The sad state of media players, part II

I named my last entry in this series “The sad state of media players, part I”:http://virtuelvis.com/archives/2006/11/media-managers-part-one because I was unaware of any non-sucky media players out there.
Well, ask the Internet, and you shall get a response. People made numerous suggestions on media players, some of which I had tried, and some I hadn’t. In any case, I don’t think the state is as sad anymore: I found several media mangers that were able to cope with my library, and that can probably cope for a longer while, one of them being the best thing since sliced bread.
Read more about the good, bad and ugly.


h3. The Good
h4. “Quod Libet”:http://www.sacredchao.net/quodlibet
What can I say? Wow!
Quod Libet’s search totally blows me away. Regular expression search, search by tag. Incredible power at my fingertips, while still being relatively newbie-friendly. I can have my cake and eat it too. If you, like me, switched from Windows and used Foobar 2000, you should really feel at home here.
No, it doesn’t have Foobar 2000’s total UI customization capabilities, but its database totally blows everything I’ve ever seen away. Search on tags, using regular expressions (don’t worry, there’s regular search as well), and build playlists and queues from it.
As for the large library: It handles my library exceedingly well. It’s fast, it doesn’t crash.
It also gets plus points for being Python, with plugins written in Python.
h4. “Amarok”:http://amarok.kde.org/
I actually like Amarok: Feature-wise, it’s more than decent, does most of what I would like, and has a fairly usable UI. Add to it that it actually can handle quite large databases, using either SQLite, MySQL or PostgreSQL
The problem is, I am never going to switch to KDE, and I am not willing to pull in all of the dependencies needed on a stable production system.
h4. “Exaile”:http://www.exaile.org/
Ok. What can I say: This is more than a decent stab at cloning AmaroK, and it integrates pretty nicely with Gnome. Feature-wise, it works fairly well.
In the comments of part I of this two-part posting, people hinted at bugs and instability. So far, I haven’t found any of either.
There is however one big bug in this application, and that is the use of vertical tabs. Usability-wise, I find these to be disastrous: They’re hard to read and they’re harder to target using a touchpad, which is what I use instead of a mouse most of the time.
h3. The Bad
h4. “Rhythmbox”:http://www.gnome.org/projects/rhythmbox
This is what I’ve been using before, in lack of a better manager. It doesn’t win any points for beauty, but it at least manages to follow my UI preferences. It has problems importing large libraries, uses too much resources while running and has functional, but rather lacklustre playlist support.
And, for the love of the Flying Spaghetti Monster: XML is not a suitable choice of format for storing databases of thousands of songs. Having to wait five minutes to get my database reindexed every time I add or remove a file is not an option for me.
h4. “Listen”:http://listengnome.free.fr/
Listen has potential, but it’s not quite there:
* Wikipedia and Lyrics support is there, and feels integrated.
* Cover art support is there, but too buggy to bother with, and the cover art tooltip on albums is downright annoying.
* It’s a resource hog.
* The podcasting support is a joke. A bad one. When I right-click on an item to try to delete the downloaded item, it unsubscribes me from the feed, but doesn’t actually show that until I’ve exited the view and come back
h4. “Muine”:http://muine-player.org/wiki/Main_Page
It works, but that’s about it. It has so few features it’s unlikely to satisfy anyone with enough music to fill a 4GB iPod Nano. If there is more, I’ve been unable to find it. If you’re looking for the simplest of players, only play full albums, never search and have a smallish music collection, you might have better luck than me.
h4. “Banshee”:http://banshee-project.org/Main_Page
Banshee managed to totally disqualify itself. When I started to import my library, the application froze somewhere around song 600. I have no clue as to why this happened. After pulling in Mono as a dependency and crashing, I was sufficiently annoyed to just uninstall it again.
I have since later learned that this probably is because of a “bug in taglib-sharp”:http://abock.org/2006/10/30/cracking-down-on-heap-abuse-part-2/ — while this probably will be fixed at some point, I doubt it’ll change my opinion though, as I just couldn’t get used to the UI (even if it’s probably better than some of the other players here)
Another bug I’ve encountered is that it seems to have problems importing MP3s into the library that other players doesn’t have any problems with.
h3. The Ugly
h4. “Songbird”:http://www.songbirdnest.com/
Whoever came up with the UI and the hideous color scheme should be taken out back and shot. Promptly. Yes, yes — I _do_ realise that this is a very early preview, but Songbird developers should note that it is rarely a good idea to conciously violate virtually all of the UI Guidelines on any platform Songbird is deployable on. It’s made to look like a toy, and it feels like one.
Songbird has been claimed as the Firefox of Media Players. It’s not, even if parts of it has been ripped straight out of Firefox, for instance the preferences dialog, with an added tab for Last.fm.
Where Firefox is barebones and minimal, Songbird is bloated and cluttered. Where Firefox manages to address usability issues, Songbird fails. Where Firefox actually manages to feel integrated with a Desktop Enviroment, Songbird only manages to feel integrated with a chronically depressed Fisher-Price(tm) toy.
h3. Conclusion
Well, there really isn’t one. This is my list of good, bad and evil, and your mileage may vary. I showed the Songbird UI to some people, and they didn’t despise it nearly as much as I did, and while I dig the powerful search in Quod Libet, you may find the UI to be unusual (even if it follows Gnome UI conventions fairly well).
However, there is one thing I _will_ conclude on in this huge post of mini-reviews, and that is that every single one of these players have very poor integration with portable media players. Of the players that claim some iPod support, most of them really only support playback from the iPod. If they support syncing the iPod, I wouldn’t dare try it with my past experiences, as I’ve had my iPod bricked to the point where I’ve had to mess around with fdisk to get it back up and running, and I’ve seen enough iPod database corruption using these tools that rely on reverse engineering to not recommend using them with the stock firmware.
Which leaves us with players that are simple mass storage devices, such as my Rockbox-equipped iPod. I simply copy songs to and from the player from a shell, and it works. However, this doesn’t seem to be a priority for any of these players, and if some of them has support, they fail to support modded iPods, since they all try to use iPods bad renaming of files and proprietary database.
I’ll stick to Quod Libet on all of my machines, and use bash for managing my iPod. This has worked in the past, it will work in the future, but it’s just not as convenient as I would’ve wanted it to be.
BTW: Since I switched to a player without podcasting support: Does anyone know of a separate podcasting client that syncs with non-stock iPods?

