17
May
Web
Last Updated: July 24th, 2011

Listening to tunes on your Android device is serious business - no doubt about it.

It's so serious that many of us are pretty well set in our ways for what we consider the "choice" Android music-listening application, and we aren't willing to budge on it.

PowerAMP users, for example, swear by the application's seemingly endless list of customizations and options. On the other hand, Subsonic devotees like myself are advocates of what is probably the most configurable music streaming experience in existence. But the big boys have come to play, and with Google Music Beta entering the foray, along with Amazon's still-somewhat-new Cloud Player, the war for musical dominance on Android getting louder by the minute. But who reigns supreme?

Feature Google Music Amazon Cloud Player Subsonic PowerAMP Winamp
Streaming Yes Yes Yes (via server) No No (Wi-Fi sync)
Local Storage Playback Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes
Playlist Support Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes
Music Storefront No Yes No No No
Multi-Format Playback Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes
Equalizer / Tone Adjustment No No No Yes No
Scrobbling No No Yes Yes Yes
Gapless Playback No No No Yes No
Internet Radio No No No No Yes
Lock-screen Music Controls No Yes Yes Yes Yes
Cost Free (For now) ~$10 For 20GB $15 (for server) $4.99 Free

That's quite a few features to consider - and really, these apps are all a little different from one another in their music-acquisition philosophies, something that Artem felt made a comparison, in some respects, difficult. I disagree - aside from dedicated internet radio applications (ala Pandora, Grooveshark, etc), most of us probably just use one other music application. We've all probably chosen that application based on our individual needs, as well.

For example, I chose Subsonic because I have a very large (>100GB) music collection, much of which is in high-fidelity 320Kbps MP3 format, meaning the amount of space each of my albums takes up can be rather ginormous. This makes storing any substantial amount of music on my phone locally a little difficult, but Subsonic allows me to cache the last 10GB of I've streamed so that it can still be played offline - rather convenient when you're trying to keep your data use down or have no signal. Also, I don't want to pay for 100GB of Amazon or (eventually) Google storage. But I also have a pretty decent internet connection at home - so that factors in as well.

When it comes down to it, choosing a music app is all about what your needs are - so we're going to break down the strengths and weaknesses of the major players.

#5 Google Music 3.0

You Should Use It If: You're a beta-invitee to Google Music, have a vendetta against Amazon, and Subsonic is too complex or impractical for you.

snap20110515_221431

Before I even delve into Google Music, be aware, I'm not a beta-invitee at this point, so I can't legitimately comment on the quality of the service's streaming, tagging, etc. Though I can say what I know about the Music application itself - it is about as bare-bones as you can get. But it does keep things simple - something Google is famous for doing well.

Unfortunately, I don't think the Music application really is done all that well. The scrolling cover-art background is a nice touch, but when most of you albums don't have artwork, it starts to look more bland than exciting. Google's tagging recognition on tracks is generally good, and the various sort options lend an illusion of flexibility. In reality, they just take up space at the top of the screen. I think most of us are pretty content with hierarchical (artist -> album -> song) sorting. If I ever want the entire list of songs or albums on my phone, I'll let you know.

Music has, essentially, no configuration options. It doesn't have lockscreen music controls - something even Amazon Cloud Player can lay claim to. In combination with the actual Google Music locker service, Music becomes more robust, but only just enough to compete with Amazon's product, and even at that, it's hard to see how Google's service is any better.

#4 Amazon Cloud Player

You Should Use It If: Subsonic is a little too technical for you (or you don't have an always-on desktop at home), you still want cloud-based music streaming, and you buy a substantial portion of your MP3's from Amazon.

snap20110515_221509

Amazon Cloud Player has burst onto the Android music scene seemingly out of left field. Unfortunately, its newcomer-status stills shows at this point - while it is very easy to set up, Cloud Player is a fickle application with limited configuration options. Though it does support the basics (a "Now Playing" list, playlists, shuffle), the application itself is nothing to write home about. In fact, I've found that while streaming over Cloud Player, any significant interruption to your connection will simply cause the player to skip to the next track and start downloading it, instead. Talk about annoying.

But, Amazon does offer you 20GB of cloud storage after one album purchase from Amazon's MP3 store, and any purchases made therein don't count against your storage limit - quite the incentive to buy yet more stuff from the US's favorite digital retailer. The Cloud Player upload utility isn't terrible, either, but it's by no means great.

Cloud Player also scans your device for locally stored tunes, so you aren't limited to your Cloud library. Frustratingly, you can't simply download single tracks for playback or storage, unless you want to add them one-by-one to a playlist or the now playing queue with a long press action. This is part of the reason I stick with Subsonic - I can pick and choose the tracks I want to download or play with checkboxes, and that's not exactly revolutionary technology.

