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Jan
10

Linux music player group test

Posted by Rob Zwetsloot

What’s the best Linux media player? We find out the best way to organise and play your music library by testing out the top four music players available

Music is the soundtrack to our lives, and one of the most important pieces of software on any PC or laptop is a good music player, one that can easily manage an ever growing collection of media. Filtering through music by album, genre, artist or more is a must these days, along with user-created and auto-generated playlists as well as connection to online cloud storage and music streaming services.

With the recent release of Clementine 1.2, one of the most popular media players, we’ve decided to look at it and its competitors to see if it’s really the best media player, or if there are others that deserve your attention. We’ll be looking at their ability to play different types of music, the information they can get, the layout and the general selection of features.

Some of these may not beat your favourite online service – for that, try using Nuvola as an alternative for pure streaming services, allowing you to use keyboard hotkeys and not rely on your browser.

Rhythmbox

The Ubuntu default is a Linux mainstay, but how does it compare?

There was a bit of a kerfuffle a year or so back with Rhythmbox. Soon after Ubuntu One started streaming music, Canonical opted to switch to Banshee for the next release of Ubuntu. These kinds of changes happen everyday in Linux. However, what was more surprising was the instant backtracking by Canonical, reinstating Rhythmbox as the default music player in the following release of Ubuntu – returning with better music streaming options.

clementine ubuntu audacious banshee
The interface is simple yet fully featured

Rhythmbox is a great default music player for a number of reasons. It has a straightforward interface with nice, big, standard buttons that stand out so anyone can use it. The entire music library is accessible down the side, along with a handful of basic streaming services other than Ubuntu One, and a dedicated Radio and Podcast list. Playlists are split up from this main Library, although these only include playlists you’ve created and automatic ones such as recently added or played music, with no smart recognition.

Playback is absolutely fine, with files, folders and selections being easily added to the now playing queue thanks to great integration with the standard file manager. There’s also good integration with notification areas, particularly with GNOME-based volume controls, allowing you to reduce the number of icons and control music and volume from one place.

So pretty basic but good, then. Unfortunately, that’s about it for Rhythmbox. There’s not a huge amount of customisation available for the interface – either for the layout or the way it generally works. Compared to Clementine, which has a huge selection of music streaming services available, access to Last.fm, Libre.fm and Ubuntu Music is just not enough for Rhythmbox. It needs more.

Overall, Rhythmbox is a great standard music player. Music is very well organised and easy to search through, with the multi-pane library window aiding in this. Creating playlists and play queues on the go is nice and easy, and playback is easy to control. Smart playlists are noticeably absent, though, as are the aforementioned range of online streaming services. If you’re using it, perhaps consider an upgrade.

Verdict

7/10

Rhythmbox is definitely good, but it’s in sore need of a big update to make it more relevant in a world of online music

Audacious

Lightweight yet with a surprising number of features

Audacious is the only media player in this group test that can be described as lightweight – and in fact like many lightweight apps, it’s made that way in mind. Still though, it’s a very popular music player and music manager, thanks in part to a good selection of features that make it more than just a basic music player.

clementine rhythmbox banshee
The search function is not the best, but Audacious is highly customisable

Audacious’s interface is extremely simple, with a single pane to list all available media, listed by album by default. Music can be easily added, with a standard folder being used to check regularly for any more content for Audacious to add to your library of media. Interestingly, playlists and play queues are handled in separate tabs from the main library, keeping the interface a little cleaner and allowing you to have a specific layout of your favourite playlists without needing all of them on show.

The search function is a bit odd, though. Instead of an omnipresent search field on the interface, a separate column needs to be opened up from the menus. The results from the search are not displayed very well, with what seems to be a random mash of authors, albums and songs included in the results. This highlights a small problem with Audacious: while the interface is quite neat and minimalist, it makes looking for the music you want to play a bit of a chore. You’re much better off creating playlists in other music players to then use in Audacious, or simply add them from the file manager. There’s at least some decent integration with the desktop environment once you’ve got everything playing, though.

However, due to its lightweight nature, there are no smart playlists, and there is no way to connect to online services. This is its
major downfall compared to the rest of the applications in this test, as with ever growing music libraries in multiple locations, your music may not be all available on your PC or laptop, or even your home network.

