Tag! But which program is it?

There's no one killer app for editing your music collection's metatags. Sometimes the differences between programs is huge, as with 123Tag and CATraxx.

As storage becomes ever cheaper, maintaining a dramatically growing music collection can be hard work. There are few programs that will automatically tag your MP3s, fewer that will do it right the first time, and only a handful give you easy access to that meta information. 123Tag simplifies changing tag details, but is crippled by a clunky interface, and CATraxx makes a good show of trying to help you organize your tunes, but lacks a clear workflow.

No matter how good a program is, a badly designed interface can make even the most needed of programs useless. 123Tag's layout is outdated, but not impossible to manage. On the left is a directory tree of your music, and clicking on a folder shows you the list of songs in the center pane. Click on one to see the metatag details at the bottom. From there you can play the song through the built-in player or edit the tag details. The player's Play button is always grayed out, so you have to click on it to make sure a track is queued.

123Tag can batch edit customizations to metatags.

(Credit: 123Tag)

That's a limited range of features that don't really justify the $11.95 that the program costs, even though there are no other trial limitations. You can, however, rename the track based on current or edited metatag info, and you can also batch-edit tracks. The bland, icon-only layout, however, doesn't clarify this, and makes it quite difficult to figure what the program is really capable of.

If you've selected at least one track, you can hit F7 or click on the icon with the File Tag & Rename mouse-over label. I'd describe the icon to you, but it's too small to tell what it is. A pencil, perhaps? Anyway, from there users can access the best feature of the program: To change metatag info, select a filename based on this data, and change an entire album of songs at once. You can customize not only what information gets used in the MP3 name, but the order in which it appears. If you prefer the track number to precede the name, or want to insert a custom prefix or suffix, 123Tag will do it for you. The program does take you where you want to go, but it's not a fun or particularly pleasant way of getting there.

CATraxx certainly has a much more modern layout, but again it suffers from a lack of intuitive use. The best way to get started with it is to create a new database, and from there hit up the Menubar's Audio/Scan Folder option to add albums.

The trialware has a 50-album limit and costs $39.95.

CATraxx has features for both beginners and power users.

(Credit: CATraxx)

Once you have some albums and tracks to play with, the program gets much easier to use. There are multiple views, adjustable on the left nav, so that you can search and manage your collection in a manner that best suits your tastes. The view options, from Explorer and Album to Loan and Lookup, are self-explanatory. Click on one to see the contents of that album. Clicking on a song will open your default music player and start the track.

There's a Toolbar from which all major functions can be handled, including CDDB lookup, while double-clicking on an album opens up a metatag-editing panel. There's a secondary toolbar, too, that lists the alphabet for unspecific browsing. The features are generally thorough--you can set not just the year the album was published, but the date, too.

The feature set is quite deep. Beginners have some neat tricks to play with, like copying track info from one song and pasting it onto another. Power users can take advantage of more complex tools, like editing the database template. However, CATraxx is heavily reliant on the CDDB for data, and it's not very easy to make batch edits. There's almost too much you can do with the app, and not enough that gets right to the heart of simple, album-wide metatag edits.

I like the simplicity of 123Tag, but the advanced features of CATraxx are hard to argue with. For the cost, though, since neither one offers exactly what I want, I'm inclined to wait.

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