When narrowly observing Doppler as “just” an iOS music player, it’s easy to lose the forest in the trees. What you’ll immediately notice its custom, permanently dark visuals and singular “Library” tab like in Music.app. You may also notice its prominent first-class independent library management, which earned a coveted spot as the “Import” tab in the tab bar. These critical design choices and many others like it certainly differentiate Doppler from being considered a traditional player like Power Player or Cs Music, but at the same time it’s purposefully not as radical a departure as to be considered niche like Albums or Vinyl Fetish, situating Doppler squarely in a strange twilight zone between the two.
To be clear, this positioning generally works in Doppler’s favor. To start—while Doppler’s permanent dark theme’s lack of respect for the system’s appearance continues to be my single biggest gripe with Doppler—the design’s undeniably lovely. It features a not-quite-black background that looks great on both OLED and traditional LED displays, and works wonderfully to distinguish Doppler from its peers. Additionally, while permanent dark themes run the risk of feeling too cold, Doppler gracefully averts this thanks to generous splashes of color in its album views, which feature dynamic album art theming akin to iTunes 11 and Power Player. It’s a fun bit of whimsy that helps break up Doppler’s otherwise serious demeanor.
The singular “Library” tab—while a huge complaint of mine on Music.app, surprisingly works on Doppler and again helps it stand out. Where Music.app’s bland “Library” tab felt like an afterthought after first dedicating the majority of tab space and development attention towards Apple Music, Doppler’s “Library” tab is front and center with a strongly opinionated, carefully designed interface. Doppler’s “Library” tab features two discrete sections: the top section contains a “Recently Added” menu (which can optionally display recently added albums as a horizontally scrolling list) and an “All Songs” menu item which is the equivalent of the “Songs” browser you’d find in traditional players. The second section below this is the primary library browser, which displays a table of either the artists or albums in your library. That’s the key ingredient that elevates Doppler singular “Library” tab above Music.app’s sorry attempt: In Music.app, you have no control over what’s displayed in the bottom section; you’re stuck with “Recently Added”. However, with Doppler, “Recently Added” can optionally still be visible in the top section, freeing up the bottom section to display your library. If you primarily browse your library through “Recently Added” and either “Albums” or “Artists” like I do, Doppler’s Library tab is fantastic.
However, such an opinionated design necessarily fails to meet the needs of other listeners. If you primarily explore your library through “Songs”, there’s currently no way to use it for your bottom section; “Songs” is forever stuck as a menu item in the first section, treated like a second-class citizen to albums and artists. Additionally, if you’re a listener that frequently hops between browsing by albums or artists, the only way to do this in Doppler is to trudge into settings and flip the “Library Screen” setting back and forth from “Artists” and “Albums”. If either of these describe your listening habits, you’re likely better off exploring other players for the time being.
What Doppler arguably misses in terms of “Library” tab customization it makes up for in droves with its staggering independent library capabilities. In addition to the expected integration with Music.app’s library, Doppler optionally supports accepting music through following methods, organized in descending order of subjective usefulness:
- Importing from Wifi through a peer-to-peer connection to a nearby computer. While not necessarily the quickest way to import a single song or album, it’s a wonderful, platform independent option for importing whole libraries worth of music in one batch.
- Importing from Cloud services via the Files app picker modal, so long as the cloud service you want to import from is present in the Files app as a “Location” (all major cloud services like Dropbox, Onedrive, etc. support this). This arguably isn’t the best overall method since the Files app makes it somewhat cumbersome to select multiple audio files, but it’s a nice option to have if you just need to quickly import a couple songs or a new album.
- Importing with AirDrop by simply selecting Doppler in the “Open with…” iOS prompt after accepting the drop. Like with importing from cloud services, this is most appropriate for small batches of audio files and not a great choice for importing whole libraries worth of music. Note this is of course only accessible to devices within Apple’s ecosystem.
- The iOS Share Sheet via a handy “Add to Doppler” button when listening to an audio file at a direct URL in Safari. While I’m sure there’s niche cases where this is nice to have, it’s undeniably the least broadly useful means of importing since only a single audio file at a time can be imported this way.
- Importing from a URL, which requires the URL points directly to a file. This is effectively the same thing as the “Importing from URL” option, but accessible inside Doppler itself.
This comprehensive support for importing music directly into Doppler is outstanding, in no small part due to the top two arguably most useful options utilizing protocols independent of Apple’s ecosystem. Thanks to Doppler’s extensive support, if you dislike using iTunes or Finder to manage and sync your iPhone’s music library, Doppler is without question the best option available today.
