One of the most commonly suggested applications to review on ABi>> has been J. River’s software. Unfortunately the Media Center software is $50 and I therefore ignored it at first. Then someone linked to the free Media Jukebox, a stripped down version of the software that will only do music. Read on to see if it’s stripped down too much or still has a chance of scoring some points.
When you first import a folder (it doesn’t do Windows 7 libraries) you might find a lot of files missing, because the default import is set to skip AAC files among others. It does support the files, and that file support include FLAC, Ogg Vorbis and a lot of others you might have in your collection, it just isn’t set to include all the formats in the default import. This can be changed by changing the advanced settings on the import screen. Importing default files will be quick, but importing AAC files takes forever and it generally doesn’t seem to like AAC files. Importing 600 MP3 files took 40 seconds, importing 100 AAC files took 7 minutes, yet it didn’t seem to be converting them. When it’s done importing, you can choose to view a very detailed report.The music library feature of the software is very nice. The default view is a list of files with some filters on top (pane view), but unlike WinAmp you don’t need a GPS to find out how to navigate the menus to change this as you can easily change the view modes from the top of the window- and there are a lot of settings. You can choose to view by thumbnails or details as well as choose what to sort by (artist, album etc). You can further customize each of these by adding columns, change thumbnail size down to the pixel, thumbnail spacing, thumbnail text and so on. It has a very impressive zooming range for album art in thumbnail mode, with the smallest view being very small and the largest covering half the screen on a 1080p monitor. The latter view is very nice albeit not overly useful as you view a single album/artist at a time. If you use this mode for an artist with several albums, the picture will show several albums on top of one another and it will be animated to switch between them. Very nice. You can also tweak a lot of other settings to decide how the media library will look, including adding a alphabet on top to browse by and a small window on the bottom where files will display- for example of you display albums by thumbnail and select one, the files inside the album will display here.
The sidebar can also be used to browse view modes for the main library view or browse albums/artists etc as a file structure. There is also an option to browse by file location for those of you who don’t like metatag browsing. All in all there’s a very impressive array of settings and ways to view the music library, and best of all it’s all pretty self explanatory. The settings to change everything are a lot better placed than the corresponding settings in other apps I’ve seen, which is half the battle.
Media Jukebox uses three kinds of playlists; playlist, smartlist and playlist groups. Playlists are standard playlists that you can create and do with as you please, including dragging fi
les onto them or use the oh so common “send to” option by right clicking. Playlists groups however are basically playlists for playlists, groups where you can add several playlists to a group of playlists. This would be useful if say you had playlists for various kinds of rock, and then wanted a master playlist for all rock.
Smartlist is what it sounds like, a playlist thats “smart” and creates itself based off certain criteria. Basically it consists of three fields you combine to create rules. The left/first one is a meta tag such as media type, album, artist and down to very specific ones such as BPM. The right field is various measures depending on the first field, for example “media type” can be “audio, image” etc, “album” can be any of your albums, duration can be a specific time and so on. The middle field binds the two others together in various ways, such as “is”, “is not”, “contains” etc. When these three are mixed, you get literally thousands of rules you can apply to your smartlists. As an example, I could do a fairly standard one and say [Album][is][Firefly OST], or I could be creative and say for example [Lyrics][does not contain][fuck] if my files all had the lyrics tagged and I wanted to make a playlist without profanity. You can add several rules per playlist, so you can make smartlists that are extremely complicated using the smartlist feature. Really impressive seeing how much you can tweak. You also have a couple of default smartlists, such as playlists containing recently imported or recently played files.
