Third Annual iOS Music Player Showcase

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 that prefer separate pages for each primary section, you may read here, instead.

Let’s get started…

Table of Contents

Honorable Mentions

Like last year, not all players will receive proper attention in the showcase. This both helps keep the showcase focused while also providing a decent excuse to completely ignore the dozens of trashy, “free” streaming music apps that pollute the App Store. However, there are a select few players I believe deserve honorable mentions despite not technically meeting the showcase criteria. Those plays are covered in brief, below.

"Ecoute" iOS app icon Ecoute

Image of 'Ecoute' light theme album view Image of 'Ecoute' player view
Image of 'Ecoute' dark theme player view Image of 'Ecoute' player view

Unfortunately, Ecoute is exactly the same as it was last year. It barely received any maintenance updates in 2019, but this year it didn’t receive any. For an app once considered by many to be the best third-party music player in the early days of iOS, it’s saddening to see it languish like this. A growing list of peers possess—and often surpass—its once-unique qualities like its beautiful, translucent player view design and tab bar-free navigation. The genre’s also matured over the many years; Ecoute’s slim feature set is now considered table-stakes for newcomers like Plum and SongOwl.

However, for the first time in years there appears to be signs of movement on Ecoute’s next major release, Ecoute 3. On December 28th, Ecoute’s developer, Julien Sagot, shared a tweet with a brief development question. What’s interesting about that tweet wasn’t the question itself, though, but rather the attached screenshot of an app exhibiting the issue. That app appeared not only to be a player, but one I can’t say I’ve ever seen before:

@Barbapapapps

I can’t get my standalone UINavigationBar to extend behind the statusBar on iOS 14. Returning .topAttached for the UIBarPosition as suggested all over the Internet does not work 🤨

Suspected screenshot of Ecoute 3, actively in development

6:05 PM - Dec 28, 2020

To be clear, despite a humerous “definitely maybe” response to my follow-up question about whether or not this confirms Ecoute 3’s development, we’ve yet to see any “official” confirmation from Julien on the matter. Assuming the teasers are indeed of Ecoute 3, it’s also unknown how far along in development the player is and whether or not it’ll see public release in 2021. With all that said, Ecoute as it exists today remains difficult to recommend, but seeing more Ecoute 3 smoke in the past few days than we’ve seen for years has finally given me hope that Ecoute may soon reclaim its place as one of the finest players on iOS.

"Jams On Toast" iOS app icon Jams On Toast

Image of 'Jams On Toast' album view

Another year come and gone, yet Jams on Toast remains one-of-a-kind for its cover flow-inspired navigation, intended to emulate sifting through physical record crates. It’s genuinely impressive Jams on Toast not only continues to remain unique in this respect, but also manages to avoid regressions from the many iOS releases since its original release back in late 2017; Jams On Toast has not seen even a single update or patch, yet continues to function exactly as advertised on iOS 14.

The app’s impressive robustness aside, it’s undeniably abandonware due to its lack of updates the past three years. Disappointingly, there also remains no way to view large album art in the player view, the album art in the virtual “crate” is the largest you’ll see. However, despite these shortcomings, Jams On Toast continues to deliver the virtual record crate experience it advertised back in 2017, and is still worth checking out so long as you’re comfortable accepting the slim feature set and lack of maintenance.

"New Monaural" iOS app icon New Monaural

Image of 'New Monaural' light theme album view Image of 'New Monaural' light theme player view
Image of 'New Monaural' dark theme player view Image of 'New Monaural' dark theme player view

New Monaural is the reason behind my only new deal-breaker addition this year. By nearly every measure, New Monaural is a great player; it sports an album grid view, a “Recently Played” collection, dynamic album art themes like Doppler 2 and Power Player, and many more qualities that would otherwise earn it proper coverage this year. What went wrong?

As the name implies, New Monaural supports a suite of mono-focused features which intend to make the stereo to mono conversion more pleasing for listeners who either require or prefer listening to their music with a single ear. Accessibility advances like this are fantastic to see, but unfortunately the audio engine New Monaural uses to achieve this feature set prevents flat playback like you’d get in other players, even when these features are supposedly disabled. The differences are noticeable and distracting for stereo listening, and without a means to fully bypass it, I have no choice but to consider New Monaural a novelty for those who prefer their music in stereo and don’t benefit from it’s “New Mono” accessibility features.

"Stezza" iOS app icon Stezza

Image of 'Stezza' album view Image of 'Stezza' player view

Like New Monaural, Stezza is designed with a clear focus in mind; while New Monaural aims to improve the listening experience for mono listeners, Stezza aims to make the best possible music player for the car. This mission statement is most clearly demonstrated in its player view, which features massive buttons you’d have no trouble blindly tapping. While I do take issue with its premise (you shouldn’t fiddle with your phone while driving regardless of how accessible the interface is), I’d argue many of us have paused or skipped tracks while driving at some point, anyway. Given people are unfortunately going to do things like this despite the danger, one could argue efforts to make that interaction as effortless and distration-free as possible are a good thing.

However, this focus comes at a cost; Stezza is simply not that appealing beyond its car driver market. Its inflated player interface—while desirable in driving contexts—is comical in any other application. If you find yourself constantly fiddling with your music while driving (which again, you really shouldn’t), consider giving Stezza a spin. Otherwise, it’s not for you.

"TapTunes" iOS app icon TapTunes

Image of 'TapTunes' light theme album view Image of 'TapTunes' light theme player view
Image of 'TapTunes' dark theme player view Image of 'TapTunes' dark theme player view

Long before Albums, Jams On Toast, and Longplay entered the fray with album-focused designs, TapTunes was there. Despite over ten years on the App Store, David Blundell—TapTunes’ developer—continued to demonstrate dedication to the product with its many feature and maintenance releases through the years.

It features an album wall much like Albums and Longplay do, but TapTunes also provides plenty of unique, animated discovery views in addition to that simple wall. “Stacked” is one such view, which automatically scrolls through a scattered, randomized trail of your records. It does wonders for combating analysis paralysis while trying to decide what record to play.

Unfortunately, despite its many years of dedicated maintenance, TapTunes last update on March 2019 technically misses my “active maintenance” rule to enter the showcase. In the interest of fairness, I can’t in good conscious make an exception for TapTunes. However, I will make it clear that while a gap in updates this long raises concerns for other players, for a venerable player like TapTunes with over ten years of attention and care behind it, I doubt this signals the end.

Thankfully, despite its lack of update this year, TapTunes is still just as functional and feature-rich as it was in 2019. If you love records or dabbled with other album-focused players in the past, TapTunes remains worthy of a look.

2020’s Players

"Albums" iOS app icon Albums

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

Albums first dropped late last year as one of 2019’s many new arrivals. While I was charmed with its clear, album-focused vision, I found its many design issues held it back from becoming a compelling option. I did, however, note last year it was genuinely impressive the sheer number of improvements Albums received just three short months following its initial release. After all, if Albums’ developer, Adam Linder, could improve his app that much in just three months, I could only imagine what he’d accomplish if given a full year. Now—at the end of 2020—Albums is no longer a quaint novelty, but a feature-rich juggernaut and a must-buy for anyone that loves albums as an art form.

Albums today feels more like a “spiritual successor” to the initial version than a mere update. Last year, the app had just one primary view (the “album wall”). Stuck to the bottom of that wall was an unusual “My Library” button, which Albums’ treated as its dumping ground for all its other views, such as “Decades” and “Artists”. Today, that’s been completely scrapped and replaced with a sensible iOS tab bar. The album wall—which was the entire app when it was originally released—is now just a single tab view, leaving a tremendous swath of attention real estate to fill with new tab views.

Image of the new "Library" tab Image of the new "Insights" tab Image of the new "Stats" tab Image of the new "Library" tab Image of the new "Insights" tab Image of the new "Stats" tab
The three brand-new tabs in Albums: “Library”, “Insights”, and “Stats”

The first of those new tabs is “Library”, which offers a traditional browsing experience like that of Picky and Dot Music with the standard suite of viewing options like “Artists”, “Albums”, “Playlists”, etc. You read that right, this single tab view effectively matches all functionality of entire other players on the market! To top it off, the discovery features like “browse albums by decade” that garnered praise last year also find their new home, here. This has the profound effect of elevating Albums beyond its old “focused, but single-purpose” player category like that of Jams on Toast and Longplay to the level of mature, broadly useful player like Marvis Pro while still maintaining its focus on records.

The next tab, “Insights”, is far and away my favorite view in the app. A suite of gorgeous discovery sections find their home here, such as the new “Diamonds in the Rough” section, which contains such collections as:

  • “Old Favorites” for surfacing albums that had lots of listens in the past but haven’t been revisited, recently.
  • “Only Listened Once” for encouraging another listen to records you only listened to once before.
  • “Never Listened” for surfacing albums you added sometime in the past but accidentally forgot about.

Another highlight is the “Over The Years” section, which uses your age to construct personalized throwback discovery collections like “High School” and “My Mid 20s”. There’s also “Anniversaries”, which surfaces albums in your library whose anniversary is this week. For example, at time of writing, ELO’s “Out of the Blue” celebrates its 43rd anniversary; I wouldn’t have known that otherwise, and it gives me a fun and topical reason to drop the album a relisten.

The last of the new tabs (not counting “Settings”) is “Stats”, which on the surface offers a birds-eye view of your library and listening statistics, much like those provided by PlayTally (which is again another example of Albums incorporating entire other apps’ feature sets into just a single view). You can either use the suite of pre-built listening metrics or create your own to see your “most played” producers, genres, recording labels, and more. It’s an unexpectedly fun time playing around with these different charts, and to top it off you can easily tap into any of their results to browse or play their items, making it yet another fantastic discovery feature in Albums.

There’s even more wonderful discovery possibilities to be found in the player itself. Upon scrolling down in the redesigned player view, three different tabbed views present themselves: “Track List”, “Credits”, and “Statistics”. Those familiar with my thoughts on Albums last year may remember I panned the credits feature, noting that I found its information uninspiring and not particularly useful. However, this year the credits feature received a complete rewrite and is now arguably Albums’ “kill feature”.

Image of interactive liner notes for Beach House's "Bloom" Image of exploring albums by the "Sub Pop" record label Image of exploring albums mastered by Joe LaPorta Image of interactive liner notes for Beach House's "Bloom" Image of exploring albums by the "Sub Pop" record label Image of exploring albums mastered by Joe LaPorta
With the “Credits” tab, you can discover connections between records in your collection you may not even be aware of.

The best way to demonstrate this incredible new feature is to show you; I recently relistened to Beach House’s Bloom and popped into the “Credits” tab mid-listen for a quick browse. There, I tapped the album’s record label (Sub Pop) to see what other records in my collection were released on that label to spark ideas for what to listen to next. While scrolling through the rest of Bloom’s credits, I found the record was mastered by Joe LaPorta, and tapped his name to see what other records in my collection he’s mastered. Turns out, he not only mastered Fleet Foxes’ latest record, Shore, but also mastered one of my all-time favorites, Lord Huron’s Lonesome Dreams. While physical record linear notes are great, they simply cannot deliver this experience; in physical space, there’s no way I would have noticed and remembered that connection, but thanks to Albums I’m now aware of a mastering engineer whose work I tend to really enjoy and gives me ideas of where to search for new music in the future.

I’ve only begun to scratch the surface of the new discovery features available in Albums. Keeping with Albums’ new proficiency at integrating whole other apps’ feature sets, there’s a new Marvis Pro-inspired feature called “Quick Actions”. With it, users can create their own smart collections based on a myriad of customizable filters and sorting methods. Those “Quick Actions” can then be easily launched with Siri, the new “Quick Actions” widgets, or the new “Quick Actions” shelf that slides out from the top right of the tab bar. For example, I can easily make a “Quick Action” to see my personal 2020 favorites by adding a release year and a minimum play count filter. While not nearly as fully-featured as Marvis Pro’s “Sections”, more filtering and sorting options are sure to arrive with time.

