Song Scrubber Showdown

Being a big fan of music of all types, my iTunes library hovers just under 8,000 songs. It’s mixed bag of stuff from college, copies from casettes, iTunes/Amazon purchases, and rips of my cd collection. To be honest, the whole concept of “cleaning up” iTunes songs seemed totally irrelevant to me. There was no question that my library had its share of hosed up tags and more than its share of missing cover art but my original iPod couldn’t display the cover art and I had figured out how to deal with the ones that were mis-tagged.

Then, MacHeist offered their nanobundle that included CoverScout. With a house full of iPod Touches and an Airport Express streaming to the stereo, cover art had begun to creep up the ladder of importance a bit. I had once spent a day working Amazon to clean up my cover art only to have an ill-timed HD meltdown trash all my work. This would not happen to me again! Originally, CoverScout was my primary reason for seriously considering the MacHeist bundle; I wanted all that pretty artwork. As I began to monitor the forum, the complaints about installing it and the phone home features almost turned me away. Then, I decided I could use MacJournal and opted to buy the bundle anyway. While monitoring the Macheist forums, two other products were mentioned: Pollux and TuneUp. What follows is my experience while trying to compare the three…

After some thought, I spent the $10 for 365 days of Pollux. Because TuneUp has a generous trial (100 song clean-ups and 50 cover arts), I opted to test with the trial.

Interface

CoverScout

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Without question, CoverScout has the most attractive interface. It is a stand-alone application (relying on your iTunes library) and it has all the look and feel of a Mac product. It provides a cover flow pane to show the albums in your collection, as well as a side panel that shows which albums have cover art and which do not. It provides an easily viewable collection of retrieved art work and lets you select the one that is applied to the desired album. Particularly nice is the fact that it lets you filter for: All albums, albums with no cover, albums with incomplete covers (not sure what that means), and albums with covers. As far as I can tell, it is the only app that gives you this very useful way of filtering your content. The pane on the right, which shows the albums meeting your criteria, also shows a micro copy of the cover art if it exists. You can quickly see which albums are missing cover art.

Pollux

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Interface??? What interface??? Pollux installs as a Menu Bar option. See the little dark circle with the musical note? That’s it. Pollux integrates with iTunes. You select a song or collection of songs in iTunes and then activate the Pollux menu from the Menu Bar.

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Here are your choices. The obvious choice is “Tag Selected iTunes Tracks” but I can tell you that the Undo also comes in handy. The nice thing about Pollux is that the “Preferences” option allows you to turn functionality on and off. As we’ll see later, this is very useful.

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As you ask Pollux to do things, it will display a Growl window that shows its progress:

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It shows how many songs have been examined, as well as how many have been tagged. Don’t like the tagging? Select the undo…

TuneUp

TuneUp displays as a sidebar to iTunes.

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The main settings are reached by right-clicking on the screen and selecting Preferences. Your options for control are shown below:

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To activate TuneUp, you select the song(s) that you want to clean or locate cover art for and drag them to the sidebar from iTunes. This initiates the search. The results are then displayed in the sidebar and you are given the option to SAVE the results to iTunes, by album. If there are multiple cover art options, a small downward pointing triangle will appear over the sample that is displayed. Here you can see results with the album cover expanded and the tracks expanded. Cover art that is selected will be the one that is updated in iTunes. If you hover your cursor over the album covers, you will get the resolution. Click on a cover to see it in the right pane and to select it for updating. Uncheck a song to prevent updating.

In my experience, TuneUp provides three results. If it lists it as a “Match,” it is fully confident in the results. You can select one album at a time to update by hitting the little disk icon in the bar with the band name. Hitting “Save All” will save all the results listed under Matches.

There is another category for when it is less confident. It will recommend that you look through the results before updating. Same update options are available.

Finally, if it doesn’t find anything, it provides a list of those songs it couldn’t find.

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If you activate the “Cover Art” tab, rather than using the “Clean” tab, TuneUp will start checking your library for songs that are missing cover art. If it finds any, it will go in search for the missing ones.

