The Multiplatform Lyrics Bible

Along with tags and cover arts, lyrics are also highly sought-for and widely used metadata, particularly with non-English folks who would like to know the lyrics of the songs they listen to.

Of the three mobile platforms I currently support (Windows Mobile, BlackBerry and Symbian), two (WM and Symbian) have players that are able to display lyrics; BlackBerry, currently, doesn't. Note that the, in most respects, best player on the supported (currently, Windows Mobile, Symbian, Palm and, at least in the near future, iPhone) platforms, CorePlayer, will only receive support for lyrics in the far future (at least a year or even more) - around version 1.6.

On Windows Mobile, in addition to the excellent, albeit a bit outdated TCPMP, four, otherwise not really top-of-the-line players can show lyrics while playing. One of them, LCG Jukebox, also exists on Symbian - with exactly the same features. On the latter operating system, it's only this program that is capable of displaying lyrics. (Again, this will change when CorePlayer receives lyrics support - but that's still waaaay off.)

1.1 Lyrics formats

First, you need to know what lyrics formats there are. They are as follows:
 

  1. separate (!) TXT and LRC files using the same filename as the original song file. That is, for example, if the song is named Madonna - Material Girl.mp3, then, the accompanying LRC / TXT file - in the same directory - must have the name Madonna - Material Girl and the extension LRC / TXT, respectively. (For example, Madonna - Material Girl.lrc should be the full name of the song.)

    Of the two formats, LRC is the far more advanced and widely supported, mostly because of the metadata (among other things, timestamps for correct time synchronization). You can find a decent tutorial on the features LRC files offer for example HERE.

    Note that LRC isn't THE solution for everything newer, even more sophisticated lyrics containers support; for example, it lacks built-in bi/multilingual support.
     

  2. built-in, inline (non-separate) tag-based lyrics. There are three kinds of them. For techies, the best source explaining the three major in-song (tag-based) lyrics format is ID3.org. The links to the respective documents (along with a quick summary): ID3v2 (not only a lyrics storage format, but also stores all kinds of other info: the traditional artist / genre etc. fields coming from the two pre-v2 versions of the ID3 standard), Lyrics3 (a heavily outdated format not recommended because of its severe restrictions) and Lyrics3v2 (this is the, along with the - independent - ID3 v2 standard, is the currently used best approach.) In my compatibility chart, I also provide explicit info on the compliance with all these three formats. These can be both synchronized (with timestamps; also see the LRC files) and non-synchronized.

Of the former group, LRC is compatible with all the lyrics-capable players and allows for time synchronization, which may be pretty important for several users. The latter, which is superior in practice (you can't easily lose your lyrics if you forget to transfer the separate LRC file along with your main song file) is only compatible with one: MiniLyrics, only on Windows Mobile. Fortunately, the, if you can live with the very infrequent nagging screens, free (!) MiniLyrics, which also has a plug-in compatible with almost all the desktop players (the most important exception being Videolan VLC), offers conversion capabilities between LRC and inline tags.

1.2 Creating lyrics

You can easily create a TXT or LRC file (of the latter, even a synchronized one) without any external, specialized editor or tool - just a plain Notepad (or any other basic file editor) will suffice. This, of course, won't work with the tag-based (built-in) lyrics format because you'll need an application including your lyrics in the file. Fortunately, most common desktop multimedia players allow for doing this. For example, the way it's done in the stock Windows Media Player (WMP) 10+ is explained in the Add Lyrics to Music Files tutorial. (As this tutorial is pretty well written and easy-to-follow, I won't elaborate on doing this in WMP at all.) The already-mentioned free/"nagware" MiniLyrics is also highly recommended.

As with most WMP library-related functions, lyrics editing is pretty restricted even in the latest, version 11 of WMP. Sure, you can edit even synchronized text and save in an inline format MiniLyrics (on Windows Mobile) is compatible with, but it's roughly all you can do. On the desktop, there are several add-ons or plug-ins (like MiniLyrics) that heavily enhances this functionality like adding lyrics search capabilities. (Note that all the reviewed mobile players also allow for online searches - with varying degree of success, though. More on this later.)

