In my mind the glory days of music players for Windows were the mid-noughties, hanging out with my pals in my university dorm with Winamp running in the background and the screen filled with those spectacular MilkDrop visuals. Ahhh, the good old days.
While Winamp itself is currently in the midst of a makeover by its new owners, there are many other free music players out there right now that rise to the challenge of delivering music to our ears and pretty visuals to our eyes. Here is our list of favorite free music players for Windows.
The first thing to hit us about MediaMonkey is how you can chuck a shambolic, disorganised music collection at it, and it’ll know right away what to do – recognising tracks, scouring the internet for metadata and organising your tunes in a logical, malleable way.
It plays all the formats you’d expect it to, and is very “Windowsy” in its UI, with a navigation pane on the left, Now Playing on the right and your library in the middle. It’s a little stark and unfriendly-looking by default, but you can quickly fix that with some skins.
The important thing is that MediaMonkey knows how to handle your music, and has a clever auto-tagging system along with the things we’ve already mentioned, adding an extra layer of organisation. It takes a little getting used to, but it’s a rewarding and professional-feeling music player when you do.
It may seem a bit out here for the first entry on a list of music players to be a program mostly associated with video. So call us crazy, but VLC is actually pretty decent at handling music, too, and has the added advantage of not forcing you to download a separate music player, letting you keep all your audio-visual media in one place.
You can drag and drop music into VLC’s media library, and it has all the standard organizational features you’d hope for. You can stream music from online radio stations, and – as in its video department – it’s brimming with most of the codecs you’ll ever need. And there are plenty of extensions, too.
Suffixing the name of a program with “2000” may be a very pre-2000 thing to do, but there’s nothing outdated about this robust and highly customizable music player. Be warned that it’s not the prettiest option out there` and is best for those who are up for doing a bit of tweaking.
Sort of like Windows Live Tiles, Foobar2000 lets you divide the homescreen up into modules displaying whatever information you want, wherever you want it. Its tagging abilities are excellent, and it lets you sort your music out by folder directories.
With its iTunes-like default skin, MusicBee is a good shout for people unshackling themselves from Apple’s cumbersome music player. All the big formats are supported, playlists and smart playlists are accounted for, and you can queue up music, which is great for when you’re on the move or in party scenarios.
Like a lite version of foobar2000, you can choose what goes where on the homescreen, and syncing is a cinch across multiple devices including Android and flash drives. Pile in an audio converter, excellent auto-tagging system and library-importing from iTunes, and you’ll see what all the buzz is about.
5. Groove Music
The controversial replacement to Microsoft’s trusty but ugly old Windows Media Player didn’t get off to the best start in its tenure as the native Windows music player with a lack of codec support and features, but it’s come along nicely since then. Also, it doesn’t require any extra downloads because Microsoft has already foisted it on you!
OK, so Groove Music still isn’t very feature-packed, but it syncs across Windows devices including Xbox One, iOS and Android via the Microsoft Groove app and can store your entire collection on OneDrive, ready to download wherever you need it. Recent updates mean it now has gapless playback and supports all the major formats including flac, AAC and MP3.
AIMP is a music player with a little bit of everything, and its orange-and-black base skin will cause tingles of nostalgia to erstwhile Winamp users. It also has a broadly similar structure to Winamp, relying on multiple windows rather than iTunes-style panes.
It has no trouble seeking out and playing FLAC files and is one of the best when it comes to customizing audio, allowing you to crank up the bass and crisp up the treble to your heart’s content. Audio format conversion is included, as is radio streaming and that most priceless of music player features – an alarm clock.
It’s hard to pick out a definite number one from this list because it really depends on the degree of customization you want and how finely you want to control your music. If in doubt, try out a few of these, see which one you settle on, and let us know your fave.