2020 is the year enthusiasts revived their love of downloaded music – thanks, Bandcamp. So now we just need a player to match, whether you miss Winamp – or even if you miss vintage Soviet hi-fi machines.

Okay, kids. Before iTunes, there was Winamp (still officially at winamp.com) – the prototype MP3 player jukebox of 1997, back when the idea of playing your whole music collection digitally from your computer was still novel. That software would make co-creators Justin Frankel and Dmitry Boldyrev richer in the ’99 tech boom (AOL snapped it up), which also cleared the way for Justin to go on and make beloved DAW Reaper. Pre buyout, the software was still cool enough to boot up with an in-joke about genius schizophrenic Chicago street musician Wesley Willis – something no Apple or Spotify exec would ever do.

The default interface. Looks conventional enough at first, though even the basic skin allows unparalleled freedom for where you want your player on-screen. And then with plug-ins and skins…

AIMP is clearly a spiritual successor to Winamp – customizable, skinnable, with extensive plug-in support, and the kind of compact views that made Winamp beloved. Want to fill the screen and navigate album art, but then collapse to an always-on-top player or views that tuck out of the way? AIMP has you covered, just like Winamp did, in contrast to the sprawling tabular messes that have now become the ugly standard.

And just like Winamp, AIMP can make Apple owners jealous – it’s on Windows and Android, but not macOS. (Mac users wanting to run it, it does look possible with Wineskin – video instructions in Russian.) It’s just in time, too, because Winamp 6 remains elusive enough that you have to beware you’re downloading the official version (developed by Radionomy) and not a clone. AIMP is clearly a better choice – more modern, more fully-featured, and with 64-bit support.

Library view. This month’s superb Soot skin.
You can get a minimal view, too – here’s Soot again. The key is, you can minimize this horizontally, vertically, to a side of the screen, on top of windows – where you like, even more freely than with Winamp.

The unexpected bonus of AIMP is that its skins have become a museum of vintage hi-fi stereo equipment, with a particular bent toward pixel-perfect artwork of Soviet machines. So sure, you can download very elegant, minimalist skins that blend in with Windows 10. Or you can go for some 80s USSR nostalgia.

And I don’t mean you can dig up one or two skins. I mean there’s an exhaustive catalog of obsessive recreations of Soviet tape machinery, made into skins so pretty you can stare into them as your music plays – the way we all used to listen to recorded music. There are so many that the gallery I’ve assembled here of favorites isn’t even half of what’s on offer.

AIMP is itself the creation of a Russian developer (Artem Izmaylov), and contrary to Russophobic stereotype, it’s the Russian site that’s legit and the site with a “.us” domain you should avoid. The FAQ is still Russian-only, but the software is localized and perfectly usable. I’m assuming that somehow that lineage cause it to veer into the community of … well, whoever has the time to pour into these skins.

Non-Soviet brands are well represented, too – Nagra, Marantz, Sony Pioneer, Technics, Onkyo, Akai, Telefunken, and the like – but the detail and range of the Soviet models is simply breathtaking.

It’s not just eye candy on AIMP. The software’s stability, playback options, file format compatibility, and ease of use to me make it the best media player on any OS, period. The Android version is also my favorite mobile music software. And that’s having tried everything – macOS, Linux, and iOS included – since more or less the days when this whole thing began.

But it’s just so refreshing to see music playback software made with love again. Llama’s asses have gone, really, un-whipped for far too long. To any software that dares to do that in 2020, Я приветствую вас.

(Anyone behind these, do get in touch. Fans of other download-oriented and enthusiast music players, would love to hear about your stuff, too. For now… let’s gawk, anyway. And if you’re on Windows, obviously – knock yourself out.)

Download – as Wesley Willis would say, “all right, let’s rock it to Russia“:


Of course, it won’t sound quite like this: