Music Player X
Music Player X—among one of the more curious players in the yearly showcase—is in even more of an usual position this year. In years past, its quirkiness came from its completely custom, brutalist interface, which practically bursts at the seams with chaotic but charming personality. However, this past year it’s unusual particularly because its successor—MPX EQ—was officially released and Music Player X made 100% free. That’s right, at least at the time of writing, you can newly download both Music Player X and its replacement right alongside one another. While it’s entirely possible Femi Oduntan—the single developer behind both—intends to continue maintaining both for the foreseeable future like Mike does with Cs Music and SongOwl, I can’t help but look at this as the formal, graceful deprecation of Music Player X to give customers time to transition to the new version.
With that potential future aside, the app itself is still fully functional, available for download, and received a healthy number of new features in 2021 prior to MPX EQ’s release which still award it a dedicated spotlight it this year’s showcase. However, given Music Player X’s now free and its replacement app is available and gaining steam, this will likely be a final goodbye.
Music Player X is perhaps the most radical general-purpose player available today. While the interface itself and browsing approach is typical fare (“Artists”, “Albums”, and other usual suspects are all here), not a single control or view in the app appears stock; nearly everything seems custom-made or at least heavily modded beyond recognition. This certainly yields Music Player X plenty of drawbacks, primarily that it barely feels like an iOS app anymore, and secondarily that it severely lacks the animation polish other apps get “for free” by using stock components. This results in a lack of comfort that makes some of its custom navigational flows feel so jarring that they are oftentimes confusing to navigate and back out of, among other issues. The custom UI is naturally strongly opinionated as well, which is sure to push away listeners that don’t care for its brutalist, 90’s era computing ascetic. With those huge caveats made clear, Music Player X’s custom interface does allow it a substantial number of benefits, such as its immediately identifiable brand recognition1. You can easily and instantly recognize Music Player X even from a distance. This pairs hand-in-hand with its theming engine, which is the other huge benefit its fully custom UI provides. If you’re a listener big on the “aesthetic AF” movement on iOS and meticulously customize your home screen and app icons to match a certain color scheme, Music Player X can be tweaked to perfectly match. For example, here’s some fun alternative themes I whipped up.
While the theming engine is a great addition, it’s not without its share of problems. To start, the actual practice of adjusting the app’s theme is cumbersome due to its lack of manual hex or RGB input; your precision is capped to arbitrarily dragging around the color picker until it gets visually close enough the to desired color. Additionally, there remains no way to either save multiple custom themes or define light & dark mode variants. There’s also no mechanism available to export or import themes, preventing any means of theme sharing. Finally, I can’t help but feel the lack of a “dynamic” theme option to automatically adjust the theme to match the current track’s album art is a curious omission given the affinity for similar “dynamic” themes demonstrated in other players. However, if all you want is the ability to set a single theme with relatively low precision, then Music Player X’s theming system is up to the task.
With regards to the browsing and playback experience itself, the usual collections like “Artists” and “Songs” are present, but have numerous quirks due to Music Player X’s custom UI. For example, upon tapping a particular artist, instead of a new page sliding in from the right as is standard in iOS, a custom model blinks into view to display the artist’s albums and songs. It’s a strange choice, and unfortunately makes Music Player X feel even more foreign on iOS.
The full-player itself is remarkably plain and barely existent; instead of sliding in a full-player card like most other players these days, the artist, track name, album title, and album art blink into view upon launch, overloading the mini-player controls to also serve as the full-player’s controls. While certainly unique (I can’t think of any other player that behaves this way), it doesn’t result in a particularly inspiring nor interesting view. In line with Music Player X’s brutalist design, the full-player is fully utilitarian, you won’t find a beautiful or engaging full-player experience here.
Finally, Music Player X provides some interesting bits and bobs, starting with its in-app equalizer. Listeners can adjust the playback frequency response at any time via the dedicated “EQ” menu item, or select from sensibly named presets like “Hi Mid” or “Bassy”. While I prefer flat playback in my music players, this is certainly not the case for everyone, so the fact this is treated as a first-class feature in Music Player X is appreciated. Listeners can also enable an iTunes-style “crossfade” or manage a very limited library directly in the app independent of Apple’s Music library. For those curious enough to scroll all the way to the end of the app’s menu, they can also access the obscure and borderline useless “3D Audio” feature (not to be confused with Apple’s “Spatial Audio” feature), which pans the audio from left to right at a set interval. This is all to say, Music Player X sports an overflowing grab bag of features and settings ranging the full spectrum from useful to bizarre. It’s not polished and is certainly strange in areas, but it’s undeniably fun to explore and certainly leaves an impression.
Music Player X is amateurish, strange, sometimes frustrating, but undeniably endearing. Despite its relatively young age, it strongly reminds me of the long-dead breed of iOS app from back when the App Store first opened in 2008, when developers were first learning the ins and outs of the platform and felt empowered to continuously experiment and break the mold with their designs in the process. Today, apps on iOS feel fairly homogenous; even apps with custom UI still follow the majority of the conventions coined by the OS (just with a different coat of paint coupled with a smattering of novel interaction differences). To be clear, this convergence is absolutely for the better, if for no other reason than the obvious accessibility and usability benefits that come with it. However, I can’t help but feel something wild and fun was forever lost in the process. Getting to relive that on iOS—if even just for a bit—with Music Player X was a rare treat I didn’t think I’d get the chance to see again.
Music Player X does indeed support the iPad, but much like Cs Music it’s nothing more than a scaled-up version of the iPhone app. However, the scaling is demonstrably worse on Music Player X because it literally scales everything (not just sensibly the scrollable views like Cs Music), most likely a side effect of its lack of stock iOS components. In practice, this means absolutely nothing about the iPad version takes advantage of the larger screen. For example, the menu bar still requires scrolling due to the icons scaling to a comically massive size instead of allowing all menu items to comfortably fit at a normal size on the iPad’s larger screen.
Like Cs Music, the experience is still perfectly functional and doesn’t exhibit any performance issues compared to its iPhone counterpart, but due to the lazy “scale everything” implementation it’s one of the worst iPad versions available (beaten out only by Plum and Musens due to their crippling iPad performance issues).
Music Player X does not provide widgets, and given its potential replacement was released this year, I’d wager it most likely never will.
New This Year
As is expected given the release of its major update in the form of MPX EQ, Music Player X itself didn’t see radical changes this year. However, there are certainly a few changes worth calling out:
- Removal of in-app purchase (all of Music Player X is now free)
- EQ presents are now available with understandable names like “Hi Mid” and “Bassy”
With that and some bug fix patches, that’s all the releases Music Player X received this year. Music Player X going 100% free and preserved in the app store (at least for the time being) instead of getting taken down immediately like developers tend to do with these kinds of releases is refreshing to see, and a trend I hope continues for the obvious historical preservation benefits and for the odd listener or two that may still prefer the older releases at the expense of continued developer support.
- iPad support
An iPad version technically exists, but the scaling it uses is comically bad.
- Apple Music integration
- Lyrics support
- Light & dark themes
While you can customize the theme, you can only have one theme active at a time, so light & dark theming is not supported.
- Discovery features
- Beautiful or visually engaging full-player
- Album-focused features
Table of Contents
This is insanely important. For example, in contrast, I can still barely tell Dot Music exists and isn’t some kind of stock music player template due to its nonexistent design voice. It’s like a house gutted of all signs of life upon being sold. Make no mistake, Music Player X’s design is wild, but I’d pick that any day of the week than the opposite problem. ↩︎