If you told me last year any app would usurp Marvis Pro for best discovery features, I genuinely would not believe you. Yet, there are now so many fantastic ways to browse your library with Albums, and what’s truly magical is it doesn’t require any customization or setup at all1. While Marvis Pro claimed best discovery features last year, those discovery features are mostly theoretical since they’re predicated on the user having some amount of computing skills to set up the necessary rules, let alone the free time and wherewithal to painstakingly do so. Albums provides most of what I love in my own Marvis Pro customizations and does so with no setup, no required skills, and no wasted time. While Marvis Pro will probably always boast the best theoretically discovery features for fussy folks like myself, I can say with confidence Albums’ discovery features are an outstanding achievement and the best available for all but the pickiest of users.

That’s not to say Albums’ is fully rid of its shortcomings from last year; the redesign—while functionally a vast improvement—still leaves a lot to be desired visually. The player’s use of vanilla transparency in the background instead of translucency as suggested by iOS’s Human Interface Guidelines is a frustratingly bad call. The new “Immersive UI” feature that changes the app’s tint color based on the currently playing album’s art is a great idea in theory, but in practice is very hit and miss, oftentimes resulting in borderline unreadable text. While choosing accessible primary and secondary colors based off any given album art is a very tricky problem indeed, I’d argue if the results are this spotty it should have been left on the cutting board until the algorithm could be improved. Not to mention Albums’ new “floating” player view controls look and feel “off”, especially in comparison to Doppi’s similar but far superior implementation. However, I’m happy to say that despite these and other visual shortcomings, the tantalizing feature set Albums now boasts makes the vast majority of these issues very easy to overlook for the time being.

Last year, I closed my thoughts on Albums with an optimistic prediction that it had a bright future ahead of it, but even my high expectations were blown away by Albums this year. Its browsable credits list, human-centric suite of pre-built discovery collections, and sensible navigation structure make Albums stand among yet apart from iOS’s best. If you’re even passingly interested in albums as an art form, Albums is no longer a mere suggestion but nearly a requirement.

Widgets

Albums’ widget support is world-class, featuring not one, not two, but three discrete widget collections, all with varying size and customization options. This pits Albums up against Marvis Pro and Soor for most comprehensive widget support.

To start, there’s three “Now Playing” widgets, one for each of the three widget sizes. They all feature a visually pleasing translucency effect. It’s among the few “Now Playing” widgets available today that includes any kind of “realtime” information, in this case taking the form of a “time left” counter.

The next widget collection provided by Albums are “Quick Actions”, which display a simple button grid of all your custom actions. If you’re heavily invested in customization like I am or find yourself growing weary of the many taps it takes to get to a particular collection, these widgets are perfect for you.

Finally, there’s the “Collection” widgets, which display albums in a random order for a particular collection view in Albums. Practically any collection view in Albums you can think of you can use for this widget class. For example, you can display shuffled albums from 2020.

Personal Score Card

  • :trophy: Discovery features: Thanks to Albums’ browsable credits list and “Insights” tab, you won’t find another player with as much high quality, pre-built discover collections. Additionally, its customizable discovery features (“Quick Actions”)—while not as rich as Marvis Pro’s—are great as well.
  • :trophy: Album-focused features: It’s in the name, and it doesn’t disappoint; albums is a record-focused tour de force. You won’t find another player out there with as many pre-built features carefully tailored to enhance the record listening experience.
    • :trophy: Proper sorting: It’s the only player out there whose “Albums” and “Artists” views sort my preferred way by default, outstanding.
    • :trophy: Album grid view: Passes with flying colors, it’s used practically everywhere: if there’s albums on the screen, it’s a grid view.
  • :heavy_check_mark: Beautiful or visually engaging player view: While visually the player view leaves a lot to be desired, its browsable credits list makes it one of the most engaging player views around. However—while the player's design isn’t terrible—it does hold it back from receiving exception marks.
  • :heavy_check_mark: Light & dark themes
  • :heavy_check_mark: iPad support
  • :large_orange_diamond: Lyrics support: While on iPhones the feature works just fine, lyrics on the iPad bafflingly cover both the album art and player column, and for whatever reason this is a personal annoyance I can't bring myself to overlook.

"Cs" iOS app icon Cs

Image of 'Cs' light album view Image of 'Cs' light album view
Image of 'Cs' dark album view Image of 'Cs' dark album view

Following a tumultuous development cycle last year, Cs 6 is now finally available. This comes as quite the surprise to me; for those unaware, what was originally intended to be Cs 6 nearly released back in 2019. During its public beta, Cs’s devoted userbase panned its radical redesign and new customization features. The beta’s backlash was so severe it forced Cs’s developer—Mike Clay—to backpedal, redevelop the Cs 6 update from scratch, and spin off the bounced Cs 6 beta as a brand new music player called SongOwl. As a fan of the Cs 6 beta, this left me worried about Cs’s future; I predicted this spinoff player would remain Mike’s focus, leaving Cs in mere maintenance mode forever catering to that vocal segment of its user base.

My prediction turned out wildly inaccurate; Mike did indeed go back to the drawing board and release a new Cs 6 update, this time with a more restrained approach that was much more positively received. In retrospect, it appears obvious why this year’s Cs 6 won the hearts of detractors where last year’s Cs 6 beta (now SongOwl) failed; the original beta introduced many foundational changes—such as “Paths”—that made the beta both a visual and functional redesign. In contrast, this year’s Cs 6 release features relatively restrained visual refinements such as a new grid view option and tasteful player view redesign, but not many functional additions or changes. Save for the promotion of the old search tab bar item to a universal menu button, Cs 6 works identically to its previous major release, which I suspect explains the positive reception over the original SongOwl approach.

Image of Cs 5 in light mode Image of Cs 6 in light mode Image of Cs 5 in dark mode Image of Cs 6 in dark mode
Cs 5 screenshot on the left, Cs 6 (current) screenshot on the right.

Note the side-by-side comparison above; Cs 6’s screenshot on the right is clearly the same app, yet it contains plenty of visual tweaks. The redesign is shallow, but its breadth is extensive; mystery meat buttons are now human-friendly, labeled buttons, the mini-player now features rounded corners and space-efficient use of its whitespace for the progress indicator, and the previously prema-visible alphabet scroller on the right now intelligently reveals itself upon scroll. Despite these and many more changes not covered, each are relatively small and the overall experience still feels like Cs, only a more refined and modern take.

Arguably, the new player view design is the most prominent change in Cs 6. The new design features a thick progress bar—much like the original Cs 6 beta did—but this time also featuring a dynamic color theme that uses prominent colors from the current track’s art. As with dynamic color theme effects featured in Doppler 2 and Power Player, the effect is naturally hit and miss; while in my testing the result is always readable and functional, the color extraction algorithm yields noticeably more boring results for some album art than others, particularly in light mode. Observe the screenshots below; “light” theme variants tend to choose a rather plain, pure white background, while their “dark” theme equivalents are typically more dynamic and exciting with more interesting primary, secondary, and background color choices.

Image of the player view with a predominantly red record Image of the player view with a predominantly green record Image of the player view with a predominantly blue record Image of the player view with a predominantly red record Image of the player view with a predominantly green record Image of the player view with a predominantly blue record
To compare the light & dark mode variants, click the AA button in the menu and toggle between this site’s light & dark mode.

In spite of my gripes with the suboptimal dynamic theme results in certain cases, the Cs 6 redesign is a tremendous success. It manages to make Cs feel fresh and modern on iOS 14 while continuing to satisfy the angry, vocal sect of Cs’s user base that previously protested the radical, functional changes in the original beta. Balancing such discrepant needs across a user base is tremendously difficult to accomplish, and Cs 6 does so with poise and grace. To take feedback in stride and try again from scratch like Mike did with Cs 6 during the beta period takes humility; it’s a mark of a great engineer and deserves recognition.

At the end of 2020, Cs continues to function more or less the same way it did last year. However, following the new Cs 6 update, it now features a clean presentation that now makes Cs feel like a brand-new, modern player despite its many venerable years on the market. If you appreciate simple, general-purpose players, you’d be hard pressed to find a more elegant and well-supported solution than Cs.

Widgets

None.

Personal Score Card

  • :heavy_check_mark: Lyrics support: While Cs supports lyrics, they are sectioned off as a view in the metadata popup instead of integrated directly into the player view itself. As a listener that considers lyrics a more “important” form of metadata, the new approach is not to my taste.
  • :heavy_check_mark: Light & dark themes
  • :heavy_check_mark: iPad support: It’s a phoned-in, scaled version of the iPhone app, but it’s functional.
  • :heavy_check_mark: Beautiful or visually engaging player view: While certainly unique and more fun than all previous player designs featured in Cs, the effect yields somewhat inconsistent results; the light mode results tend to be a bit plain.
  • :heavy_check_mark: Album-focused features: You can customize the tab bar to make “Albums” your first tab bar item and now even display its contents in a grid view.
    • :large_orange_diamond: Proper sorting: While the “Artists” view properly sorts albums for any particular artist, this option is unfortunately not available in the “Albums” view.
    • :heavy_check_mark: Album grid view
  • :x: Discovery features: My only big disappointment with Cs this year. I was hoping to at least see a “Recently Added” widget or in-app collection in Cs 6.

"Doppi" iOS app icon Doppi

Image of 'Doppi' light theme album view Image of 'Doppi' light theme player view
Image of 'Doppi' dark theme player view Image of 'Doppi' dark theme player view

Doppi is a sheer delight; thanks to its silky-smooth animations, gorgeous custom interface, and healthy number of customization options despite the old “simple player” tagline, no other player held a candle to Doppi’s user experience last year. I’m pleased to report that remains the case this year as well thanks to the introduction of marvelous new features and a brand new player view design; Doppi remains one of the finest general-purpose players available.

While Doppi enjoyed plenty of fixes and improvements this year, I’m going to briefly touch on what I feel are the highlights, starting with the ability to “hide” music from Doppi. Doing so won’t delete the music (assuming you manage your library with iOS, it will still be viewable in Music.app), it will simply hide it from Doppi. This is a useful way for users with a massive library to use Doppi as a supplemental “favorites” or “album-focused” player for their collection. Another, similar feature introduced this year is the ability to exclude music from “Shuffle All”, which as far as I’m aware is exclusive to Doppi. Christmas music collectors rejoice, you can now “Shuffle All” in the summertime with confidence.

Sick of using iTunes or Music.app to manage and sync your library? This year, you can now avoid it entirely with Doppi’s new independent library management support. You may import your library using one of the many Apple-specific options Doppi supports, including:

  • Airdrop
  • Files.app, which includes either piecemeal importing from any arbitrary folder or automatic syncing with Doppi’s own app folder
  • iOS’s Share Sheet from any other app that supports sending audio

Each of these methods are beautifully documented under the new “Add Music” button in the “More” tab, though users on Windows or Linux are unfortunately stuck without platform-agnostic import options that other players like Doppler 2 support.

Finally, there’s the entrancing new player view design. The new design is quite similar to Albums’ in principle; the album art and player controls are treated as discrete components, but unlike Albums they gracefully animate with a pleasing parallax effect that follows your gesture the entire time. The animation is so delightful to play with I frequently catch myself fidgetting with it while listening. Best of all—like Picky—the effect is silky-smooth and jank-free.

The lyrics view also received a substantial upgrade with this redesign; instead of utilizing the tired, teeny scroll view album art overlay like many players do, full-height lyrics may now be accessed below the player controls with a simple button press or swipe-up gesture. That’s not all, Doppi is now the first and only player I’ve found that provides the ability to edit lyrics right in the app. That’s right, with Doppi you’re no longer forced to use your computer anytime you want to add or edit lyrics, you can simply make your changes right in Doppi itself.

