iOS Media Players

While the Music app that Apple has included on all of their iOS devices is functional, it isn't one that meets the expectations for many music fans with deep libraries with curated metadata. From a design perspective, of course it follows Apple's key structure. It is fully integrated into the previous iTunes (Windows) and current MacOS Music for handling the process of getting local media from your home computer to your device. But it is clear that their direction is to push to the subscription and streaming services they offer.

There are an incredible number of player apps available in the App store, but few of them stray too far from the original design of Apple's Music, with most sharing the backbone of the iOS music library and even using the player engine for playback. There are some notable exceptions though. There are a couple I have used that share a design from Android. These two are opposite ends of the spectrum that are built for iOS.

Foobar2000 is currently a free app that shares a build from the Android world. It offers the same simple/minimalistic design but allows you to browse your library in more detailed ways than the Music app, and plays many more file formats (i.e. FLAC). I find it far more usable than the cluttered Music app.

Neutron is a paid app, built on their same platform that is used universally for all of the systems they support. Other than a few iOS specific options it adds, and those from Android that don't exist in iOS, the UI and playback tuning and sound are identical. There are far more options here than any other media player on iOS. The only limitations are the capabilities of the DACs, where most iOS devices have a maximum output handling of 24 bit depth and 48kHz sampling rate. This can be bypassed for external devices with some lightning adapters, including headphone dongles and other external DACs. This is the audio tweaker's app of choice for iOS.

A relatively new player app for iOS that seems to be developing well is BTR AMP (by Beyond The Rapids Labs). It is a paid app, with monthly, annual, and infinity options. There is a trial opportunity for the first month, so you have plenty of time to test drive it to see if it suits your player preferences.

The main player window itself has a few options to tailor the colour choices for the accents, as well as background options to work with Dark mode. You can further unclutter this main display window by hiding some of the codec and filetype info. But for the most part it is functional and clean.

The library browser is far more robust than most other iOS players. There are direct access tabs at the bottom for Artists, Albums, Composer, and Genres. Plus a "More" tab to access additional methods to find what you are looking for, and to access to settings. These tabs can easily be rearranged so that the four most common ones can be accessed from the main UI. The list each of these tabs access can be customized in many ways, including a "Favorites" filter that is very handy. Add Artists, albums, or songs to the favorites simply by tapping the heart in any lists, and these are instantly added for quick access. A unique "Featured" tab shows favorite playlists and albums, highlights recently played and added tracks, and even has a most played section.

Adding music for BTR AMP can be done in several ways. It can share your iTunes library of music that may already be onboard your device. Playback of DRM tracks can be enabled (note this will use the iOS Music app for actual playback). One area that may be of interest to those with limited on-board storage is the option to add tracks to your library using the Cloud. Again this will use Apple's Music app for playback. But you can also add audio files directly to the BTR AMP folder and bypass the Music app altogether. This is beneficial to those using FLAC files, since the native Music app still does not support this file type. A recently added "AutoSync" feature expands on ways to transfer music to your device as well, this can be configured to trigger automatically, and access music from a PC or Cloud storage. Google Drive, SMB, and WebDAV (added in v15.2) round out the additional options from within BTR AMP to copy music to your iOS device, without any need for iTunes to be involved.

Overall the UI design of BTR AMP seems to fit well into the iOS world. It is intuitive to navigate and smoothly transitions. There are only a couple of things that stand out that can make it even better. So far the sorting tags are ignored (a key difference from the native Music app), but this looks to be on the radar already as a planned feature in development. Gestures for track next/back or play/pause on the now playing screen would be a welcome addition, hopefully this gets addressed sooner than later for those that are using the player on the road. Since the launch of v1.0 in February 2020, BTR AMP has added many features and is currently at v14.0. I would expect it to continue to evolve, and at this rate it is likely to become one of the best music player options on the iOS platform.

EDIT 1: As of BTR AMP v15 released 2023-02-24
The sort tags are now supported for AlbumArtist, Album, Artist, Composer, and Title. This is a very nice addition and allows the library browser to sort similar to the native Music app.

EDIT 2: BTR AMP v15.1 released 2023-03-20 re:

Gestures for track next/back or play/pause on the now playing screen would be a welcome addition, hopefully this gets addressed sooner than later for those that are using the player on the road

Gestures for track change and play/pause have now been added to the Now Playing screen. This is a nice feature for those using the app on the go. The app can also be set up to automatically switch to the Now Playing screen when selecting any track to play in the browser. Song lyrics can be displayed and edited too. BTR AMP is quickly rounding into a very powerful player for the iOS platform and is highly recommended if you want something far easier to navigate and more robust than the native Apple Music app.

I have a few audio player apps on my iPhone, but the one that seems to be my regular go-to is Neutron Music Player. If this sounds familiar, it may be because I previously provided my thoughts about this same app for the Android platform back in August 2022.

What amazes me is how similar the iOS version of Neutron operates compared to the Android app. Given that Apple has traditionally made it quite challenging for developers to make players work across the two platforms, I find that feature-for-feature Neutron remains fully functional for even the most advanced "audiophile" user.

Fair warning! Neutron is not for the lightweight casual music listener. The sheer number of options and features will be overwhelming to get started. And the UI, while completely functional, is certainly not par for the course compared to other players that seem to put more emphasis on style over function. But for those with a pair of golden ears, you will appreciate the attention to the smallest sonic details that Neutron can pull from your music files, and the incredible number of DSP options, while the no-bones interface is still simple enough to navigate.

Support is there for just about any flavour of audio types, including FLAC (requires local file transfer to the Neutron folder on your iOS device, since iTunes does not work with FLAC). Graphic and parametric EQ modes are available, both fully adjustable. A decent compliment of additional DSPs let you tailor your iOS device to your ear's content. And with an external DAC connected to the Lightning port (you will also need the Lightning to USB Camera Adapter - darn you and your $$$ accessories Apple!), you can gain the full potential of your connected speaker or headphone system, without being limited to the 16bit/48kHz DAC that Apple has provided. Bit-perfect Hi-Res support up to 32bit/768kHz can potentially be realized with capable components. Stereo bliss!

There are some improvements that could be made, ideally having both Artist and AlbumArtist browsing would be a good start (currently you have to choose one or the other)[2023-07-25 Edit: The app developer has commented that this is not possible in the current design, and is. It likely to get changed]. Adding support for the "sort" tags would really be icing on the cake for me for the library [2023-07-25 Edit: This is also not on the development roadmap according to the dev]. And maybe a UI update someday would be nice, but ultimately not a deal breaker.

Find the Neutron Music Player download link to the App Store here. Note that Neutron is a paid app.

2023-07-25 Update: Exchanged direct email with the Neutron Player developer, and it appears that two of the key library management updates that would make it more functional are not planned.

Continued development of BTR AMP has seen two key elements added since my last update that warrant a separate post here.

V15.2 released in April 2023 had WebDAV support added. This simplifies the ability to transfer music files directly from a separate paired computer. Further, this process can be automated with timed sync capability. The assigned folder(s) can be set to auto update as well.

V16.0 released in June 2023 added the ability for the library to have access to folders outside of the sandboxed application. This provides a much simpler approach to have a single “Music” folder on an iOS device that can be accessed through the Folder app, Remote Desktop, or even those stored by other music player apps. In addition, an interface update was also updated to allow users to modify their theme using a colour chooser, or specific hex value.

A separate thread here provides some guidance on managing music files on iOS devices.