With this in mind, Doppler’s core strength becomes apparent once we step back and take into account the brand as a whole. Over the past year, Ed Wellbrook—Doppler’s developer—toiled away to release a brand new Doppler macOS app and companion Doppler Transfer macOS menu bar utility. While technically out of scope to cover in detail here, I do believe these two new releases are essential to understanding not only Doppler the iOS app but Ed’s long term vision for the brand as a whole. Doppler on macOS is a simple player and library management app. It’s fairly barebones, but given the long history of bloat users endured with iTunes, having something as focused as Doppler’s presentation on macOS is at the moment refreshing. Then there’s Doppler Transfer, a menu bar utility to easily send music to Doppler on iOS either by WiFi or USB, and works remarkably well. While the ability to “sync” Doppler on macOS with Doppler on iOS doesn’t yet exist (it’s simply a one-way transfer at the moment), given that Doppler on macOS is both a player and full-blown music library manager and the fact a separate transfer utility already exists, I’d argue the next step and logical conclusion of this newly formed ecosystem is full Doppler-to-Doppler syncing capabilities just like iTunes used to offer and do so well back in the old days.
And with that, it all comes together; Ed’s not just building an app, he’s building a platform that offers both native iOS & macOS apps and syncing capabilities completely independent of Apple’s Music apps, the first third-party solution of its kind to strive for this. For just a single developer, that’s a Herculean task that demands admiration. While I continue to use Apple’s music ecosystem for my library management for the purposes of keeping my finger on the heartbeat of iOS’s music player community, I continue to detest every aspect of Apple’s music platform. To finally see a viable alternative with Doppler for what continues to be a niche audience that love owning and managing their own music libraries is a sight I never dared to dream I’d see in my lifetime. The macOS and iOS apps themselves are far from perfect, but nonetheless the Doppler platform as a whole is fascinating and easily the most exciting thing happening in the broader Apple third-party music player ecosystem today. While it’s yet to be seen if Ed has the bandwidth necessary to properly build out and support the expanded Doppler platform—especially given the relatively slow rate of new features and releases compared to its peers—I find myself reflecting on Doppler’s progress this year with nothing but optimism for its future.
Regrettably, there continues to be no Doppler iPad support.
Like last year, no widget support.
New This Year
While Doppler enjoyed a shocking seventeen releases this year, the majority of which were bug fixes and performances improvements. With that said, there were a handful of notable feature additions this year, most of which focused on making independently managed Doppler libraries feel closer to a first-class citizen in the iOS ecosystem. Arguably, the most interesting of this year’s changes are:
- CarPlay support
- Siri integration
- Audio spatialization support
Starting in 2.3, Doppler now provides a CarPlay app. Previously, listeners that independently managed their libraries with Doppler instead of through Apple couldn’t access that music through Apple Music’s CarPlay app, so up until now there’s been no way for these listeners to access and play that music through CarPlay. For players that only use Music.app’s library for their content, listeners could always just fall back to CarPlay’s Music.app, but Doppler listeners with cord-cut libraries simply couldn’t until this year. With this change, however, the last remaining issue holding back Doppler’s independent library management for heavy CarPlay users is swept away.
Next up is Siri Command & Siri Suggestion support; again with 2.3, Doppler now not only exposes content in Spotlight searches but also exposes control with Siri. This year, you can now speak commands such as “Hey Siri, play Long Lost, the album, in Doppler”. Again, while not necessarily a must-have feature for listeners that manage their library with Music.app (since they could always speak commands like this for Music.app even if the third-party player itself didn’t offer support), this is yet another barrier that Ed smashed down this year, helping make Doppler-managed libraries feel closer than ever to a first-class iOS citizen.
Finally, as of 2.4.5, Doppler now offers separate control of Apple’s recent spatial audio feature for multichannel or surround sound audio files, like those mastered with Dolby Atmos. For those unaware, as of iOS 14.5, when playing back Dolby Atmos tracks through supporting headphones, iOS automatically uses a virtual surround sound stage, creating a kind of 3D audio effect despite only listening on physically stereo headphones. This playback feature can also be enabled for nearly any headphone as well, though this requires explicitly enabling it in Apple’s Settings app. With 2.4.5, Doppler offers a toggle of its own to control this feature, so listeners that only want it enabled in Doppler but want it disabled system-wide (and visa versa), may easily do so. While admittedly niche, the ability to control this feature at an individual app level is appreciated.
- Beautiful or visually engaging full-player
Doppler’s dark theme looks particularly handsome in its full-player in no small part due to featuring a subtle translucent album art effect.
- Album-focused features
The “Library” tab can be tweaked to display albums, and albums displayed this way are delightfully sorted by my preferred method (Artist > Chronological). The only thing holding back Doppler from full marks is the continued inability to display albums with a grid layout.
- Discovery features
The “Recently Added” section in the “Library” tab is great, but I expect more discovery capabilities nowadays, and this isn’t enough to keep up.
- Apple Music integration
- Lyrics support
- Light & dark themes
Doppler unfortunately continues to only offer a dark theme.
- iPad support