Apps & Mobile

Make Dropbox Your Own Music Cloud With TuneBox

Tunebox-591x336By Eliot Van Buskirk of

If you’re sick of working as your own music system administrator (i.e. someone who spends lots of time moving music from one place to another) and instead to make the leap into “the cloud,” where you can access the same music library from all of your devices, you have a number of options.

We took a look at the major players here, from the perspective of someone who wants to migrate from local iTunes music to a locker and/or subscription in the cloud.

However, there is another option for a certain kind of person — probably already a heavy Dropbox user who downloads music (as opposed to streaming it) and doesn’t like to do things by the book — TuneBox ($5, iOS), which was recently upgraded for iOS 7. It does one thing, and it does it well, for the most part (see below). Once you connect it to your Dropbox account, it can stream all of the music in there.

Even better, you can select certain songs to download from Dropbox into the app, storing them locally, so as not to run up against your data limits (unless, of course, you’ve been able to keep your unlimited data plan). And if you decide you want to free up space, you can zap those downloaded files in an instant, possibly swapping in a new set of music from Dropbox.

We’ve seen some other, cheaper apps that do something like this, but they’re temporarily busted (BoxyTunes), widely-derided for not supporting streaming (DropTunes), or no longer available (Songbox).

You can also straight-up log in to Dropbox via Safari or the Dropbox app itself, and play music that way, for free — it even works with Lossless files, which TuneBox can’t play. However, most people don’t waste their Dropbox space on lossless audio files, and besides, spending $5 on TuneBox adds advanced browsing features, a better design, the ability to sense headphone controls, easy cloud downloading music management.

Basically, Tunebox is much more of a music player than Dropbox is on its own.

We did run into a fairly serious bug: Certain songs were not indexed in the Song, Album, and Artist views until we went to the Browse section and played them manually, in part because it’s hard to grab complicated song metadata from Dropbox. This caused the app to recognize the songs, but really, the app should have seen them all along. To deal with that, we recommend putting all albums and playlists into individual folders, such as “Dropbox > Music > Javelin > Hi Beams,” so you have a good backup plan, just in case the app treats any of your albums like that.

Other albums imported just fine, so so we figured we might just have some weird metadata stuff going on with our test music. Indeed, Tunebox developer Philip Kast told via email,

It should definitely find all of your music. What might be going on is, there’s a lot of trickery and cleverness under the hood to get metadata for the song. If the path to the file isn’t in the naming scheme iTunes uses (like Artist/Album/01 – Song.m4a) and the song’s metadata is buried too deep, Tunebox might not be able to get the artist, album and title right at first. Browsing to the folder cues it to take a closer look, as does playing another song that’s stored in the same folder.
The other thing (and this might be related to being on an iPhone 4) is, when you first login it can take a minute to find music and get the track info all figured out. The iPhone 4 typically takes a little longer — there’s quite a bit of info to sift through. But, in an attempt to feel responsive, if you browse to a folder, any songs within jump the queue and should show up close to immediately. The clue there should be the progress bar telling you about updates. If that’s still visible – Tunebox is still gathering info.

We found a couple other things to complain about, but they’re not necessarily deal-breakers:

  • Album art doesn’t always show up.
  • Again, the app lists Apple Lossless files, but can’t play them. Lossless files are much larger than regular MP3s, so they don’t really belong in your Dropbox account anyway, but just in case you’re some kind of weirdo who enjoys wasting disk space on Dropbox, this is something you should know.

According to Kast, Tunebox gives a higher degree of control by treating cloud storage as more of a utility than a service, when it comes to music. The downside is that you have to download all of your music before you can upload it to Dropbox, limiting your selection severely, compared to using something like Rdio, Spotify, or Google Play. Maybe you still primarily download (rather than stream) music — but even if not, we all have the odd MP3s that we want to listen to, even when we stream most of our stuff. So TuneBox could still be worth it, even if you mostly use another mix of apps for your listening.

We were curious about what Kast meant by “control,” so we asked him to explain that a bit:

The “control” thing was a very condensed version of a longer thought. I think Google Music is a great service (and in their own ways, iTunes Match, Spotify, Rdio, etc). But they’re being developed amidst huge industry shifts, and it seems like they’re all likely to change in the future. For example, what does All Access mean for the future of the locker features in Google Music? Whereas it seems pretty likely that cloud file storage is around and stable for the long haul. Even if Dropbox went away or radically changed (not likely), there would still be Box, Google Drive, and on and on. (Tunebox doesn’t support those services right now, but could without changing the app too much). So I meant control in the sense that you’ve got control not just over the MP3s you’re listening to, but can also have confidence that there will be a service doing the networked part that you need long into the future.

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