You don’t need to wrestle with iTunes in order to get music onto your iPhone. There are several alternative methods and workarounds, from full-on media transfer replacements to cloud-based workarounds and direct media playback.
You’ll still need to use iTunes to sync your iPhone, but you can sever ties with Apple’s bloated device manager when it comes to personal entertainment.
Use the iTunes iOS App
Perfect for: iTunes customers who have purchased media from Apple in the past.
If you’re a loyal iTunes customer, and you have media purchases tied to your account, you can download music while avoiding the desktop app entirely. Provided your device is signed in to the same Apple ID you used to buy your music, you can simply open the iTunes Store app on your iPhone or iPad and head to More > Purchased > Music to see your catalogue.
From here you can hit the cloud icon next to your music to download it. You can also purchase more music on the Music tab if you want to, then access it on any of your devices.
Alternative Library Managers
Perfect for: Copying music to your core iOS library, for use with the default Music app and other apps that provide media playback functionality. As this is a third party method, there is some risk involved.
Your iPhone stores its music in a media library, for which the Music app is essentially a front-end. Music that is stored in the core iOS library is easy to implement into other apps, which is how workout apps allow you to listen to music while receiving audio feedback at the same time.
It’s the way Apple designed music to work on your device, with iTunes serving as the entry-point for new files. There are a growing number of apps that write directly to this library, providing the “full fat” iOS music experience without the need for iTunes. The one drawback is that these are unofficial, so there’s a slight chance things will go wrong.
The best app for the job that we’ve tested is WALTR, a drag and drop affair that converts and transfers music directly to your device. Music added using WALTR is playable using the regular music app and other apps that use the iOS media library. The biggest drawback is the price, at just shy of $40. There’s a free trial available, so we suggest you try before you buy if you think you’re interested.
There are many iOS music manager apps that offer this sort of functionality, but we’ve not tested them all: CopyTrans, Wondershare MobileGo, iMusic from iSkysoft, and AnyTrans to name but a few. They’re all a bit steep in terms of price, but most offer a free trial so you can make sure they work as you expect.
Streaming Music Services
Perfect for: Quickly building a music library from a cloud-based catalogue, with a monthly fee for accessing as much as you want.
If you don’t have a huge library of music, or you appreciate the flexibility of a subscription-based “all you can eat” model, then streaming services are a good alternative. The most obvious choice for iOS users is Apple Music, as it integrates into the stock Music app and is billed through your iTunes account.
With an Apple Music subscription, you can enable iCloud Music Library under Settings > Music and build a catalogue of music in the cloud. Whatever you add to your collection on your iPhone will appear on your iPad, Mac, and other devices. It’s easy to download music to your device for offline use too, simply tap the cloud icon next to a playlist, album, or song to save to your device.
If Apple Music doesn’t appeal to you, you have options: Spotify, SoundCloud, Deezer, YouTube Red, Google Play Music, Amazon Prime Music, Microsoft Groove, and Tidal to name but a few. Each provides both streaming playback and the ability to download music for use without an internet connection (and to save bandwidth).
Some even allow you to specify the quality of music you stream and download, allowing you to choose between quality and economy, and higher bitrates or more available space. The biggest drawback with streaming services is availability — if you can’t find it in the catalogue, you can’t listen to it. Most services come with a free trial, so make sure you’re happy before you pay.
Local Media Players
Perfect for: Transferring your own DRM-free local media, micromanaging your mobile collection, and audiobooks.
Local media players are different to library managers like WALTR because they don’t write data to your core iOS library. Instead the files are stored in app storage, and are only available to the app you used to import them. The best example of a media player that plays local files is the excellent VLC for Mobile.
We’ve covered the process of ditching iTunes in favor of VLC before, and it can be an elegant solution for those who favor the manual approach to media management. Transfers can be done by drag-and-drop using a web browser and Wi-Fi, or using cloud services, or even connecting to a file server.
You can even send files using AirDrop to your device, then choose which app you want to save the file to for later playback. Check out our full list of iOS music players or download VLC and give it a shot. We’ve got a guide to the best DRM-free audiobook players for iOS too, if thats your thing.
Store Music in the Cloud
Perfect for: Those with a healthy collection who want to access it on-the-go, users with plenty of spare cloud storage.
If you want to store your own personal music collection in the cloud, for access on virtually any device, you might want to look into a cloud solution. The drawback here is that you’ll need a decent amount of cloud storage space, which means paying some sort of subscription once you exceed your free allotment.
— Pierre Chamberlain ?? (@_bigp) November 4, 2016
One of the best solutions is a Dropbox exclusive, using a free app called Jukebox [No longer available]. The app scans your Dropbox account for music files, then asks you what you want to import locally. It then sorts your files for you and allows you to play them offline. To add more music to your device simply upload it to Dropbox and import using Jukebox again.
There are solutions for virtually every service out there, like Google Play Music. Google’s service provides room for 50,000 personal songs for free, and offers a subscription-based music streaming service with 40 million songs ready to go. Amazon has Amazon Music, which is great if you have lots of existing Amazon music purchases as they’ll automatically appear in your account. Amazon also lets you transfer 250 songs for free, with the option to transfer 250,000 for $25 per year.
Finally a combination of Microsoft OneDrive and the Groove [No longer available] streaming app lets you use Microsoft’s own cloud storage for this purpose. You’ll get 15GB of storage for free, or you can fork over $7 per month for “unlimited” space. Load songs into OneDrive on your PC or Mac, then access them using Groove on your iPhone.
Have You Ditched iTunes?
iTunes isn’t quite dead yet. You’ll still need to rely on it for backing up your device locally, restoring backups (though you can restore your phone without iTunes), and syncing apps. The software is arguably less irksome on a Mac than it is on Windows, but in general it would be nice to see Apple overhaul iTunes and move iOS device management to a separate lightweight app.
Till then we can do everything in our power to avoid using it. For more on this, we’ve covered how to keep your iPhone and iPad synced. And if you’ve given up on iTunes on your Mac, check out these hi-res music player apps for Mac to enjoy your songs.