I know many tech blogs like to only post suggestions for freeware, but I am of the belief that sometimes you need to pay for things, especially if they do what you want them to do. Many people these days need a powerful music player and organiser to manage their digital music collection. Whilst Windows Media Player is generally fairly good, it can also be quite restrictive if you don’t want it to take total control. Many other people use iTunes. I personally hate iTunes, to me it is massive bloatware, that ties you into one program and attempts to make you yet another Sad Apple Fan Boy (hmm, SAFB, I like that). Why? Well, it insists in installing QuickTime as well as iTunes and also that stupid Apple Update software app, that claims that a required update is Safari. Hmm, a media player app trying to install a web browser – sounds like malware to me. Of course the SAFB would never admit to that, but you can bet your bottom dollar, if MS tried to do the same the SAFB would fill the web with their self righteous moanings.
There are many free alternatives out there, such as Winamp, MediaMonkey and Songbird, but I decided eventually to settle for Helium Music Manager. Helium is a full featured music management tool that offers in-depth music library capabilities, CD ripping and music importing, extensive file tagging options, MP3 player sync (including iPods), album artist information tools and even extensive physical CD management tools. It cost around £25 for the full version and I find it is by far the best tool available. Everything you can think of that you would reasonably need to do is possible, and it can even do some things you don’t expect (such as constantly re-filling you playlist with a random or semi-random selection of tracks (even using your last.fm profile to suggest songs)). It can handle most common music file types and can convert between them. What is really refreshing is that it doesn’t restrict you to storing your music in one particular location that it chooses (iTunes) nor does it needlessly make copies of your album art in a new folder and instead uses the album art in your music folder or saved in tags (iTunes). However, given that iTunes is free and Helium is not, I can’t moan too much ;)
Furthermore, the developers are very user interactive, responding to bug reports and feature requests and constantly adding new features and fixing bugs as they are found. The only negative I find is that a new version is released each year, which requires a paid for upgrade of about £12 a time. Whilst the new features added are always welcome, it is a little galling to have to keep on paying for them.