There are a number of great digital-music players already on CNET Download.com--iTunes rules the roost because of its compatibility with iPods; MediaMonkey is fantastic for free music management and playlist creation; JetAudio Basic is packed with features for burning and broadcasting via JetCast; the classic free player Winamp now provides Internet TV and music videos; and Quintessential Player, my personal favorite player, is the perfect size for those who prefer a light system footprint.
A new digital-music player called MXPlay focuses primarily on one facet that most of the current software doesn't even mention: sound quality. Designed mostly for streaming audio, MXPlay augments even the lowest-quality 96kbps music streams to provide a more full-bodied sound for your favorite tunes. Also, a unique graphical interface lets you position your virtual speakers and audience to tweak the sound of your songs to your heart's content, and a built-in browser lets you both surf the Web and add photos and videos to create your own music mashups.
I was lucky enough to meet with MXPlay CEO Rupen Dolasia and "Product DJ" Josh Melick yesterday for a guided walk-through of the features in the new music player.
The interface is divided into two main sections. The right side of MXPlay is devoted to creating playlists, managing your library, and discovering music via the Web. Similar to the open-source app Songbird, MXPlay also includes a Web browser with its music player. MXPlay's browser is built off Internet Explorer and is a fairly basic implementation, so forget about tabs or customizable search engines. The main point of the browser is to detect streaming music from any Web page and to link the application with the MXPlay Web site, which includes playlists and mashups from its users.
Like Songbird, MXPlay automatically searches any Web page for music and displays all tunes in a new frame at the bottom of the browser. Whereas Songbird lets you pick and choose specific Internet songs to a playlist, MXPlay automatically adds all of them to a temporary "Web Playlist" that disappears when you navigate away from that page. To save a Web track for playing later with MXPlay, you'll need to create a new playlist and add that specific song to it.
The left-hand portion of the MXPlay interface is where the real fun starts. Called the AudioSpace Mixer, this part of the interface lets you adjust the sound of your playback and add photos or videos to individual tracks. The top portion contains an intuitive graphical interface for setting up your "room," which consists of the listener (you, represented by a head), and your speakers. You can drag individual speakers to specific positions, rotate them as a set, or move them closer or farther away from the listener. You can also move or rotate the head graphic to determine the position and orientation of the listening audience. Two additional buttons on the top left and top right of the AudioSpace Mixer interface let you increase the size of your room and the level of reverb.
While any track is playing, you can select the "Moves" button in the AudioSpace Mixer to bring up a small recording panel that can record sound-setting macros. Click the Record button, make your sound-setting tweaks, and hit Stop Recording when you're finished. That new "Move" will now repeat through your song in MXPlay, and you can save the file to associate your customization with that track permanently and share your finished AudioSpace with other MXPlay users.
While the ability to customize a virtual room for personalized playback does help MXPlay sound quite a bit better than other streaming-music applications, the coolest part of the AudioSpace Mixer is the ability to add videos from YouTube, MySpace, Metacafe, and other sources. When a video is played in the MXPlay browser, an orange bar pops up asking whether you'd like to import the video to your AudioSpace. Clicking the bar transports the streaming video file into the AudioSpace Mixer on the left, and it starts playing along with your song.
A simple control menu lets you rotate the video, scale the background, or pan from side to side, but the editing features are fairly minimal. It's mostly best to stick in your music, pick a video, and then let them fly. One personal niggle I have with the AudioSpace creation process is that you have to start with a music track. If you select an online video, and then decide to change the music, you'll need to create a new AudioSpace and import the video again. You can also use a still photo instead of a video, but that's not nearly as fun.
Once you've saved your final audio/video mashup, it will automatically show up in the Library tab, under "My AudioSpaces." In order to share your AudioSpace with other MXPlay users, both the audio and video will need to be online streams and you'll need an account at the MXPlay Web site. If those two conditions are satisfied, sharing your AudioSpace or any playlist you create is as easy as clicking the "up" arrow on any individual AudioSpace file or the "Share Playlist" button beneath the playlist interface.
While it's possible to embed a link to your finished AudioSpace on any Web site, it's not yet possible to embed the actual video, which means that your friends and family will also need to install MXPlay to listen to or watch your creations. Each individual AudioSpace has embed code for MySpace, generic Web sites, or standard URLs, such as the link below.
MXPlay is a public beta version, although it's very close to final, according to Mr. Dolasia and Mr. Melick. I did experience some instability with the program, but nothing serious. When I first imported a 20GB library of MP3 files, MXPlay handled the library additions fine, but then it crashed the first time I tried to play a local track. I haven't had any problems since, but adding a song from my Web Playlist to a saved playlist freezes the application for about 10 seconds. Likewise, double-clicking an AudioSpace to play it often causes the program to freeze up for about as long.
A Mac beta version of MXPlay built off Safari is expected shortly, and the team has a list of new features that it's considering, either in the form of interface additions or new plug-ins. Though MXPlay is extensible, the environment has not yet been opened up to third-party developers, so there are only two usable plug-ins at this point. The Last.fm add-on scrambles all of the tracks you listen to in MXPlay, and the nifty WiiMote plug-in lets you control the sound settings in your AudioSpace using the motion-sensitive Wii controller.
If you like MXPlay and want to check out more of my AudioSpaces or saved playlists, I'm username mrgrimm at the MXPlay Web site.