There’s few other players this year that thrilled me as much as Doppi did. While Marvis Pro, Picky, and others enjoyed plenty of enhancements this year, I can’t really claim that their improvements delighted me as much as Doppi’s player view redesign. Doppi is even more elegant than it was last year, and now thanks to its additional feature enhancements it’s now more capable than ever before.

Widgets

None.

Personal Score Card

  • :trophy: Lyrics support: We not only got full-height lyrics this year, but the exclusive ability to edit them. No other player has better lyrics support for local music than Doppi.
  • :trophy: Light & Dark themes: Doppi goes above and beyond by offering full support for iOS’s system appearances while also maintaining an alternative, “lighter” dark mode for those still sporting iPhones with an LCD screen.
  • :trophy: Beautiful or visually engaging player view: It’s so smooth and so unique, it needs to be tried to be believed.
  • :heavy_check_mark: Album-focused features: You can easily make “Albums” your first—or even only—tab view if you’re so inclined.
    • :heavy_check_mark: Proper sorting: The setting is easily discoverable and changeable. Other music players, take note.
    • :heavy_check_mark: Album grid view
  • :x: iPad support: While I suspect an iPad release is imminent, we're unfortunately still left with no iPad version of Doppi.
  • :x: Discovery features: Perhaps my only big disappointment with Doppi this year, I hoped we would at least get a “Recently Added” collection somewhere, by now.

"Doppler 2" iOS app icon Doppler 2

Image of "Doppler 2" album view Image of "Doppler 2" player view

Doppler 2 is technically a new arrival this year since it’s a separate app listing from the original Doppler (which has since been taken down) and its initial release occurred at the very beginning of this year on January 6th. However, one need only peruse the promotion screenshots on its App Store page to realize it shares more in common with its predecessor than the major version bump and new app listing implies. Marked differences from the original version include:

  • A noticeably “darker” dark mode
  • Support for WiFi music transfers for independent, wireless library management
  • Ability to “Like” songs
  • Minor playlist improvements
  • Additional localization support
  • A new app icon
  • A new “Listening Reports” section, which serves a similar purpose to Spotify’s “Wrapped” feature. Unfortunately, I don’t exclusively use Doppler 2, so there’s too few data in it to be useful to me.
  • Some very minor cosmetic changes like swapping the progress bar and song details on the player view

That’s unfortunately the end of Doppler 2’s enhancements over the original Doppler. For upgraders such as myself who won’t benefit from or even notice most of these enhancements, Doppler 2 is functionally identical to its predecessor, only this time with a $15.99 $6.99 price tag. Thus—for the features and design decisions that I personally value in music players—Doppler 2 completely dropped the ball this year and was a tremendous disappointment.

However, taken as it is outside of the year-by-year scrutiny, Doppler 2 remains a respectable general-purpose music player for most users, especially for users who value its core competency of independent library management. Despite my unfair hot take last year that the Doppler brand was “forever tarnished” by the lack of substantial updates due to Doppler 2’s development, the wall of tremendously positive feedback on Doppler 2’s listing from happy customers who covet independent library management has clearly proven me wrong. For those unaware, independent library management empowers users to easily and wirelessly send their local library from their computer to Doppler 2 without needing to manage or sync that library with Apple software (a huge win for Windows users still hopelessly stuck with a rapidly decaying iTunes app). While this feature set isn’t unique to Doppler 2 (others like Doppi also support independent library management), it offers an impressive array of four different modes of transfer, including Apple protocols like AirDrop and open protocols like peer-to-peer WiFi2. Those options are:

  • Importing with iTunes on Windows or Finder on macOS: While it does require a wired connection, it’s as simple as a drag ‘n drop; your library never needs to pass through iTunes or Apple Music.
  • Importing with Files.app: As simple as drag ‘n drop, this time without requiring a wired connection.
  • Importing individual files with Safari’s share sheet or URL: Not incredibly useful for library transfers, but handy for adding one-off songs found on the internet.
  • Importing with AirDrop: Quick and easy option for sending an album or two, assuming the sender is also an Apple device.
  • Import from WiFi: After a quick and easy setup process, this option’s arguably as easy as AirDrop, only this time practically any device like a Windows computer or Android phone can use it to send music. This approach is extraordinarily well designed in Doppler 2 and is shockingly easy to do, I’d say arguably easier than most of the Apple-proprietary approaches above.

As far as small delights are concerned, I really appreciate that Doppler’s dynamic color-matching album view still made it through to Doppler 2. The results are overwhelmingly positive, with only a few albums in my collection not looking excellent with the effect (and even then, they’re still perfectly acceptable and—most importantly—readable). While it doesn’t appear any features got dropped in the major version bump, I’m nonetheless grateful this one is still around.

With all that said, the lack of lyrics support, light mode theme, widgets, and other table-stake features leaves Doppler 2 wanting. The features it has are done well, but compared to the continuously rising bar set by most of its contemporaries, Doppler 2 feels like it’s falling short.

Widgets

None.

Personal Score Card

  • :heavy_check_mark: Beautiful or visually engaging player view
  • :large_orange_diamond: Discovery features: Partial credit awarded for the “Recently Added” and new “Listening Reports” views, but those remain the only discover options to speak of (and the second requires heavy Doppler 2 use for the view to populate and become useful).
  • :large_orange_diamond: Album-focused features: While Doppler is overall fairly album-centric thanks to its ability to change the “Home” view to display albums, its continued lack of grid view remains a disappointment.
    • :heavy_check_mark: Proper sorting
    • :x: Album grid view
  • :x: Lyrics support
  • :x: Light & dark themes: Still no light mode, and the only available dark mode ignores iOS’s human interface design guidelines.
  • :x: iPad support

"Dot Music" iOS app icon Dot Music

Image of "Dot Music" light theme album view Image of "Dot Music" light theme player view
Image of "Dot Music" dark theme album view Image of "Dot Music" dark theme player view

Among the few new players introduced this year is Dot Music, an incredibly simple, general-purpose player. Much like Picky and Cs 5, it leverages a “no-nonsense” interface that’s strongly reminiscent of iOS 6’s Music.app, but in this case provides little else novel beyond that.

It features standard iOS tab bar navigation with the usual suspects (“Artists”, “Albums”, “Songs”, “Playlists”, and “Settings”). Every one of these views functions exactly as you’d expect and nothing more, save for the Material Design-inspired play and shuffle buttons that appear above the tab bar, when appropriate. The player view’s a similar story; aside from the curious choice to left-align the track’s metadata, there’s nothing particularly noteworthy to be found.

Dot Music’s settings are sparse, providing some minor configuration options to allow showing track length or album year, hiding explicit flags or playlist controls, and enabling the ability to play a random album on shake. There’s also a reasonable collection of alternative icons and the ability to customize the app’s accent color, much like in Cs.

That covers it; there’s so little of interest here I’m quite frankly at a loss of what else to say. It’s the only player on this list I’d feel comfortable calling a rip-off, in this case of Cs’s original 5.0 design from last year. In fact, Dot Music is so visually similar to Cs 5 I’m not sure I could distinguish one from the other at a moment’s glance, given the same accent color.

Image of Cs in light mode Image of Dot Music in light mode Image of Cs in dark mode Image of Dot Music in dark mode
One is Dot Music, the other is Cs 5. Can you tell which was which at a glance? I sure couldn’t.

One could argue that general-purpose players will naturally look and behave the same, but I reject that premise; there are plenty of general-purpose players, but Power Player, Picky, Cs, and others all brought their own wildly unique voices and feature sets to the table for their initial releases despite all sharing the same, general-purpose goal. Dot Music did not. I’m not exactly sure what problem Dot Music is trying to solve, and I’m not entirely sure it does, either.

Widgets

Dot Music provides two widget collections to choose from with a single size variation for each.

Compared to the widgets provided by other players, Dot Music’s “Now Playing” widget collection leaves a lot to be desired. While the square “Now Playing” widget is perfectly fine, the rectangle widget does nothing to justify its larger size. While other players fill the extra space either with more metadata or playback controls (in Albums case, even both), all Dot Music does is stretch the widget box to fill the extra space. The example above demonstrates this issue, the entire right section of the larger widget is an empty void of sadness where interesting things could be shown.

Then, there’s Dot Music’s “Favorites” widgets, which display the albums you’ve favorited in the app. The widget can be customized to either immediately begin playing tapped albums or shoot you to that particular album’s view in the app. You can also adjust the number of columns displayed in the large widget, but curiously this option is absent for its smaller counterpart. Unfortunately, neither have an option to show the album title.

Personal Score Card

  • :heavy_check_mark: Light & dark themes
  • :heavy_check_mark: iPad support
  • :x: Lyrics support
  • :x: Discovery features
  • :x: Beautiful or visually engaging player view
  • :x: Album-focused features
    • :x: Proper sorting
    • :x: Album grid view

"jetAudio" iOS app icon jetAudio

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

jetAudio may be new to me, but is actually one of the oldest players on this list, with the first iOS version hailing all the way from 2014. Don’t let the underwhelming App Store listing promo screenshots deceive you, jetAudio is a surprisingly feature-rich and customizable player, albeit with some minor drawbacks.

On the surface, jetAudio is a standard, general-purpose player, with the conventional “Artists”, “Albums”, “Songs”, etc. views all tucked away under a hamburger menu. However, jetAudio’s depth reveals itself upon diving into its player view and preferences.

In the player view, tapping the top half of the album art reveals a treasure trove of hidden features. One such feature is—as far as I’m aware—unique to jetAudio: a suite of visualizers. At time of writing, jetAudio provides twenty unique visualizers to choose from, along with an “Auto Change” option to automatically cycle through them at a set interval. While they’re not all to my taste, with jetAudio providing so many to choose from this hardly warrants a complaint. You can see a few of my favorites in the compilation below.

Brief demonstration of LED Spectrum, Reflected Spectrum, and Stained Glass, three of the twenty visualizers available in jetAudio.

There’s still plenty in the player view toolbar we’ve yet to explore; there’s a suite of equalizer and audio enhancer plugins available for purchase, among them a full, traditional equalizer board. All these capabilities make jetAudio fantastic for listeners who love granular, professional control over their audio playback on iOS. While I personally dislike effects or equalization curves added to my music, every single one provided by jetAudio can be disabled to return to flat playback. The toolbar also includes a sleep timer like Music Player X does, but jetAudio’s timer interface blows Music Player X’s out of the water with its use of the iOS roulette “picker” wheel instead of Music Player X’s practically unusable “tap to add more seconds” approach.

The feature-rich toolbar isn’t without issue; The toolbar is comically undiscoverable, providing no labels or buttons to indicate its existence. This forces users to just “know” that tapping an arbitrary area of the album art will toggle the bar’s visibility, a textbook case of poor interface design. To top it off, no animations of any kind accompany showing or hiding the toolbar. Instead, the toolbar lazily pops in and out of view with no easing whatsoever. Frankly, everything about the toolbar aside from the actual features it contains is a catastrophic mess and begs for a usability and experience redesign.

jetAudio’s independent library support is also marred by a mediocre implementation. While jetAudio does indeed support importing and managing music independently of iTunes and Apple Music, it’s very limited compared to its contemporaries like Doppler 2 and Doppi. jetAudio only supports two methods of music transfer: importing with iTunes on Windows or Finder on macOS and importing with peer-to-peer WiFi. While this covers both wired and wireless use-cases, it’s nonetheless disappointing AirDrop’s not supported. Additionally, music imported this way is not represented in the app’s standard browser views like “Artists”, “Songs”, etc. Instead, music added this way is siphoned off to a separate “Folder” view, which can only display the files exactly as they were sent. This means jetAudio ignores your library’s metadata for the purposes of organizing and presenting your music, it just displays them like Windows Explorer or Finder would (including their file extensions). While jetAudio providing this feature at all is nice, its peers like Doppler 2 and Doppi blow it out of the water; they treat music imported this way as first-class citizens, as if they were managed and synced with iTunes or Apple Music, leaving jetAudio’s choice to both segment and display them like regular files feeling like a quick and cheap afterthought, in comparison.

