Fourth Annual iOS Music Player Showcase
Every year or so, a new niche player enters the scene. In the case of Jams On Toast in 2017 or Longplay in 2020, the concepts are intriguing but lack the developer attention necessary to make the result compelling enough to last beyond initial curiosity. However, in rare cases like with Albums in 2019, the developer continues to invest time and energy beyond the initial release towards fully realizing the player’s original vision. As the name and promotional screenshots are quick to boldly demonstrate, Vinyl Fetish is a niche player. However, don’t let the earnest but amateur visual design fool you; Vinyl Fetish is fiercely developed just like Albums and one of the most exciting album-focused experiences on iOS today.
At this point, an album-focused player isn’t particularly novel. Jams On Toast, Longplay, Albums, and arguably Vinyls1 all pride themselves on their album-focused design. However, with the exception of Albums, this focus tends to only run skin deep and rarely results in a browsing and listening experience appropriate for frequent use. Take Jams On Toast, which hung its hat on its brilliant “record crate” browsing mechanic, but delivered such a lackluster, barely present playback experience it was frankly easy to forget Jams On Toast even could play back the albums you were browsing. Longplay’s story is much the same, only this time featuring a tightly packed album art grid and quirky sorting options to accompany its nearly nonexistent playback experience. Vinyls came close to breaking out of this development rut, but its initially beautiful playback interface is not much more than a thick layer of makeup. The faux vinyl record featured prominently at the center of the player is a static image that looks the same regardless of the record you’re playing, quickly cheapening the illusion after more than a couple records. This is all to say, while the mere presence of album-focused niche players on iOS is no longer unique at face value, to find one that nails capturing the joy of browsing and playing a vinyl record is quite remarkable, indeed.
In classic niche player fashion, both Vinyl Fetish’s home page and menu navigation are unconventional. Instead of dumping the user into a browser or a menu page like most players, Vinyl Fetish puts the spotlight squarely on its player view by featuring it as the heirarchical root of the entire app. This approach works remarkably well in Vinyl Fetish both due to how vital the player view is to the app’s vision and how naturally simple the secondary views like the browser are as a result of its record-only focus (there’s not a mess of browsing tabs here like on Vinyls). This lack of flexibility will of course turn away some listeners, but Vinyl Fetish leaning full-bore into album browsing and listening exclusively is fully to its benefit. In contrast to Vinyls, which bewilderingly tries its best to accommodate browsing by unrelated collections like “Songs” and feels confused as a result, Vinyl Fetish fully understands what it’s about; it exists to emulate the joy of browsing and playing vinyl records. That’s it.
Focusing more finely on Vinyl Fetish’s player view, there are three main components:
- Platter, tonearm, and dynamically rendered record
- Record “sleeve”
- Control panel for playback controls
The first two components (the record player and record sleeve) can be positioned or scaled any particular way you wish, in addition to some minor rendering options like enabling a tilt or shadow on the sleeve. This alone provides a great deal of customization, but where Vinyl Fetish really shines is the customization it provides for the “vinyl” record itself. Through the app’s “vinylize” process, you can choose a particular album from your Apple Music library to be available to browse and play in Vinyl Fetish, and upon selecting an album to “vinylize”, Vinyl Fetish presents a number of options. Vinyl Fetish will first make a best attempt guess at dividing up the record into different sides based on the track lengths, which if wrong can be easily adjusted to your taste or corrected to match a physical pressing’s arrangement. After approving the disk & side separation, you then have the freedom to change the side labels, vinyl color, and even transparency to your taste. All this customization is certainly powerful, and on its own elevates Vinyl Fetish above the shallow vinyl skeuomorphism found in competing apps like Vinyls. However, what really sets Vinyl Fetish apart is the delightfully accurate track rendering on its “vinyl record”. All to often, when you see vinyl records used either as decoration or literal interface controls in players it’s just a single pre-rendered image that quickly grows stale. However, with Vinyl Fetish, your vinylized records will all look different. The Beatles’ famous side 2 medly on Abbey Road looks as jam packed and eclectic as it sounds, Kamasi Washington’s extensive opuses on The Epic look as impressive and imposing as they sound (often just a song or two taking up an entire side all by themselves), and everything in between. The only thing tarnishing the overall effect is the record’s cartoony rendering style, which has the unfortunate effect of making it feel a bit amateurish (especially in comparison to Vinyls lazily reused but otherwise gorgeous vinyl record image). Additionally, while the ability to choose your own side labels is perfectly functional, the inability to scale and adjust the images you choose to be just right is a bit aggravating. With those few caveats said, they do little to detract from the overall presentation, which is dynamic, customizable, and irresistible to lovers of the vinyl record medium2.
That just leaves the player view’s control panel, where the bare minimum of playback controls are provided. You can obviously stop and start playback, but absent are the typical skip back and forward buttons. Instead, you can either drag and drop the tonearm as you would a real record player or alternatively swipe left or right to skip backward or forward, respectively. The ability to switch disks or sides is also available here, which yields delightful disk swapping or flipping animations as you progress through the record. Finally, the entire control panel can be hidden with a tap anywhere above the panel, giving you extra room to arrange and enjoy Vinyl Fetish’s record sleeve and player.
