While not a competitor to any of the other music organizing applications I’ve reviewed lately, foobar2000 deserves somewhat of a “special mention” for it’s computer side music playback capabilities. Read on for a quick review-slash-walkthrough.
What is foobar2000?
Since this software is so different from the others I’ve reviewed lately I though a short description of the application was in order. foobar2000 (avilable here for free) is not a music organization application at the same level as MediaMonkey, WMP12 or WinAmp as it can’t sync with MTP devices, which frankly most of the MP3 player market today uses. As such I’ve chosen to treat it as a computer side music player only. You can organize content on a MSC device with it, but there are fewer and fewer players suing this. What makes it so special on the computer side is that it is extremely lightweight while also being very extensive in it’s area. It doesn’t look fancy or try to be that fancy; it does music playback and nothing more. In these days of netbooks and UMPC/MIDs running “real” OSes on low power hardware, the need for something lightweight is definitely there.
Other software I have reviewed has supported skins and in one case (WinAmp) a messed up attempt at custom layouts. foobar2000 handles the whole layout thing so different that it deserves it’s own section. When you first start it, you’re given the choice of some colors and default setups. These aren’t skins, they are more like guidelines for how the menu bars and separators behave. foobar2000 is fully based on dividing the application window into whatever shape and form you want, adding various UI elements yourself and resizing whatever you like. The layout you see in the screenshots is done by me, and features three columns. The left one is divided into two, where the top is a tabbed section with file info in one tab and a list of playlists in the other. The bottom is a media search box, which searches the library. The middle column shows the current playlist as well as a playlist selector, and the right column holds the giant album art display and equalizer. I could exchange or resize any one of these windows to do something else, add 10 new columns or rows, add playback controls, visualizers, 10 identical playlist windows or play tic-tac-toe with playlist windows if I so pleased. The reason this works so much better (in my opinion) than skins and the WinAmp attempt at doing this is that instead of clogging the system with fancy graphics making up the UI it uses standard application elements to form a custom look with standard “parts”. Compare it to building something in Lego instead of carving it in wood. Either way, it works very nicely, and doesn’t affect the performance of the application one bit.
As well as the main window there’s a feature called “album list”, which is a pop-up window that lets you browse your music in a tree structure. This is also customizable so you can select how each of the sorting methods (year, artist, album etc) actually sort your music.I loved the similar tree structure view in MediaMonkey, and foobar2000 takes this one step further.
On the surface, foobar2000 looks dull and plain due to its lightweight touch and feel. Under the hood however lies some of the most advanced audio playback features out there. By default it supports MP1, MP2, MP3, MP4, Musepack, AAC, Ogg Vorbis, FLAC / Ogg FLAC, Speex, WavPack, WAV, AIFF, AU/SND, CDDA, WMA and Matroska. This can be further expanded through “components”, which are extensions in one way but much more lightweight than you’d normally think of extensions- they’re simply .dll files you put in a subfolder. The format support can then be expanded to include TTA, Monkey’s Audio, ALAC, MOD, SPC, Shorten, OptimFROG, AC3, DTS, PSF, NSF, XID, XA, MMS, RSTP, TAK and others. This should cover every format most people have ever heard of and about 20 more that few knew existed. On top of that you have features such as gapless playback (as well as included components to remove silence), replay gain (which normalizes the sound volume without physically editing every file) and a 18 band equalizer which is the best I’ve seen on any of the music software I’ve tried. Other features include a CD ripper and tagging capability, streaming and others.
When I started my WinAmp review I ranted about it on the ABi>> IRC channel. People there (WinAmp users) then said they didn’t care about the lacking library features etc, all they wanted was to play a playlist or a folder. While WinAmp can barely do that without annoying you to death, such use is exactly what foobar2000 is made for. It’s made to play music, create playlists and find the music quickly and easily, then play it. You have everything you need in foobar2000 by default and if playing music is all you want to do, foobar2000 is perfect. It’s easy to create playlists, easy to search for music and easy to control playback. You can map the playback controls to keyboard shortcuts and you can also move the playback controls in the application as they are part of the customizable UI elements. I dowish there was a way to make the playback controls bigger (I couldn’t find one) as while they were good enough for a 720p 11.6″ screen, I’d hate to use them on my 1080p 24″ monitor.
