Looking for free music player for iPhone

I have a ton of music I’ve either bought or uploaded into my iTunes Library. I’m looking for a way of playing them on my iPhone without paying a monthly subscription. Apple told me that there are 3rd party music players. Can anyone recommend one? When I search for “free music apps for iPhone” there are a lot.

You didn’t mention what phone you have but it would already have either the Music app or iTunes if it’s an older one. I started looking for an iPhone music app when I had an iPhone 4s because I never liked the fact that the iTunes or Music app could not crossfade tracks (which the computer versions could always do) and that was noticeable since I have many live concert tracks and I tend to let it shuffle play. I believe the latest iOS has added the crossfade function but older versions did not have it. I tried a few but the one I still use today is this one, the Onkyo HF Player:

There seems to be two of these now as one has a blue icon but the one I have is the one that has more black in the icon. It is a free app unless you want to play high resolution files so if your tracks are the regular mp3, AAC, or Apple Lossless etc., then the free version works fine. In addition, it also has an EQ which really cleans up the sound when using certain headphones or in my case earbuds which I tend to use while walking. It doesn’t use excess battery energy like a few I tried many years ago. The ratings on the App Store seem off to me as it’s a great app and it’s free for the music tracks that most people have.

I have all of my own music as I don’t buy any from the Music Store so it’s all on my computer and/or phone and as far as I know, the files need to be on your phone for the app to find them.

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I use Plexamp

Plex has a darn good music playing app for iOS called “Plexamp” If you run the Plex server on any computer, and point it to your music library. You will be all set.

To clarify, you don’t have to be an Apple Music subscriber to use the built in Music app in iOS. The main issue is syncing the music from your Mac, sometimes this is not as easy as it should be (depending on what OS and iOS you are using).


I have an iPhone 15

Any guidance or references on problems syncing Music? I can’t sync from iMac (Sonoma) to iPad 9 17.5.1. No problem with iPhone 14.

OK. I still use an older iPhone 7 Plus which has iOS 15 and the Onkyo app says a minimum of iOS 13 so if you went with that, it should work. But if the tracks are on your computer, you first need to get them over to the phone.

If you are using iTunes you are either running an older Mac with Mojave (or similar) or a Windows PC.
In either case you should be able to connect the iPhone to the computer with a USB cable and it will show up in iTunes. You can then use iTunes to manage music on the iPhone. This doesn’t need an Apple Music subscription if the music was bought or copied from CDs.
The same function is available on Macs with newer operating systems, via the Music app.
However, as pointed out above, some combinations of computer and iPhone might not work as intended.
P.S. iTunes can also backup the data on the iPhone, which is worth doing so you are not totally reliant on iCloud backups.
P.P.S Apps like Plex are unlikely to be able to play music bought from the Apple Store that is copy protected.

Apple originally wrapped music purchases with FairPlay DRM, but music purchased after 2009 (and a subset of purchases made between 2007 and 2009) is in the “iTunes +” format, which has no DRM (and is compressed to 256 Kbps, vs. the 128 Kbps used for protected tracks).

But this is only for music purchases. Streamed/rented music, video and books still use DRM protection.

But even music purchased with DRM can be migrated out. There are software tools to remove FairPlay protection (but those tools are illegal in the US and in countries that have laws like the DMCA), but you don’t need to use them. You can use the “CD loophole”.

Copy protected music purchased from the iTunes Store can be burned to audio CDs. The ability to do this is effectively unlimited, although Apple prevents a single playlist with DRM tracks from being burned more than five times. So you can make playlists of your DRM-protected tracks (each one small enough to fit on a CD - no more than 72-78 minutes, depending on media), burn them to audio CDs, then rip them back to your favorite format, which you can use with your favorite player device/software.

This does create some generational loss, since the (AAC-compressed) audio will get compressed a second time, but this may not be an issue. If your re-rip uses a lossless format (WAV, AIFF, Apple Lossless, FLAC, etc.) then there’s no additional loss. And even with a lossy format, the quality may be just fine depending on how you configure the encoder and your personal preference (I generally use 128 Kbps variable-bit-rate, which sounds good enough for my ears on my equipment).

