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Over the past year or so, I’ve made a conscious effort to search around the web and find the best free music players out there. Time and time again, I find myself coming back to my tried and trusty Foobar2000, but every once in a while I wonder if there might be anything even better. In terms of sheer power, yes, there are great programs like MediaMonkey and MusicBee, but is there anything both awesome and lightweight?
Let me first define what I mean by lightweight: good performance even on older systems, does not suck up loads of CPU while running, and requires no more than 75 MB of RAM. Foobar2000 fulfills those requirements with flying colors, but for some reason or another, you may not like Foobar2000. Personally, I’m just bored looking at the same music player day in and day out. Won’t you join me as I explore these high-performance alternatives?
GOM Audio [Windows]
GOM Audio is a lesser known music player that shares a lot of similarities with players like Winamp, a media player so popular I probably don’t need to elaborate, and AIMP3, which you can find further down on this list. Right out of the box, GOM Audio is slick, clean, and presents itself with a warm theme that’s best described as inviting. Coming from the same developers behind GOM Video, you can be sure that GOM Audio will deliver the same level of polish.
I installed GOM Audio for the first time a few months ago and I still use it on a regular basis. It comes equipped with playlists, an equalizer, a flexible interface, skinning, and a plugin system for extensibility. It does NOT have a library feature so don’t expect to manage your music with GOM Audio – it’s just a music player.
For a deeper look at this program, check out our GOM Audio review.
AIMP3 is a music player that reminds me heavily of Winamp, except much cleaner and more modern. The interface is a bit more sophisticated without being more complicated and the whole thing just feels more complete to me. The base program is feature-complete as is, but with the plugin system, you can extend functionality even further.
A wonderful feature of AIMP3 is the Audio Library, which opens up and allows you to manage all of your music files with ease. Another great feature is the Tag Editor, which can be a bit daunting at first, but once you get the hang of it you’ll be keeping your music organized left and right. For someone who’s as obsessive about music tags as me, the Tag Editor is a godsend.
For a deeper look at this program, check out our AIMP3 review.
Nightingale [Windows, Mac, Linux]
Nightingale is a fork off of the more widely known Songbird Classic, but with Songbird recently closing its doors, Nightingale has pretty much become the main branch of Songbird’s codebase. And to be frank, Nightingale is everything that Songbird should’ve been from the start: fast, clean, with a focus on performance instead of eye candy. If you want extra features, there’s always the addon system.
One draw to Nightingale is the built-in web browser – a feature that never made sense to me, but apparently some people like being able to browse the web from right inside the player. The other draw is Nightingale’s Smart Playlists, which can set up dynamic filters and parameters to automatically create and adjust playlists for you on the fly. With Songbird out of the way, maybe Nightingale can finally shine as a powerful, lightweight music player.
For a deeper look at this program, check out our Nightingale review.
Clementine [Windows, Mac, Linux]
Clementine is somewhat of a middle-of-the-road music player. It provides more features than a typical lightweight player, but because of that, it ends up requiring a bit more resources than a true lightweight player. The interface is clean and intuitive, the controls are good, and it comes with managers for your music, cover art, cloud syncs, and more. I like Clementine because it has a strong audio library without sacrificing too much speed.
Out of all the programs on this list, Clementine is probably the least lightweight for the reasons mentioned above. Depending on how many songs you load into its library, the RAM requirements can hover close to the 75 MB cutoff that I use as one of the criteria for lightweight. Still, Clementine is a great piece of software that operates well even on older machines, so if none of the other choices appeal to you, give it a go.
For a deeper look at this program, check out our Clementine review.
Spider Player [Windows]
Spider Player is not the most amazing music player that you’ll ever see, but when you need a feature-complete music player that’s easy on the resources, it’ll do just fine. What’s even greater is that Spider Player can be portable, which means you don’t need to install it to use it. Stick it on a thumb drive and take it with you to use Spider Player on any computer you plug it into.
The interesting thing about Spider Player is that it used to be premium software, but a few years ago, the developers pushed out a final version and released a product key that allows anyone to unlock the Pro features for free. Don’t be frightened by the “hasn’t been updated since December 2010” aspect of Spider Player because it is pretty much complete and, as far as I can tell, doesn’t have any major bugs.
The product key to unlock Spider Player Pro (for version 2.5.3): 27U3Z909I95-KK147A893S4K6Y1M0F-780363812
For a deeper look at this program, check out our Spider Player review.
Foobar2000 took the lightweight music player market by storm many years ago, and it still reigns as king year after year. Many music players have tried to overtake it since then, and many of them have failed, but the music players on this list have enough merit on their own to be considered plausible alternatives to Foobar2000. Definitely give them a go if Foobar2000 isn’t perfect for you.
For those of you who have tried these music players, what do you think? Do you like them? Hate them? What other lightweight music players can you recommend? Please share your thoughts with us in the comments!