Updated: December 12, 2009
Bombastic titles tend to draw the eye, but trust me, this is more than just a firecracker. Discovering new applications is fun - discovering great new applications is sublime. For people with old, acquired taste, finding new thrills is not easy. But every now and then, you stumble upon a remarkable piece of engineering, which simply blows you away.
Songbird is one such piece. I should not have been surprised; Mozilla people, the fathers and mothers of the famous Firefox, had a big say in its conception; and they know their business when it comes to software. But this time they really did it. The promise that Songbird is going to become the Firefox of music is not an empty one. Join me for a supreme review of a supreme utility - Songbird.
Songbird, a lesson in excellence
Ever wondered what it would be like to take a great browser like Firefox and turn in into a music center? Well, you get Songbird. A simple, pleasant, no-nonsense media player, with tabbed interface, auto-update, extensible with addons, beautiful, smart, and extremely well arranged, ergonomically and esthetically.
Songbird is available for Windows, Linux and Mac. On Linux, it is not yet included in most repositories, but you can find community builds for popular distros, all of which take just a one mouse click to get installed.
After you install it and agree to a license, you will go through a short setup. You'll be able to configure a media library, where all your music will be kept and even let Songbird watch for changes, so that it automatically updates the library. Songbird will also suggest that you install a number of popular, recommended addons, which should extend the basic functionality of the media player and let you enjoy it even more.
Lastly, you can opt-in for a usage trends program, allowing the developers to make their product even better.
After this short setup, you'll get into the pleasant main menu.
Songbird has Mac-like looks, with soft gray colors and fonts that make the interface look expensive and classy. Even the Window border takes on a Mac look, departing from your native theme for the sake of style.
The player has a very simple and useful interface. On the left, you have a sidebar, with major categories listed, including links to Last.fm online music streaming site and 7digital music store, your playlists categorized by popularity, rating or recency, and your bookmarks. Just like a browser!
On the right, you have the Library pane, which shows your music files.
I've copied a handful of songs to my Music directory, which Songbird found and added. Some of the metadata was missing for some of the songs, explaining the partial listings. You can rate your music, if you want.
If you have a large collection, searching the library could take time - except that you have an inline search, which just like Firefox lets you search different search engine, or even add new ones.
Then, you can also filter you music based on genre, artist or album, all dynamically created based on the metadata of your music files.
Of course, you can edit the metadata for any file; just right-click > edit metadata.
The real fun begins when you start playing your files. Songbird promises full codec support for MP3, FLAC and Vorbis on all platforms, WMA and WMA DRM on Windows and AAC and Fairplay on Windows and Mac.
When you start playing the music, watch the bottom half of the right pane. It's called mashTape and it's really great! It has several categories, like Artist Info, Reviews, News, Photos, and Videos. Each of these offers a beautiful wealth of information, allowing you to explore the artists and bands behind your music in depth, buying more of their albums, add reviews or read reviews, watch galleries of their photos from personal lives and music tours, or watch numerous video clips on Youtube. Simply awesome!
Best of all, it's all done with soft, almost shy style, non-assuming, clean, intuitive. I must admit that compared to Vuze or Miro, Songbird is a league unto its own. It has everything the other two players offer, except it does that with less clutter and more style.
Update album artwork!
Depending on when you bought your music and how you transcoded the files to your disk, some of the data may be missing, including artwork. Not to worry, just drag any image into the rectangle in the bottom right and Voila! You have a new, exciting artwork!
If you're a music fan, you'll love the News section.
Photos & Videos
As mentioned earlier, you can watch a staggering array of clips on Youtube or enjoy photo slideshows. You can use the photos to update your album artwork. The videos will expose you to even more fine work by your favorite musicians.
Add-ons & customize your player
Like Firefox, Songbird can be easily boosted by a range of useful extensions. Click on the Songbird Add-ons bookmark in the left pane and a new tab will open, letting you customize your player.
Tabs are really great. They let you do many things at the same time, like search for music on 7digital or even browse the Internet, without interrupting your currently played music or in any way affecting the main way. New items go into separate tabs, reducing clutter.
Songbird even recommends you some of the extensions that should help you enjoy your player on a new level. You can also download extra skins and a whole lot more. And even if decide to install an add-on, you'll get the typical Mozilla warning:
Not just music. You can even browse the Web!
Last.fm & 7digital
Songbird integrates well with the highly popular Last.fm online radio and the 7digital online music store, where you can buy music at affordable prices and download it directly into Songbird. Songbird also lets you scrobble (index) your music to Last.fm, which should help you find similar items when using the service.
7digital can also recommend music based on the listings in your library.
Using Last.fm requires that you be logged in and that you subscribe to the service, which costs 3 dollars monthly.
On 7digital, you can loom for your favorite music and buy directly from the shop, without leaving the player. The prices also seem affordable. For example, the entire album Escape from Television by legendary Jan Hammer, the man behind Miami Vice's epic scores, the man who gave us the Crockett's Theme, costs only 7.77 dollars, a very decent price indeed.
You also get decent quality, 320Kbps, unlike many proprietary (read vampire) stores that sell only 192Kbps. You can also buy individual songs for less than a dollar apiece. I think this seems like a nice bargain.
If you like to go to concerts, Songbird can do that do - show you concert information for your favorite artists. This functionality is limited to some countries, for now.
We talked about rating your music and searching based on the ratings.
Options & preferences
Like Firefox, Songbird has a lot of options, using the familiar Mozilla interface, allowing you to customize your media player as you see fit, without extra fuss or any great corporate shackles.
If you don't feel like running Songbird in full windows mode, you can always try the Mini mode, a slick bar-style player that you can always expand back to full size with a double-click.
Songbird is the new Polio cure, the Elvis of digital media, King Henry V, you name it. It's truly spectacular. And it achieves all this by being simple, unobtrusive. The interface is smooth and polished and intuitive. I did not even suffer a moment of confusion or hesitation while I played with Songbird.
On top of that, you get lots of online services, decent and relatively cheap, tons of useful media info via mashTape, many worthy extensions, and a powerful, easy-to-use search. Everything is there, at the tip of your fingers. The colors are toned down, there are no useless visual tricks to steal your eye's focus or distract you from pure pleasure.
You get everything you need and then some. Furthermore, it's fast, responsive and stable and works great. Songbird is simply superb!
This should be and must be your music player. I give it a perfect ten! Enjoy!
Thanks to all who suggested it!