There are a lot of great music players for Windows, and it's next to impossible to make a broad "best" statement that applies to everyone. But that doesn't stop the powerful, lightweight, and customizable MusicBee from winning our hearts for the best music player on Windows.
Our former favorite, Winamp, has shut down—but that isn't why we've changed our minds on this one. "Dead" apps are still worth using if they're the best—we've just decided, after lots of testing and deliberation, that Winamp is no longer the best music player in our minds. You'll still find Winamp in the competition section at the bottom, as well as in our list of the five best desktop music players.
Note also that, while MusicBee is taking the place of "best music player" for this app directory, we know that a lot of you are fiercely loyal to your favorite music player, and with good reason—there are a lot of fantastic players for Windows. This is an app category that is very subject to personal taste and needs, and we get that. Check out the Competition section below for more info on some of our other favorite players for Windows.
Manages all your media and supports a number of formats including MP3, AAC, M4A, MPC, OGG, FLAC, APE, Opus, TAK, WV, WMA and WAV.
Create and manage playlists, and "smart" playlists that update based on custom filters
Enqueue songs into a "Now Playing" pane for on-the-go playlist creation.
Watch folders on your hard drive for changes and automatically adjust your library accordingly
Import libraries from iTunes and Windows Media Player
Sync Android phones, USB drives, some iPods, and many other portable music devices with your library
Convert files on-the-fly as you sync to your devices
Auto-tag your music using the music databases of your choice
Keep your files automatically organized in folder based on tags
Customize a number of different keyboard shortcuts
Subscribe, download, and listen to podcasts, either by searching MusicBee's podcast directory or by adding feeds yourself
Use advanced audio features like a 10-band equalizer, crossfade, WASAPI and ASIO playback, and more
Customize your player with skins, different layouts and views, and three different players including a mini player and compact player
A plugin architecture that lets you add lots of functionality to the player, like extra supported formats, skins, library organization tools, and other features (Winamp plugins supported)
An integrated browser that allows you to browse for just about anything in-player (useful for browsing plug-ins, skins, and so on)
Where It Excels
MusicBee hits the perfect sweet spot between easy to use, customizable, powerful, and lightweight. iTunes converts will have no problem getting to know the interface, but will also be able to easily add and moving panes for things like lyrics, Now Playing, artist information, and a lot more—without the pain of something like foobar2000. You can sync with a number of devices (though iOS syncing is very limited), auto-tag your files, customize a ton of keyboard shortcuts, and perform a ton of other advanced features—or if you prefer, you can just play your music through a simple, good-looking player. And best of all, it's completely free.
MusicBee only has one active developer working in his spare time, but it's also updated pretty darn often, has a great wiki, and a helpful forum where the developer is very active.
Where It Falls Short
As the jack of all trades, there are always other players that will be masters of one, and such is the case with MusicBee. It's very customizable, but not as insanely customizable as foobar2000. It has some useful advanced tagging and syncing features, but doesn't quite reach the power of MediaMonkey. If you need to sync lots of iOS devices, MusicBee will prove problematic (which is Apple's fault more than MusicBee's), and you might be stuck with iTunes, MediaMonkey (which can sync more iOS devices), or a third-party program like Copy TransManager just for syncing.
MusicBee also has a few other small annoyances. For example, MP3 and AAC encoders need to be installed separately due to licensing reasons, but anyone advanced enough to require the conversion features should have no problem installing these separate programs.
As we mentioned at the top, your choice of music player is a personal one, and what we consider the "best" isn't really the best for everyone—that's not possible. Our goal with the App Directory is to pick the best application for the majority of people, especially those unfamiliar with the available apps. If you've tried MusicBee and don't love it, here are some other great options.
MediaMonkey: We debated between MediaMonkey and MusicBee for a long time before settling on MusicBee. MediaMonkey does have a few other features—like iOS syncing and DLNA sharing—but it isn't quite as good-looking or as lightweight as MusicBee. Most importantly, however, is that some of MediaMonkey's features—including smart playlists, on-the-fly conversions, advanced searching, automatic library organization, and others—require a $25 version license or $50 lifetime license to access. Considering that these features are all available for free with MusicBee, it was hard to recommend the more limited MediaMonkey as the best player. Still, depending on your needs, it may be ideal for you.
Winamp: Winamp may be dead, but it's still a pretty solid player. It doesn't do much that MusicBee and MediaMonkey don't (Shoutcast support being one exception), but if you long for the llama-whipping days of the 90s or like its expansive list of skins, it could be worth a try.
Foobar2000: Foobar2000 is extremely lightweight and insanely customizable. It won't do much but play and tag music out of the box, but it also has a lot of plugins that let you customize its features to a ridiculous level. It's a bit more difficult to use than Winamp or MediaMonkey, though, especially when you first start customizing—so it's really a better player for advanced users that want to tweak every dark corner of the player.
iTunes: We aren't huge fans of iTunes on Windows, but if you're an iPhone user, it's certainly the easiest way to sync your music, apps, playlists, and other info to your phone (since it was made for it). That's pretty much the only reason to use it in our opinion, though, and even then, MediaMonkey can still sync to iDevices quite nicely, so we'd try that first.
These are some of the biggest ones, but there are still a ton of others, like Windows Media Player, the Zune Player, AIMP3, Clementine, and even VLC (though we'd be hard pressed to call that a full-featured music library program). The best thing you can do when looking for a music player on Windows is try a few out. If you don't feel like sifting through a ton of players, though, I'll eat my hat if you can't make MusicBee work the way you want it to.