#3 Winamp

You Should Use It If: You use Winamp on your home computer, internet radio stations are something you enjoy, and you want to spend approximately zero dollars.

snap20110515_233942

Winamp is hands-down the easiest among the top three music players to get up and running, particularly if you've used Winamp for Windows before (for the syncing side of things, that is). It's also the only app on the list that straddles the fence between streaming and pure local playback, via its Wi-Fi Sync utility. Winamp won't download tracks from your home computer's library unless it's connected via Wi-Fi and the library is visible on your network - something a lot of people may not be comfortable with.

Still, Winamp offers a lot of options (like a built-in list of internet radio stations, and free sponsored music downloads) for a free piece of software (it's the only truly free service of the five), and it looks good doing it. But Winamp is, at heart, a local media player with a few tenuous connections to the net.

#2 Subsonic

You Should Use It If: You have a dedicated, always-on desktop computer at home with a robust net connection, a large music collection, and some patience to set everything up.

snap20110515_221612

Subsonic is a great, great piece of software. But it requires a significant amount of setup on the PC end, and it's not a true cloud service - it just uses your home computer or server to stream music to your phone. This does allow almost endless configurability of your streaming experience, which is really great if you're even a semi-power-user like me. Unfortunately, the Android application does leave some things to be desired in terms of a real music experience.

Namely, Subsonic has none of the awesome volume, tone, and equalizer controls of PowerAMP (which is why you'll see PowerAMP occupying the #1 spot below), and it just doesn't look nearly as awesome. Subsonic holds its own - it has bitrate adjustment options right inside the app, it can support up to three individual Subsonic servers, and has cool menus for things like recently added or most played tracks.

You can also adjust how many songs Subsonic will stream in advance, and how much SD storage it can take up as cache (you can even set it to unlimited). Subsonic is the  bona-fide music geek streaming service, and I don't see myself switching any time soon. Also, be wary: the Subsonic server is free for a limited trial, but after that, you'll need to cough up $15 to register your server for mobile streaming. You do get a nifty Subsonic domain prefix, though, to make the process of connecting to your server a lot easier to remember.

#1 PowerAMP

You Should Use It If: Streaming is either unimportant to you, or you don't mind downloading from the cloud via another app and playing in PowerAMP, and being able to truly customize your music listening experience is a crucial deciding factor for you.

snap20110515_221754

PowerAMP takes itself very seriously, and anyone who takes listening to music seriously can appreciate that. While PowerAMP definitely isn't easy to set up by the average-person standard (though for most of us reading here, it's probably very simple), it's significantly less work than Subsonic, and there's no doubt in my mind that it's a much better application overall. Of course, PowerAMP doesn't have any streaming or cloud access options, so you have to make do with local storage. Combined with any one of the above three streaming services, though, you can bridge the cloud "gap" with only a little extra work by simply downloading the tracks you want to listen to, and letting PowerAMP scan the directories they're located in.

PowerAMP's equalizer and tone controls are fantastic. It's the only Android music player with gapless playback and crossfade options. It has more buttons than a 1960's stereo - and I love it. It really is the music lover's music app - and that's why it sits atop our list. And at $5, it may seem a bit steep, but you're getting more features and customization options than you can shake a stick at.

Conclusion

I ordered these apps in what I considered a fair evaluation of their utility and general good-ness, but really, any of them may cater best to your specific needs. If you can't live without streaming, no amount of knobs and buttons will get you to switch to PowerAMP. Likewise, if you can't tear yourself from Winamp's radio stations and simple Wi-Fi sync, Subsonic might be a tough sell.

What's your favorite music app on Android? Still convinced subscription and radio services like Pandora, Grooveshark, and Spotify reign supreme? Let us know in the comments.

David Ruddock
David's phone is whatever is currently sitting on his desk. He is an avid writer, and enjoys playing devil's advocate in editorials, and reviewing the latest phones and gadgets. He also doesn't usually write such boring sentences.

  • http://www.droid-den.com Lekky

    *cough*Spotify*cough* :P

    • http://www.AndroidPolice.com Artem Russakovskii

      Not available in the U.S. which is where David is from.

  • http://www.droid-den.com Lekky

    Oh, might be cool to add in something that says what countries they are available in, maybe just "USA only" Y/N or something :P

  • lord_marak

    As an audiophile the choice is simple, no equialization = useless crapp (I exaggerate with "crapp" of course...)

    • http://www.droid-den.com Lekky

      You can get quote good standalone equalizer apps tho, its not a huge deal.

      • lord_marak

        Yeah that's an option alright, never used one though, doesn't them introduce compatibility issues and the like? you know this player doesn't like that equalizer o r that equalizer is messing with some other stuff it shouldn't? what's your experience?