Finally another application with podcast support. Unlike MediaMonkey’s outdated and useless podcast library, Media Jukebox instead gives you a home page for finding podcasts that contains a few suggestions, a Google searchbox and a list of up-to-date podcast sites. This is the first instance of the built in web browser that the software has, a feature it uses for several things. In my opinion this system work s a lot better than a podcast directory as it’s a lot more updated, even if it’s a glorified collection of links. The web browser is however rather slow at times, and you could just use your normal browser and add feeds that way- manually. When you find and add a podcast- which you can do manually or by clicking an RSS link in the built in web-browser, you get the option to type in a name, what episodes to download and how many to keep. You can also edit tag properties, such as choose default artist or genre tags. This would be useful for example if you have a Sansa Clip or Fuze which will add podcasts to their own section as long as they have the podcast tag, and this would let you auto-add that tag. Downloading can be done automatically or by clicking to download specific files. There’s a nice download window on the left when a download is in progress, much better than the tiny line of text indicating a download in MediaMonkey. When the downloads finish, you can sort the downloaded files like you would music, customizing the view with thumbnails etc.
Media Jukebox has a built in music store in the form of the internal web browser going to Amazon MP3. You can browse just like on any other web browser, and unfortunately the buying process is also like any other web browser- meaning it will go to the same process of asking you to install the Amazon MP3 downloader etc when you click to buy a song. It’s a nice sentiment to include a…eh…link to Amazon, but frankly Amazon needs to get an API soon so they can have real integration with software, not this wannabe-integration.
Media Jukebox has an incredible array of playback features. The default player is located at the top of the main window, and can be customized by defining what information should be displayed. You can also enter a mini mode, which basically minimizes the rest of the application and leave you with a small window showing only the playback controls. Theres also a third view mode, called display view, which is basically eye candy mode. It’s a fullscreen mode where you can choose between a lot of various eye candy modes, such as album art, info pages and visualizers. While the visualizers are pretty standard, there are some 3D visualizers which are quite unique- check the screen shots There are also some nice options to view track info in the display view. You can also have the display view show only as a small box in the left bottom corner of the library view, and you can detach it as a separate window and dedicate a monitor to it if you please. It truly has some amazing visual effects and it’s the first time in all these reviews I’ve been exited about visualizers. The album art spectrum analyzer is my personal favorite. Annoyingly though, the visualizer doesn’t work with AAC files. I really don’t know what the deal is with this software and AAC files, but I haven’t come across an app with any problems playing- or rather handling- AAC before.
When it comes to playback settings, the application of course has shuffle modes, repeat etc. There’s an equalizer, albeit it a rather simple one compared to the 18 band one I’m used to from foobar2000. There are also some Samsung-style sound enhancement features built in such as concert hall/living room/etc modes, virtual subwoofers, surround field settings and so on. All good and well of course, but I still miss the 18 band EQ from foobar2000. It shows the priorities of the creators rather well when it comes with 50 times as many visualizers as sound enhancements.
Media Jukebox has some nice built in tagging features, but they don’t match those of MediaMonkey which can basically tag files from any online source. It does allow you to manually change tags as well as look up file info on YADB, and it puts extra weight on the album art tagging making it a dedicated sub menu when right-clicking a file. This isn’t surprising considering how large album art can be displayed in this application and how the visualizers actively use the album art- it’s not often a 500×500 pixel album art resolution is too little, but that might be the case if you use some of Media Jukebox’s features.
Media Jukebox also has a CD ripper built in that can rip to a variety of formats like FLAC, APE; MP3, Ogg Vorbis and others. The limited tagging feature means it might not find your CDs metadata though. Still, it’s a capable feature.
The application also has a CD burner, if you’re one of those people that still use burnt CDs. It has some decent settings for the burner like it does with the ripper, such as the ability to apply DSP effects to the CD tracks.
Media Jukebox also has an audio converter built in, which let’s you right click and convert files to different formats including FLAC, MP3, Ogg Vorbis etc- and external encoders. Very useful since it has some annoying issues with AAC.
I’ve been pretty adamant about only including plugins installed by default in my reviews, to not end up having to write 100000 word reviews to explain every single plugin in detail. Media Jukebox is one of few applications that has last.fm support built in, giving you the option to scrobble your songs as you play them.
