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.

MP3ToysAs 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.