Even the staunchest Apple fan has difficulty defending iTunes. Apple’s perennial music management-cum-everything software is the poster boy for feature creep (the software term for adding bloating a program with additional features til it no longer performs its original task clearly).

iTunes does so much that it’s hard to live without for Mac users. As well as playing music, it also manages movies, TV shows, and home videos; and books; and the apps for your iPhone, iPad and iPod touch; and the photos; and podcasts; and iTunes U episodes. It’s also the store so you can buy more of these things. And it acts as the device backup, update and restore tool for iOS devices.

Also: Best Mac for making music and Audio reviews

Using iTunes for music

iTunes is a mess. It’s a lousy music player for one thing: it’s slow, confusing, and the interface lacks elegance. Perhaps the best you can say with it is ‘on the Mac it’s a lot better than it used to be’ (it seems to crash less often in our experience). On Windows, however, it’s something of a disaster. It’s one of the key reasons Windows users look at Apple fans with befuddlement, as if to say “this… this is the sort of computer experience you’re trying to sell me?”

It’s actually pretty hard for a Mac fan to completely get rid of iTunes. It’s used for so many things that should be baked into Mac OS X that it’s more than a media manager, if you have an iOS device you’re probably going to have to keep it around.

Mind you, that doesn’t mean you have to use it for its original intended purpose: playing music. There are some really cool alternatives to iTunes that’ll re-introduce you to the idea of music being fun.

Here are some cool iTunes alternatives:

Ecoute

PixiApps Ecoute is a standalone music player (Free, download here). It’s a great minimal music player that integrates directly with your iTunes library, and keeps metadata synced. So basically you can use Ecoute to manage the iTunes library. The advantage here is that you don’t need to spend a lot of time moving iTunes over to Ecoute; but the interface is clearer, the search function much faster and it has a range of themes that make it nice to look at.

Ecoute 

Fidelia

If you’re really into audio then Fidelia will be a great step up from the beginner vibes you’ll get from iTunes. It leans towards the high-def market with a range of optional AU plug-ins, processing and resampling features. It even looks like classic audio systems, which is great if you hate the ‘artistic design’ of iTunes’ Album Flow. Fidelias big strength is its pro features though. Fidelia Advances costs $49 but offers a range of iZotope and Dither resampling options. It’s great for audio geeks.

 Fidelia

Enqueue

Enqueue (free, download here) is a great music player that reminds us of an iTunes of simpler  times. It’s a great option if you’re ready to throw iTunes out of the window and just want a good, functional music player. It’s fast, and clean and enables you to import your iTunes Library over to a new Enqueue library. It has some useful features like Folder Monitoring, and extensive media playback support but on the whole it’s good, clean, fast, basic music player.

Enqueue

Spotify

Everybody knows Spotify, but it’s worth re-iterating that a great alternative to managing an iTunes library, or indeed any music library, is to simply abandon buying music in favour of streaming it instead. Spotify has more music than you’ll ever need and £4.99 per month will get the service ad-free, while £9.99 also allows you to use Spotify on your iPhone.

See: Spotify for iOS review

Spotify

Google Play

Google Play is a recent service that provides a good alternative to both iTunes and Spotify. It’s free service enables you to download all of your iTunes music into the Google Cloud, where you can search and access it online. The web-based interface is nicer than iTunes, but not as clean as something like Enqueue, and it does feel like it’s trying to direct you via the store an awful lot. But it’s a free way to get your music in the cloud and you can access it from anywhere; and a premium service offers Spotify-like all-the-music-you-can-eat functionality.

Google Play

See also: Google Play review and Guide to using iTunes Match