If you love to tweak and customize your software applications to work just the way you want, extensibility is key - and the free audio player for Windows, foobar2000, is the most extensible player on the market.
When it comes to control, it doesn't get any better than foobar2000. Although the foobar2000 core is closed source, it's got an active community developing add-ons (kind of like Firefox extensions) to extend the functionality of this quick, lightweight audio player. Let's dive into foobar2000 and take a look at some of the best plug-ins and methods for customizing this player to fit your needs.
First, head on over to the foobar2000 web site and download and install the latest foobar2000 player. The installer weighs in at a tiny 1.6 MB - a refreshing alternative to the 36 MB iTunes download.
You'll (obviously) want to add your music library to foobar2000 (it's the same thing you do with any media player, right?). So go to File -> Add Directory, and browse to your music directory. Once you've done so, you'll see something like the very simple, fairly boring player below.
Not terribly sexy, is it? But that's one of the things that makes foobar2000 so great. You start with an empty canvas, but you can build it up to a completely customized player that suits your individual needs very nicely. Below, I'll introduce you to my favorite plug-ins for tweaking foobar2000:
First thing you'll want to do is download one of the interface plug-ins. My favorite for its simplicity but power is the Columns UI plug-in,
which separates the songs metadata into columns more like other media
players like iTunes (see above). When you download this and other
plug-ins, you'll get a .dll file (and maybe couple other files,
depending on the plug-in). To install the plug-in, just add it to the
components folder of your foobar2000 directory (by default, this should
be somewhere like
C:\Program Files\foobar2000\components). In order for the plug-in to take effect, you'll need to restart foobar2000.
Next, since I'm a fan of album art, the Album Art panel was my next installation. Like you'd expect, it lets you display album art wherever you want in your player. I should note at this point that in order to use the Album Art panel you have to add it to your layout in the foobar2000 preferences. So for example, go to File -> Preferences, then Display. If you want to use the Columns UI but haven't enabled it, choose it from the "User Interface Module" drop-down. Then click on Columns UI in the sidebar and choose the Layout tab. You'll see a relatively empty window that, by default, probably says something like Columns Playlist.
From here, you get to start building your foobar2000 interface. Through the right-click context menu, you can add horizontal and vertical "splitters" and add components to the different parts of your player. For example, to add the Album Art panel that we just installed, right-click one of your splitters (if you don't have a splitter, add one), select Insert panel -> Panels -> Album Art. Hit Apply and you'll see the Album Art panel appear in your layout. Don't like where it is? You can move it up and down, or just re-jigger your layout and try again. That's one of the best parts about foobar2000 - you really can do whatever you want with it.
Now that you've got the basics, I'll highlight some of my other favorite panels:
- Lyrics Panel (foo_uie_lyrics): This panel not only displays the lyrics if you've already got them built into your music, but it also automatically downloads and displays scrolling lyric data if it finds it. It's awesome putting in no work, then seeing the current songs lyrics scrolling along with the music.
- Pretty Popup: Provides a pop-up notifier complete with album art and song info. Like most things in foobar2000, if you don't like the default, you can skin it.
- Audioscrobbler: If you use Last.fm, you've probably used an Audioscrobbler before to get your listening behavior uploaded to Last.fm. Install the plug-in, restart foobar2000, and enter your Last.fm info in the preferences.
- iPod Manager and Send to Device: If you're looking to manage an MP3 player with foobar2000, the iPod Manager plug-in integrates iPod support, while the Send to Device plug-in gives you the option to send selected songs or playlists to a portable device.
Playlist Tree: This panel adds folder tree-like navigation to your playlists, allowing you to build both static and dynamic playlists.
- Scheduler: Lets you schedule actions at either a selected time or a pre-defined event (like the end of a playlist). You can perform music-specific actions, like start or stop playback, or go outside of foobar2000 and do things like shutdown your system.
After spending an afternoon with foobar2000, I went from that minimalist little player above to the Lifehacker-themed player you see below (click for larger version):
My little foobar2000 achievement is relatively minor when compared to some of the skins I've seen out in the wild, like this attractive and powerful user-created skin.
Since I've just scratched the surface with this introductory tutorial and plug-in roundup, I'd love to hear from other foobar2000 users. Let's hear about your favorite foobar2000 plug-ins, features, and tweaks in the comments.
UPDATE: Send images of your own tweaked foobar2000 to firstname.lastname@example.org. If we get enough, I'll put together a gallery of Lifehacker readers' tweaked foobar2000s later this week.