Fourth Annual iOS Music Player Showcase
When all’s said and done, every player on the market today “is what it is”; the developer had a vision for the browsing and playback experience their app would provide, and then they developed a player that strove to meet that vision. When listeners are lucky, the developer spent some extra time providing settings to lightly tweak aspects of their player’s appearance and behavior, but aside from some very rare exceptions, their app’s fundamental browsing capabilities remain unchangeable. To be clear, this is partially what makes exploring the world of iOS music players so enjoyable; it’s fascinating to explore the diverse ways developers answer the deceptively complicated question “how do listeners want to browse their library?”.
Marvis Pro is different. Instead of trying to answer that question either for as wide an audience as possible like general-purpose players such as Cs Music or for as narrow an audience as possible like niche players such as Vinyl Fetish, Marvis Pro’s developer—Aditya “Addy” Rajveer—stepped back and asked an entirely different question: “how can I make a player that allows listeners to browse their library however they want?” The answer to that question is Marvis Pro, which sports a groundbreaking section customization engine that fully empowers you to create the player of your dreams.
To speak concretely, upon launch, Marvis Pro funnels listeners into its “Home” landing page, which at first glance is filled with some reasonable discovery collections like “Recently Played”. A quick tap of the hamburger menu at the top left or a left-to-right swipe gesture reveals Marvis Pro’s menu, which includes the following items addition to the “Home” (most of which can also be trivially hidden or reorganized, if desired):
- For You (powered by Apple Music)
If this is where your exploration ends, you may determine Marvis Pro is simply another general-purpose player with a tasteful custom interface, akin to Doppi or Plum. However, a closer inspection of the “Home” page reveals a deeper story. Each of the discovery sections present on the page are built using Marvis Pro’s modular section engine. Much like LEGO blocks (or erector sets for those “of a certain age”1), Marvis Pro provides listeners the fundamental building blocks to make their own ideal “Home” page, and what Marvis Pro ships with by default is simply a complete real-world example of what you could potentially build with those blocks.
In total, there are over a dozen different section types you can use as a starting point for any new sections you create. For local-only libraries, those include:
- Recently Played (Songs, Albums, Stations, or Apple Music)
- Recently Added (Songs, Albums, or Playlists)
- Most Played (Songs, Albums, or Artists)
- Top Rated (Songs or Albums)
- Loved (Songs, Albums, or Playlists)
- Forgotten (Songs or Albums)
- Library (Songs, Albums, Artists, etc.)
For Apple Music subscribers, additional section types like “For You”, “Top Charts”, and other classic Apple Music sections are available, as well.
Of course, simply providing a lot of different section types to choose from isn’t particularly groundbreaking at this point, Power Player and Cs Music’s “Home” pages are functionally similar in this regard. What really sets Marvis Pro apart is the staggering depth of visual and functional customization it provides for those sections.
On any particular section, here’s just a sampling of what’s available as simple toggles and drop-downs:
- Change the sort type from a generous list of ten different options
- Choose which additional metadata is appended to the album’s secondary details (e.g. time since last listen, year of release, etc.)
- Switch between list or grid layout (which have their own nested options such as the ability to adjust the number of columns and rows displayed)
- Select preferred artwork type (curved, flat, or circular)
Again, while these settings are indeed powerful and already provide listeners a tremendous degree of flexibility in their “Home” page designs, this only scratches the surface of what you can build with Marvis Pro’s sections. The real power comes from the “Smart Rules” feature available for nearly every section type. This rules engine works similarly in concept to “Smart Playlists” in iTunes, “Smart Mixes” in Mixtapes, and “Quick Actions” in Albums. With it, you can specify any number of filters interwoven and grouped together with any number of sorting actions or limits. Let’s look at a basic example; let’s say I want to create a section that contains albums from 2021. All I would need to do is create a new “Smart Rule” filter where
2021, and perhaps throw in a
SHUFFLED sort rule for fun.
However, let’s take that one step further; let’s say I wanted a section which contained all my records organized by year in a similar fashion. I could simply create a new “Home” section, call it something fun like “Time Machine”, then for any given year create a new “year” section just like before. And just like that, I have a “Time Machine” section on my Home Screen that—upon tapping—gives me a beautiful year-by-year adventure back through my favorite music. This is still of course a simple example, only a couple basic smart rules power my “Time Machine” section. The engine’s flexible enough to be limited only by your own imagination.
It should be noted that an increasing number of players provide one or sometimes most of the abilities listed above, notable examples being Albums, Power Player, Cs Music, and Mixtapes. However, with that said, none of them brilliantly combine all these abilities together into one cohesive “Home” page experience like Marvis Pro. It’s truly a case where the result is greater than the sum of its parts.
