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:
- Lyrics support
- Light & dark themes that properly adhere to iOS’s look and feel
- iPad support
- 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 14 widget 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
Given the growing number of players available on iOS, I’ve broken sections down into discrete pages to make the article easier to read and faster to load. You may advance to the next section with the big button below or jump to a specific section that interests you with the “Table of Contents” below. For readers who prefer single-page articles, you may read here, instead (though I personally recommend this version for an improved reading experience). Additionally, for readers on slow internet connections, you may want to consider reading the speed-optimized copy of this article here.
Let’s get started…