The best alternatives to iTunes

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iTunes, the iconic music and media library that helped shape the landscape of digital music, is going to be killed off during the next update for macOS Catalina. What will happen to all of your purchased content and imported CDs? Here are some answers.

iTunes is going to be shut down during the next update for macOS Catalina this fall.

iTunes: the end of an era

Launched in 2001 by Steve Jobs, iTunes was an essential tool for all iPhone, iPad and iPod owners wanting to manage their music library and synch their iDevice. A major breakthrough when it was released, iTunes offered a straightforward solution to organize thousands of tracks and albums. It was an easy to use app that contributed significantly to the development of digital music, in particular thanks to the sale of individual tracks. Over its 18 years of existence, the software branched out from exclusively selling music to also providing movies, TV shows, books, and even podcasts for purchase and rental. However, all of these added services made iTunes cumbersome and slowed it down considerably. Consequently, the company gradually abandoned the app to focus on new types of media consumption, such as VOD (video on demand) and online music services. For all of these reasons, iTunes will be shut down this fall during the next update for macOS Catalina. It will be replaced by three separate apps: Music, TV and Podcast. But will these apps be able to manage all of your content as efficiently as iTunes did?

The new Music, TV and Podcast apps

Apple’s solution comes in the shape of not one, but three distinct apps that are part of the iOS ecosystem. From now on, to listen to your music you will have to use the Music app, a direct derivative of Apple’s online music platform. Just like iTunes, you will be able to access your entire music library, whether the tracks were downloaded, bought on iTunes or were imported from CDs. Therefore, you will have access to music that was stored on iTunes without having to subscribe to the company’s streaming service. However, Apple still hasn’t included support for hi-res files such as FLAC, MQA and DSD in this new software. As a result, audiophiles will have to turn to a third-party app. Here are some of the best alternatives to iTunes.

The new “Music” app will allow you to access your entire music library, whether the tracks were downloaded, bought on iTunes or were imported from CDs.

The best alternatives to iTunes: Audirvana

For audiophiles and the most demanding users, Audirvana is the leading music player for Mac and PC, especially if you are using a USB DAC. Audirvana’s main advantage is that it supports all audio files, no matter their resolution, including DSD. The software uses advanced decoding algorithms and allows on-the-fly oversampling of audio streams into PCM and DSD formats. This function is very interesting, as computers have a lot more processing power than DACs to carry out oversampling. The transfer of audio data to an external USB DAC without modification is also supported. Much more than just a music library, Audirvana can also access multiple online music services such as Qobuz and Tidal, allowing you to play all of your music from a single app. To ensure quality playback, streamed audio files are preloaded to internal storage.

Accepted formats: FLAC, DSD, ALAC, AIFF, WAV, ISO CD/SACD, etc.

Audirvana is the leading music player for computers.

The best alternatives to iTunes: Amarra

Developed by Sonic Studio, a company that specializes in professional digital audio, Amarra combines three software programs: Amarra Play, a hi-res player for iOS, Amarra sQ+, an audio conditioner for macOS with an integrated professional equalizer and room calibration feature, and lastly Amarra Luxe, an ultra-comprehensive music library. The latter is for purists and supports a large number of formats, such as DSD, MQA, WAV and FLAC. It is possible to oversample the original audio signal up to 192kHz. It provides advanced EQ functions, and even 14 digital decoding filters to suit the listener’s preferences.

Accepted formats: DSD/DSF, MQA, WAV, AAC, AIFF, ALAC, FLAC, etc.

Amarra Luxe supports a large number of formats, such as DSD, MQA and FLAC.

The best alternatives to iTunes: DLNA servers

A problem that audiophiles often encounter is the size of HD files. FLAC and DSD files are very heavy and extensive playlists can sometimes reach several hundred gigabytes. Consequently, storing all your files on a computer can become difficult and isn’t a viable long-term solution. The best option in this situation is to store all of your files on a NAS and install a media player on your computer, smartphone or tablet to view and play your music. This is the case for Netgear’s NAS which include Plex, an excellent free app for macOS, Windows, iOS and Android. Many NAS can also be paired with a USB DAC to listen to music on a wireless speaker or streamer. Moreover, using a NAS also means you can access and listen to your music remotely (from a smartphone connected to a 4G mobile network, for example), allowing you to build your own online music service!

The interface of the Plex app, available on Netgear NAS.

AirPlay 2: the multi-room alternative to iTunes

Previously, when you had several AirPlay compatible devices, it was possible to stream music via AirPlay to six compatible devices using iTunes for Mac or PC. Unfortunately, this multi-room AirPlay streaming function was only available via iTunes. The Cupertino-based company has wisely prepared for this with the recent release of AirPlay 2, a streaming protocol that is based on the same principles as the first generation, but also includes multi-room functionality allowing you to stream the same music to multiple wireless speakers or devices connected to the home network from a Mac, an iPhone, an iPad or an iPod. For example, if you’re playing a song on your Mac using music player software such as Audirvana, Amarra or Plex, you can select the different AirPlay 2 compatible devices that you want to stream your music to.

On this iPhone, three different listening zones are in use. One track is being played in the kitchen, another is being played in the bedroom and a third is being played in the office. By clicking on the song’s title, you can access the different devices available in the room.

However, using AirPlay 2 means you are subject to a number of conditions, most notably having to use an iPhone, iPad or iPod that is up-to-date and running iOS 11.4 or above. Then, the streaming system must be compatible with AirPlay 2. To ensure compatibility, many manufacturers have carried out updates on existing products that were already compatible with AirPlay. This is the case for Marantz and Denon with the Marantz NA-6006, Marantz NR-1609, Marantz SR-6013, Denon AVR-X2500H, Denon AVR-X3500H and Denon AVR-X4500H connected amps and A/V receivers. This is also the case for the KEF LSX Wireless speakers (see our review) which have been compatible with AirPlay 2 since June 3, 2019 (read our article on the subject here). Many more iconic products support AirPlay 2, including the B&W Formation series and Sonos wireless speakers and soundbars: SONOS PLAY:1, SONOS PLAY:3, SONOS PLAY:5, SONOS PLAYBASE 5.0 ou SONOS PLAYBAR 5.0.


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