This week we take a look at the free software options available for playing digital media files, including MP3s. We're all familiar with the big players such as Windows Media Player and Winamp, so we take a closer look at the underdogs and see what they have to offer.
Zoom Player 2.71 weighs in at a lean 565k, making it one of the lightest media players available for Windows. It was designed to be primarily used for playing DVD and DivX movies, but it's more than capable of playing MP3 files as well. It's skinnable, like Winamp, but that's pretty much where the similarities end. While it does have a playlist editor, it's not part of the main interface. All in all, Zoom player is excellent as an all-in-one media player, but if you spend more time playing MP3s than movies, you'll probably end up switching back to Winamp or WMP for the added convenience they provide. Three stars.
Ultra Player is very slick. It's nicely designed , and it doesn't take up anywhere near as much screen space as Windows Media Player, for example. It incorporates everything such as playlists, visualisations and configuration options in the main screen, making it very efficient, but it does mean you can't see everything at once, like you can in Winamp. One of the features that sets it apart from other players is the alarm. So now you can be woken up in the morning by your favourite MP3s! Three stars for this one.
The Ashampoo Media Player 1.8 has a lot going for it. It has a clean and skinnable interface. It supports playlists and has some reasonable visualisation plugins. The reason that this player will find resistance, though, is that it's option screens are marred by banner ads. Sure, you can register to have these removed- and registration is free- but, let's face it, why bother with it when there are dozens of other players to choose from that don't require you to join a mailing list. So while the player might have got at least three stars based on it's software merits, it gets bumped down to two and a half for being intrusive-ware.
Fmod 3.6 is lean. It's just an EXE and a DLL file which total to 133kb on disk. Now it's not much to look at, although the rudimentary oscilloscope and level meters will no doubt be eye candy enough for those who like their software to have the smallest possible footprint. With CPU usage constantly on display, and never even getting near 2 per cent on an Athlon 1800, this application really grows on you! It is as far from the big guns as conceptually possible, but at the end of the day it does the same thing- plays MP3 files. Four stars!
Favourite amongst DJs and musicians, the Traktor player comes forth from Native Instruments, a company famous for their music software- software synthesisers in particular. Their full Traktor DJ Studio is a complete virtual DJ application that towers above the competition, and is used professionally by a lot of DJs. Traktor DJ player is the little brother of the Studio version and has a very minimal feature set, but it does one thing that makes it unique. It incorporates two playback "decks" and performs automatic mixing of songs. You can also use the crossfade slider to do your own live mixing. Sure, it lacks the beat matching and EQ features of the Studio version, but for a freeware app this thing really kicks. Four stars for Traktor!