Plug-ins is a premium feature for media jukebox, at least most of the plug-ins. It does support .dll type plug-ins, but not the main file format for plugins that the full version uses.
The first impression I got for the syncing part of Media Jukebox wasn’t good as it identified any MTP player I connected as “Port_#0006.Hub_#0005″. It’s the first application I’ve tried that’s unable to display the name of the device properly. I have no idea why this is, but since the full version of Media Center 14 I have installed on the same computer doesn’t do this I’m guessing it’s a weird bug. It was however capable of fetching a picture of the device (albeit it missed with the model showing an older model of my Sony, both on the free and the full version) so it had to have had some idea
of what the player was.
Clicking on the player gives you a list of files on there, but since it’s MP3 it only displays info- no album art/thumbs. If you have a MSC however the application will treat it as any other folder and it can display thumbnails just fine, as one would expect. It is after all a limitation with MTP, not Media Jukebox.
For MSC devices, transfer is done by dragging stuff to the device. Dragging playlists to a location works and will also transfer the files, which is very nice. So far only WinAmp have managed to fail at the simple task of actually transferring what the playlist links to as well, not only the playlist file itself.
For MTP, you have several options. The main page of a MTP device has the list of files, picture of the player and info on number of files and spaced used/free plus last sync date. Again, how it manages this info just fine without being able to name the player correctly is beyond me so I’m leaning towards it being a bug. You will have buttons for “transfer” and “options” on the main page as well, where options brings up a window to set sync options. You can set a whole range of options, including whether to bother with album art (nice to save space on a Sansa Clip for example), getting play stats from handheld, conversion settings (to convert unsupported files), file path settings allowing you to set the path for various media including data and the database (but not podcasts for some reason) and settings to rename the device (obviously needed). You can also select to sync all audio, specific playlists and all or specific podcasts. It also lists to sync photos and videos, however this is simply an error from the developer side as the free version of the software doesn’t support it. Furthermore, once you select anything to sync you can select to auto sync on connect and delete files not on the sync list.If you so please you can also transfer manually/semi-manually. Dragging playlists/songs to the device will add them to a queue of files to transfer when you tell it to, indicated by a small window to the left. This means you can take your time and select some songs or playlists at a time to add to the player manually and then transfer them all at once instead of the software immediately starting the transfer, leaving you to wait until it’s finished to add more- like some do.
The reason there’s little to say about the sync feature is that with the exception of the device name, everything simply works. No weird menus or hoops to jump through to make it do what you want.
Media Jukebox 12 is the free version of the J. River software, where the $50 retail version is Media Center 14. The full version includes a LOT more features, and considering how nice this software is the price doesn’t seem all that far fetched- at least not as much as it did when before I tried the free version. You get photo and video support, multiple library support, support for YouTube and Google Video/images including a downloader, theater view for media center use, video podcast support, TV tuner support, remote control support, media server and home networking support, plug-in support, DVD playback and recording, TV recording, slideshow features, multi-zone playback, web/FTP upload of media, TiVo support, UPnP support (media streamers) and Audible support. By far the biggest upgrade from the free version out of all the applications I’ve reviewed. Very impressive, and for me personally the Audible support is a very big selling point. Unfortunately, only the free versions will be reviewed- at least for now.
J. River Media Jukebox is a very nice application. It’s basically MediaMonkey but better (IMO) and really deserves a lot of credit. Some weird stuff going on here and there such as a unusually slow web browser, crippled AAC handling and weird naming issue with MTP devices, but the overall usability of the application is simply top notch. It’s by far my favorite of the software I’ve reviewed (with the exception of foobar2000 for playback) and the only one that has had me looking seriously at paying the premium price- that saying quite a bit as it’s double that of the others. I still have a couple of applications left to review in my software review series, but J. River Media Jukebox is going to be very hard to beat.