Category: Music cataloging software
Name of tool: MusicMatch Jukebox v. 5.1
Company name: Music Match, Inc.
Price: free or $20 for features upgrade
URL: http://www.musicmatch.com /
Windows platforms supported: 95, 98, NT, 2000 (see Cons, below) Quick description: Powerful software to organize, record, and copy music to your PC.
**** = very cool, very useful
Simple interface, powerful set of features that allow you to manage your music collection on your PC.
You'll need a good-quality sound card and relatively recent CD-ROM drive to obtain the best recordings, along with at least 10 GB of free disk space to hold several dozen CDs. MusicMatch's catalog isn't as useful if you have an extensive classic music collection.
In my house--while I'm at work or at play--music will never be the same, largely thanks to MusicMatch Jukebox. This wonderful program has allowed me and my family to listen to our entire collection of CD music without having to shuffle the CDs in and out of our stereo. Why? Because all of our CDs are contained on our computer's hard drive, and because MusicMatch makes it so much easier to find the right song, or songs, to fit the mood.
MusicMatch does several things: converts ("rips") your CDs into MP3 files; plays these files through your computer; organizes a catalog of these files; and creates or "burns" your own recordable CDs. If you are connected to the Internet, the software can query CDDB.com and automatically label the tracks and CD for you, which is a real plus.
There are other programs that can do these tasks, but I like the clean interface of MusicMatch and the obvious controls. To play a particular song, you scroll through your catalog and either drag and drop the song title into the playlist portion of the screen or double-click on it. You can easily assemble playlists and save them, or have the program become an "AutoDJ" and play songs in random order within particular parameters (all of your jazz titles, or all of your Beatles albums, for example). Other competitors include the traditional media players from Real Networks, Inc. and Microsoft, the current versions of which include music cataloging and ripping/burning features, but don't have as strong cataloging and presentation features -- yet.
If you are new to this notion, be warned that it will take some time to get used to playing music on your PC. For one thing, you'll need to have a decent sound card and CD-ROM drive. How do you know you have substandard components? Just listen to the music you record -- if it sounds bad, you'll need to upgrade. And you'll also need a cable to connect your PC's sound card to your stereo, or at least to a good set of speakers. MusicMatch's web site sells such a cable, which is a real bonus. Finally, you'll need to experiment with your PC system to determine the optimal sampling bit-rate for recording quality and whether to use digital or analog recording modes. For example, on some of my computers with older CD-ROM drives, I got better results using the analog recording method.
There are some drawbacks, of course. MusicMatch's catalog has columns for song title, artist, album and genre and you can sort alphabetically on any column. Missing, however, is provision for classical music by both conductor and composer. While you can enter this information into one of these categories manually, the process is tedious and you will have to be consistent and accurate if your time is going to be worth the effort. I would prefer to see additional columns to accommodate classical listeners. Some CDs that contain computer programs as "bonus" tracks might also take to initially load the CD before MusicMatch can record them properly. Lastly, as you accumulate music, you will soon find out that your capacious hard drive can be confining: about 10 or so CDs can fill up a gigabyte of disk space. Still, once you get the hang of it, you'll never want to shuffle CDs into your stereo's CD player again.
The plus version (for $20) adds the ability to record at faster speeds, something useful if you are just starting to collect your music on your PC and have to rip through tons of CDs. But for most of us, the free version will do just fine.
**** = Very cool, very useful
*** = Hey, not bad. One notch below very cool
** = A tad shaky to install and use but has some value.
* = Don't waste your time. Minimal real value.
David Strom is president of his own consulting firm in Port Washington, NY. He has tested hundreds of computer products over the past two decades working as a computer journalist, consultant and corporate IT manager. Since 1995, he has written a weekly series of essays on web technologies and marketing called Web Informant. You can send him email at mailto:firstname.lastname@example.org.