ZuneSoftware and WMP do their work fine and free, just can’t sync with iPod.@Andreas: let’s it rest, think about power efficiency, green world, j/k.

noobdeagle on September 28, 2009 2:58 AM

Remember song bird is designed to be an alternative for itunes and targets ipod users as such its ipod syncing is supposed to be top notch and works fine with my brothers 120gb classic (ewww i know) however my Cowon S9 worked with the beta for msc transfers but hey if you use msc just copy paste :P

Squargle on September 28, 2009 8:01 AM

No love for MediaMonkey from my fellow commenters?

jupitreas on September 28, 2009 8:16 AM

MM has some cool features, with support for Winamp plugins being probably the most important one for me…Nevertheless, one can easily tweak Winamp with plugins to be just as usable as MM and I have grown used to Winamp’s interface.MM to me is basically Winamp with a different interface (and didn’t they use Winamp as the player component in the early versions of MM?)All in all, the choice between Winamp and MM comes down to personal taste since both apps seem to have similar features.

Andreas Ødegård on September 28, 2009 9:00 AM

@Evan Hmm thats a pity – for songbird that is. Failing to display a feature properly can be as bad as not having it xD@Sony Owner I agree – iTunes really isnt that bad. The last few versions have made major improvements to performance and it no longer hugs resource. It gets really slow when you sync, but it never actually crashes (at least not for me). I take partially slow over randomly crashing any day.@waris what “shit” are you referring to?@kugel thats rather unfortunate. though frankly songbird is not a good program either way so I wont be spending more time on it – i think my time is better spent reviewing other software

A on September 28, 2009 2:30 PM

Why is songbird farting in that picture?

EthanJim on September 28, 2009 3:41 PM

The reason songbird doesnt support Windows 7 yet, is maybe because it hasn’t yet been commercially released?Songbird is tested on all the operating systems and platforms its made for and because Windows 7 OBVIOUSLY been released yet there wouldn’t be much point in adding native features.Songbird performance wise is reliant on Firefox’s development, as soon as songbird starts using the new gecko engine then it’s performance will be allot smoother and will support graphics acceleration for features like media flow. (So you can’t complain that songbird is slow without saying firefox is)

kugel on September 28, 2009 4:15 PM

@A: Songbird is farting on any picture :) I like that :p@Andreas: It’s not a good program yet. But I look at every new release in the hope it’s getting better. I wasn’t pleased yet, but I have still hope :) I just hope they leave the itunes road, mainly UI-wise. Each app is really better off having a default theme that a) identifies itself and b) doesn’t look foreign (it should fit into the OS). The theme you’ve chosen is a perfect example for this even though it’s still a bit itunes’ish from the structure (but that’s not that bad). Currently it looks like itunes on any OS it runs on. And I really hate the window title bar :S

Rick Spoketire on September 28, 2009 7:45 PM

foobar2000 is the way to go on Windows, IMO.

Steve on September 29, 2009 12:28 AM

In response to Squargle: I’m a MediaMonkey (MM) user and I’ve been very pleased with it. Of all of the programs I’ve used with my Sony player, MM works the best.I also like the simplicity of Content Transfer. Sometimes it is nice to just have a program that does one thing and does it well, and that describes Content Transfer well.However, I’m always open to trying other applications. That is the reason I checked out this article.Based on what I’ve read, it seems that Songbird has a great deal of potential and it just needs more development to become a contender against the more-established programs. Songbird is still a relatively new program, and I’m sure that its shortcomings will be dealt with in the future. One thing I hope Songbird does is work to not be a clone of the other programs in both the way it works and in the way it looks.

MrWafflesMonster on September 29, 2009 6:37 PM

@steve: I use media monkey as well however i had various issues transferring songs to my zen xfi, most annoyingly autosync or whatever it’s called failed to transfer the album art for all of the songs.The only way i could get the art to be transferred was to manually sync..There may be a new version that fixes this but i was a bit dissapointed to say the least.. It’s a great piece of software for media management but my experience with syncing has been far from perfect

ashiiya on October 4, 2009 6:28 PM

It sounds and looks interesting, but on my netbook, I’m afraid it’s gonna kill it xDBut I’m pretty sure they’ll continue to improve it. I do hope so because I want to try this out ^^

Commander_Keen on October 5, 2009 5:19 PM

I really don’t think it’s fair to review open source software that’s still very much under development like this…

Andreas Ødegård on October 6, 2009 2:48 AM

@Commander_Keen I love the open source community and have great respect for what they do, but frankly open source software is always “in development”. Either you review it at some point or another, or you never do. Besides, when you’re making a music playback program and pay more attention to themes and plugins than core functionality and performance, you’re on a rather wrong track to begin with.

john on October 8, 2009 12:17 AM

What I hate: Songbird forces ID3v2.4 tagging on you (which sucks), so if you mistakenly use it to update a tags in your MP3 library… it ends up making the files incompatible with tons of other products and applications. Good job, guys.It’s really time to stick to ID3v2.3, the only universal tagging standard for MP3.

Steve on October 11, 2009 11:18 AM

This review is useless. All the author says is, “songbird sucks!” Why? He says it’s missing features, but doesn’t say what those features are. The fact that he couldn’t figure out how to do podcasts, and that the software doesn’t fully support an unreleased OS seems to have soured him.useless garbage.

Lukas on October 12, 2009 3:11 PM

Songbird sucks. It’s a fact. At least on Linux. Even on a quad core CPU, 4 GB RAM, 64bit OS (Debian) it doesn’t performe well. As said. Most of these promising plugins don’t even work properly.@Steve: Win7 had been released a week ago.

m on October 14, 2009 5:33 PM

i hate songbird as much as everyone else, but i have to agree with steve above that this was a pretty poor review. no support for w7 union directories? you can’t expect the coders to add the feature instantaneously. but if programs evidently don’t support w7 union dirs, the problem isn’t even with the program but with w7 for not giving union dirs the same interface as a regular directoryif only amarok-1.4 ran on windows, everything would be right with the world

Cori on October 23, 2009 4:14 AM

foobar2000 > all.

cPT.cAPSLOCK on October 27, 2009 3:20 PM

I used songbird for about a week, with pretty high expectations (mainly because of the ‘Mozilla’ and ‘Open-source’ labels ;) However, I got my hopes up to high to early.Quickly after that I moved on to MediaMonkey, which has fullfilled all my needs :) The only other player that comes close (IMO) to MediaMonkey is WinAMP, but I prefer MediaMonkey’s tagging and filter options.

Andreas Ødegård on October 28, 2009 1:27 AM

@just pete & cpt capslock:I’ve edited it into the review, thank you. I looked for that feature for ages thinking it HAD to be there somewhere, but couldn’t find it. On my MM, I have no option to switch to minilpayer in the tray – only playback controls and a few other things. I use a 1920×1080 resolution monitor, and with the button beside the minimize button being both extremely small and close to invisible due to the colors in the default theme, I had trouble finding it even when you said it was there. I also have trouble getting the microplayer to work- googling images of it it looks like its a taskbar player, right? On my system, it just minimizes it to tray no matter if I chosoe to minimize to microplayer in the settings or use the buttons. One screenshot I saw online was of the microplayer in the tray on a machine running Windows 7, so I don’t get why it’s not working.

Jeff on January 2, 2010 2:17 PM

I have tried Songbird on numerous occasions and have been disappointed. Haven’t tried the lates 1.4.x release yet, but may give it a go.Oh, and MediaMonkey sucks. Lame MP3 Encoding expires in 30 days. Isn’t LAME free? Last time I tried to work around it with another LAME dll is was about as stable as a 2 legged stool.

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