Of course, there’s more to Marvis Pro than just its Home page; Marvis Pro’s overall presentation is consistently smooth throughout. Despite the player’s heavy use of custom UI, it gracefully evades the performance issues that sometimes accompany it, providing a premium-feeling experience similar to Doppi. Like with traditional native apps like Cs Music and Picky, you never have to wait for the app to render or refresh itself despite its reliance on custom components. At the risk of groans, “it just works”.
The full-player itself takes a minimal approach, opting to hide ancillary controls like star ratings or the shuffle button either behind the “…” context menu or a quick swipe down gesture, much like iOS 13’s Music.app. It works brilliantly in maintaining a visually clean and focused full-player, but this default configuration will likely irk listeners who prefer having instant access to even the most ancillary of controls. Those listeners need not worry, as Marvis Pro provides a full suite of player customization abilities, which allows (among other things) control over what elements or controls are visible.
Unbelievably, this just scratches the surface of how deep Marvis Pro’s customization goes. For the listeners striving for an “aesthetic AF” player, there’s a powerful theming engine which allows you to independently adjust the background color, translucency, and blur style of the main screens, mini-player, and full-player. There’s also plenty of niche options, such as the ability to switch between using the iOS Music.app queue like Cs Music or an app-specific queue like Plum. There’s so much available to explore in Marvis Pro that year after year it continues to maintain its title as the most customizable (and therefore the most theoretically personalized) player available.
Whether you’re simply browsing for an actively maintained player with a bubbly custom UI similar to Doppi’s or intensely searching for a player with the deepest possible customization potential, Marvis Pro rises to the challenge. Marvis Pro empowers you to mold it to your own tastes and habits in a way few other players even attempt supporting, all while still maintaining an exceptionally elegant UI that feels right at home alongside the latest iOS look and feel guidelines. There’s simply no other player that combines modern UI design and classic “bicycle of the mind” principles so tactfully together. Some players are good, others are perhaps even great, but Marvis Pro’s UI and customization are firing on all cylinders, and it’s an undeniable triumph.
Marvis Pro sports one of the best overall iPad experiences of any player available on the market (arguably beaten out only by Power Player or Albums). It’s as performant as its iPhone counterpart, and thanks to Marvis Pro’s absolutely insane degree of interface customization it can easily be tweaked to take as little or as much advantage of the larger screen as you’d like. This customization system really shines on the iPad, since aside from the album view preserving itself at a reasonably small size and the mini-player tucking itself away to just the bottom-right edge of the screen, Marvis Pro doesn’t provide much else in the way of default iPad-specific optimizations; whether or not Marvis Pro on iPad is simply a scaled version of its iPhone counterpart or configured into something that takes full advantage of the larger screen is entirely up to you.
Aside from the addition of extra-wide widget sizes for iPadOS, Marvis Pro’s impressive widget arsenal remains unchanged from last year.
Marvis Pro’s widgets are divided evenly into two collections, starting with the “Now Playing” collection. Like most “Now Playing” widgets, by default every widget size features the album art and varying degrees of metadata depending on the size in question. However, like Marvis Pro itself, its widgets feature a staggering degree of customization that allows you to radically change both the widgets’ appearance and behavior. For most widgets in this collection, you have access to the following controls:
- Theme (System, Light, or Dark)
- Style (“Default”, which maintains padding around the artwork, or “Large Artwork”, which stretches the artwork to be edge-to-edge with the widget’s borders)
- Background (Blurred Artwork or Image, for those of you striving for an “Aesthetic AF” home screen)
- Tap Action (Launch Marvis, Open Full-Player, Present Actions, View Details, or Redirect to Music.app)
- Show Track Title toggle
- Show Artist toggle
- Show Album Title toggle
- Greyscale Artwork toggle
- Show Playback Controls toggle
- Show Up Next toggle
- Up Next - Tap To Play toggle
Arguably the most notable among the customization options is the ability to toggle displaying playback controls in the widget itself (excluding the small widget).
In classic Marvis Pro fashion, each widget’s default configuration is perfectly reasonable, and if you’d rather not futz about with settings, they’re still likely to meet your needs. However, if you care even the slightest bit about getting your widgets and home screen “just so”, Marvis Pro’s “Now Playing” widget collection is exceptional.
Marvis Pro’s other widget collection type, “Section”, allows you to add a widget for a particular section in your Home page, and continues the trend of customization from the “Now Playing” collection. For most widgets in this collection, you have access to the following controls:
- Theme and Background, just like in the “Now Playing” collection
- Section (Any section you have on your Home page can be selected here to be displayed in the widget.)
- Show Or Hide Section Title
- Tap Action (Open Section, Open Selection, or Open Section & Selection)
- Style (List or grid, both with their own settings. Not applicable for the small widget.)
The sheer amount of customization provided by this collection allows you to effectively replicate your Marvis Pro Home page right on your iOS home screen. The only caveat to this widget type is by nature of its design you have to customize the widget to make it function, at a bare minimum by selecting the section you want to be displayed. Thus, if you abhor configuration of any kind this probably isn’t the widget collection for you.
