This is a slightly updated version of the original article which addresses minor factual errors and spelling mistakes. The full change log is available to view here. Many thanks to all involved!
There’s new and exciting developments every year in the realm of iOS third-party music players, and 2021 was no exception. While 2019 enjoyed an explosion of new players like Power Player and Albums that through time came to lead the space, 2020 in contrast received only a modest handful of new players and is instead remembered for the impressive growth the established player base received that year. This past year, 2021, managed to do both with a dizzying array of five new players and impressive growth across nearly all existing players.
To start, there were five new players welcomed into the ecosystem this year:
Mixtapes: A general-purpose player with an empahsis on “smart” playlists
Songpocket: A lightweight niche player focused on providing the ability to manually sort and manage your library
Vinyls: A general-purpose player with a cute “vinyl record” visual gimmick in its full-player
These new players combined with the enhancements existing players received this year reveal a few new trends that together define what it means to be a great modern music player at the end of 2021. Those trends are:
Apple Music integration: This year, Albums added rich Apple Music support, Mixtapes added support in its first minor release, and Musens released with support on launch. This is a far cry from just a couple years ago when Soor’s “Full Apple Music Support” was considered novel enough to use as its primary marketing angle. With Apple Music’s APIs continuing to improve and more listeners either independently subscribing to Apple Music or getting it “for free” as a part of Apple One, there’s a growing expectation for rudimentary Apple Music support in today’s players. This year’s new releases are clear reflections of this new expectation, and I anticipate it will only continue to gain traction from here.
Visualizers: What started as an offering found just in Music.app and a single third-party music player (jetAudio) is now increasingly common throughout the ecosystem. Soor released an animated gradient visualizer in 2020, Power Player just released its own bubbly visualizer this past year, and three of the five new releases this year (MPX EQ, Musens, and Vinyls) all featured visualizers at launch1. The attention initially garnered by Music.app’s “live lyrics” visualizer years ago broke the seal, and it appears an increasing number of listeners are beginning to expect or even demand some form of visualizer in their players.
“Home” landing pages: Over the past couple years, the rare “Home” page that was previously only present in Music.app, Soor, and Marvis Pro has appeared now across an additional four players (two of which—Musens and MPX EQ—launched with it). An increasing number of developers in the industry throughout 2021 arrived at the consensus that a “Home” landing page for general-purpose players is necessary to house the commonly requested discovery collections like “Recently Added” and “Recently Played” that listeners now expect out of modern players. Like with Apple Music integration, I anticipate this trend will only continue to gain traction over time.
We’re now just hours away from finally putting 2020 safely behind us, indicating the time has come once again to check in on iOS’s growing list of music players. Where a splash of formidable new arrivals like Marvis Pro and Power Player marked 2019, growth and refinement mark 2020. The fatigue blanketing the music player market prior to 2018 now feels like a distant memory, in its place a thriving ecosystem showing no signs of slowing down.
A lot has changed this year within and beyond the iOS music player microcosm, and so too must this yearly article change. When I first began this series, it was more or less a way for me to catalogue my quest to find what I felt was the best music player on iOS for those with similar values and needs to my own. While this framing worked well enough the first couple years, both myself and the market have outgrown it; The ecosystem is so rich and developed now, I found myself using a handful in heavy but equal rotation this year based on what my needs were at that particular time. To reflect this change, I feel it’s more appropriate this year to present this piece as a music player showcase, rather than a competition.
Despite this framing change, I’ll still provide subjective opinions on these players based on what I personally value in music listening. Also, while the framing changed this year, what I look for in music players hasn’t; I still love albums and typically listen to them over singles and playlists. I also make an effort to actively listen to my music, so I tend to gravitate towards players with features that enhance the active listening experience. In an effort to codify these values, I’ll assess each app based on the feature list below. These features are not requirements, but rather measurement tools to help gauge how well any particular player fits into my listening habits. Those features are:
Light & dark themes that properly adhere to iOS’s look and feel
Discovery features to stimulate music exploration, such as “Recently Added”
A beautiful or visually engaging player view
Album-focused features, which include but are not limited to:
The one, true album sorting method (alphabetically by artist then chronologically by release year)
A grid view for more natural visual browsing
While I do appreciate other features such as rich iOS 14widget support and streaming service integration, they’re not as important to my listening habits as the points above. However, since widgets are by far the community’s runaway favorite iOS 14 feature, I’d have to be tone deaf to not also cover each player’s widget support this year. Widgets will be covered in a separate section for each player to make jumping to or skipping over that specific feature easier.
