Third Annual iOS Music Player Competition

"Soor" iOS app icon Soor

Image of "Soor" light album view Image of "Soor" player view
Image of "Soor" dark album view Image of "Soor" player view

Last year, Soor failed to meet the qualifiers list due to not meeting the minimum bar for what I considered “local-primary”. Soor’s heavy Apple Music integration—its tent-pole feature—resulted in an experience that at every twist and turn strained against local-only use despite technically supporting it. However, despite that remaining the case this year, the introduction of a couple notable and substantial features that both local and cloud users can access helped earn Soor proper attention this year.

For those new to Soor, from a structural perspective it’s most similar to Marvis Pro due to its lack of tab bar, instead opting for a sensible “Home” view that serves as the front door experience that nearly all subsequent views in the player stem from. Like Marvis Pro, the “sections” on this page are customizable, allowing users to add pre-built sections like “Playlists” or “Recently Played”. While the app strays from iOS’s standard controls and Human Interface Guidelines, its custom light mode is one of the few that does so to brilliant effect, in my opinion resulting one of the more beautiful light modes available in any player. The same can’t be said for its custom dark mode; like Sathorn, Soor provides two terrible dark mode variants, a “gray mode” and “pitch black” mode, neither of which are visually pleasing in the slightest.

For those like myself that reject Apple’s iCloud Music Library and opt instead to personally manage our libraries, Soor’s surface-level brilliance quickly begins to fade. The app is “all or nothing” with Apple Music integration; you must have “Sync Library” enabled to access any Apple Music features. This includes searching for and playing songs in Apple Music, a feature that Marvis Pro and even Sathorn prove does not in any way require iCloud Music Library to achieve. In fact—just like last year—attempting to enable Apple Music integration without enabling iCloud Music Library “bricks” the app, forcing users to delete and redownload the app to get it functional again.

The app continues to break without iCloud Music Library in other destructive ways, as well; all pre-built “Home” sections except for “Playlists” remain accessible but silently fail without iCloud Music Library, even benign ones such as “Recently Added”.

While Soor this year did nothing to improve these issues, it did receive two substantial new features: “Magic Mixes” and an album art visualizer in the player view.

“Magic Mixes” are Soor’s equivalent to Marvis Pro’s “Rules & Filters” and Albums’ “Quick Actions”, where Soor provides users a suite of filtering rules such as “Play Count” and “Release Date” and sorting options such as “Shuffled” and “Release Year” which can be combined to make thousands of custom collections. For example, with this feature you could make a collection called “2020 Favs” which includes only songs from 2020 which you “Liked”. To top it off, these “Magic Mixes” could be added to Soor’s “Home” just like any of its pre-built sections.

Given my glowing praise of Marvis Pro’s “Rules & Filters” support last year and Albums’ “Quick Actions” this year, I was positively thrilled to see this functionality become embraced by another player. However, while I applaud Soor supporting this feature in any capacity, I find its implementation to be lacking in two key areas:

  1. “Magic Mixes” are akin to “Smart Playlists” in that they’re exclusively song-based. The filters are applied at the song level and matches can’t be grouped by album; results will only be displayed as individual songs. As an album-primary listener, this is a big disappointment.
  2. Performance issues and bugs abound. I’ve not run across any issues with Marvis Pro or Alums’ systems, but with Soor there’s a surprising amount of loading indicators and waiting. There’s also plenty of bugs, such as filtering by “Year” matching songs well outside the requested release year.

While I was disappointed by “Magic Mixes”, I maintained high hopes for Soor’s album art visualizer. With this addition, Soor is now the only iOS player aside from Music.app to feature an album art-based visualizer. While in and of itself that’s commendable, I unfortunately find the effect disappointingly dull. It’s advertised in the release notes as a gradient album art visualizer, and to be fair to Soor’s developer—Tanmay Sonawane—that’s as accurate a description as one could make.

The gradient album-art visualizer introduced in Soor this year. The playback speed’s increased to help demonstrate the effect over time.

