Portable Music Player Software

Plug and play your music on practically any computer using a portable app

Cheerful freckled girl listening to headphones

StefaNikolic / Getty Images

Normally, in order to play media files (music, videos, etc.) on a computer from an external device such as a hard drive, flash drive, or a memory card, you need to make sure that an appropriate software media player is already installed on the machine you are using. However, if you don't want to be tied down to a particular computer just because it has the right software on it, then a more flexible way is to use a portable version of your favorite media playing software. This is commonly referred to as a portable app and can be stored on virtually any hardware device (including an iPod, MP3 player, PMP, etc.) that can be connected to a computer (usually via USB or Bluetooth).


Portable apps (short for applications) are software distributions that don't need to be installed on a computer to run. They are therefore perfect to carry around with your media library without you having to install the right software on every computer you use. Using this type of software isn't just for external hardware devices either. You can burn MP3 CDs for example with a portable jukebox app on them so you can play your music on any computer with a CD-ROM drive. Another advantage of using a portable media player app is that everything remains on your portable device so you don't have to be concerned with copying files over to a computer's fixed hard drive or worry about leaving any traces of your activities.

If you like the idea of having a portable media player app on your USB hard drive, flash pen, or MP3 player, so you can play your music on virtually any computer, then check out the list below. This list (in no particular order) covers some of the most popular software media players that come in portable form and support a wide range of different audio/video formats.

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VLC Media Player Portable

VLC Media Player logo

VLC Media

What We Like
  • Widely popular and free.

  • Supports a wide variety of formats.

  • Easy-to-use interface and library of plugins.

What We Don't Like
  • The user interface, in some modes, is a bit dated.

  • App sometimes crashes for videos with malformed headers.

VLC player portable (Windows download ¦ Mac Download) is a very popular software media player that is light on resources, but rich on features. It is available on several operating system platforms and can even be used as a streaming media server on your home network. As well as supporting a wide spectrum of audio formats, VLC player is also an excellent choice if you want to carry around videos and movies on your portable storage device.

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Winamp Portable

Winamp Logo


What We Like
  • Solid music-playing capabilities.

  • Venerable brand identity.

What We Don't Like
  • A shell of its former early-2000s glory.

  • Unclear development and future-feature roadmap.

Winamp is a popular iTunes and Windows Media Player alternative that is a very capable audio player. It supports many formats and can be installed to any external storage device as a portable app. The lite version of Winamp doesn't come with all the bells and whistles that the full installation does (like video playback), but it's an excellent performer for playing digital music.

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Spider Player Portable

spider Player screenshot
What We Like
  • Highly rated by users.

  • Recording capability sets it apart.

  • Freeware.

What We Don't Like
  • Hasn't been updated since 2011.

  • Antiquated, busy interface.

If you are looking for a solid audio player that covers a lot of different audio formats, then Spider Player is worth a look. With its built-in support for CD ripping / burning, MP3 tag editing, DSP effects, etc., this program could be the portable app you choose to carry around. Spider Player also has the ability to record music streamed from SHOUTcast and ICEcast Internet radio servers — not all jukebox software can boast this.

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FooBar2000 Portable

Foobar2000 screenshot
What We Like
  • Lightweight footprint great for older computers.

  • Despite its name, it's still actively developed.

What We Don't Like
  • Installed so infrequently that Microsoft Edge might suppress it as malware.

  • Despite a last update in November 2018, it looks "Designed for Windows Vista" and even appears to mimic the design choices of Windows Media Player from that era.

Foobar2000 has two modes of installation. You can either install the full version on your computer or choose the portable mode which copies the program to your attached external device. Foobar2000 is another iTunes alternative media player that is light-weight, but powerful. It supports a wide variety of audio formats and can be used to even sync music to an iPod. In fact, the iPod Manager plugin gives you the facility to convert non-iPod audio formats before syncing to your Apple device.

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