However, these misses are quickly forgiven upon discovering jetAudio’s genuinely impressive arsenal of interface customization options, rivaled only in number by Marvis Pro. Not only does jetAudio provide the ability to view your music in list and grid views (as any mature player should), it even provides granular control over those views. For grid view, you can customize the number of columns to better fit your screen size and taste. While Marvis Pro also supports such customization (the only other player I’ve found that does), even it doesn’t provide equivalent customization options for list views like jetAudio does; for list view, you can also customize the item size, ranging anywhere from the traditional “tight” list items used for most other players to comically massive list items. To top it off, these options are uniquely persisted per menu, so you can have the “Albums” view display with a grid but keep “Artists” as a list. This only scratches the surface of jetAudio’s customization features, which to highlight a few more include the ability to crossfade song transitions and even graceful fade in or out when pausing and playing (one of my personal favorites).

While jetAudio no doubt has issues to sort out, it supports many features that simply aren’t available anywhere else; it’s unrivaled in equalization, the only player I’ve found supplies multiple visualizers to choose from, and the only player that rivals Marvis Pro in sheer number of interface configuration options. Since visualizers are a brand new feature this year, development is clearly still thriving after all these years and shows no signs of slowing down. If you’ve seen jetAudio in the store before and written it off in the past like I once did, I encourage you reconsider and give it a shot.

Widgets

None.

Personal Score Card

  • :trophy: Beautiful or visually engaging player view: With plenty of visualizers to choose from, it’s one of the most engaging player views of the lot.
  • :heavy_check_mark: iPad support
  • :heavy_check_mark: Light & dark themes
  • :heavy_check_mark: Lyrics support
  • :large_orange_diamond: Album-focused features
    • :large_orange_diamond: Proper sorting: Proper sorting is available in the “Artists” view, but is unfortunately not supported in the “Albums” view.
    • :trophy: Album grid view: Allows you to not only use grids but also customize the number of columns. Only one other player lets you do this (Marvis Pro).
  • :x: Discovery features

"Longplay" iOS app icon Longplay

Image of a record playing in 'Longplay'
Image of a record playing in 'Longplay'

Longplay is not only a newcomer this year, but is also among one of the few that’s not a general-purpose player. Like Jams on Toast and Albums before it, Longplay focuses on delivering a non-traditional, album-centric experience. Upon launching the app for the first time, you’ll be greeted by a massive album wall strongly reminiscent of the one found in Albums. Like in Albums, tapping any particular record in this wall will immediately begin playing the entire album. However, unlike both Jams on Toast and Albums, instead of launching a dedicated player view, navigation entirely remains on the wall; you’ll instead see the playing record’s album art enlarge, gain a border colored to match the album art, and a teeny play/pause button appear in the bottom right of the record. While the currently playing album doesn’t stretch the width of the screen by default, there is a setting to enable “Large” album art, allowing Longplay to just barely miss disqualification and meet the 2020 players list.

That covers it, there’s nothing more to Longplay’s core app experience; aside from a healthy number of sorting options in the menu, that’s all the functionality provided by the player. Since general-purpose players are plentiful now, similarly simple general-purpose players like Dot Music run the risk of becoming dreadfully boring due to how commonplace the core experience is. Not so with Longplay; its blue ocean strategy to deliver a focused, relatively unexplored experience appears refreshing, in comparison.

While the lack of dedicated player view and additional album-centric features is a disappointment (and I don’t see myself using Longplay over Albums anytime soon, as a result), I’m nonetheless fascinated to see where Longplay will go next; historically, Longplay now stands at the crossroads that Jams on Toast and Albums carved out. Longplay could potentially go Jams on Toast’s route and end up never growing beyond this point, eventually fading away as an unmaintained curiosity. Or, it could potentially go Albums’ route, and instead use this mission statement as its launchpad for new album-focused experiences for years to come. Time will tell which path Longplay ends up taking.

Widgets

Longplay’s widget’s are as unique as the app. Like the app, the experience is trim: just a single widget class sporting two different sizes (medium and small). However, that small package is packed tons of customization options.

Both widgets display a snapshot of the app’s album view (with the small variant opting for a stylized tilt). The contents support a subset of the sorting options available in the app, such as “Addiction” (for displaying albums you’ve had in heavy rotation) or “Negligence” (for displaying albums you haven’t played in a while). The widgets also support a sorting method unique to them called “Different day, different order” which, as the name suggests, will select one of the other sorting methods every day.

Despite the widget containing discrete records, tapping anywhere in the widget is seen as a single action; it plays a random record near the top of whatever sorting method you chose instead of the exact one you tapped. However, that tap action can be changed from immediately playing that record to either launching the app and asking where to play the song (such as if you wanted to AirPlay to nearby speakers) or simply scrolling to the album in the wall.

While I appreciate this widget class, I’m still left disappointed it does not support executing your preferred action on the specific record you tap in the widget. Other player widgets with record grids support this functionality, so it’s puzzling to not have a similar option, here.

Personal Score Card

  • :heavy_check_mark: Light & dark themes
  • :heavy_check_mark: iPad support
  • :heavy_check_mark: Discovery features: Despite its simplicity, there’s a decent number of discovery features here, such as sorting by album art brightness.
  • :large_orange_diamond: Album-focused features
    • :x: Proper sorting: Despite its numerous sorting options, proper sorting (artists alphabetically followed by albums in chronological order) is not one of them.
    • :heavy_check_mark: Album grid view: The app’s nothing but a grid view, yet the lack of visual customization lets it down, holding it back from top marks.
  • :x: Beautiful or visually engaging player view
  • :x: Lyrics support

"Marvis Pro" iOS app icon Marvis Pro

Image of 'Marvis Pro' light theme album view Image of 'Marvis Pro' light theme player view
Image of 'Marvis Pro' dark theme player view Image of 'Marvis Pro' dark theme player view

I began this year’s showcase with the claim that steady growth marks 2020, and few other players this year exemplify this as deeply as Marvis Pro. There’s few visual changes to speak of, so at first glance Marvis Pro appears exactly the same as last year. However, that couldn’t be farther from the case; Marvis Pro received plenty of backend enhancements that make it even more powerful and customizable than ever before. Some highlights from Marvis Pro’s many releases this year include:

  • Lots of highly customizable widgets
  • Rich Last.fm integration
  • Rule and filter enhancements, including the ability to copy/paste rule & view options for quicker customization and the ability to easily share your custom sections with others
  • Plenty of new icons to choose from, bringing the total list up to a dazzling 40
  • Customizable player view buttons

For those new to Marvis Pro, it’s a general-purpose player build atop a unique, fully customizable system. Other general-purpose players like Picky and Power Player offer limited, pre-built views like “Artists” and “Albums” and—if you’re lucky—a couple pre-built, static discovery collections like “Recently Added”. Other apps rarely provide any customization in these views as well, often only supplying a few sorting options or—if you’re lucky—the option to switch between displaying items as a grid or a list. As a result, these kinds of players tend to be opinionated WYSIWYG experiences. While this approach can result in spectacular experiences like those provided by Picky and Power Player, that design choice inherently limits them.

Marvis Pro takes a different approach; while the traditional “Artists”, “Albums”, etc. views are all still provided by default, each and every one of those views can be fully manipulated using a suite of filtering, sorting, and display customization features that are unmatched by any other player. Not only that, users can create their own “sections” based on those same tools. For example, you can easily create a section of singles from your high school years, a section for records you haven’t listened to in the past year, a section of randomized records you’ve purchased so far this year, and much more. A more simplistic parallel to Marvis Pro’s “sections” that you may be familiar with is “Smart Playlists” in iTunes on Windows or Music.app on macOS; it’s the same concept, so if you love creating “Smart Playlists” you’re sure to love creating your own sections in Marvis Pro. And now, thanks to this year’s improvements, you can easily swap your custom creations with your friends.

If this sounds intimidating, not to worry: thanks to its smart design, all these capabilities are optional and tucked away. You can easily use Marvis Pro like any other general-purpose player without ever once touching its customization features. Alternatively, thanks to this year’s improvements, you can search online for other users’ custom sections and import theirs instead of making your own from scratch. For example, last year I received a lot of feedback asking which rules were used in my dynamic “Pick of the Day” section (which is a lightly modified version of @jwhamilton_’s “Recommended” section previously shared on the “Marvis App” Discord). At that time, the only good way Justin and I had to share those rules was with screenshots or manually typing out each of the rules for others to follow when building their own copies. Now, that section is available here for you to easily import and use as-is or as a springboard for your own creations.

Then there’s Marvis Pro’s Apple Music integration. Marvis Pro is the only third-party player I’ve found aside from Sathorn that offers Apple Music integration without requiring iCloud Music Library. Your library can be local-only like mine, yet Marvis Pro still allows you to easily access Apple Music features like its curated playlists or stream albums from its extensive catalogue. The only reason I haven’t included Apple Music integration as one of my desired features or deal-breakers is quite frankly because barely any players exist with this functionality, Marvis Pro was the first and only one of value I’ve found that does, and it was just released this past year. I cannot emphasis as an Apple Music subscriber how fantastic it is to not have to trudge back to Music.app whenever I want to stream a new record. I can only hope integration like this sees wider adoption next year as the market continues to mature.

While functionally Marvis Pro saw tremendous improvements this year, I’m still left disappointed we didn’t receive the theming system teased by Addy Rajveer—Marvis Pro’s developer—on Twitter last year.

@AdityaRajveer

Out of all the new things iOS 13 added, what I am most excited for is new blur styles. 6 years of waiting. ;) Would have been even better if we had complete control but hey this is cool too. :sweat_smile:

Image of teased screenshots of Marvis Pro with different translucency styles

12:33 PM - Jun 4, 2019

Overall, I do find Marvis Pro visually pleasing, but it does tend to lean utilitarian in its design and thus appear too plain in certain contexts for my tastes, particularly in the player view. There is a healthy amount of theming customization (such as whether or not to show a translucent album art background), but I can’t help but continue to yearn for the translucency options hinted at last year. However, since Marvis Pro development remained consistently active throughout this year, I am left with the assumption that the theming system simply needed more development time than originally estimated and perhaps got pushed to next year as a result. In the meantime, users like myself who love gorgeous or engaging player views will unfortunately need to jump from Marvis Pro to others like Picky or Power Player in the meantime to get their “pretty player” fix.

Nonetheless, for users such as myself that heavily value functional customization and flexibility, Marvis Pro remains one of the finest players available anywhere. While Albums rose to the challenge this year by providing an objectively superior default experience for album lovers, Marvis Pro’s core filter & rule system powering all sections within the app continues to offer the best theoretical experience regardless of your music preferences, assuming you have the time & light skillset required to implement your ideas. However, thanks to the enhancements this year allowing users to easily share custom sections, it’s now quicker and easier than ever before to customize Marvis Pro. Marvis Pro is like a bicycle for the mind, and this year more than ever I highly encourage you give it a whirl.

Widgets

Marvis Pro boasts the most flexible collection of music player widgets you can find. While Albums weighs in with the most widgets (seven to Marvis Pro’s six), Marvis Pro’s customization more than makes up for this, offering a suite of widget options to tweak practically every visible and functional attribute.

“Now Playing” is the first of two widget classes Marvis Pro supplies, available in all three sizes. Each one supports a suite of customization features, such as toggling the “background blur” effect and changing the tap action. Nearly every piece of metadata can be individually hidden or shown, and playback controls can also be displayed for the medium and large sizes. There’s also an option to greyscale the album artwork, an unusual but much welcomed setting for those like myself that greatly dislike “loud” widgets on the home screen.