1.3 Available players

Note that I've published a review of two of the four Windows Mobile apps HERE. In the meantime, however, new versions have been released of both apps and, therefore, I found it necessary to re-do all my tests to find out whether there are any notable changes or enhancements (unfortunately, not much).

1.3.1 Lyrics Magic

(current, tested version: 2.1)

This, it seems, discontinued (for example, the lyrics searching database doesn't seem to be any more maintained) player is not recommended because of the high price (while clearly the best two players, TCPMP and MiniLyrics, are free; so is the rather simple WinVibe), the incompatibility with inline tags and, of course, the non-working search engine.

Note that "Open File" uses the default file selector dialog; if you dislike this, you can safely use a third-party tool like my favorite, FileDialogChanger by Mad Programmer. If you dislike both approaches, use "Open Folder" instead.

1.3.2 WinVibe

(current, tested version: 4.9.6)

(The text window can be made bigger by further clicking it but still individual lines will be shown, meaning you won't see almost anything of the context)

The lister screen for non-synched LRC files (and to see / scroll the entire text at once):

This is a free player. It has a bit high CPU usage (in which LCG Jukebox is clearly the best - at least in the lyrics player group; still, it's a far cry away from the best titles in this respect; for example, CorePlayer) and rather rudimentary, textual-only lyrics display (as opposed to the smooth, much more spectacular, small-character scrolling of the other titles). It, most of the time, also failed at online searching - as opposed to the two best titles in this respect, LCG Jukebox and MiniLyrics. (This, of course, will only be an issue if you do want to search for the lyrics of a given song on your handset and not on your desktop. In most cases, you'll want to do the latter while maintaining your song library; that is, bad support for online searching isn't that big an issue.)

1.3.3 LCG Jukebox

(current, tested version: 2.30)


(VGA, Windows Mobile)


(QVGA, Symbian, also showing the current manual offset in the upper left corner)

If you're ready to actually pay for your stuff (or, you're on Symbian, where there aren't other solutions), you can put up with the GUI that really shows its Symbian roots and, for some reason, you don't want to go with the, in general, superior MiniLyrics or TCPMP, this should be the player to check out. Again and again, give a try to MiniLyrics or TCPMP first – they’re better in most respects (except for the CPU usage, as far as MiniLyrics is concerned or the online searching capabilities, which is missing from TCPMP) if you're on Windows Mobile. (If on Symbian, LCG Jukebox is, again, your only choice.)

1.3.4 MiniLyrics

(current, tested version: 5.1.2725)

(WinMo download at the bottom of the page HERE)

A desktop shot of its finding several Finnish Eppu Normaali titles using the built-in search engine:

While on the desktop it's a plug-in, on Windows Mobile, it's a standalone multimedia player compatible with all major compressed formats WMA, MP3, AAC-LC and OGG formats and full (!!) inline (and, by importing and converting to inline tags, LRC / TXT / SRT) files.

I really recommend playing with the desktop version a bit, checking how downloading, tag updating etc. works. After this, switch to the Windows Mobile version (note that, unlike on the desktop, it's a standalone app and NOT a plug-in to Windows Media Player Mobile!). You'll already be familiar with the way the mobile version works: yes, it has exactly the same features as the desktop version. This is certainly very good news!

This player, along with TCPMP, is the best, most recommended one.

1.3.5 TCPMP

The slightly outdated but, in many respects, still one of the best, free (!) multimedia player, TCPMP, also has (unofficial) lyrics support.


(VGA, default skin)

To install the additional lyrics support on top of the recommended TCPMP version, 0.72RC1, you’ll need to get the SP 176*220 or QVGA downloads in the first post HERE or the VGA one HERE, in the 2nd post.

Installing them is very easy: just copy the contents of these compressed files (after decompressing them, of course) to the home of your TCPMP installation; for example, \Program Files\TCPMP.

If you want to see the entire QVGA dialog, in Options / View, unclick at least two items (Titlebar, Taskbar, Timeslider – I recommend the first two). This may also be necessary with some non-default VGA skins on VGA devices (the default one doesn’t make this necessary). Also note that the QVGA version (as opposed to the 176*220 MS Smartphone and the VGA ones) comes with only one skin; the other two come with several.

