Billed as the simple yet powerful, audio-lover’s audio player, Foobar2000 is this week’s Freeware Frenzy program. Let’s take a look at what it can do.
During installation you’ll want to peruse the options briefly; they are all hidden in one tree. I chose to install the extra tools that are not included by default to experience everything Foobar had to offer. Be sure to watch the shortcuts though, all three are selected by default. You’ll only need 5MB of disk space to install and the program is ready to use in seconds.
Unfortunately Foobar has no setup wizard to speak of; you’ll have to fend for yourself. Fortunately for us the player is extremely simple to use. I first added my music through the "Open Directory" option. Using ‘Open’ will only find loose music files. For advanced customization, you’ll need to head into the preferences menu. There you can tell Foobar your music folders’ locations and it will scan them all into memory. Then you can open your Album list at any time under the ‘Library’ menu and choose which albums, or all, to add to the play list. You can choose how to organize the music and filter out the unwanted albums in the process.
The first thing I noticed about Foobar is its appearance, or lack thereof. The player is simply a gray and white window with some playback buttons, a ‘visualization’ of the weakest degree and a progress bar. You’ll notice below the controls your library is in a tab. Aha, a redeeming feature to distract me from the depressing look. Foobar allows the user to create various play lists and keep them in tabs for lightning fast retrieval. You’ll also fine an equalizer with a whopping 18 bands. Audiophiles who tweak their sound as often as they exhale will certainly enjoy this feature. For comparison, the ‘popular’ music players like Winamp 5, Windows Media Player 11 and iTunes 7 only have the more standard,10 band EQ.
All of the included extras in Foobar are concealed behind the right click menu on the play list. Let’s take a look at these next.
Much of the extra tools in Foobar revolve around editing and fixing your music files. Under the ‘Utils’ menu, you can fix headers, edit gapless playback and rebuild MP3 streams. None of these should be used unless a certain file has corrupted sound or tags. Speaking of tags, you’ll next come across the ‘Tagging’ menu to reload tags, rewrite them or even remove them. For extensive retagging, try some of the dedicated apps I’ve reviewed in the past, such as TigoTago: http://pcmech.com/article/tigotago/ and ID3 Tag-It: http://pcmech.com/article/id3tagit-3-mp3-tagger/
Next, Replay Gain is a feature that will analyze the volume of each track and equalize them all. I have not often come across tracks with radically different volumes, but it can happen. If you ever find yourself reaching for that volume knob for a certain album, you’ll want to try this feature.
On the Foobar website, www.foobar2000.org, you will find some add-ons, such as CD burning (requires Nero) and statistics. Further add-ons on the developer’s page greatly add to Foobar’s appeal. The two that I found most appealing were ‘foo_dop’ and ‘foo_xm’. With these, you’ll be able to connect your iPod and transfer music as well as stream your XM radio account through Foobar. There are dozens of others to play around with to customize music support, playback, remote control, tagging, and thankfully, the UI. Surf the full list of Foobar plug-ins here: http://wiki.hydrogenaudio.org/index.php?title=Foobar2000:Components_0.9
Now that we have looked at what Foobar can do, how does it stack up to the competition? The most obvious drawback compared to Winamp and Windows Media Player is a lack of video support. In today’s media-centric computing, combining video and music playback into one program is a no-brainer. Second, Foobar is easy to start using, but not very friendly when you are adding plug-ins and customizing them. The end results may or may not be worth the trouble to some users. With all of that said, Foobar is your ticket to a no-frills audio player.