Like last year, I have a short list of music player “deal-breakers”. In an effort to trim the list of players in the showcase, any player that misses one of these deal-breakers will not be included. However, those I feel are still noteworthy will be briefly acknowledged as honorable mentions. My deal-breaker requirements are:
Support for newer iPhone displays (at least the iPhone X)
Active maintenance (“active” defined as receiving a meaningful update within the past year)
A native or native-like app (that means no web apps, lazy Android ports, or apps with badly designed custom components. Apps that are performant and well designed enough to fool me are fair game)
Local-primary focus (that means no stream-focused or stream-exclusive players. Players that support both local and cloud functionality but work just as well in “local-only” mode are fair game)
Large album art in the player view
Any custom equalizer provided by the app must also provide the option to completely disable it
2019 was an exciting year for iOS music apps. Not long after I published my article “Quest for the Best iOS Music Player” early last year, new music players flooded the App Store at breakneck speed. While this was a pleasant suprise, it was certainly unusual; at the end of 2018, the category was more or less stagnant; new music players were exceedingly rare and some of the old guard were wasting away from developer indifference. Not so in 2019! No less than half a dozen brand new apps entered the fray, three of which within the same month of each other1.
With such a breadth of exciting change happening in the iOS music player category, it’s clear a revisit to last year’s article is in order. My personal list of requirements haven’t drastically changed since, but to reiterate, these are the characteristics I value in music players:
Light & dark themes that match iOS 13’s style guides and global theme setting (this is a change from last year’s requirements, reflecting iOS 13’s official dark mode support)
Discovery options that help stimulate music exploration. Examples include but are not limited to views like “Recently Added”, “Added this day X years ago”, etc.
A beautiful or visually engaging “Now Playing” view
Album-focused design, which includes but is not limited to:
The one, true album sorting method (alphabetically by artist then chronologically by release year. Any other sorting method for albums is wrong).
A grid view for improved visual browsing
My “deal-breaker” requirements mostly remained the same as well:
Support for newer iPhone displays (iPhone X & newer). Apps that have not yet been updated to support these display sizes will be immediately disqualified.
Active maintenance (“active” defined as having received a meaningful update within the past year)
A native or native-like app. That means no web apps, lazy Android ports, or apps with badly designed custom components. Apps that are performant and well designed enough to fool me are fair game.
Local-primary focus, so no stream-focused or stream-exclusive players. Apps that support both local and cloud functionality but work just as well in “local-only” mode are fair game.
This guide contains numerous enhancements from multiple individuals and would not exist in its current, vastly improved form without their help. Each are credited at the end of the article. Many thanks to them for their contributions to this site and the Wireguard community.
The below steps are confirmed to work with wireguard-tools 1.0.20210914 for macOS Ventura 13.4.1 (c) on both Apple Silicon and Intel-based Macs.
After months of false starts and dead ends, I’m happy to report my Wireguard VPN server is successfully running on macOS.
Wireguard is a relatively new VPN protocol, entering the scene just three short years ago in 2016. Compared to the ancient VPN alternatives like IPSec and OpenVPN, Wireguard’s simplicity and speed quickly earned it the attention and praise of various tech communities like Hacker News and Lobste.rs. Everywhere you look are Wireguard threads filled with enthusiastic comments urging others to give Wireguard a try.
The best part is, they’re right! Compared to the existing lineup of VPN protocols, Wireguard’s small codebase, blazingly fast speed, and relatively simple setup put Wireguard in a league of its own as the first truly modern VPN protocol. There’s just one tiny niggle: the protocol is so young there might be no documentation or guides for your platform of choice.
Unfortunately, that’s the situation I found myself in with macOS when attempting to set up my Wireguard server. Despite extensively reading what’s currently the finest Wireguard documentation available and following its relevant example to a tee, Wireguard would simply not function as expected on macOS. The best I could do was establish a direct connection to the server with Wireguard, but all attempts to access the LAN or surf the web timed out and failed.
Despite numerous attempts over the months, my Google-fu yielded no results, either. While there were plenty of help articles from others setting up Wireguard on macOS, every single one of them was for setting up a Wireguard peer on macOS. This peer was always intended to only connect to a Wireguard server on more common platforms like Ubuntu or CentOS, never the other way around.
However, from my on-and-off research over these past few months I’ve finally cobbled together a solution that’s working. Thus, I intend to fill this hole in the community’s growing collection of documentation and setup guides: here’s what you need to do to get a Wireguard server running on macOS with full traffic routing and LAN access1.
It’s no secret I cherish music. That passion seeped not only into my physical library in the form of vinyl records but also into my personal projects with the introduction of the Bad Music Hertz website and podcast. It was only a matter of time until that same passion fueled a desire to find the perfect iOS music player.
By “perfect” player, I do not simply mean the app most appealing to the widest audience, or even the most well-rounded app (if that’s what you’re looking for, The Sweet Setup’s article is fantastic). No, what I wished to find in my quest was a niche app that’s unapologetically for people that love actively listening to and collecting music.