        • http://www.wix.com/Gigitsu/Gigitsu/Home GigiAUT

          The DSP Manager in most of the custom ROM's isn't bad though. I was using it with WinAmp and honestly, the bass was so crisp (bass boost and EQ had to be tuned though). I tried PowerAMP's EQ all by itself and while it does manage to get the higher frequencies nice and leveled, that thumping crisp bass was missing. Turned on the DSP boost and regulated everything, awesome audio experience!

    • TOMMMMMM

      Don't audiophiles generally hate equalization i.e. digital manipulation of their music? I prefer to listen to my FLAC music with my Senns and Omega Claro and no equalization because its the way the song was meant to be heard. The only reason to use an equalizer IMHO is if you have a crappy soundcard and/or headphones and those people are usually not audiophiles anyways.

      • lord_marak

        well there are, as always, several factors an d as you mention it crappy headphones play a major role here, living in a country whose economy is crap leaves with little options (not just the budget one but also the lack of variety of options you can get (at ridiculously inflated prices)) plus we are talking about the music in your phone...doesn't necessary has to be the best music player around, I do like to change sound and experiment, don't think we should generalize. Different people, different tastes, different situations...

        • TOMMMMMM

          Fair point, plus I don't know if the audio hardware built into any of these Android devices are really capable of bringing out FLAC over 320kbps MP3's to notice the difference. I was talking mainly equalizers when using a computer, which is and should be different than smartphones. Anyways, if you want a good pair of earbuds for cheap, Nuforce NE-6M or 7M are really great, especially with TX 400 tips

        • lord_marak

          thanks for the tip, will check those out. As a side comment I would like to point out that I have a Galaxy S (first smartphone and data plan I 've ever had so I had to pay big money for it (the equivalent to about almost 700 US bucks so no good earbuds in the recent future (had some shure e2c was about the best i could get for a decent price at the time)...)) It has a good sound chip and you can get some hardware equalization + a headphone amplifier, that with the software stuff...you get quite a good sound, on the other hand I read that one of the new versions (was it Ice Cream Sandwich) would have native FLAC support so we have to see what the hardware can deliver...

        • TOMMMMMM

          I use cyanogenmod which has FLAC support, and it sounds pretty good, but it would definitely sound better on my EVO with an external AMP, but I don't know if I want to drag those around with me, probably would only be useful while at work on the computer. I hear you, smartphones are expensive!!!

        • lord_marak

          Jajaja Other point to take into account...Galaxy S + External Amp + Expensive Head/Earphones + walking back home at night 'cause I don't own a car (which is mainly why I use my phone as a music player) in a street were I was robbed 'bout 5 months ago = Bad idea jajajaja I risk more than enough with the Galaxy...would like nice pair of earbuds tho...

  • asdase23e

    very not interested in streaming (actually hate it),amount of options, flac support, nice look, working equalizer, app2sd with working widgets, constant updates plus all wrapped in one great package of PowerAmp - my choice since it's early beta stages, also never regretted that I bought it

  • Xal

    Nice comparison !

    I use Subsonic at office to listen and download songs from my home computer and I use PowerAmp when I don't have a wifi connection.

    I think people need an equalizer in subsonic like in PowerAmp. I have the chance to get DSP Manager on my Oxygen rom, so subsonic plays song with perfectly.

    (sorry for bad/strange english :p)

  • http://doulostheos.com Adam Skinner

    Audiogalaxy should be included in this comparison, moreso than Winamp etc.

  • Sam

    where is audiogalaxy????
    why is there PowerAMP & Winamp on this comparison???

    • MicroNix

      Because they are quite possibly *the* two best music players for Android? PowerAMP's dev is a genius. That is one tight app that I'd pit against any platform's music player. Hands down.

  • h3llb3nd4

    and where's playerpro?

    • http://www.AndroidPolice.com Artem Russakovskii

      Not in the 5 players selected for this comparison.

  • Rich

    Lack of Audiogalaxy (when it is superior to Subsonic), is frustrating.

    • http://www.AndroidPolice.com Artem Russakovskii

      It can't be superior to Subsonic when it only has a subset of features. And it routes all the music through AG's servers, while Subsonic streams directly and does no such thing.

      • Michael

        Feature set is not be the only factor in determining software quality.

  • Álmos

    "You Should Use It If: You have a dedicated, always-on desktop computer at home"

    Or if you have a dedicated linux server... like cool people do.

    • Christo Acosta

      What are you running it on? I could be wrong, but in my experience, 9 and a half times out of 10, it's running on a desktop computer :P

    • Barrydocks

      Subsonic is fairly easy to set up if you are already running a desktop Linux flavour and don't mind using the keyboard a little - there are plenty of how too instructions around.
      If you can set up a sever it's a peace of cake and you can use your ldap server for user admin :-)
      No video streaming on the android app yet though :-(

  • edintigertony

    I agree that Poeramp is #1. I use it with iSyncr and iSyncr wifi combined with smart playlists to seemlessly refresh the music on my Android whenever I choose to sync it

  • Inspiron41

    if google bought poweramp that would be just perfect combo

  • Mike

    Audiogalaxy is extremely easy to set up and it sounds like it works like subsonic, streaming from a computer that is perennially on. It's free though, and I don't think they are going to start charging anytime soon.

