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A True alternative to WinAMP

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June 6, 2011 3:27:44 AM

I know this question comes up a lot. I've probably read hundreds of such threads on many dozen different forums over the last decade. I've never seen an answer that even comes close to satisfying me.

Why? Three words: Window Shade Mode. It's a feature that only winamp and mms seem to have (and mms has been obsolete for over a decade). Every other media player out there seems determined to take up as much screen real estate as possible.

I've used WinAMP for a very, very long time. I first started using it back in '95 when it was Winamp 2. I have stuck with it ever since... but not entirely by choice. Back in the day when media players were few and far between and DirectX was still in its infancy WinAMP was a god amongst media players. Today there is very little that it does better than it's competition. (You know... other that staying out of my way)

I first started looking for alternatives when I decided I wanted an integrated music and video player that handled video better than winamp... that was in '99 I think. Ended up settling on Zoom Player by Inmatrix while keeping winamp for music. Great video player... horrible music player (and no window shade). After that I began a once-every-two-year tradition of trying to find a replacement. I've used more media players and different versions of each than I can possibly remember. Some have come close, but ultimately had complete deal breakers (almost always a version of "if the media player is on the screen then it's the ONLY thing on the screen"). This is both on Windows and on Linux.

Yesterday I finally got my 5.1 surround setup put back together after a few years of not having the space for it. So first thing I did was watch a movie right? No. First thing I did was whip out a copy of some music recorded in 5.1. It was absolutely beautiful. After 30 minutes or so I decided to check my email and tossed on some other music... and it was like slamming into a brick wall. The difference between 5.1 surround and stereo was painful.

I looked into upmixing the audio for winamp... wont work. Too many separate little problems culminating in a no-go. And so once again I started looking for an alternative.

It is now almost 24 hours later (or 12 years, depending on your point of view)... and I haven't found the first hint of a solution. I'm tired, I'm irritated, and I'm on the verge of giving up... again.

So here is the deal: I want a music player for windows with just 3 requirements.

  • First... it must be able to be made always present on the screen but without taking up more than a very small space on it. WinAmp's Window Shade Mode would allow me to essentially turn winamp into a tool bar at the top or bottom of the screen so I could see the song name or position in the song at a glance... and could stop, play, pause, etc with a single click, or choose a different song from the play list with a right click and a single click. And when I maximize a window? Winamp is still there... much like the taskbar. I actually don't expect to find this one... but as close as possible would be good.
  • Second... I want it to operate, or be configurable to operate, completely off of directshow filters. No internal audio decoding. I want everything handled by filters and codecs on my system. For most common music formats this will let me use FFDShow and set it to upmix stereo sound to 5.1 surround.
  • Third... it must not take over my system (like quicktime loves to do).

    Everything else is optional. I'l even put up with it being butt ugly if I must... thought skinability would be nice. I'm even willing to pay for it... hell, I'll pay for it repeatedly to buy each new version if I have to. I don't even care if It makes your average computer weep under the strain of it's overhead. I just want to listen to music without having to choose between being able to access my music player and being able to see what I'm working on.

    Help me Obi-Wan you're my only hope!
    June 6, 2011 10:23:56 AM

    You have a long list of requirements. But i do think WMP with DFX plugin is pure musical bliss!

    And you do have skins for WMP which makes them not take up the whole screen. I used to like Sonique very much. It was cool player. But somehow the project got shut down and there was never anything released after v.1.96.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sonique_%28media_player%29
    June 6, 2011 2:17:36 PM

    Lol I never thought of three requirements as being a long list. ;) 

    I also haven't given WMP a glance in almost 3 years... sonique too... might be worth it to take another look... thanx for the tip.
    Related resources
    June 6, 2011 3:22:14 PM

    Sonique is discontinued. But you can download it. But i am not sure if it will work with Win Vista onwards.

    Give WMP a shot with the plugin and you would like it.
    August 7, 2012 6:43:57 PM

    Whelp. Been slightly over a year (a year and two months roughly) and today I decided to install WinAMP again.

    Reinstalled Windows a few days ago (I try to do that every year any way) and was going to install WinAMP when I thought, "Hey! Lets do a Google search for 'winamp alternative' and see if anything new has happened." First result? This forum thread. Heh. (Even had a friend check so I could be sure it wasn't Google customizing my results.)

    Which is why I've decided to risk the wrath of the internet by necro-ing this post. Others who find it through Google need to know that the solution still eludes me. Do try the alternatives suggested above though... perhaps they will be more to the tastes of others who find this.

    To be clear WMP and Sonique ultimately didn't solve my problems. TBH I'm actually can't remember why... only that I continued using WinAMP this last year.

    I do appreciate the attempts to help me though. Much obliged.

