In these days of Spotify streaming, an MP3 collection may seem like a throwback – but managing your own music means you never need to worry about it disappearing, being unable to get on the internet or hearing it in lower quality than you'd like. While Windows Media Player and Windows 8's music player do their best, there are better apps to play, organise and sort out your collection. These are our favourites.
For many of us, Winamp is the only music player worth mentioning: it's been around since the earliest days of digital music, and while various ownership issues mean development has been halted for a while as lawyers fight each other, it remains a fantastic and very flexible music player.
In addition to supporting every audio format you can possibly imagine, Winamp supports skins to change its appearance and plugins that add new features – equalisers, audio processors, visualisations and more. As its slogan goes, "it really kicks the llama's butt" – we can't wait to see what the new version in 2015 will bring.
MediaMonkey is a great app for organising and playing music libraries of any size. It can automatically rename your MP3s and sort out the way your music files are organised; it can fix broken ID3 tags and tell you if tracks have been duplicated, and it makes it easy to share your music with other devices, including Apple and Android kit, Smart TVs, DNLA-compatible Blu-ray players and so on.
Some of the advanced features are limited to the paid-for Gold version, but the free version delivers an awful lot of bang for zero bucks.
If you've got an iPod touch, iPhone or iPad then Apple really, really wants you to use this program, and while it's not everybody's favourite, it remains the best way to get music onto Apple devices.
The latest version introduces an improved user interface, Family Sharing (which enables you to share purchases with other members of your family without having to share your account details or passwords), better playlist editing and performance improvements. If you find it runs a little slowly, delete the Smart Playlists and disable the Genius feature: they seem to have a big impact on iTunes' performance.
Music folders can be frightening places, and the longer you leave them disorganised, the more terrifying they can become. Thank heavens, then, for MusicZen. It's an incredibly simple and very useful utility that can tame even the most tempestuous digital music collection, moving and renaming files while getting shot of duplicates.
By default it organises music by artist, then by year, and then by album, although you can change that if you like. Its simplicity means it's very, very quick, so if you've been putting off that music folder fixing, you don't need to put it off any longer.
5. VLC Media Player
As a music player VLC looks rather basic, but we're including it here because it's the Swiss Army Knife of digital media: if it can't play it, it probably isn't worth bothering trying to play in the first place. It plays CDs and DVDs, video CDs, MPEG, AVI, ASF, WMV, WMA, 3GP, MKV, Real Audio, FLAC, Flash, MIDI… you get the idea.
It can even handle streaming music. It isn't just a player, though. It can convert music from one format to another, extract audio from video, stream media over a network, apply audio and video effects and grab podcasts too.