Playlists are pretty major in foobar2000 and most of your music sorting will likely be using playlists. You can create, copy, paste, rename and play playlists as well as apply replay gain to the entire playlist, add the playlist to the “now playing” queue or convert the entire playlist- just like you can with single files. Playlists can be selected in a variety of ways, including making own windows to display them all or haver a drop-down list to choose between them. Note that it’s easy to confuse what import functions import to playlist and which ones im
port to the media library, as you should specify the music library location in the corresponding menu in the settings and then create playlists from that.
It’s hard to write a lot about an application like foobar2000 because it’s meant to be lightweight, while still providing perhaps the single biggest set of directly useful features out there. Since a lot of the functionality in foobar2000 is hidden in the settings menu, I thought a short run through of them would be more useful than continuing to repeat “it simply works”. This doesn’t cover everything, by far- the UI customization settings could have gotten 1500 words by themselves, but it does show off some of the settings you can tweak in foobar2000.
Allows you to customize how foobar2000 looks, including changing the layout. You can customize what info the status bar and window title displays, save and load saved layouts, change minimize settings, colors and fonts and playlist view. One extension I actually installed was one adding Windows 7 jump list functionality (allowing you to control playback from the icon in the taskbar) and that menu is then also here for me.
This allows you to change keyboard shortcuts as well as configure how to import music, including filters to skip files, automatically add to playlists and so on.
These settings include folders to monitor for changes and adding to the main music library as well as some filters for what files types to look for. The settings for the album list window is also here, and you can specify your own strings that decide how the tree structure will look under each of the sorting options (year/artist/genre etc).
Playback settings include an output submenu that lets you choose the audio output device (sound card and port) and a few other settings as well as the very useful DSP manager. The DSP manager handles sound enhancements and lets you add and remove as well as configure various tweaks such as an extra equalizer, mono/stereo/surround settings and converters and a few others.
Tools only have one submenu that deals with the built in converter in foobar2000. Here you can set the default values to use when converting as well as add more converter formats and update your encoders manually if you want.
Some of the other settings I’ve noticed while using foobar2000 that might be worth a mention include settings to remove dead or duplicate options (the latter of which I tried, without luck for some reason) and a setting to select if the cursor should follow the playback or vice versa. The latter is basically a way of telling foobar2000 what to focus on in the information windows, such as the album art display and the file info tab- should it change with the playback or be independent and tied to your manual input, and so on. There are also some nice playback modes that besides repeat settings include several different shuffle modes to select if you want to shuffle playlist, folder etc. I could probably fine comb the application and list minor tweaks and settings all day, but the basic point I’m trying to get across here is that while the application is somewhat plain and straightforward, there are options to tweak the heck out of the application if that’s your style.
As I said it’s hard to write a lot about a software that does so little and so much at the same time. A lot of applications can be tweaked through extensions and plugins, hacks and tinkering to do what you want, and foobar2000 is no different. However, foobar2000 has a lot more defined borders for what the application is made for, and most of this functionality is included in the stock install. Upon trying the application for the first time it doesn’t take long before you have control of the situation and have it configured to your needs and there is no heavy learning curve or other excessive features. You can of course add all sorts of extension, pimp it up to have eyecandy all over and tweak it as you like, but the stock application has its definite uses as well. Many applications, like WinAmp, suffers from trying to do a little bit of everything and ends up doing nothing right and being heavily outdone by dedicated applications in the process. foobar2000 tries to be the best plain, simple, heavily featured music player and I think it succeeds. foobar2000 is that rare kind of software that simply works and does what it says without trying to do everything else.