The visualizer isn’t a dynamic lava lamp of colors like Music.app’s “live” lyrics visualizer, but rather a predictable gradient animation between a handful of primary colors from the current track’s art. The music itself bears no effect on the timing between gradients or intensity of the color stops, it’s just a simple canned animation that uniformly repeats throughout the entire song. It’s nothing fancy, nothing offensive, and nothing at all noteworthy.

My issues with Soor’s new features this year emulate my continued issues with the product itself; it consistently over promises and under delivers. Apple Music integration is advertised but no Apple Music features can be accessed at all without iCloud Music Library. It features a gorgeous light mode design but fails to deliver an equivalently impressive dark mode. “Magic Mixes” appear like a fierce Marvis Pro and Albums competitor, but perform terribly and can only apply to individual songs. The album art visualizer sounds exciting, but the implementation’s dreadfully dull and uninspired. On the surface, everything about Soor appears like it should be fantastic (even for local-only users like myself), but every revisit ends the same: in disappointment.

Widgets

Soor offers a generous bounty of three whole widget collections to choose from, all at varying sizes. In terms of sheer quantity, it’s matched only by Albums and Marvis Pro. However, in terms of quality it doesn’t come anywhere close.

The “Now Playing” widget collection are the first available in Soor, all of which impressively display the currently playing song title, artist, album art, and the next song up in the queue. Additionally, Soor is one of the few players to optionally support media controls in some of its larger “Now Playing” widgets. However, I should note I ran into strange behavior with Soor’s widgets, often resulting in the widgets not updating reflect the current track despite my best efforts to get it to do so (force quitting the app, changing songs, removing and re-adding the widget, restarting iOS, etc.). The Suburbs wasn’t displayed instead of Shore in the large “Now Playing” widget by choice, I legitimately could not get any song from Shore to display in it, while the other sizes updated just fine. While this could easily be entirely due to iOS bugs (widgets are a brand-new iOS feature, after all, with a plethora of known bugs), it’s still worth noting that Soor was the only player I ran into widget problems with in my testing.

The next widget collection provided is a “Magic Mix” button grid, which on the surface is similar to Albums’ “Quick Actions” widget collection. However, I can’t tell you what tapping the buttons do for Soor’s take on the feature since the buttons are completely non-functional for users who don’t have iCloud Music Library enabled. That’s not an exaggeration, tapping any “Magic Mix” button in these widgets launches the app but does nothing else, and I’m left to assume something else would happen had I used iCloud Music Library. If you—like me—don’t have this feature enabled but were interested in Soor because of this widget type, pretend it doesn’t exist, because it functionally doesn’t.

Finally, there’s the “Collection” widgets, which display items from one of the predefined collection types such as “Playlists” and “Recently Added”. Again—like practically all of Soor—some of these collection types such as “Recently Played” inexplicably break without iCloud Music Library. However, at the very least I was able to get “Recently Added” to work as expected. Regardless of whatever collection you’re able to get working, the widget supports hiding metadata text so only the art is visible, which was a nice touch.

Personal Score Card

  • :heavy_check_mark: Beautiful or visually engaging player view: While I’m highly critical of Soor’s album art visualizer, simply putting the time in to have one at all when every other third-party player doesn’t bother is enough to warrant a solid “success” mark in my book.
  • :large_orange_diamond: Light & dark themes: Neither mode matches iOS’s look and feel. While the light mode is still gorgeous and feels right at home alongside other iOS apps, it’s gray “dark” mode feels out of place, as if it’s an unofficial dark mode from the iOS 11 era. The optional “True Black” dark mode doesn’t fare much better, often appearing too dark for iOS’s dark mode guidelines.
  • :large_orange_diamond: Album-focused features: While the app does indeed feature a nice “Albums” view, being unable to make “Magic Mixes” for albums instead of songs was a big miss.
    • :x: Proper sorting
    • :heavy_check_mark: Album grid view
  • :x: Discovery features: Barely any of the discovery features work without iCloud Music Library despite being advertised and “accessible” in local-only mode, making the experience feel like a bait-and-switch tease.
  • :x: Lyrics support: There’s a lyrics button, but all it does is launch MusicMatch if you have it downloaded. MusicMatch integration is “nice to have”, not by no means a replacement for real, first-class lyrics support.
  • :x: iPad Support
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