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9 Comments

  1. From what I’ve read about Banshee, it’s supposed to handle syncing with media players fairly well. I can’t guarantee anything with the Rockbox firmware (well, since I don’t use it, I can’t guarantee anything at all), but with the original iPod firmware, it should fare pretty well afaik. Perhaps you should give it a go at a later point when the import bug has been fixed.

  2. I use Amarok at work, and I love it. What’s your beef with KDE?

  3. Tom-Eric: My gripe with KDE is (mostly) emotional. To me, everything is just that little bit off, compared to what I experience with Gnome[1]. My two real gripes with it is that some applications run slower in KDE than Gnome. One of them, curiously enough, is Konqueror (Which isn’t a real problem, since I use Opera anyway). The other problem I have is the use of vertical tabs in application — I don’t have an extra pair of eyes tilted 90 degrees clockwise.
    fn1. Before someone mentions the ‘non-customizability’ and ‘over-simplicity’ of Gnome: I am perfectly happy with how Gnome works in this respect, as I don’t actually need hundreds of buttons and options for everything — if I want to do something complex, I have a shell, which I’m perfectly happy with.

  4. __Reynald__

     /  2006-11-30

    Glad to know that you found a media player. Quod Libet is really nice but I have two problems with it:
    – No gapless, which is a must-have for me. This is a problem with almost all media players in Linux and it’s one of the main reasons I’m using Amarok.
    – It sometimes eats a lot of CPU, above 20% (no matter what machine I install it on).
    BTW, +1 to your KDE comments.

  5. michael

     /  2006-12-01

    The link above to Quod Libet doesn’t work.

  6. jonathan

     /  2006-12-03

    I wonder which version of rhythmbox you were using. It doesn’t sound much like any version I’ve used in the last couple of years.
    Your unspecified UI complaints aside: here, rhythmbox CVS HEAD uses less memory than quod libet, and much less than banshee. Amarok uses less memory as it apparently only keeps the songs present in the playlist in memory.
    The only current bugs open with regard to crashing during import are caused by bugs in glib, dbus, and gnome-vfs, and they mostly occur when importing from smb shares, which most other music players don’t seem to support. Importing is a bit slower than amarok, much faster than banshee, probably about equal with quod libet.
    The only thing missing from your “meaningful playlist management” criteria is dynamic playlists based on last.fm.
    Regarding XML databases and FSMism: the on-disk format is used only for serialization, and the database is saved to disk every 10 minutes (if dirty) and on shutdown. It loads noticeably faster than most other players.
    (I haven’t seriously tried exaile, listen, muine, or songbird)

  7. algkalv

     /  2006-12-05

    Someone with long hair demonstrated Songbird UI to me, and I can’t say I despised it. At least it doesn’t have the untidy scat fetish of Ubuntu.
    As for Gnome, as L.T. said, it’s a disease.
    You have highly elevated requirements, and strong opinions. Others have too. You are fine with dead-dumb interface of Gnome, others cannot stand it for a split-second.
    People differ, and so do their needs, preferences, and they way they use software. rather than posting emotional rants about your preferences, you might offer something of your own, nei?

  8. algkalv: That’s the nice thing about Quod Libet — it offers most of what I need, and what it doesn’t yet offer is fairly simple to provide, given that it’s all written in a beatuiful language, and has a plugin API. It is on my list of todos.

  9. Arve and others, please check this one out:
    http://ilyabirman.ru/tools/music-player/
    It’s a music player UI I’ve created for Foobar 2000 (with GFX Window component) which makes it the lightest and cleanest audio software even. It offers a “mile-high” track seek bar, gesture support and more interface sugar. The idea is that it stays in the maximized window title bar (on the right), so it takes exactly 0 pixels which could be used any better.
    Hope someone likes it 🙂