As mentioned before, Vinyl Fetish’s navigation is remarkably focused and simple. At the very bottom of the full-player is an unconventional menu bar which houses the settings, album browser, and + button to “vinylize” new albums from your library to add to your collection in Vinyl Fetish. The album browser lets you browse your vinylized records either as a list sorted by artist or a grid by artist. For the latter’s layout style, on a given artist’s page, you can also continue to maintain the grid layout style or alternatively dip into a bit of whimsy by selecting the “crate” layout style, which arranges that artist’s records as if you were sifting through them in a record crate. The effect is strongly reminiscent of Jams On Toast, and in many respects is an improvement. For example, Vinyl Fetish adds some “thickness” and simulated weight to the records you sift through, making them feel far more realistic than Jams of Toast’s paper-thin record crates.
If Albums is a requirement for listeners that love albums as a musical art form, Vinyl Fetish has proven itself to be a requirement for listeners who love the vinyl record music format. German Buela—Vinyl Fetish’s developer—has developed one of the most unusual and niche players I’ve seen since Jams On Toast four years ago. Even the name itself—which is equal parts naughty and undeniably brilliant—can’t help but stand out in the crowd. Vinyl Fetish still has lots of work ahead of it, such as higher resolution sleeve art, proper label placement control, and a professionally rendered vinyl record appearance, but despite its shortcomings it’s difficult for listeners who love vinyl records to walk away from a listen in Vinyl Fetish without a smile on their face. Among the growing list of niche players that exist today on iOS, few realize their vision as successfully as Vinyl Fetish.
Vinyl Fetish offers full iPad support, featuring a tweaked home screen/full-player with default layouts for both portrait and landscape modes that takes full advantage of the iPad’s massive screen. The app arguably shines brightest with the iPad’s larger screen, allowing nuances in Vinyl Fetish’s dynamically rendered records to become even more visible, like the discrete gaps between tracks on a given side and the current side’s label. The rest of the experience remains largely the same, but given Vinyl Fetish’s slim feature set, the few tweaks made to the app’s full-player launchpad are more than sufficient to make the app feel fully design and optimized for the larger screen.
While Vinyl Fetish is a fantastic stand-alone iPad experience, no Universal App is an island, and Vinyl Fetish’s iCloud sync feature is not yet up to the task. After getting my configuration all set up on the iPhone, enabling the feature on my iPhone, then enabling it on my iPad, no data synced and continued to not sync for months until some secret incantation of adding new records and updating existing ones finally got my data to sync over. Unfortunately, even then my Vinyl Fetish sync issues weren’t resolved, since all my synced records were missing their album art, and remain missing to this day. While sync is tricky business to get right and my experience could very well be an edge case, it nonetheless left me disappointed, especially in the light of the other players like Albums whose iCloud support has for me “just worked” since its initial release.
A single widget collection of three widget sizes is provided by Vinyl Fetish, which all showcases the “now playing” vinyl record side and sleeve. All three sizes are nearly identical, save for the addition of the album title and current side label on the medium and large sizes and some minor positional adjustments to accommodate the elongated medium size. The widget’s background naturally assumes the color theme you selected in the app, which thankfully also continues to respect the system’s theme for the “system” color theme options.
Unfortunately, the ability to change the widget’s background color by means of the app’s color theme settings is as far as the widget’s customization goes; Vinyl Fetish provides no widget settings whatsoever for any of its widget sizes. Additionally, the record rendered in the widget is frustratingly a generic placeholder and not the one rendered in the app which accurately reflects the track separation. While these aspects of the collection are disappointing, what Vinyl Fetish provides remains nonetheless attractive and unique enough to likely still appeal to vinyl lovers.
New This Year
Unlike other players in the “Established” category of the showcase, I will not be covering what was new in Vinyl Fetish from 2021 because—unfortunately—this is one of the established players that slipped past my radar in 2020’s showcase. I only just learned of the player this year thanks to reader mail from Rafal Ruta, suggesting it was a player I might be interested in. Since I didn’t establish the necessary understanding of the app’s functionality to contextualize the progress it made this past year, I feel it’s best to forgo the “New This Year” section for Vinyl Fetish. Otherwise, I’d have to dig through the change log and artificially guess at what the Vinyl Fetish experience was like at the end of 2020 to establish that context, which isn’t fair to Vinyl Fetish nor the other established players.
- Beautiful or visually engaging full-player
The record with accurate track separation and ability to customize the record’s center label and color make Vinyl Fetish’s full-player a feast to the eyes.
- Album-focused features
It’s the only player I’m aware of that respects album sides, allowing me to enjoy my physical vinyl record side labels digitally while listening, and Vinyl Fetish even sorts albums with my preferred method (Artist > Chronological).
- Light & dark themes
- iPad support
While Vinyl Fetish does an overall great job supporting the iPad, its iCloud Sync feature was far too flacky to be able to use the iPad version in practice. Still waiting on that album art to appear…
- Apple Music integration
- Lyrics support
- Discovery features
Table of Contents
- Honorable Mentions
- 2021’s Players
- New This Year
- Cs Music
- Marvis Pro
- Music Player X
- Power Player
- Vinyl Fetish
I personally attest Vinyls is in fact no a niche, album-focused player and instead a general-purpose player mascarading as an album-focused experience. ↩︎
At this point, I have easily sunk a couple hours importing albums from my library that I own physical pressings for and tweaking their colors, labels, and player themes to be just so. While this will certainly not be an attractive prospect to everyone, listeners who collect vinyl records and love fiddling around with software will likely love falling down the rabbit hole. ↩︎