The settings dialog is under Options / Settings / Select Page / Lyric. It’s also in here that you can disable sliding (that is, fine scrolling), which will considerably reduce CPU usage (from around 38 to 30% on a 624 MHz Intel XScale PXA-270/310). Doing this is pretty easy: just uncheck the Slide checkbox:

2. Comparison charts

Now follows the most important & informative part of my Bible: the two charts. The first elaborates on the more common issues like price, compatibility with the current lyrics formats, how an in-app search for Madonna's Material Girl fared etc.; the second compares the CPU usage and media format compliance. I've paid special attention to benchmarking the CPU usage (which, on several mobile platforms, has a direct impact on the battery life.)

2.1 Generic features & lyrics tests

Note that I haven't listed stuff none of the players promise (and, equally, not deliver); for example, ID3 tag-based full (!) library support. (None of the players support it, unlike, in non-lyrics-specific respects, much more advanced players like CorePlayer, the just-ported Pocket Tunes or Pocket Player.) None of them support AVRCP (Bluetooth remote control) either - not even LCG Jukebox on Symbian. (On Windows Mobile, I've tested this with both the MS and the Widcomm BT stacks to be absolutely sure.) TCPMP over Widcomm IS AVRCP-capable under WM2003SE – but who uses WM2003SE anymore?


(original HTML chart HERE)

2.2 CPU usage and format compliance


(original HTML chart HERE)

I haven’t devoted a separate row to TCPMP because I’ve already benchmarked its media playback CPU usage HERE. MP3 playback with lyrics results in a whopping 38% CPU usage with finescroll (more than three times more than the default ~11%!). Fortunately, you can disable fine scrolling if battery life is of extreme importance to you and you can put up with the less spectacular row-based scrolling; then, the CPU usage decreases to 30% “only”.

3. Verdict

If you're a Windows Mobile user, give a try to the (mostly) free MiniLyrics or (if you don’t need for example downloading capabilities) TCPMP first. The also-free WinVibe may also be a good choice if you can put up with the not-so-spectacular lyrics display (of course, TCPMP is vastly superior to this player in most respects). If you're ready to pay, LCG Jukebox might also be of interest if you like the interface (I, personally, don't). Lyrics Magic should be forgotten altogether - it's not only commercial, but also buggy and no longer supported.

If you're a Symbian user, LCG Jukebox is your only choice.

Again, note that CorePlayer will only later receive lyrics support. Until then, you can forget advanced functionality like library or Bluetooth AVRCP support altogether, unfortunately - along with the very low CPU usage and compatibility with most audio formats (except for, of course, HE-AACv2 a.k.a. aacPlus - as of the current, 1.2.5 CorePlayer version).

4. What next?

In the near future (1-2 days), I publish another article on multimedia apps, further elaborating on other, ID3 tag-based issues like album art, finding , mass-entering and changing artist / title / etc. info. I also thoroughly compare the advanced library handling capabilities of Windows Mobile, BlackBerry and Symbian multimedia players.

UPDATE (09/07/2008): The recently-released, 3.7 version of Conduits Pocket Player has some support for (only) embedded, unsynchronized (!!) lyrics.

A screenshot of it displaying the (again, static, non-timestamp-based) lyrics:

To see this window, you need to go to Menu > Current Track > Lyrics:

Note that this menu item will only be displayed with embedded ID3v2 unsynchronized lyrics and nothing else - no LyricsV3, no synchronized, no external LRC files.

Note that synchronized, embedded lyrics (and external LRC files) is NOT displayed at all. With ID3v2 embedded lyrics, it notices it being there (but still doesn't show it):

With LyricsV3 embedded lyrics, PP doesn't even notice the lyrics in there (unlike with ID3v2), let alone displaying it.

Hope (some of) the next version(s) add support for synchronized lyrics as well. For the time being, if you do need synchronized lyrics (and not just plain synchronized) and/or external LRC support, go for the above-reviewed alternative solutions; for example, TCPMP. Note that the "what's new" list doesn't speak of (or show example screenshots of) synchronization support either - that is, I'm pretty sure I'm right in stating it doesn't support synchronization.

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