The final widget class supplied by Marvis Pro is the “Section” widgets, again available in all three sizes. As the name implies, these widgets display the contents from any one of your Marvis Pro sections, allowing these widgets to be theoretically anything you can imagine, whether it be something wild like “Pretty Good Of 2020” or something traditional like “Recently Added”.

Like the “Now Playing” widgets, the “Section” widgets sport a myriad of customization options. Like sections in Marvis Pro proper, this includes the ability to display items as a list or a grid with a variable number of columns, among other display options.

To provide examples of the flexibility and power these widgets provide, above are some of the same widgets displayed earlier, this time with some modifications. If you love customizing your home screen, you’ll love Marvis Pro’s widgets.

Personal Score Card

  • :trophy: Discovery features: It may no longer be the only player to provide discovery feature customization like it was last year, but Marvis Pro's mature rules & filters system help it remain the undisputed champion for those with the time and light computer skills necessary to wield it.
  • :heavy_check_mark: Lyrics support The MusicMatch integration is a nice touch, but for those like myself that just prefer regular ol’ lyrics, they’re still available inline directly below the the player controls like they were in iOS 12’s Music.app.
  • :heavy_check_mark: Light & dark themes Marvis Pro’s theme design seems to deviate from iOS's guidelines, but its choices are tasteful and overwhelmingly result in a visually pleasing experience (unlike Sathron).
  • :heavy_check_mark: iPad support: While I tend to gravitate towards other players on the iPad (notably Power Player), Marvis Pro’s iPad support is perfectly respectable, and support in any capacity is appreciated in light of some other players continuing to drop the ball.
  • :heavy_check_mark: Beautiful or visually engaging player view: The visual design is utilitarian and arguably plain, but the ability to enlarge the album art is positively killer for listeners like myself that are fussy about high resolution album art.
  • :heavy_check_mark: Album-focused features: “Out of the box” it’s not particularly album-centric (Albums now holds that position), but with some customization it's still among the best album-focused music players of the lot.
    • :x: Proper sorting: There's no (publically accessible) option to sort alphabetically by artist, then chronologically by release date.
    • :trophy: Album grid view: Not only does Marvis Pro allow you to make every single section in the app a grid view, it also lets you customize the number of columns, metadata visibility, and more.

"Music Player X" iOS app icon Music Player X

Image of "Music Player X" light theme album view Image of "Music Player X" light theme player view
Image of "Music Player X" dark theme album view Image of "Music Player X" dark theme player view

Music Player X enjoyed sweeping changes in 2020, rivaling Albums in its scope. There doesn’t appear to be a single view in Music Player X that didn’t receive a cosmetic change or navigational refactor. It’s a much needed and much appreciated effort; last year, Music Player X was disqualified for featuring what I considered to be an exceptionally poor custom UI, many of which violated iOS’s Human Interface Guidelines or general user interface principles. However, I did appreciate its plentiful customization options and niche features like its sleep timer and in-app equalizer (though admittedly the sleep timer’s interface is dreadful). This made Music Player X in 2019 feel like an aspirational music player let down by its implementation. I’m happy to say at the end of 2020 this no longer feels like the case, and Music Player X is now a respectable player that’s earned its place among the others in the showcase, albeit with caveats.

To start, the app’s look and feel received a hearty helping of polish this year. With the exception of a couple views, the uncomfortably tight or large spacing between elements are gone. In terms of reducing complexity, the plentiful mystery meat buttons that used to crowd the margin around list items are gone, and it does wonders for making the app feel less cluttered and more focused. Additionally, the awkwardly applied translucent album background that permeated the app in 2019 is gone, greatly reducing the visual noise previously weighing down every view. While it should be noted the lack of a translucent album art background does make the player view duller than it was last year, it nonetheless positively contributes to the new robust look and feel. This and other smaller changes work together to create a light and clean experience that Music Player X was previously nowhere close to achieving. While the app remains as strange as it was last year thanks to its custom interface, that custom UI is now a neutral differentiator instead of a net negative; I’d argue it’s now a matter of taste and not objectively poor design.

In terms of discovery features, Music Player X remains unchanged from last year, with nary a “Recently Added” or “Recently Played” collection to be found. Its navigation remains a general-purpose player bar with the typical set of “Artists”, “Albums”, and “Songs” tabs. However, to distinguish itself from competitions in this space, Music Player X places each of its five browse views on a custom scrolling tab bar, exposing them all equally for immediate access. While I don’t personally explore beyond “Albums” in general-purpose players, I can appreciate seeing these views get equal billing that would otherwise get tossed into a hamburger menu dumping ground like in other general-purpose players.

Settings saw substantial improvements this year, starting with the new customizable themes feature. The entire app’s foreground and background color may now be customized on the new “Theme” tab, with Music Player X providing a handful of defaults to get you started. While the default themes aren’t to my taste (they’re reminiscent of that grotesque Dropbox brand redesign), they’re sure to delight people who favor that visual aesthetic. For listeners that like to tinker with theme settings such as myself, you’re bound to have a good time customizing. For example, here’s a few I created that I’m pretty happy with.

Image of my "Nixie Tube" custom theme Image of my "Pretty Pastel" custom theme Image of my "Bondi Blue" custom theme
Some custom themes I made: “Nixie Tube”, “Pretty Pastel”, and “Bondi Blue”. It’s just a shame there's no way to share them or save more than one for quick switching.

The feature could still use a lot of work. It’s practically begging for the ability to name and save custom themes for quick switching, and I’d appreciate the option to have one theme set as the “iOS dark mode” theme and another set as the “iOS light mode” theme. Additionally, there’s currently no control for precise entry with hex codes or RGB values, the best you can do to enter specific colors is slide around the color wheels until you get it “close enough”. I’d also love the ability to share my themes or try other users’ themes Slack-style; unfortunately, today the themes you make are more or less stuck on that device, but nonetheless, the feature’s a good time.

Another new settings feature this year is the EQ visualizer, which is a digital spectrum analyzer behind the existing equalizer control where users can adjust the player’s frequency response. While I don’t use equalizers, I do like popping in to see the spectrum analyzer from time to time. Finally, there’s the new “3D Audio” feature, which utterly baffles me. When enabled, it appears to pan the audio around you at an adjustable interval. What problem this is intended to solve is beyond me, and it’s by far the strangest new feature of any player I’ve seen this year.

While the “3D Audio” feature is more “puzzling novelty” than miss, Music Player X’s startling lack of animations certainly qualifies. Music Player X supplies barely any animations to ease UI state transitions, leaving elements to awkwardly snap to position, suddenly appear out of the blue, or vanish without a trace. Animation curves are particularly missed in the spectrum analyzer, resulting in uncomfortably snappy “animations” that feel like the result of a hasty implementation more than a stylistic choice. Compared to other players like Doppi whose silky-smooth animations permeate every element, Music Player X feels less elegantly constructed and brittle. However, I’d be remiss to not give a quick nod to the cute picture disc in the “Now Playing” bar, which spins during playback. It’s a shame there’s not any other instances of thoughtful animation to be found, here.

With all that said, following Music Player X’s redesign this year, its problems no longer outweigh its value. It’s look and feel is still as custom as it was last year, but now displays enough restraint to feel at home alongside other iOS apps. The theme customization options may skew towards encouraging controversial themes like mine above, but I’d argue the outpouring of wacky Widgetsmith widgets from the community this year demonstrates there’s an massive appetite for such designs. Music Player X still doesn’t meet most of my needs, and that’s okay; it came into its own this year as a decent all-around player with unique customization features for users desperate to make their phone look exactly like they want. Given the popularity this is seeing in Widgetsmith this year, I’d say that was the winning bet.

Widgets

None.

Personal Score Card

  • :heavy_check_mark: iPad support
  • :large_orange_diamond: Light & dark themes: Partial credit awarded for its custom theme feature, which can be tailed to any kind of light or dark theme you’d want. However, there’s no way to have it respect the system’s setting.
  • :x: Lyrics support
  • :x: Discovery features
  • :x: Beautiful or visually engaging player view
  • :x: Album-focused features
    • :x: Proper sorting
    • :x: Album grid view

"Music.app" iOS app icon Music.app

Image of "Music.app" light album view Image of "Music.app" light player view
Image of "Music.app" dark album view Image of "Music.app" dark player view

I tend to give Music.app a hard time; while its intentions are pure, I find its attempts to cater to every possible demographic overly idealistic and more often than not are to the app’s determent. Music.app’s goal to please everyone historically results in bloated, confusing interfaces compared to its more focused contemporaries. In fact, earlier attempts were so bad they served as the catalyst for Cesium’s (now Cs’s) creation back in 2014. However, last year upset this trend with a radical refresh to lyrics, a feature that inherently only caters to active listeners. Not only did this redesign include “live” lyrics tracking for select songs on Apple’s streaming service, it also featured the gorgeous “lava lamp” album art visualizer that first captivated me in tvOS’s Music.app years ago. While the rest of Music.app remained mostly unchanged, I remained hopeful that this hinted at a renewed dedication in Apple towards improving their Music.app experience. With another year and another major iOS release safely behind us, it’s time to check back in to see how it fared.

Leading up to iOS 14’s release, I heard whispers that the betas included my number-one requested feature for the lava lamp visualizer to be officially accessible in the player view. Of all iOS 14 features, I was most eager to see this one for myself. The minute the upgrade completed, I rushed to Music.app, started playing a song, and was greeted with…

The new effect’s on the left, which is seen on the player and “regular” lyrics view. The original effect’s on the right, now viewable only for “live” lyrics on select Apple Music tracks. The playback speed’s increased to help demonstrate the effect over time.

… a disaster. The rumors that my beloved visualizer will now accessible in the player view were gravely mistaken; it is not the same effect, in fact it’s demonstrably worse. While at first glance the new effect in the player view seems similar to the original from iOS 13, iOS 14 now aggressively smudges the effect, which blends the previously distinct colors into a disgusting, sludgy stew. Take an extreme example like Paul McCarney & WingsWingspan compilation, which cleanly features just two stark colors (neon yellow and navy blue). Included above are two recordings of Music.app playing a song from that record: the first showcasing the new iOS 14 visualizer, and the second showcasing the original iOS 13 visualizer, which can still be seen on iOS 14 for “live” lyrics only3. To make matters worse, the iOS 13 bug that allowed users to access the visualizer on the player view despite the lack of official support no longer works in iOS 14, the new visualizer continues to be displayed instead of the original.

Aside from the “Library” tab switching locations, nothing else in Music.app’s local library experience changed this year. While in theory I should love the new player view visualizer, its shoddy implementation consistently reminds me that the original effect is still not visible in the player view despite tremendous customer feedback begging for it. For those customers and myself, what we got instead this year was nothing short of a slap in the face, and I’d rather return to the boring white or black background than keep their sorry excuse of a substitute.

Widgets

Music.app only supports three rudimentary widgets—one for each of the three widget sizes—and are among my least favorite of any player. While I appreciate the “Recently Listened” discovery feature, the lack of customization options is disappointing.

That’s to say nothing for its hideous design; there’s way too much bright red; the Music.app widgets visually scream at my face on any page they’re placed on, tearing attention away from everything else. There’s not even a toned-down dark mode variant, it’s the same bloodcurdling red all the way down.

While it’s nice to see Apple providing first-party music widgets to customers as an example for third-party developers to follow, it’s a shame they set expectations so low.