New This Year
Marvis Pro enjoyed a modest but respectable number of minor feature additions and improvements this year, most notably:
- The prophesized background customization settings originally teased back in 2019 (which I think earns a “finally!”)
- The full-player on iPad is now full screen
By far the biggest change this year was the release of background customization. With over two years between now and the originally teased screenshots on Addy’s Twitter, it’s not particularly clear what separates the teased images from what was finally released two years later. There’s obviously additional customization behind the feature (you can select from a list of different background styles both for light and dark mode), but not enough for it to clearly be the reason for the delay. Regardless of the true cause of the delay, the fact remains it’s at least available now and works exactly as we’ve come to expect features in Marvis Pro to function.
In Marvis Pro’s “Settings” menu, there’s a renovated “Background” appearance menu item, where you have full control over independently adjusting the background for the main screen, mini-player, and full-player. This control includes specifying the background image (none, artwork, or custom), the degree of blur effect, degree of image saturation, and even the overlay color to apply over the blur effect.
The system is incredibly flexible, allowing listeners to make anything from the most modest of changes (such as just deepening the blur effect on the full-player) to app-wide theme adjustments similar to what you’d find in Music Player X and MPX EQ’s theming engine. While the system is indeed powerful, I can’t help but feel some pre-made defaults would be a huge accessibility improvement, along with providing “pros” examples they can use as starting points. For example, there could be a “classic” default, a “deep blur” default, a “true black” default, and more, all which simply autofill the necessary values to Marvis Pro’s “Background” appearance controls. With those minor grumblings set aside, the system is indeed powerful, can meet practically any visual need, and is clearly the single best appearance management system provided by any music player on iOS to date.
The other big change this past year (literally) was the promotion of Marvis Pro’s previously thin iPad full-player to a full screen view. Speaking purely from a position of personal preference for a minute, I strongly feel that despite my insistence on utilizing the iPad screen to display more information that full-players are the only exception and should continue to take up the entire screen on iPads just their iPhone counterparts. There’s something instinctually captivating about holding the iPad while it’s proudly displaying the album art of the song you’re currently listening to, as if you were holding a 12” vinyl record sleeve. To step back into my best attempt at objectivity, full-screen player views are simply the natural conclusion of min-maxing both the minimized and maximized player experiences; make the mini-player as minimal and immediately accessible as possible, and make the full-player as massive and captivating as possible. When listeners just want quick access, the mini-player experience is sufficient and they wouldn’t bother with the full-player in the first place. However, when listeners want to linger, a sickly thin “maximized” full-player simply doesn’t cut it, so it makes more sense to fully maximize that view to optimize for the times listeners want to dive deeper than what the mini-player can muster. This change isn’t without precedent, as Music.app recently made this exact change in iPadOS 15 by changing their sad “skinny maximized” player on iPad to a real full-screen player.
While the change is certainly a good move, the newly maximized full-player is unfortunately not without issue. Like Cs Music, Marvis Pro’s full-screen player in landscape mode is comically bad, squishing its existing layout to fit the now constrained vertical screen instead of sensibly reflowing into a two-column layout like Power Player.
- Apple Music integration
You can easily search for and stream Apple Music content, but you can also create Apple Music-powered sections right in your “Home” page as well. Like with Albums, this kind of seamless integration is exactly what I expect from premium Apple Music integration.
- Light & dark themes
Marvis Pro’s theming is exceptional, you can tweak it to be as light or as dark as you want it, and your changes still respect iOS’s system appearance setting.
- iPad support
The iPad version is as performant as its iPhone counterpart, scales gracefully to accommodate the larger screen, and now features a gorgeous full-screen maximized player. I have a minor complaint with the way the full-player is handled in landscape mode, but the rest of the experience is close to flawless.
- Discovery features
Marvis Pro ships with a respectable array of discovery collections in its “Home” page by default, but the fact you can easily create your own using Marvis Pro’s section engine leaves Marvis Pro’s discovery capabilities with little contest.
- Album-focused features
Your “Home” page can be as tailored to albums as you’d like. You can also easily adjust the “Albums” layout to be a grid of your preferred size, and even my preferred sorting method (Artist > Chronological) is available (though this unfortunately remains trapped behind a hidden advanced settings screen).
- Lyrics support
Lyrics are viewable upon scrolling down in the full-player much like in iOS 14’s Music.app, but I continue to dislike this approach to lyrics support since it’s quarantined away from both the playback controls and the album art. The feature exists and works without issue, but I find the implementation personally disappointing.
- Beautiful or visually engaging full-player
It continues to not be the most beautiful or most interesting of full-players, but the introduction of background customization this year helped tremendously to freshen up the previously pleasing but standard visual appearance.
Table of Contents
- Honorable Mentions
- 2021’s Players
- New This Year
Not naming any names, Dad. ↩︎