If, at some point in the future, I can no longer use my iPod Touch or an iPhone for playing music in my car, I will copy my music to a large USB thumb drive and use my car’s native music player capabilities to access it. All cars these days support MP3, and quite a lot support AAC as well. Not as nice as my iPod (with or without CarPlay), but a perfectly usable option if necessary. (FWIW, I use the CD loophole to convert my protected iTunes purchases to MP3 many years ago, back when I was making MP3 CDs for playing in the car. I still have those files.)

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Thanks. I can listen on my Mac and don’t have to pay for Apple Music. That’s all I need. That way I don’t have to renew my iTunes Match any longer. This has been a big help.

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There is a player for iPhone and iPad called Cesium. I’ve been using that for several years. It uses Music’s library and provides a much better interface.

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Should I be able to sync Music on my iMac (Sonoma) with my iPad 9 17.5.1? Sync proceeds without error msgs, but no music is moved, despite the sync settings and plenty of iPad space. No problem with doing the same to my iPhone 14.

I don’t see any reason why it shouldn’t work. I don’t have an iPad, but I sync to my iPod Touch via USB all the time.

How are you syncing? If you’re using Wi-Fi, try USB. There might be a network problem.

If you plug your iPad in via USB and open the Finder, do you see it? You should be able to select it in the left-side column of a Finder window to see the usual sync screen:

If you see that, make sure the checkboxes on the Music tab are selecting what you want to sync. In my case, I’m syncing my entire music library:

If that all looks good, then try clicking the Sync button and let us know what happens.

One possibility comes to mind. Whenever significant iOS updates happen, the Finder asks to download an update the next time you connect your device to the Mac. I think that update is a driver for syncing to the new iOS release.

If you have been syncing via Wi-Fi, then it is possible that your Mac doesn’t have the necessary drive for your iPad. But it should ask to auto-install after connecting it via USB. If that’s the cause of the problem, then Syncing with USB or Wi-Fi should work after installing that driver.

Another thumbs up for Cesium. I’ve used it for years too, happily. It has a straightforward interface that looks a lot like the old Music app, without all the cloud streaming BS. I think Cesium will stream your cloud account if you really want it to, but if you don’t subscribe, you can just turn that section off and it doesn’t show up.

For anyone who is trying to search for Cesium in the App Store on their phone, and is confused by the number of paid “matches”, the one you want is called Cs Music Pro. It also has a web site.

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I’ve had similar unhappy experience with syncing between versions of macos and ios… as soon as one goes up a version you can’t sync any more. My mac library regularly for years got corrupted when syncing, and my ipad would never stay connected to my mac for more than 10s, so couldn’t sync.

To that end I have recently completed taking MY music (2000+ mp3 files) out of the apple music ecosystem… I now use Ampado Pro on my mac, and Offline music player on iphone and ipad. A bit of pythoning took all my music in playlists out, renamed the files to something useful for ordering, and storing the music ‘On My Phone’ sorted it nicely. I recommend, if you don’t have a particularly dynamic music collection at least.

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If you want two of the traditional iTunes/Music features that are found on the Mac versions like a real EQ and crossfade, then Cesium is not a choice since it seems to lack both after looking at the app site. The Onkyo app has those even in the free version and has had them for many years.

The Apple EQ found on the iPhone does very little to adjust sound and can only do one thing like Bass Increase where the better apps have a 10 band EQ so you can really tailor the sound to your headphones or earbuds.

I gave up on Apple iTunes a long time ago. I also ended up on Plexamp. But one music player+video player+ internet radio app that I’ve found most useful is VLC Player. It is available for pretty much every platform and available in the Apple iOS app store. My wife uses it on both iPad and iPhone. We have all the music on a NAS, so we stream/play the music over the network. VLC can copy/download music to take with you, so I don’t see why you couldn’t play the music from your Mac.

I love the fact that VLC is open-source, and available for most platforms, however it has a fatal bug in more recent versions: it cuts in and out several times per second when used with CarPlay. I haven’t been able to use it for the last six months or so.

You do not need an Apple Music subscription to listen to your music on your iPhone. You can sync your music library over from the Music app on your Mac. Here are the instructions:

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