Personal Score Card

  • :trophy: Lyrics support: “Live” lyrics still feature the original effect, and it’s still just as brilliant as it was last year. Regular lyrics are still functionally great, despite featuring the new, worse visualizer.
  • :trophy: iPad Support: Music.app continues to unsurprisingly lead the pack with one of the best optimized iPad experiences, in no small part thanks to the new fullscreen player on iPadOS 14.
  • :heavy_check_mark: Light & dark themes
  • :large_orange_diamond: Discovery features: While the existing “Recently Added” and “More By” lists are nice, the discovery collections available don’t quite keep pace with other players’ progress this year.
  • :large_orange_diamond: Album-focused features
    • :large_orange_diamond: Proper sorting: While Music.app technically supports sorting albums alphabetically by artist and then by release year, it only supports this in the “Artists” view. The “Albums” view still doesn’t support it.
    • :heavy_check_mark: Album grid view
  • :x: Beautiful or visually engaging player view: A bitter disappointment, I’d rather the old, boring design return than be teased by this shoddy, off-brand alternative.

"Picky" iOS app icon Picky

Image of 'Picky' light theme album view Image of 'Picky' light theme player view
Image of 'Picky' dark theme player view Image of 'Picky' dark theme player view

Picky is a filter-focused twist on the traditional, general-purpose player paradigm. Atop the standard “Artists”, “Albums”, and “Songs” views are Picky’s unique filter button, which can hide albums or artists from their respective views that have less than an arbitrary number of songs. The “Songs” view provides the reverse, allowing users to hide songs from artists with more than an arbitrary number of songs. While a few players like Marvis Pro and Albums technically support features like this with their smart filters and rules, they both require user customization to be accessed, whereas in Picky it’s a first-class feature built right into the app, and it’s the only app that does so. This unique feature suite is presented over an otherwise traditional (and at this point, aging) no-nonsense iOS 8 aesthetic.

Last year, I expressed disappointment in Picky’s quiet, nearly nonexistent development throughout the year. However, I acknowledged that this may not be a concern for other people, since the app itself was still fully functional and continued to deliver on its advertised promises. Nonetheless, the slowing rate of progress in the app left me concerned that Picky’s heyday was behind it, leaving ahead a future of maintenance-mode patches and nothing else of interest. I’m pleased to say in 2020 Picky has proven my concerns unfounded.

With a major version bump to 4.0, Picky now features—among other things—new widgets (which is more than I can say for half the players featured in this showcase), a rewritten search engine to provide modern, library-wide search, and redesigned player view navigation which allows access from the new “Now Playing” bar at the bottom of every screen (as is common practice, nowadays). While these changes aren’t radical like we’ve seen in Albums this year, they’re still non-trivial and far exceed what I’d quantify as mere “maintenance-mode” updates. It’s a positive sign Picky is not only alive, but continuing to thrive.

The rest of Picky not addressed in the 4.0 update remains the same as it was last year; the player view continues to be among the most beautiful available in any player thanks to its custom translucent background effect.

Not only is it gorgeous, all interactions and canned animations regarding the player are buttery smooth, just like in Doppi. In fact, the entire app is buttery smooth, and I can’t say I’ve ever noticed a dropped frame in my use. This level of polish is something I’ve found lacking in other players like Plum as of late, and should be commended.

While Picky isn’t the most radical player right now, I think this year proves it doesn’t need to be. With the measured, calculated improvements in 4.0, Picky continues to provide the filter-focused value it has for years, but now with a handful of new features and enhancements to help keep the app fresh and relevant into the new year; for the first time in a while, I’m not only happy with Picky as it is, I’m excited for its future.

Widgets

Picky provides a respectable array of widget collections to choose from, although at the moment their customization and size options are fairly limited. Unfortunately, I have the same issue with the overall design as I do with Music.app’s: Every single widget is a bright, loud orange that tears attention towards itself on any home screen page it’s on, much like Music.app’s hideous bright red widgets do. While I completely understand the desire to brand widgets like this, it’s not conducive towards maintaining a harmonious home screen like I strive for. At the very least, an option to tone down the brand color while in dark mode would be appreciated.

The first widget collection provided by Picky is “Recently Added”, offered in both medium and large sizes. Presentation-wise, there’s not much available to customize, although Picky does allow you to display the widgets in either “Regular” or “Compact” sizes, where “Regular” results in a 4-column arrangement and “Compact” results in an information-dense 5-column arrangement. Tapping a given record in this widget class immediately begins playing that record and drops users off at that album’s view in Picky.

The second widget collection is “Recently Played”, also offered in both medium and large sizes. It functions as you’d expect and supports the same “Regular” or “Compact” setting as the “Recently Added” widget collection.

Finally, there’s the “Random Pick” widget, which comes exclusively in small and displays a random record from your library. I personally love this widget, it’s incredibly simple (no customization and only one size option), but is nonetheless a great discovery option for listeners like myself that sometimes find themselves stuck with analysis paralysis on what to listen to.

Personal Score Card

  • :trophy: Beautiful or visually engaging player view: It remains one of the prettiest player views available.
  • :trophy: Lyrics support: While I’m generally not a fan of the “tap the album art to see the lyrics overtop” approach to lyrics support, Picky is by far the best implementation of this approach thanks to its silky-smooth show/hide animations and translucent background.
  • :heavy_check_mark: Light & dark themes
  • :heavy_check_mark: iPad support
  • :heavy_check_mark: Discovery features: Picky not only has world-class filtering capabilities, but a suite of widget collections that provide the kinds of discovery features I tend to expect nowadays (“Recently Added”, “Recently Played”, etc.). While it’s a shame these discovery collections aren’t meaningfully exposed in the app itself, Picky's overall discovery feature support is keeping pace.
  • :large_orange_diamond: Album-focused features
    • :large_orange_diamond: Proper sorting: While Picky technically supports sorting albums alphabetically by artist and then by release year, it only supports this in the “Artists” view. The “Albums” view is still stuck without it.
    • :x: Album grid view

"Plum" iOS app icon Plum

Image of "Plum" light theme album view Image of "Plum" light theme player view
Image of "Plum" dark theme album view Image of "Plum" dark theme player view

I somehow managed to miss the delightfully named Plum the past couple years, originally releasing all the way back at the start of 2018. It’s a general-purpose player with a twist; instead of presenting its standard browse views (“Albums”, “Artists”, etc.) in a tab bar or left-side hamburger menu like nearly every other player, it hides these views in a hamburger menu at the bottom of the screen. While this is simply UI salad dressing and doesn’t change the fact the app is functionally another general-purpose experience, it does wonders for making Plum stand out among its peers.

Its individuality doesn’t stop there; the player view is also unique, featuring a thick, custom progress indicator and volume slider, massive track metadata, and a jetAudio-style hidden toolbar tucking away ancillary controls and features. Visually, the player takes a radical approach of neither using a solid color nor incorporating the standard translucent album art background nearly every other player uses. Instead, it opts for an edge-to-edge gradient featuring a primary color from the album art. While I don’t find the effect as stunning as other players’ approaches, the effect is always pleasing and its shear novelty makes it a treat to the eyes.

Image of the light mode player view with a predominantly red record in the 'Modern' appearance Image of the light mode player view with a predominantly green record in the 'Modern' appearance Image of the light mode player view with a predominantly blue record in the 'Modern' appearance Image of the dark mode player view with a predominantly red record in the 'Modern' appearance Image of the dark mode player view with a predominantly green record in the 'Modern' appearance Image of the dark mode player view with a predominantly blue record in the 'Modern' appearance
The “Modern” player view appearance.

While its hidden toolbar is nowhere near as feature-rich as jetAudio’s, it does in comparison have a lovely visibility animation and a respectable number of features, notably star ratings, a “Favorite” button to add tracks to the in-app favorites list, and a “Lyrics” button to toggle showing the track’s lyrics.

There’s more yet to discover in Plum’s player view; Plum is the only player available today that offers two radically different player view designs for you to choose from: “Modern”, which is the design demonstrated above, and “Classic”, which is strongly reminiscent of Music.app’s player view design in iOS 8. While I personally prefer its original “Modern” appearance for its novelty, I’m trilled to see players provide appearance customizations like this. It not only provides a means of visual personalization, but also provides functional value for users that may prefer more immediate access to controls in the “Classic” appearance that would otherwise be hidden the “Modern” appearance’s toolbar.

Image of the light mode player view with a predominantly red record in the 'Classic' appearance Image of the light mode player view with a predominantly green record in the 'Classic' appearance Image of the light mode player view with a predominantly blue record in the 'Classic' appearance Image of the dark mode player view with a predominantly red record in the 'Classic' appearance Image of the dark mode player view with a predominantly green record in the 'Classic' appearance Image of the dark mode player view with a predominantly blue record in the 'Classic' appearance
The “Classic” player view appearance.

Both player views suffer from an unusual dismissal and summon gesture; instead of sliding up from the bottom of the screen (an interaction utilized by most music players, nowadays), the player view slides out from the right upon tapping the “Now Playing” bar. This also means the player can’t be dismissed by swiping down, instead requiring a “swipe from the left” gesture. While this seems minor, it’s positively infuriating in practice since most modern players have trained users to expect a completely different interaction to dismiss, and I continuously find myself attempting to dismiss the player first with a swipe-down gesture followed by a swipe-right gesture in frustration.

Issues with gesture implementations aside, Plum’s primary issue is its relatively poor performance, resulting in janky animations that make the gestures it calls for (particularly for the “Modern” player view) unpleasant to enact. If this was a brand new app released this year, I would expect performance issues like this as a matter of course, but with Plum reaching two years old soon it’s quickly running out of excuses to not match apps like Doppi and Picky in smoothness and performance.

Plum’s tremendous support for album listeners like myself make its gesture and performance issues much easier to overlook. The album views incorporate Last.fm summaries, a much-appreciated addition for listeners that love pouring over album liner notes and other literature while listening. Plum also supports both list and grid views for each of its main views, along with the ability to pin any of those main views as the player’s “Home”, therefore allowing me to assign the “Albums” view as the player’s primary page. Finally, there’s a decent amount of discovery features; Plum provides a “Recently Added” section in addition to an area on each of the main views for user folders. This allows users to create personal collections like “Current Favs”, “High School”, and more as a supplement above that view’s contents. While there’s no support to populate these folders automatically with filters like in Marvis Pro and Albums, the ability to create collections in any form is always appreciated. I honestly found it refreshing manually sifting through my library to fill out a few personal collections instead of exclusively relying on automated systems.

Despite its issues, Plum’s robust feature set and unique design make it a compelling option for listeners interested in a mordern, general-purpose player. In light of the many uninspired, store-brand player view designs out there, I have no doubt its radical player view alone is enough to draw attention. If more features with similarly refresh designs are to come, I’d say Plum has a bright—dare I say “ripe”—future ahead of it.

Widgets

None.

Personal Score Card

  • :trophy: Beautiful or visually engaging player view: Plum sports both a truly unique “Modern” appearance in addition to a “Classic” appearance, the only player to provide such a feature.
  • :heavy_check_mark: Lyrics support
  • :heavy_check_mark: Light & dark themes
  • :heavy_check_mark: iPad support: I must note I truly dislike the current iPad player view implementation, but Plum does indeed support the iPad.
  • :heavy_check_mark: Discovery features: While there’s no support for filter or rule-based collections, support for manually creating your own collections with the “Folders” feature and the first-class “Recently Added” and “Favorites” views do the job.
  • :heavy_check_mark: Album-focused features: While lack of proper sorting is a big disappointment, rich grid view support and the ability to pin the “Albums” view as Plum’s home page help make up for it.
    • :x: Proper sorting
    • :heavy_check_mark: Album grid view

"Power Player" iOS app icon Power Player

Image of "Power Player" light theme album view Image of "Power Player" light theme player view
Image of "Power Player" dark theme album view Image of "Power Player" dark theme player view

Power Player is a bold and opinionated player hidden behind a deceptively simple exterior. While its structure is as approachable as general-purpose players come—in no small part due to its stock iOS tab bar—its engaging “Home” view, dynamically colored album views, and gold-standard iPad experience elevate Power Player beyond its humble appearance to one of the finest players available.

