Apple’s iTunes may be the marketplace at which many consumers purchase their digital music, but that doesn’t mean that it’s without flaws. The most frequent complaints involve iTunes’ perceived bloat, which manifests as long load times as you move between sections. A number of iTunes alternatives have emerged over the years, but one of the most intriguing is Tomahawk, a free, open-source iTunes alternative that lets music lovers listen to tunes aggregated from a variety of sources—your computer’s hard drive, Spotify, SoundCloud, Last.fm, and other streaming services. Tomahawk deftly brings those multiple music destinations in one central hub, but a few niggles may prove annoying.
The first time you launch Tomahawk, it automatically scans your computer’s hard drive for local audio files and pulls them into “My Collection.” The app doesn’t do that with each launch unless you set it up to do so within Preferences.
Tomahawk has a familiar paned, iTunes-like interface. The left column offers easy access to your playlists, search history, favorited (“Loved”) tracks, hot songs (“Charts”), and other categories.
You can listen to the music on your hard drive, but the magic occurs when you allow Tomahawk to tap Last.FM, Spotify, Grooveshark, and other free and subscription-based services by installing “revolvers” (Tomahawk’s name for the music plug-ins) from with-in the app. A small icon to the right of each song highlights the music source. Big names like MOG, Rdio, and Slacker are missing because, as Tomahawk states, “many do not yet have public APIs.” People like me who’ve spent hours customizing Slacker have very little reason to make the leap to Tomahawk.
The Tomahawk Experience
Still, the revolvers come in handy. When you perform a search, Tomahawk scours your sources (both the music on your computer and stream music services you set up) for content and ranks the results on how closely they match your query. For example, entering “Wu Tang,” returned several “Wu-Tang Clan” matches, but they were listed as bad matches because I didn’t use the band’s proper name. Tomahawk didn’t prevent me from firing up “7th Chamber,” but it did make me mindful of accurate band names.
Tomahawk—despite its desire to want me to use accurate queries—returns rather loose results. A Red Hot Chili Peppers search showcased tracks not only the famous funk-rock band, but also from a few randoms that have “Chilli” and “Hot” in their names as well. I would’ve preferred a much tighter search engine to cut down on the clutter, but it still functioned reasonably well.
Search for an artist and Tomahawk serves up an artist page that has a short bio, popular songs, and related artists so there is a music discovery element, too. That said, the music discovery and customization isn’t as thorough as Slacker’s slider-based options.
The music quality was serviceable (not great) and there was a noticeable delay before the start of each track. Worse, Tomahawk returned a few awful, amateur covers from SoundCloud when I searched for Foo Fighters’ “Big Me” and Red Hot Chili Peppers’ “Breaking the Girl.” There was no way to distinguish them from the legitimate recordings, which proved vexing (or, depending on the level of awful, hilarious).
Tomahawk also lets you create smart playlists based on parameters you set and custom music stations.
Nearly every music service has some form of social networking capability, but Tomahawk lets you connect with others in a manner that’s deeper than simply Tweeting or Facebooking a song link.
Tomahawk lets you connect to a buddy’s library if you share the same network. Jabber and Twitter connectivity lets you party with people who aren’t on the same network. It works remarkably well, and may be Tomahawk’s more overlooked (but cool) features.
The Wrap Up
Music fans who easily lose themselves while listening and tweaking their stations will like what Tomahawk offers as it’s a very respectable (nearly) all-in-one music listening solution. On the other hand, those who simply like to hit play and lean back may be overwhelmed by the numerous options (and the app itself doesn’t do the best job of explaining what certain features do). As such, Tomahawk is an app for the hardcore who can overlook some of the music app’s flaws.
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|OS Compatibility||Windows Vista, Windows XP, Linux, Mac OS, Windows 7|
Copyright © 2012 Ziff Davis, Inc