Every obsessive digital music collector feels a warm sense of pride knowing that his vast library of MP3s is tidy and well-tagged.
While the most recent release of iTunes featured the player’s most robust song file tag-editing capability to date, there are still many other options available for managing a music collection. In fact, anyone who rips CDs outside of iTunes, downloads songs from Russian MP3 sites or — gasp — doesn’t own an iPod would find a viable alternative to Apple Computer’s media player quite welcome.
Many lesser-known music library managers simply offer more tagging features than iTunes, such as the ability to obtain artist biographies, automatically retrieve album art from a variety of sources and even fetch song lyrics.
Wired News has assembled some of the best and most popular stand-alone ID3 tag editors for this review. Before we get started, here’s a quick primer on what ID3 tags are and what these editors do.
Your music files’ metadata — song title, artist name and so on — is stored in a tiny companion file called an ID3 container. Two standards of ID3 exist, and some tag editors feature tools to smoothly migrate from the older ID3v1 tag standard to the newer ID3v2 standard. While ID3v1 only allowed fields for title, artist, album, a brief comment, year and a mere 80 different genres, ID3v2 expanded support to include album art, beats-per-minute data, lyrics and other arbitrary text. ID3v2 also added UTF-8 support, so you can be sure that Björk’s umlaut shows up properly.
All of the editors we reviewed support MP3, but a number also support other codecs such as Ogg Vorbis, FLAC lossless audio, Microsoft’s WMA format and the emerging AAC standard. The different tag editors also gather metadata — typically from freedb or Amazon.com — with varying levels of efficiency.
We’ll begin with Windows software, then look at Mac and Linux options.
Zortam ID3 Tag Editor
The Zortam ID3 Tag Editor, in addition to having a name that sounds like a rejected Superman villain, has one of the busier interfaces in the lineup. Zortam displays a folder list, media library window, track listing and ID3v2 and ID3v1 windows. While the complicated controls enable one to find the more difficult stuff like cover art, song lyrics and even editorial reviews from Amazon, the hefty interface works against the user too often. The simple act of editing a solitary tag involves too many right-clicks and checkboxes.
Batch editing works as expected, and Zortam will even try to construct tags for you by parsing songs’ file names. Automation is limited to cover art and lyric retrieval, so you’ll have to enter things like the year of release manually. Zortam can do plenty of tricks, like convert ID3v1 tags to ID3v2, but the developers should get the more practical automation tools nailed down before adding more advanced features.