Rock Out to Your Tunes with Winamp

I remember the days back when the only MP3s I could get my hands on were clips of songs from websites promoting CD albums – I was on a 9.6 kbps connection and it’d take about an hour to download 20 seconds of audio. But that was a big deal then and I wanted to enjoy listening to the music I’d acquired from the other side of the globe as best as I could.

I started trying out all the media players available on CDs that accompanied computer magazines and that’s when I first stumbled upon Winamp. The year was 1997, and thus began my love affair with the most beautiful media player for Windows. Is it any good today? Let’s find out.

Overview

Justin Frankel and Dmitry Boldyrev released Winamp in 1997 and its development was continued by Frankel’s new company Nullsoft. The app saw a large number of version updates with improvements in performance and substantial increases in the number of features.

Currently in version 5.6, Winamp is the benchmark against which modern media players are measured. If you own a lot of music, Winamp will help you organize and enjoy your collection with ease. Whether you love stumbling upon new artists or rediscovering old favorites, Winamp has got you covered. The free version comes with a boatload of features suitable for most users while the pro version adds on a few more that make it a must-buy for serious audiophiles.

Let’s get familiar with how it works, shall we?

Getting Started

Downloading and installing Winamp is fairly straightforward. You can start with the free version and upgrade later with no fuss – the installer will retain your settings, plugins and skins when you get the pro version or even update the app. You can choose from four default skins, including Classic, Modern, Bento and Big Bento.

I recommend going with Bento to get acquainted with most of Winamp’s features at first (or Big Bento if you’ve a large screen). This presents a unified interface that allows easy access to all the windows and most of Winamp’s features. When it loads for the first time, you’ll be prompted to point Winamp in the direction of where your music is located so it can index everything in your Media Library and make your collection searchable. This could take a few minutes depending on the size of your library so let’s get acquainted with the UI for a bit.

Winamp featuring the Bento skin

Winamp featuring the Bento skin

The Interface

The Bento skin is gorgeous and packs a lot of functionality into an organized window. The top left portion features the main player interface, with a song title and timer display as well as buttons for track functions (play, pause, stop, next track, previous track, shuffle, repeat) and volume control. The lightning bolt logo shows/hides the large Media Library area that takes up the bottom of the window.

The window’s top middle portion features album art and additional information like album name, track number, user track rating and so on. This area can be configured to show beat-mapped visualizations, skin customization options, playlists and more. The top right portion is the playlist, with buttons lining the bottom for adding/removing/selecting/sorting tracks and managing playlists.

Winamp's main window and album art/information display

Winamp's main window and album art/information display

Winamp's equalizer and playlist

Winamp's equalizer and playlist

The portion below these areas is the Media Library. This is the heart and soul of Winamp – it’s where all your media lives and from where it can all be managed, searched for and launched from. There are plenty of ways in which you can customize the view here, by resizing parts of the window, toggling album art display and showing or hiding columns to sort music by.

You can search for an album, artist or track using any information that it holds in it metadata, including genre and year. You can even type just the first few letters of the terms you want to search with and Winamp will find it instantly. The Media Library can also be set to watch folders that you specify for changes, thus updating itself when you add new music to your designated folders. There are also tabs to switch to the video player, the visualization screen and the integrated browser.

Winamp's Media Library

Winamp's Media Library

There’s so much more to the Media Library that it’ll actually take you a while to explore all its features. One of the latest and greatest additions to Winamp is the ability to sync with Android smartphones via wi-fi, so you can view your phone’s media and copy files between your phone and PC wirelessly. You can similarly manage cabled devices like iPods and other media players.

The Media Library also handles Online Services, which are web-based music apps customized for Winamp. These include SHOUTcast Radio with nearly 50,000 stations, MetroLyrics to display lyrics for current tracks, Spinner‘s free MP3 of the day and We Are Hunted‘s music charts, among others. You can even manage your podcasts by adding subscriptions via RSS feeds or by choosing from the included directory.

The pro version of Winamp adds fast CD ripping/burning and additional video codec support, which is worth paying for if you’re looking to get rid of all the other media-related software on your PC.

Add-ons Galore

As if Winamp didn’t already do enough, it supports plug-ins that can handle everything from controlling playback and adding track ratings from the system tray, additional visualization engines, fine DSP and EQ controls, support for remote control via hardware devices and many more. You can also change the look and feel of Winamp completely using skins, available on several websites including Winamp’s own and from design communities like Deviantart and Customize.

There are two types of skins – Classic (UIs designed on top of a template based on Winamp v2) and Modern (freeform skins which can include additional windows and features). There’s also a great add-on called ClassicPro which simplifies the process of creating complex skins for designers – resulting in a larger crop of freeform skins.

A selection of Classic and Modern Winamp skins

A selection of Classic and Modern Winamp skins

Conclusion

Winamphas come a long way since its inception – with constant development and updates, it kept up with the changing needs of users and delivered a media management experience that made sense and worked well. Today, Winamp is still one of the most powerful apps out there that can handle your local audio, video and streaming media.

Winamp does a lot of things and does them all very well. It’s like the Swiss Army Knife of media players and is easily the best-looking even with its default skin. It’s also one of the first apps I install on a new PC. If you’re in the market for an alternative to iTunes or Windows Media Player, give the free version of Winamp a shot.

What do you feel about Winamp? Let us know in the comments section below and thank you so much for reading!


Summary

Winamp is the definitive media player for Windows that can handle all your audio/video/streaming media playback and organization needs.

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