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Sunday, April 5, 2009

Quest for a Music Player

Abstract
My experiences personally and impressions while looking for a music player in Linux today.

Introduction
So I have used the music player program Audacious for years. I did this because before it, I used BMP, which is the successor to XMMS, which is a WinAmp Clone and I have used WinAmp ever since I started listening to music on my PC.

Why the search for something new? I have been stuck in Ubuntu Hardy for various reasons, and their version of Audacious has some bugs, because it seems to fail to load a bunch of files that are perfectly valid. Also, because of Hardy's libraries I cannot compile and use their latest version myself.

Another bigger reason is that, I have started to really listen to my entire music collection of a few thousand songs, and Audacious is not really a music manager, just a really good player. So my needs have grown beyond Audacious, though I still think it is a stellar program and the best WinAmp clone ever.

Today I looked around to find a music player that suited my needs. Namely, it needed to the following:
  • Support MP3, OGG, WAV, MPC (very very important), FLAC and WMA (yeah, I have a few, though the format is terrible).
  • Make use of the keyboard for control, preferably something like Audacious/WinAmp
  • Have a mini-mode. (A mode where the GUI is small and unobstrusive). This could be anything from a System Tray icon, to the mini-mode that Audacious/WinAmp do.
  • Support thousands of songs in a massive single playlist.
  • Additionally, it should be easy to use. (Believe me when I tell you this is not the case for most music players out there).
  • Normalization of audio.
JuK
Got me off to a pretty fast start. They were able to import my music quickly and start playing. However, when I reconfigured their shortcut keys, the program stopped working properly. Most of what I assigned did not seem to function properly and soon after the program crashed.

The program also lacked various extra features usually provided by plugins.

In the end, the playlist system seemed quite clunky and did not work very well for me. Doubtless there is a proper way to do it, but it was not apparent to me. The display is not very informative at points, so sometimes I did not know exactly what songs I had queued up. Perhaps it is my style of use, but again I found the keyboard interfering with controlling the system instead of helping it.

Amarok
Amarok and I have a history. Each time I have tried it, I did not like it, but I don't clearly remember why. This time around, after trying to use the program three times, I figured out the trick to the Playlists. Not exactly intuitive but still useable.

Their interface is pretty nice actually. Nice shortcuts. Good random playback system. Nice SystemTray icon.
  • File Information: Initially had some trouble using the interface to examine the filetype and bitrate information for my audio files. But figured it out at last.
  • Volumes Synchronization Problems: I cannot figure out how to make Amarok use KDE's volume. I end up having to control two volume systems and this is kind of annoying. I suspect there is a way to do this, because it would seem like a very important feature.
Amarok hung for a bit when I tried to seek forward/back while certain visualizations were enabled.

Aqualung
Simply failed to load. I'm pretty surprised actually. Normally these things don't happen.

Listen Music Player
Simply not enough control as well as customization for me. It looks like a nice little player but not enough for me.

Exaile
Tried it. I could not customize the keys, and I did not really like their default keys. The big deal was that I simply could not get it to play my music. I was unable to load anything into the play lists. I tried on three separate occasions over a few days. It cannot be done without knowing the black magics I guess. Too bad. Not a usable program.

Conclusion
I went with Amarok and I'm generally quite pleased. The program has a lot of things I wanted in Audacious and I'm organizing my music far more easily than before. There are two things I really want though:
  • Good normalization system: I downloaded and enabled ReplyGain (which was annoyingly not available through Get More Scripts option system within Amarok itself). ReplayGain works alright. There is no AAC/Musepack options in my Linux distro so that is a pity. I believe the plugin is going through and putting Replay Gain values onto my music files, which is cool, but if it is not, then I'm in trouble because a lot of my files don't have a gain value stored in them, certainly not some of my WMAs. (Again, yeah I know they suck).
  • Slim Player Window Like Audacious/XMMS: I really want a slightly slimmer player window for Amarok. Something like Audacious. Even after tweaking the window with KDE's configuration options, it is still rather large.
Update: There is a bug with Amarok 1.4.9. It will not skip forward or back nicely on certain file types, like FLAC or Musepack. This annoying and I hope this behavior has been fixed in Amarok 2.

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