At the very least, Audacious is very customisable. From the behaviour of what it plays at startup to how it handles playlists and such, there’s an eye for making it convenient or keeping it lightweight. At least in that regard, it performs very well.

Verdict

5/10

Audacious is fine as a lightweight music player, but for proper media management and integration you’ll need a bit more

Clementine

A Linux favourite, how is the latest Clementine player

Clementine is based on the KDE music player, Amarok, but with a few improvements and a much better interface. It’s quickly become a very popular media player and the latest version, 1.2, has arrived with a whole host of great new features. These are sure to attract new users while appeasing die-hard fans who still want to use their favourite media player in a changing landscape of music consumption.

audacious banshee rhythmbox
Clementine has everything bu the Kitchen Sink. It even has the Hypno To-ALL GLORY TO THE HYPNO TOAD

First of all, Clementine now has access to a lot more music streaming services than before, with new additions such as Dropbox and Ubuntu One joining the already impressive list of existing ones. These include Google Drive, Spotify, SoundCloud, Last.fm and Grooveshark. You can easily search within the free services using the built-in Clementine search functions, and you can log in to do the same with the account-driven services such as Spotify and the cloud storage ones. These settings are easily found in the preferences menu under a different section to the vast wealth of customisation options that Clementine offers.

Through these options you can change just about every way Clementine behaves, from simple things like how it might fade between tracks, to tweaking the transcoding settings or even setting a Wii Remote as a remote control device. New in Clementine 1.2 is the ability to use an Android device as a remote, a feature which has been a long time coming. However, instead of using a basic HTTP interface, it uses a special app to make it work.

Playback is fantastic, with a special Clementine icon ticking down to the end of the song, and showing a play symbol so you know it’s actually going. While you can control Clementine from here, you can also control it from the usual volume control icons if you’re using the right desktop environment.

Clementine basically has it all, then. Its smart playlist feature, the dynamic random mix, isn’t quite as good as some online equivalents, but it’s a lot better than any of the other players in this test. It also has the greatest selection of online services it connects to, is the most customisable and makes finding your music easy.

Verdict

9/10

An amazing piece of software that lets you do just about anything you’d want to do with all of your music

Banshee

Similar to Rhythmbox, and not as popular as Clementine

As mentioned in the Rhythmbox review, Banshee was the one-time default audio player for Ubuntu, replacing and then being usurped by Rhythmbox. Due to this, you’d be forgiven in thinking that they’re incredibly similar applications – and in some regards they are. They both employ a similar three-pane layout for your media, and they both include a column down the side for navigating your media, videos, podcasts and online services. At the core, they also both run off GStreamer, which is a great media back-end and allows the two to play just about anything with the right codecs installed.

clementine rhythmbox audacious
The banshee interface is very nice

The interface for Banshee is nice and easy to use, and very responsive. Search is instant, bringing up results as you type, and the way results are listed is conducive to finding the tracks, album or artist you’re looking for. The album pane on the main interface has thumbnails of the album art instead of a list – although the grid effect can be disabled if you wish. It all works very well and, like all the others, integrates just fine with the desktop environments that allow for playback options via volume controls.

Customisation wise, there’s not a whole lot more than Rhythmbox. You can’t even set a specific interval or time for the music library to update. These kind of features are sorely missing, especially compared to Clementine and Audacious which have a whole host of different features and options that can help you streamline the experience. At the very least, there’s a fairly rich plug-in system and you can turn off some of the features of Banshee you don’t wish this way, making it much more lightweight than it is by standard. It’s through these extensions that the online services are included in Banshee – like Rhythmbox, though, there’s only a handful like Last.fm and Amazon. There are a few other, community-built extensions, but none to challenge the features of Clementine.

So overall, Banshee is pretty good. While it’s easy to compare it to Rhythmbox, it’s generally a little better, with better plug-in support that allows it to be more lightweight if you wish, and a slightly cleaner and informative interface. It’s no Clementine, though.

