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It's free, fun, and easy to use -- so why isn't everyone using iTunes? There are a couple of reasons: it only works with System 9; it conflicts with Roxio's CD-burning software Toast; and it isn't as customizable as MP3 players with skins. Now that SoundJam is, sadly, dead, what are your options? For your listening pleasure, we looked at MusicMatch 2.0, Cabrio 1.1, Macast 1.0, and, our favorite, Audion 2.5.
Music to Our Ears
Installation of all the players is simple and straightforward. The players are easy to use, as well. Once you open the application, it's simple to create a playlist by dragging and dropping your MP3 folder onto the empty playlist window.
All the applications allow you to change the look of the program with skins. Although skins don't change the functionality of the application, they do allow you to personalize it and occasionally they make the application more functional by rearranging the controls. Each application comes with a couple of skins, but you can download additional skins for Macast, Cabrio, and Audion, at www.macdigitalaudio.com. (MusicMatch hopes to create more skins for their player soon.)
All the players have free downloadable versions, although Macast only allows a 30-day trial period before you have to pony up the cash for the full version. To upgrade, you purchase a key code through the company's Web site. The paid versions of the applications come with technical support. Audion and Macast include an equalizer in their free version; MusicMatch's equalizer is available only with the paid version. Only MusicMatch and Audion support the encoding (or ripping) of MP3s.
See the Music
With Macast and Audion, you not only listen to your music but also watch it. Both players come with built-in visualizers similar to the one in iTunes. More visual plug-ins can be downloaded from www.macdigitalaudio.com.
When you get the urge to listen to more songs than you have in your playlist, Audion and Macast allow you to venture out onto the Web and listen to thousands of streaming radio stations.
At this time, Cabrio, Audion, and MusicMatch have Mac OS X versions available.
Macworld's Buying Advice
With dozens of MP3 players out there, it's hard to find one that stands out. But Audion's compatibility with everything from OS 8.1 to OS X, hundreds of skins, ability to encode MP3s, and built-in equalizer put it a step ahead of the pack.Slip Me Some Skin: These MP3 players all come with various skins that change the look of the player. This particularly fanciful one works with Audion.Pretty Pictures: Both Audion and Macast, shown here, create images to accompany the music.