This will come as a shock to anybody who knows me, but I’ve all but stopped using foobar2000. A couple months ago on the indietorrents forums, somebody mentioned MP3Toys, and I’ve been using it almost exclusively since.
As I mentioned in a previous post, all the chores I was made to do in foobar seemed to keep me from listening to music: I was working for my software, and not vice-versa. My collection of music felt cold and dead and fragile in the hands of foobar, and none of the features I had idealized in my mind were anywhere near fruition (true hotness, similarity-by-mood filters, etc.). I desperately wanted something to get me back in touch with my music, something that delivered music to me in a way that felt as natural as buying a CD and putting it in my stereo. I even considered switching to iTunes.
MP3Toys isn’t for every foobar user; I just got lucky enough that it emulates my ideal behavior in foobar. It’s a living, breathing program, and using it is a humanistic experience. It understands not just that you listen to music, but why you listen to music. Some of its intelligent features include:
- Album art storage: Sure, I’ve spent countless hours collecting album art for all the music on my hard drive, and MP3Toys can’t use it. But what it can do is automatically download art from Amazon and store it in each album’s folder. And for the art that isn’t available on Amazon, there is a built-in “Search RateYourMusic” launcher, among other engines, and images can be dragged onto albums from both Windows Explorer and any web browser.
- Album art display: MP3Toys places so much emphasis on album art that not only is the cover of the currently playing album prominently displayed in the center of the window, but your entire library is displayed as album art. This may seem cumbersome with a large collection, but with MP3Toys’ searching and filtering options, browsing your music is a breeze. Additionally — and this may seem trivial, but — when music is playing and you haven’t touched your mouse for a while, MP3Toys blows up the current album art to occupy the whole screen. That’s just cool.
- Disk monitor: I hate TSR programs, but MP3Toys’ system tray disk monitor is worth it. This small program watches your music directories for changes and additions, which means that MP3Toys’ library is a live and accurate reflection of the contents of your hard drive. Never again will some downloaded album be lost among a dozen others. What this also means is that, when a torrent finishes in the background, I can watch the new album simply materialize in MP3Toys’ browser, with the corresponding album art downloaded.
- Library filters: The album-panning browser in the lower portion of the screen can be filtered and sorted in a number of ways (by folder, rating, last played, decade, etc.), but the best in my opinion is the “New” filter. Clicking “New” displays only albums you’ve acquired in the last three months, sorted by how recently they were added to your hard drive — like the stack of CDs on your desk from your trip to the record store.
- Charts and history: One thing that really won me over is MP3Toys’ charts feature, which behaves almost exactly like the hotness algorithm I’ve been developing for over a year. The vertically-sorted charts consider both how much you’ve listened to an album (in total duration, not just by track count), and how recently you’ve listened to an album (with more recent listens positioned higher in the charts). Simply brilliant. The history list needs no explanation, but is really convenient as well. Both surpass foobar’s abilities in these regards, in large part because they think in terms of albums — not songs.
These are the features that, more than any other, make MP3Toys the most well-designed music jukebox I’ve used — and I’ve used a lot. Furthermore, its lone developer, Robert Frahm, is almost unbelievably responsive to user feedback. Even while I was still in trial mode, he was responding to my forum posts within 24 hours, often releasing small upgrades to address the issues I brought up. This degree of dedication to such an already impressive program led me to actually pay for it, something I’ve only done a handful of times.
So what if I don’t make absolutely sure that every tag is accurate and spelled and punctuated correctly? If that’s the cost of having a fluid music player that is grounded in reality, and not some theoretical realm of standards and universal adaptability, so be it. The playlist, queue, and tag editor are features I’m not entirely comfortable with yet, but I’ll get there. In the meantime, I’m listening to music again.