To start, Power Player’s primary new feature this year is the “Home” tab view to serve as the player’s front door experience instead of dumping users to an arbitrary tab like other general-purpose players. This new view features a respectable number of discovery collections, which are listed below in the order they appear:

  • Recently Added Albums (displayed as a grid)
  • Recently Played Songs (displayed as a list)
  • Most Played Songs (displayed as a list)
  • Loved Songs (displayed as a list)

The order above is intentionally detailed since there’s not yet any way to customize or remove any of the existing discovery collections in “Home” and no mechanism to create your own. The “Home” page is strictly a WYSIWYG discovery experience, no customization whatsoever. Considering this feature’s young age, I have no difficulty accepting it doesn’t match Marvis Pro or Albums’ discovery arsenal, but not even providing users the means to reorder or hide these pre-built collections is a miss and deeply disappointing for an app claiming to be all about “power”.

However, I continue to maintain that discovery features are always worth providing, even if they aren’t particularly great in comparison to other players’ offerings. Despite its issues, I do like the new “Home” view. I’m thrilled to have a “Recently Added” albums collection in Power Player now, and items in the “Loved” songs collection feature the lovely, dynamic color theme used in the album view. This design embellishment really shines on the iPad where the list items have more room to spread out; it’s like a trophy case for proudly displaying your personal favorites, and elevates the “Loved” section to be the “Home” view’s crowning jewel.

Image of "Power Player" light theme "Songs" section Image of "Power Player" dark theme "Songs" section
Power Player’s “Loved” song design is one of my favorite embellishments this year.

The rest of the app remains mostly the same as it was last year. While I’m disappointed at the relatively slow rate of enhancement compared to what others like Albums received this year, Power Player nonetheless remains a fantastic player. The album view still features the same, great dynamic color matching feature I raved about last year.

The iPad experience also remains industry leading thanks to its numerous interface optimizations that take full advantage of the larger screen. Its rate of change isn’t as radical as some other players, but for an app coming into this year as well-off as Power Player, this may be all it needs for the moment.

Widgets

Power Player supports a single widget for each of the three size classes.

The large and medium widgets are “Home” widgets, which display music from one of the four “Home” view sections: “Recently Added”, “Recently Played”, “Most Played”, and “Loved”. These widgets follow the same restrictions their “Home” view counterparts do, in that “Recently Added” is strictly album-based and the other three are strictly song-based. Aside from choosing between those four sections, there’s no other customization available.

The small widget is a “Now Playing” type, which displays the edge-to-edge album art of the currently playing track along with the song title and artist.

While there’s not much customization to speak of here and the choices are limited compared to other players, they’re well engineered and I haven’t run into bugs with them like I have with Soor’s.

Personal Score Card

  • :trophy: Beautiful or visually engaging player view: It’s opinionated, but for those seeking out the most striking player view or the best iPad player view experience, there’s few that come close to matching Power Player’s.
  • :trophy: Lyrics support: The vibrant player view and smart space utilization on both iPhone and iPad displays make Power Player one of the best lyrics reading experiences available.
  • :trophy: iPad support: Maintaining its lead from last year, there is no other player that can claim as good an iPad experience for local content as Power Player.
  • :heavy_check_mark: Light & dark themes
  • :heavy_check_mark: Discovery features: While the new “Home” tab is severely limited in its collections and customization, it’s already a massive improvement over last year.
  • :large_orange_diamond: Album-focused features: No proper sorting, no way to make "Albums" the default view, and no means to tweak the discovery collections to group by album instead of by song weigh Power Player down. Its killer iPad album view is the only thing saving this from a failure mark.
    • :x: Proper sorting
    • :large_orange_diamond: Album grid view: While Power Player uses grid view on the iPad, iPhone users are stuck with a list and no option to change it.

"Sathorn" iOS app icon Sathorn

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

Sathorn’s a thoroughly unremarkable player that earned scathing marks last year both for its uninspired functionality and “uncanny vally” design. While in broad strokes Sathorn’s UI is perfectly sufficient, it suffers from dozens of micro-failures to properly adhere to Apple’s Human Interface Guidelines, resulting in a product that’s substantially worse than the sum of its parts. I’m disappointed to say that at the end of this year there’s been no changes that I can detect from last year, leaving it just as poorly designed as its initial release.

In an effort to avoid copy/pasting my issues with the design from last year (which would be more effort than Sathron’s developer gave towards their own app this year), at a high level my primary issues with Sathorn are:

  • Poor dark mode support. The “Dark” mode option is a blindingly bright gray, and the “True Black” mode misses just enough of Apple’s guidelines to feel uncomfortable and wrong compared to other apps. To top it off, Sathron doesn’t respect the system theme setting, forcing you to manually change it yourself in the app every time the system’s theme changes.
  • Poor player design. Aside from a woefully boring “Solid” option, there’s three equally shoddy alternatives to choose from (“Light Blur”, “Deep Blur”, and “Dark Blur”). I’ve yet to find an album whose art looks good with any of them.
Image of the "Light Blur" player design Image of the "Deep Blur" player design Image of the "Dark Blur" player design
“Light Blur”, “Deep Blur”, and “Dark Blur”. Pick your poison.

Where the design doesn’t disappoint, the app’s disjointed functionality does. At it’s core, it’s a general-purpose experience with the expected tab bar containing “Albums”, “Artists”, etc. However, Sathorn makes the fatal mistake of aping Music.app by attempting to integrate support for the Apple Music streaming service as well. Like Music.app before it, this results in a bloated and confused interface that does both local library browsing and Apple Music browsing poorly, and in Sathorn’s case worse than Music.app’s attempt. In my opinion, Sathorn would be much more pleasant to use had it gone for a precise and deliberate implementation of just the local-browser model like Picky or Cs did to great success.

Unfortunately, there’s not much else to say about Sathorn. There was barely any movement of note this year, and for an app that needed it as badly as Sathorn did, next year’s prospects look grim.

Widgets

None.

Personal Score Card

  • :large_orange_diamond: Light & dark themes: Partial credit awarded for having any kind of light and dark mode support, despite their rough design and lack of respect for the system setting.
  • :large_orange_diamond: Discovery features: With the bar for minimum acceptable discovery features set higher by other players this year, Sathorn’s single “Recently Added” discovery feature doesn’t cut it, anymore.
  • :x: Lyrics support
  • :x: iPad support
  • :x: Beautiful or visually engaging player view
  • :x: Album-focused features
    • :x: Proper sorting
    • :x: Album grid view

"SongOwl" iOS app icon SongOwl

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

I find it difficult to introduce SongOwl—one of the few new players this year—without immediately addressing the elephant in the room concerning its unfortunate origins. Mike Clay—SongOwl’s developer—initially developed SongOwl not as a standalone app, but rather as the highly anticipated version 6 update to a different app altogether: his existing player, Cs. However, during the Cs 6 beta testing, the functional and navigational changes proved divisive (to say the least), leaving Mike in a difficult situation. Sure, he could double down on his Cs 6 vision and disregard the negative beta feedback, but that would likely result in a similar reaction from the general public, tanking Cs’s historically positive App Store rating. He could also attempt addressing the feedback, but doing so would necessarily compromise the exciting new functionality the beta introduced, which also entails throwing away months of work. There was one final option available to Mike, which he thankfully ended up taking: He decided to release the radical Cs 6 update as a brand-new, standalone app, which both freed him up to redevelop a Cs 6 update from the ground up based on the desires of that existing userbase while also still delivering his original Cs 6 vision to a new, hopefully more receptive audience.

SongOwl carries with it the same elegant, simple spirit of its Cs origins, but with a few exciting new features that I clammered for in Cs for years. Visually, the app is a breath of fresh, modern air from the increasingly stale design of Cs 5 from last year; its plentiful, rounded rects, button-y buttons, and redesigned list item style make SongOwl feel right at home on iOS 14. However, SongOwl goes beyond a simple visual reskin of Cs 5’s aging aesthetic; its design features the most foundational changes Cs has ever received thanks to its navigation redesign. While Cs this year continues to feature a standard iOS tab bar with an item for each of the usual suspects (“Albums”, “Artists”, etc.) which can be reorganized in the settings, SongOwl instead takes after Music.app’s tab bar; in place of “Albums”, “Artists”, etc., SongOwl opts instead for a single, unified “Library” tab, within which those traditional views may be created (if desired) with the new “Paths” feature (more on this later). The remaining tab bar items (“Playlists”, “Favorites”, “Search”, and “Settings”) are all self-explanatory. Unfortunately, none of SongOwl’s tab bar items may be removed or reorganized like they previously could in Cs. What you see is what you get in SongOwl.

It may seem puzzling to consolidate what was previously five discrete tab bar items in Cs into a single “Library” tab in SongOwl, but much like in Music.app those capabilities reveal themselves upon navigating to its tab view. While Music.app displays these items as predefined views which may be individually hidden or shown to taste, SongOwl has no such list. Instead, there’s a conspicuous new icon in the left side of the “Library” view’s menu bar. Tapping that button reveals the “Paths” menu, by far the most controversial change in SongOwl from its Cs beta period. In a fresh SongOwl install, there’s only a single predefined path (“Library”), which displays an alphabetical list of your songs. Upon tapping the big + New Path... button in that menu, a new “Path” item appears in the list. Grouping and sorting changes made for the currently selected “path” are then persisted only for that path. For example, you can create a new path, name it “Artists”, then select “Artist” and “Alphabetical” as your grouping and sorting options to create your very own “Artists” view just like the “Artists” tab you’d find in Cs. This is of course a simple example, you can use the grouping and sorting options to make a wide variety of unique paths, such as “Recently Added” (finally!) and “Randomized Albums”.

Image of the paths menu, where existing paths can be accessed and new paths can be made Image of SongOwl's grouping options Image of SongOwl's sorting options Image of the paths menu, where existing paths can be accessed and new paths can be made Image of SongOwl's grouping options Image of SongOwl's sorting options
SongOwl’s “Paths” menu and the somewhat limited “Grouping” and “Sorting” options that can be applied to any given path.

I hoped for a feature like “Paths” in Cs for years, but the current implementation still has the same issues it did from its Cs 6 beta days. For one, failing to include standard “paths” users expect like “Artists”, “Albums”, etc. in the base install is a tremendous mistake; dumping users into a fairly complicated customization system like this without providing a sufficient number of reasonable defaults like Marvis Pro and Albums do make SongOwl’s “Paths” feature feel unfinished in comparison. Then there’s the matter of SongOwl’s static tab bar; while it’s completely reasonable from an engineering perspective to expect this feature either cannot be accomplished or would be feindishly complex to develop due to “Paths”, the loss of one-tap access to common views like “Artists” and “Albums” remains a disappointment. While potentially not possible, the ability to “pin” specific paths to the tab bar is also absent and disappointing. Finally, the “Paths” system as it exists is simply not powerful enough. There’s no way to filter out contents from a particular path; you can only change the way those contents are grouped and sorted. While this alone is fairly flexible and allows you to recreate the views that would otherwise come “for free” with Cs like “Albums”, “Artists”, and “Genres”, they’re not nearly flexible enough to go toe-to-toe with Albums and Marvis Pro’s equivalent systems. I also continue to be disappointed by the slim sorting options provided by SongOwl, which continues to provide no way to sort albums alphabetically by album artist and then by release year.

Putting my issues with the current “Paths” system aside, SongOwl is nonetheless a great general-purpose player; the customization options with “Paths” is limited, but that only means SongOwl can’t quite compete with Albums and Marvis Pro; the “Paths” system is plenty sufficient to replicate the functionality found in other general-purpose players while delivering a little extra for those like myself that like discovery collections like “Recently Added” and “Randomized Records”, which is a huge quality-of-life improvement for my use.