    P.S. I also tried one called KMPlayer... very very nice piece of software. Very ambitious ideas. And by far the best WinAMP alternative I've seen (does movies almost as well as Zoom Player too). Unfortunately I couldn't get it to stop crashing and locking up long enough to use it. Perhaps others will have better luck.
    August 8, 2012 12:15:41 PM



    I'm sorry but I don't understand why you would suggest VLC. VLC is an almost perfect example of what I'm trying to avoid. Thank you but, respectfully, no.

    Best solution

    August 16, 2012 10:45:26 AM
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    These sound like my own words! I've been using MusicBee recently as an alternative to WinAmp and so far I love it. It's sleak and feels like it was designed by a human unlike some of these stupid programs. Try it out. :) 
    August 16, 2012 5:41:22 PM

    Well now... this is interesting indeed.

    The only "requirement" MusicBee seems to fail at is #2... using directshow instead of internal decoders. Unfortunately, it does use internal decoders, does not have the option to use dicertshow instead, and even though it has a 5.1 upmix option it can not upmix into Dolby Surround or DTS formats which my surround receiver can use. Instead my receiver is still getting a 2 channel PCM stream.

    Still... it does have a "mini" mode that is essentially identical to WinAMP's window shade mode. And on the count of not taking over the system, it even offers a portable version I can run from a thumb drive without putting any files on my computer at all. Which also means I can take my player and its configuration with me. Very very nice.

    Even if it doesn't solve my up-mixing problems, it is a very nice player and arguably better than WinAMP. If nothing else its definitely the only "true WinAMP alternative" I've ever seen.

    I'm gonna give MusicBee a few weeks to disappoint me. I'll try to report back.

    EDIT: oooo... memory and cpu usage is much lower too. Looking at less than 0.5% cpu usage and about 80 megs ram when playing an mp3.
    October 5, 2012 7:59:00 PM

    I've used Winamp my entire "computer life" and a few months ago it started failing on me. It'd crash (two or three times every two hours of playtime) when I started playing a new song.

    Unfortunately Winamp updates are rare and the last they released in June didn't solve the problem for me, I moved to a new computer and I kept having the same problem.

    I use DFX and I probably that's what causing the problem.

    Anyway, I tried different options and they were all fine players, but I'm so used to Winamp that I always ended up going back to it, putting up with the crashes and all.

    I decided to give MusicBee a try (because of the recommendation in this thread) and I love it. It's lighter than Winamp, less bloated, it has exactly what I need and it works exactly as Winamp works for me.

    Anyone looking for a real Winamp alternative should give MusicBee a try.

    Thanks a lot for the suggestion. :) 
    October 6, 2012 2:40:13 AM

    I have to agree with MjrTom.

    tl;dr version
    I've been using MusicBee these past few weeks and I've been very pleased for the most part.

    Full Verdict
    In many ways MusicBee is considerably better than Winamp and I can find no way in which it is worse. It maintains a similar interface throughout and yet has enhancements I never thought I would want but which are hugely useful. Supports Shoutcast, Icecast, and many other streaming services. Produces clear clean audio at a higher fidelity than Winamp. Even supports some of Winamp's dsp plugins. It has a lower over head both in memory and cpu usage.

    And it can be "installed" without actually installing it at all... just dl the portable version and extract it to a folder... I've put it on my portable HDD I take with me to job sites and use it to listen to music when a job is running long and I find myself doing a lot of waiting. For those that want the minor amount of integration implied by desktop icons and such it has a version with an installer for download as well. Ether way it doesn't take over your computer like quicktime/itunes/realplayer/etc.

    I also can't think of anything that is lacking in comparison to players such as vlc or audacity (thought to be perfectly honest I consider winamp to be better than both of those).

    My only complaint remains the failure of MusicBee to support DirectShow filters and codecs. Thus limiting formats and options for audio processing (such as dolby prologic upmixing). I will acknowledge that DirectShow tends to suffer from conflicts between filters and codecs and many computers end up with quite a mess where that is concerned if you aren't skilled with managing filters and codecs... so I understand (and respect) the reasoning behind making MusicBee use only its own internal decoders. But I happen to be one of those people who *is* skilled in managing filters and codecs. The option to use DirctShow filters and codecs instead of MusicBee's internal decoder would be the final icing on the cake.

    Still... it's a sacrifice I'm willing to make for the time being. Upmixed music rarely sounds that much better than 2 channel stereo... and music recorded in surround is rare and typically requires specialized players to listen to it. Also, MusicBee's decoder produces sound at a higher quality to my ears than many other players like vnc and even codecs like ffdshow (both of which are built on the ffmpeg decoder library). Until that changes I can't think of one thing about MusicBee that is a true deal breaker.

    For now I'll be using MusicBee and I would like to thank Drahcir very much for the recommendation.
    October 13, 2012 7:23:37 PM

    Best answer selected by Jormungandr.
    October 14, 2012 12:26:26 AM

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