  • ocdtrekkie

    I love my Google Music Beta. I've always used the stock music player, which has always lacked in features, but now that they're going to have a service behind it, I'm expecting them to update it more and add more to it.

  • ryan

    I love songbird's interface - find it to be comparable in features (and price!) to Winamp - but superior in interface, useability, and design.

  • http://www.ovcharski.com Nikola

    I prefer Songbird over WinAmp

  • OFI

    Could throw Plex into that mix too.

  • m20120

    Another vote for Audiogalaxy! I tried Subsonic but I did not like the UI on the Android app.

  • Chopper Joe

    I want to thank the reviewer for providing a clear and helpful objective review, not just specs but also strengths and weaknesses of each program. Also, I appreciate it that the reviewer recognizes that users will have different needs and uses for a program rather than pushing one as "best" for all users under all conditions.

    Much appreciated.

  • Relic419

    PowerAMP for on-device music, but truthfully, I've been using Amazon Cloud Player significantly more. I purchase all my music from Amazon already, so I find it convenient to save to the cloud and play on multiple devices I own.

    I wish Amazon would open up an API for cloud player, that way, it could potentially be integrated into PowerAMP...best of both worlds if you ask me.

  • ArtemIsAwesome

    How can you not include bluetooth options on the table? Many Android apps I've tried absolutely suck at dealing with a simple bluetooth streaming connection - they'll start playing when connected to the car stereo, but play the music through the phone's speaker instead of the stereo, they won't pick up from where they left off, or they just won't respond at all to the car's controls. PowerAMP handles bluetooth flawlessly. All other player should use PowerAMP as the gold standard when developing their bluetooth support.

  • RobG

    Audiogalaxy - have you seen/used this? It effing rocks. I've tried all the craptastic software in your so-called countdown, and Audiogalaxy has 'em all beat. To not even mention it...c'mon you're embarrassing yourself.

  • MicroNix

    What's everyone going to do when unlimited data plans are gone? Watch this "excitement" over streaming songs you already own and can throw on your SD card fade into the sunset! What is the obsession with requiring a data connection to listen to your music? I've got far more than I can fit on an SD card, but can figure out how to rotate playlists...

    • TOMMMMMM

      People also forget about the battery drain from streaming high quality music vs playing it locally.

  • http://www.diegoliveira.com.br Diego Potapczuk

    PowerAMP, one big reason i bought it is because its early headsets function and the option to chose wich folder is your music. (Some players just scan everything and eventually find games sounds and such)

  • Ellett

    PowerAMP for local music playback, TuneIn Radio Pro for streaming Internet radio. Amazing combination. Two of the most functional, best designed apps available.

  • LambrosN

    I believe that PowerAMP is the best music player you can buy for Android by far!! On the other hand if you don't want to spend money on something like a music player the best choice is Winamp. The only problem with PowerAMP is that everytime I add new songs and I choose the library view it becomes a little messy with the sorting of the songs. But that's not such a big deal!!

  • James

    Mspot? Or is it just me that likes it?

  • Gergo

    What about Mecanto? That's the best for me, does the same as Subsonic but streams from their central server, not your home pc

  • bob

    PlayerPro should be in that list. It is a very porwerful and complete music player with an UI less confusing that PowerAmp.

  • Bill W

    Subsonic is amazing. Streams from your home computer directly to your device unlike AudioGalaxy which requires an intermediate server. Also caches recent downloads locally up to the amount of GB you specify. AudioGalaxy won't stream WMA and Subsonic will. Subsonic does video too. Subsonic app is awesome if you don't need equalization controls. No contest.

  • Rits

    Seriousy, no PlayerPro? It kicks PowerAmp in the butt for what its worth! Much better UI imo and sounds cleaner too. And it supports lossless since the last 2 updates! What the hell and why's Winamp here? It does nothing better other than the syncing thing, that's it. Appalling sound quality and woah, streaming? Anyone serious about the audio quality would run away when you mention streaming audio..

    Bollocks!

  • Neil D. Hunt

    For the price (free) Google music beta works for me! It is improving and you can adjust for any songs or album art it gets wrong the no eq duz sucks but I run it thru an eq or really decent external speakers ONLY using 4g and 3g on phone no wifi no problem so kinda impressed w/ that and get quality stream in known bad locations in LA. Like it except the damned no screenlock!!! Way smarter to upload music in batches rather than whole library. I'm @ about 2k songs now 10k limit ;) for FREE can't complain...