Media Player Q&A: Q1 Should We Replace iTunes?

1. What are the main reasons people should consider replacing or augmenting iTunes?

Jonathan Reichbach, President, Sonic Studio (Amarra)

First of all, we really like iTunes. Not only is iTunes ubiquitous as the music management system of choice for computers and devices, it's very convenient, super easy to use and provides access to a wide range of content. Really for all intents and purposes, iTunes is a 'killer app'. However for all it's facility, iTunes does have a few shortcomings especially for music enthusiasts who strive for the most accurate music reproduction possible. Amarra improves on iTunes in this area and is able to deliver the fine detail and realism audiophiles demand. Another shortcoming is that iTunes doesn't support support some of the recent audio formats such as FLAC, which has become a favored high resolution music standard.

Sonic Studio developed Amarra to work alongside iTunes and brings the fine detail and nuance in music that audiophiles demand. Using Amarra with iTunes means you get a best-in-class experience managing your music as well as listening to your music exactly as the artist intended.

Damien Plisson, Founder, Audirvana (Audirvana Plus)
iTunes is a media (not only music) library manager, store, and iDevices manager, in addition to be a media player. Audio quality reproduction is not the priority, convenience is.

And the "High quality" tunes are lossy compressed files…

Tim Murison, Co-Founder & CTO, BitPerfect Sound Inc., (BitPerfect)
iTunes sound quality is comparatively poor and it does not configure the DAC automatically for bit perfect playback.
Stephen F. Booth, Founder and Developer, sbooth.org, (Decibel)
If you would have told a Mac user in 2000 that a decade later they would use SoundJam MP to purchase and transfer software to their Apple-branded phones, they would probably say you were crazy! iTunes has become something of a jack of all trades used for such diverse tasks as CD ripping, audio playback and conversion, iDevice management, Ping, and iTunes U to name but a few. As the saying goes: jack of all trades, master of none. iTunes is certainly a good choice for a beginning user who wants a single, monolithic solution for listening on their Mac. However, iTunes falls short for more advanced users who need to listen to audio in other formats, who want to use cue sheets, who want to apply DSP, or who want to adjust their DAC's sample rate based on the file they're listening to. For any of these use cases iTunes is not a good solution because it does not provide the flexibility to perform these tasks.
Jussi Laako, Owner, Signalyst (HQ Player)
General purpose players, like iTunes and Windows Media Player plays content through the operating system audio engine. These audio engines are optimized for low resource consumption and for wide range of different use cases, like VoIP telephony, game play and video playback. These have partially differing requirements compared to high quality music playback. Players optimized for best music playback quality bypass these OS audio engines and access the audio device driver directly. This allows optimizing the playback chain from a file (or CD) to the audio device, for best possible music playback quality.
Josef Piri & Marcin Ostapowicz, JPlay (JPlay)
Simple fact is that all players sound different i.e. some sound better than others...
Jim Hillegass, Founder and CEO, JRiver (JRiver Media Center)
JRiver Media Center is an audiophile grade player. iTunes is not. iTunes cannot play bit perfect audio at multiple sample rates. It lacks support for ASIO and WASAPI, the best way to talk to sound devices.

iTunes is very big and very slow. (Benchmark at jriver.com/speed.html)

iTunes runs multiple background processes without asking.

It has no support for popular lossless formats like FLAC and APE. It has no support for DSD. It emphasizes proprietary Apple formats like AIFF and ALAC.

iTunes has no support for DLNA, no ten foot mode, no support for high quality video with surround sound.

JRiver has an open approach to design and development. The forum offers direct communication with JRiver developers.

Dr. Rob Robinson, Director of Engineering, Channel D, (Pure Music)
There are certain critical, missing features in iTunes that are required by many high-end audio enthusiasts.

For example, automatic sample rate switching, volume control dithering, DSD playback, switchable audio polarity inversion, and other advanced signal processing such as a multi-way speaker crossover or third party plug-ins (convolution based room correction or parametric EQ). High end audio amounts to a tiny percentage of the market targeted by iTunes, so these features are unlikely to ever be added to iTunes, which is designed to appeal to the general public. That’s the reason for going to a third party music player.