Performance

This one is a bit of a quandary. Each product brings its own slant on things and one of the products had a demo so hamstrung that it was impossible to carry out the test. For testing, I selected two albums: one which was “easy” and one which was problematic. I tried a number of different options. Since I’m old as Moses, I tried music from the 80’s. I also tried some songs from my oldest son (Hasten the Day, Chiodos). However, I did not time or record the results from his music. Suffice to say that his music proved to separate the men from the boys… Here are the results for the old-timers: (for Jesus & Mary Chain, a 12 song “album” was selected, for Joy Division, a 9 song album was selected).

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He had an album that was tagged as “Haste the Day,” which, as far as I could tell, is a christian metal band. Pollux found nothing. TuneUp quickly informed me that the collection was actually an assortment of non-christian metal bands, including GWAR. Upon listening to the Haste the Day song that TuneUp decided was GWAR, it was immediately clear that TuneUp had nailed it.

As a further test, I took 25 songs that were labeled “Track ##.” Of those, TuneUp identified 23 songs. Pollux identified 20. The interesting thing is that there were two songs that messed with TuneUp: TuneUp seemed to think they both came from Buckcherry’s album “15.” Pollux correctly identified the songs as belonging to “Stadium Arcadium” by the Red Hot Chili Peppers. The songs that Pollux could not identify were either christian bands or metal bands.

Pollux

In each case, Pollux comes up the slowest. However, as compared to CoverScout, it seems to be doing its due diligence. In the case of Joy Division, it returned the correct results. In the case of Jesus & Mary Chain, it produced no results and the extreme time seemed to be based on track six of the twelve tracks selected. Pollux had no issue with Joy Division but definitely had an issue with J&MC. To be fair, an internet search made me wonder where this “album” came from. I can only assume it came from one of my cassettes but I don’t know what it was. My biggest issue with Pollux comes up here…in terms of tagging a genre to a song, Pollux is very quick to label everything as “Rock.” This macro view really pisses me off, so I finally began turning off the option to provide the genre (as can be seen in the screenshot above).

TuneUp

TuneUp was quite fast and returned what seemed to be legitimate results… In the case of J&MC, I’m not sure what to make of the results. TuneUp was the only app to return the songs AND the cover art. However, the cover art was for an album that I cannot find. Perhaps it’s a bootleg. But hey, I got the correct songs and some cover art, so what the hell?After several batches of 500 or so songs, I have had TuneUp lock up on me. I don’t know if this is a memory leak or if it loses touch with their server but it will sit on a song, looking like it is updating, and never return.

CoverScout

This is where CoverScout begins to hit the crapper. As a stand-alone application, it relies on the tagging that already exists on the song. If the album title is missing, it will suggest that you have SongGenie fix the song(s).

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Here is where my rant begins. CoverScout costs $39.95. It finds cover art and lets you print/edit the cover art. It relies on the existing tagging to do its work. If your tagging is bad or missing, you need SongGenie. Guess what??? SongGenie is another $29.95. We’re now at $69.95 but buy them together and you can save $5! A quick download of the demo and not so quick install later, I go back to CoverScout and hit “Identify with SongGenie.” SongGenie is launched and it begins to go through all the songs in my iTunes library. 25 minutes later, the album I was looking to identify finally shows up in the SongGenie window so I can ask it to do a search. As with CoverScout, the interface is very nice. It is clean and well layed out. I select the 12 J&MC songs and ask it to find them. A message informs me that with the demo, I can only search one song at a time. Annoyed, I push onward and begin to search for each of the songs individually. Four minutes later, I’ve hit my 10th song with no results yet. When I hit the 11th song, I get this lovely window:

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Seriously? I can try 10 songs and only one at a time? I didn’t get results for ANY of them. With TuneUp, you only reduce your permitted sample size when you SAVE the results. When you get some BENEFIT from the software!. Not with these fellas. You get 10 lame attempts and then you better whip out the credit card.

