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.
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.
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.
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