As 2020 draws to a close, SongOwl’s at a crossroads; Mike’s decision to spin-off the original Cs 6 beta as SongOwl and redevelop and release a different Cs 6 update leaves SongOwl in uncharted territory. Mike could easily decide SongOwl was a fun experiement that deserved a release and not much more than maintenance patches afterwards. After all, I don’t anticipate Mike will suddenly have double the free time required to develop exciting major releases equally across Cs and SongOwl. He could perhaps establish a tick-tock development cycle, swithing between players for each major release, but at this point it’s too early to say for certain if he’ll choose this path. However, what can be said for certain is SongOwl as it exists today is a compelling, modern interpretation of the arguably aging general-purpose player paradigm; it doesn’t go all the way like Albums and Marvis Pro does, but perhaps for an app in this category that’s enough.

Widgets

None.

Personal Score Card

  • :heavy_check_mark: Lyrics support: While SongOwl supports lyrics, they are sectioned off as a view in the metadata popup instead of integrated directly into the player view itself. As a listener that considers lyrics a more “important” form of metadata, SongOwl’s approach is not to my taste.
  • :heavy_check_mark: Light & dark themes
  • :heavy_check_mark: Discovery features: While not nearly as robust as I’d prefer, the new “Paths” system can support a decent amount of discovery collections like “Recently Added” and “Randomized Records”.
  • :heavy_check_mark: Beautiful or visually engaging player view: SongOwl’s king-sized progress and volume bars combined with its pleasing translucency effects are quite pretty.
  • :large_orange_diamond: Album-focused features: You can create a decent amount of album-focused discovery collections like “Recently Added” and “Randomized Records” with the “Paths” feature, but the lack of grid view in SongOwl is disappointing.
    • :large_orange_diamond: Proper sorting: While the “Artists” view can properly sort albums for any particular artist, this option is unfortunately not available anywhere else.
    • :x: Album grid view
  • :x: iPad support

"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

"VOX" iOS app icon VOX

Image of "VOX" album view Image of "VOX" player view

VOX is less “music player” than “delivery vehicle” for its company, Coppertino, to upsell users to its “VOX Premium” service. Ads beaconing users to sign up litter the app, deeply cheapening the experience. I said not much more than that last year and quickly deemed VOX my least favorite player, but this year I want to take my time to properly take apart VOX’s problems, which run far deeper than its cheap surface.

I could forgive the premium service shilling if there was anything of substance in the app itself, but that’s unfortunately not the case. While one’s instinct may be to point to VOX’s free price tag as the reason for the sparse functionality, I would argue this is not an excuse but rather a sign of a critical flaw in Coppertino’s business strategy. Their business is a premium music service, not necessarily making a quality music player to deliver that service. Given a budget, it makes sense the business would prioritize the stability and enhancement of the service providing their revenue stream rather than building out their “free” music player delivery vehicle.

To speak in concrete terms, VOX sans the service has three views: “Library”, “Collections” (a.k.a. “Playlists”), and “Settings”; that’s it. The “Library” view has no tab bar or navigation to speak of, just a grid view of your albums. The various collection views you’d expect (“Artists” and “Songs”) are instead “view options” in the “Library” view’s settings, making switching between these views needlessly cumbersome and undiscoverable. Discovery features are nowhere to be found; this single, sad “Library” view is all you get.

The player view is not much better off. Aside from a delightful waveform progress indicator, the player view is visually empty and boring, leaving much white space where useful features like lyrics could have gone.

That’s it; there’s genuinely nothing else I can find to show you from the VOX experience, sans the upsell service. I can accept freemium apps that still provide some kind of inherit, novel value independent of the service they’re selling, but refuse to accept thin cardboard cutouts like VOX that only provide the bare minimum value required to qualify as a music player. For this reason, VOX again “wins” the title of worst player in the showcase. Even apps I have severe issues with like Sathorn, Soor, and Dot Music are better value propositions. In Sathorn’s case, it’s the equivalent of butter spread too thin on toast. In Soor’s case, you only get the toast if you accept a different bread and spread than advertised. In Dot Music’s case, it’s just plain toast. VOX didn’t even bother toasting the bread.

Widgets

None.

Personal Score Card

  • :heavy_check_mark: iPad support: Just added this year, and it’s the lazy “enlarged iPhone version” you’d come to expect from mediocre iPad ports. However, it’s functional, so credit where credit’s due.
  • :large_orange_diamond: Beautiful or visually engaging player view: Partial credit awarded for the neat waveform progress indicator.
  • :x: Lyrics support
  • :x: Light & dark themes: There continues to be no light mode after all these years.
  • :x: Discovery features
  • :large_orange_diamond: Album-focused features
    • :x: Proper sorting
    • :heavy_check_mark: Album grid view

Standouts

To reflect the growing diversity of iOS music players, I’m retiring my old “best player” search this year. Instead, I’ll highlight apps which I personally feel excel in the particular areas that interest me. Frankly, the old approach no longer applies; I no longer just use one music player like I did last year, but instead switch between a handful based on whichever one best delivers the experience I’m searching for at that time. It’s never been more exciting to love music on iOS, and I hope this new “standouts” approach encourages you to consider expanding your player collection, as well.

Premium lyrics experience

… if you’re streaming Apple Music for tracks with “live” lyrics support
"Music.app" iOS app icon Music.app: “Live” lyrics are hard to beat, not to mention this is the last place you can find the original lava lamp visualizer on iOS 14. When the “live” lyrics are available, they’re the most enjoyable lyrics experience on iOS.
… if you’re playing music without “live” lyrics on an iPad
"Power Player" iOS app icon Power Player: Power Player takes full advantage of the iPad’s massive screen by displaying both the full player view and lyrics view side-by-side while in landscape mode. No other player aside from Music.app supports this.
… if you’re playing music without “live” lyrics on an iPhone
"Doppi" iOS app icon Doppi: The lyrics are full-screen, editable, and revealed with a silky-smooth, addictive animation. No other lyrics experience for local music on the iPhone comes close.

Luxury look-and-feel

… if you’re on an iPhone
"Doppi" iOS app icon Doppi: The app feels like it was crafted by Apple’s finest engineers. Every interaction animates gracefully, and the interface aesthetics are the closest I’ve come to wanting to “lick the screen” since the original Aqua interface in Mac OS X.
… if you’re on an iPad
"Power Player" iOS app icon Power Player: It’s the only third-party app I’ve found that treats the iPad as a first-class citizen. It’s clear to me the iPad is Power Player’s primary focus, and it shows; no other player contains as many iPad-specific optimizations to take advance of the larger screen than Power Player.

Engaging discovery features

… if you love tinkering and customizing your phone
"Marvis Pro" iOS app icon Marvis Pro: If you can imagine it, odds are you can make it in Marvis Pro. No other player matches Marvis Pro’s customization system.
… if you want as many “no fuss & no setup” discovery features as possible
"Albums" iOS app icon Albums: Albums now sports the most plentiful, quality “out of box” discover features than any other player. If you either lack of necessary skills or interest in crafting your own experience with Marvis Pro, Albums is by far the most compelling option.

Beautiful player view

… if you’re on an iPhone
"Picky" iOS app icon Picky: Thanks to Music.app’s lava lamp visualizer mutilation in iOS 14, I’ve found myself returning once again to Picky when I’m in the mood for a gorgeous player view.
… if you’re on an iPad
"Power Player" iOS app icon Power Player: This is perhaps the most subjective take in this list; its player view design is striking, opinionated, and perhaps even controversial, but for my tastes I tend to really enjoy the results. While Picky also supports iPad screens, I much prefer Power Player’s approach which takes advantage of the larger screen to display both the complete player view and lyrics view side-by-side.

Engaging player view

… if you love browsing liner notes and album credits
"Albums" iOS app icon Albums: Once all the metadata is downloaded and available, its perhaps the most fun I’ve ever had browsing my library. It’s a delight having the ability to stumble upon commonalities with other records in your collection while listening.
… if you love visualizers
"jetAudio" iOS app icon jetAudio: Aside from Music.app’s lava lamp effect (which now only exists in it’s “true” form for “live” lyrics), and Soor’s canned “gradient” visualizer, no other player provides visualizers; if you love visualizers, jetAudio’s your answer.
… if you crave something to fidget with while listening
"Doppi" iOS app icon Doppi: Buttery smooth animations are good, but having those animations track your movement makes them truly great. That’s the case with Doppi, the animations track your finger with delightful parallax and blur effects that make it a joy for anyone that finds themselves wanting to fidget with something from time to time.

Album-optimized experience

… if you love tinkering and customizing your phone
"Marvis Pro" iOS app icon Marvis Pro: Since you can create practically any kind of music experience in Marvis Pro, there’s technically nothing stopping you from making the best album-optimized experience on it, too. However, this does still require the time and skills necessary to construct it, which might not interest you.
… if you want an album-focused player with no setup
"Albums" iOS app icon Albums: If all you want to do is download an app to get a fully-featured, album-focused experience, nothing comes close to matching Albums. Other options like Jams On Toast, Longplay, and TapTunes aren’t compelling enough, in comparison.

Apple Music service integration

"Marvis Pro" iOS app icon Marvis Pro: No iCloud Music Library required, Marvis Pro allows you to search and stream anything from Apple Music just like you can in Music.app. Despite its advertising, I would strongly advise against Soor due to its iCloud Music Library requirement to access any Apple Music features and the crippling bugs that reveal themselves should you choose not to enable it. Sathorn is also not advised due to its many design flaws covered earlier.

Music.app independence

… if your primary music library is not managed on a Mac
"Doppler 2" iOS app icon Doppler 2: It supports many open protocols for sending your music to Doppler, and music sent this way is treated as a first-class citizen. Other options either don’t support as many protocols for sending your music or don’t treat music sent this way as well as music managed by iOS.
… if your primary music library is managed on a Mac
"Doppi" iOS app icon Doppi: Supports every Apple-only protocol for sending files I can think of, which I’ve found to be a much more pleasant experience than the open protocol alternatives. While Doppler 2 also supports plenty of means to import your music, I find Doppi’s user experience tips the scales in its favor.

Conclusion

This year feels so different from the last, and not for the obvious reasons; last year I remained determined the find and declare the “best” player, but in retrospect that goal seems silly. Marvis Pro is brilliant, yes, but it was not what I sought out this year when I wanted to read lyrics; I used Power Player, instead. Even then, if “live” lyrics were available, I instead switched back to Music.app. Likewise, if I wanted more metadata about the current record, I switched to Albums, but then I sometimes switched to Picky later on to appreciate its pretty player view. It’s now apparent to me there’s no “best player”, despite narrowing my focus the past couple years in an effort to make that answer more clear. I always find myself returning to different players for different scenarios: the ones highlighted earlier in the “Standouts” section.

Exploring and experimenting new options is a pain—in no small part thanks to the App Store’s heinous search results—and it’s easy to settle on just using a “somewhat good enough” player like Music.app, or a “best” player like Marvis Pro that despite being preferred in some contexts is clearly not in others. With so many options available now that better serve a widening range of edge cases and niche needs, discovering and using the right tool for the job is now clearly the better path forward. With any luck, this showcase helped serve as your own spark to explore iOS’s growing list of music players, as well. You never know, the next player you try might just end up your new favorite player for lyrics reading, record spinning, or maybe even something else not covered in this showcase. Like with many things in life, you need only give it a try to find out.


  1. Technically some extremely minor setup is required to initialize the credits web; to have credits download for all your music, you either need to flip the “Auto-Download Credits” switch in settings or wait for Albums to prompt you about it during it’s onboarding. The “Insights” tab doesn’t require any switch flipping, it works right out of the gate. ↩︎

  2. Doppi’s independent library management is all powered by Apple ecosystem features like the iCloud Files app and Airdrop. That’s fantastic for users fully “locked” into Apple’s ecosystem, but not so fantastic for Windows or Linux users wanting to send music to their iPhone without having to use iTunes or Apple-specific protocols. ↩︎

  3. You read that right, the terrible new effect is now even shown for standard lyrics as well; only select Apple Music tracks with “live” lyrics display the superior, original visualizer on iOS 14. ↩︎