Out of curiosity, I decided to check the library for each program and discovered this:

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So, in terms of byte consumption, CoverScout is the hands down winner; but that’s a dubious honor at best. Hope you didn’t spend all your cash on CoverScout and SongGenie because you’ll want to throw on a spare hard drive onto your system. I understand that they are probably cacheing images to save time later but 514MB is a lot of space. This graph looks almost like a male enhancement ad. OK, maybe this isn’t totally fair but all apps were run for a similar period of time and if your hard drive space is running at a premium, this should also be a consideration.

Extras

This is where you see the biggest divergence amongst the apps. This is a good thing because all seem to address a separate segment of the market, assuming that those markets actually exist. First, we’ll look at the tagging:

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SongGenie provides the most tagging but the additional fields don’t mean that much to me. Perhaps they do to you.

Pollux

Pollux is the most barebones of the three apps. It allows you to tag songs as they are added to iTunes. It lets you select which fields are updated and which ones are not. A new feature, added while I was putting this together, allows you to update only blank fields. This is a handy feature. Since I really couldn’t stand the genre tagging generated by Pollux, the ability to turn the genre field off was great. Pollux also finds lyrics for your music, which is one of the reasons I decided to pay for it. The Growl notification shows the cover art it has found, the fields it is updating, and you can also have it show the lyrics. It will also find artist art if the particular cover art cannot be found. If you don’t want to pay to get lyrics, you can also try GimmeSomeTune. I found it a bit buggy but it is getting rewritten.

TuneUp

TuneUp aims to be a more complete music solution by providing social networking links, band information and videos, concert information, and links to buy concert tickets. Some of this functionality is provided by the free iConcertCal plug-in for iTunes but TuneUp blends it in nicely with its other features. Here are the extra panels provided:

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CoverScout/SongGenie

CoverScout has a nice interface and it provides 5-6 options for your cover art. It rates the images based on their size and resolution. The additional features that allow you to edit the cover art or to print out the cover art for your jewel boxes is lost on me; I just can’t see myself using these features. SongGenie also has a great interface. It lets you play songs from within the SongGenie window, and it attempts to evaluate the completeness of your library by rating the songs based on how many of the tags are filled out for a song, whether or not it has cover art, and whether or not it has lyrics. These are nice features. Like Pollux, SongGenie also finds lyrics and attaches them to the song.

Final Thoughts

Finally, here are my closing thoughts on the three apps, presented as a table. For each category, there is a first, second, and third place. Lowest final score is the winner…

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TuneUp is absolutely the fastest and most accurate in my testing. Where Pollux and SongGenie had problems with Jesus & Mary Chain, TuneUp seemed to have none. Also, it had no problem with bands like GWAR and Chiodos, which seemed to trip up Pollux. Unfortunately, the highly restrictive nature of the SongGenie demo really left me little opportunity to see how it fared on some of these other bands. Like CoverScout (and unlike Pollux), TuneUp generally provides multiple options for cover art.

TuneUp suggests you clean up to 500 songs at a time but I did not try this. It never seemed to drag my system down and neither did Pollux. I did try selecting all 7900 songs in my library and then setting Pollux loose. It chugged through 2000 or so before locking up. The lockup was severe and required a reboot. It was impossible to really get a feel for CoverScout/SongGenie but they definitely dragged on the system more and were very slow to process my iTunes library. And the hard drive impact of CoverScout/SongGenie is by far the worst.

If you’re just looking to clean up a large database of old stuff, a one year purchase of Pollux is the way to go. It does a very good job. It may miss a few songs but it will do a very competent job. That is, unless you want more accurate and more granular tagging of the band genre. For a long-term purchase and for someone with eclectic tastes, TuneUp is the best option. It does a stellar job of identifying songs and the genre tagging is much better than Pollux. If you like a pretty app and money is no object, CoverScout/SongGenie is probably worth further investigation. I just can’t tell, based on the small sampling I was able to do.

Note: My demo of TuneUp is currently offering a 20% discount for TuneUp Gold. This takes the price down to USD $23.96. I don’t know if this is inherently part of the demo or it’s a special deal.

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3 responses to “Song Scrubber Showdown

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