We choose to augment iTunes rather than replace it, as you say, because the details of music library management are automatically implemented by Apple (and therefore guaranteed to work across OS and computer model updates). Then we can focus all of our energies on the things that matter, instead of creating a database application. With Pure Music running, iTunes is idling between zero and a fraction of one percent of total CPU. Incompatible audio formats (DSD) are not a problem because a proxy file technique, which we invented in 2010 (patent pending), facilitates getting iTunes - incompatible audio formats to appear in your iTunes music library.

COMMENTS
flohmann's picture

Let me be concise: 

1. iTunes is designed by engineers who really understand user interface beauty. Most other software is not. 

2. iTunes will still be here in 5 years, adding new features (like AirPlay, which is great, even if limited to 44.1) that will "just work." Many (most?) other software won't make it that long, and won't have nearly as many engineers devoted to maintenance and bug fixes. 

I use Amarra because it keeps iTunes as my library manager. But I wish I didn't have to.

I wish audiophile companies would stop trying to replace the iTunes user interface, and instead focus only on improving the sound (for example, why not just focus on building the perfect AirPlay interface device for 44.1 -- I'd pay for that!). 

deckeda's picture

It's not perfect, not even on the Mac, and there are times when it pisses me off or pukes on some database file. I'm into it everyday and hammer it pretty hard. For example, the "iTunes Library Genius.itdb" file has a way of self-corrupting when opening the library from a networked machine (not a Home Sharing situation, I'm referring to mounting the network volume and then launching iTunes as if it were the local machine) --- and I don't even use the "Genius" feature.

Anyway, I use iDevices. I want to be able to put music on them. I dislike having multiple copies of the same music so much that I typically only store 24/48 files in iTunes. I have some exceptions to that.

Having said that, I wouldn't focus on 24/48 if it didn't also sound good at home, which it does to me.

So I use Pure Audio and will be trying a few others later too.

It emphasizes proprietary Apple formats like AIFF and ALAC

As well it should, Mr. Hillegass. Even for Windows users. AIFF has cross-platform and cross-application metadata support WAV often lacks; ALAC also fits on the world's nicest portables. And you've confused the meaning of "proprietary" with "invented by."

slim's picture

I agree that iTunes has some issues with (elaborate) networked setups, but otherwise performs the database part of the game impressively well.

I agree even more that AIFF and ALAC are good storage containers, their properties freely documented (the Apple Lossless Audio Codec even having been released to Open Source), with appropriate handling of metadata, and - of course - the ability to be converted to FLAC, WAV etc. without loss.

... had to mention this tough I'm afraid it's off-topic ...

deckeda's picture

FLAC and sometimes APE are found primarily within the online trading community and FLAC is often sold too. So it's natural for people to not want to have to convert them. But that's as far as it goes. The others mentioned have a richer history on Mac and Windows for both consumer and professional uses.

The criticisms surrounding what iTunes doesn't do, or do as well as other solutions are entirely valid if you don't want what iTunes does offer that nothing else has or can do. Painting iTunes as "good" or "bad" can't be done without that first basic step, which not all the manufacturers above acknowledge.

Thanks, Michael, for letting them share here.

Michael Lavorgna's picture

I find these Q&As fascinating and I know I'm learning more than a thing or two.

seank's picture

I don't find the iTunes program elegant or simple.

I have no end of troubles importing CD's and getting them to play back correctly in the proper order.  The metadata for too many of my CD's is simply wrong.  

It took me two days of searching and trial and error to imort one Audiobook for my sister. I ended up having to use a Windows PC with a Windows only script to get the job done correctly.

Am I the only one who is frustrated with iTunes?

 

 

 

 

 

Michael Lavorgna's picture

I don't have any issues with iTunes and I'd be happy to see if I could help you get along better. If you'd like, send me an email (michael.lavorgna@audiostream.com) and we could go over some details related to ripping and metadata.

Or, feel free to start a thread in our Software forum.

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