Verdict

8/10

Banshee is a great media player that we’d be very happy to use if we didn’t have access to any online services

Overall

Clementine is really the clear winner in this test, being the best in just about every regard thanks to a fantastic Amarok base, a very smart interface that integrates all modern ways of listening to music, and a great selection of online services. Wherever you like to listen to your media, Clementine can help you get it on your Linux system and easily control it via a number of graphical methods, or even keyboard shortcuts and hotkeys.

The other audio players don’t really come close to it. Audacious is more focused on being lightweight, which while having its place, doesn’t make it at all competitive compared to Clementine’s wealth of features. Banshee and Rhythmbox are roughly on the same level with each other, and need a serious upgrade in terms of access to online services to really stay relevant.

For now though, Clementine really is the best application for listening to, and managing, your music.

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    • Praxis

      Linux music players are all pretty flawed as a rule, unfortunately. Almost all of them want to do everything, which is not what you’d expect from an operating system that nominally idolizes small, light, extensible tools. Personally, I use audacious most of the time, it is light and does what I want (play MY local music, not use a bunch of bandwidth-consuming on line services). There are things I wish I could change, but it works well enough. I also use decibel-audio-player, another light option. At times in the last couple of years I’ve used foobnix.

      I’m not a person who fetishizes lightness, I’m perfectly happy to run KDE, a relatively heavy desktop, but I manage my own music collection, thank you very much, I don’t need some damn program indexes my large collection every time it starts up, bringing my machine to its knees. I want to start songs and playlists from a FILE MANAGER, a program I always have open. I want to double click and play, instantly if possible. And I want to have the option to clear the previous playlist when I do so (my biggest problem with clementine, besides the fact that it can’t deal with non-standard characters and it takes 5 seconds to start on a 1st generation dual core computer EVEN WITHOUT my music collection configured so it has to check it). rhythmbox and banshee are even (much) worse, heavy, they insist on managing my collection, and they are hard-to-impossible to configure the way I want them.

      I think my favorite music player is foobar2000, open source, but Windoze only, & I don’t really do Windows. Extensible, configurable, fast, light, nice community, reponsive set of developers.

    • dgrb

      Damn! You beat me to it! Especially your second paragraph.

      I will decide how best to organise my music, as I have yet to encounter software which can adequately deal with having 92 recordings of Beethoven’s Eroica Symphony on the hard drive.

      I too tend to use audacious, although xmms used to be my favourite – no frills, it basically just played what you told it to.

      I HATE software that thinks it know better than I do (one reason I’ve never had any time for Apple).

    • Caesar Tjalbo

      mpd + a frontend (currently gmpc) + mpdscribble

    • Druenny Tesla

      I’m not a fan of Rhythmbox. I find that it does not rip audio cd’s very well. I actually like banshee. For me, I make playlists and that’s how I go about playing songs. Some of my playlists can be country and rock and a few others all on the same list. For me to have them organized by genre is useless.

    • ignasigarcia

      It’s quite amazing how a program such as Guayadeque, guayadeque.org, always misses these kind of reviews. I’ve used RB and Banshee for years and, IMHO Guayadeque beats them all. It’s true its interface lacks some beauty, but it certainly is the most complete piece of software for managing music collections. Please consider reviewing it in a future article.

    • Steve Cole

      Mentions that Clementine is built on Amarok but doesn’t review Amarok. Wut? How about Juk? Alsaplayer and others… I know it probably wasn’t meant to be exhaustive but there are a few players missing… Nightingale comes to mind, too. And for those that want REALLY light, there mpg321. ;)

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    • MrRtd

      Clementine is not really built on Amarok. Clementine has a similar GUI as the older Amarok 1. When Amarok 2 based on KDE4 came out, it’s GUI was wildly different than previous versions and not what many liked, could get used to using, or just disliked.

    • Mohammed Masud

      I just don’t understand how XMMS can be missed.

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    • Richard Rose

      Yeah I have to agree with that as I have just recently switched to Guayadeque and I am very happy with it. Personally I think it beats down Rhythmbox – although the interface could do with some improvements.

    • Rodrigo Bastías

      I manage music folders in my external disc and/or small usb devices, so smart playlists is not one feature that I look for, similar to online services; but when I use a music player I always test its Equalizer and stability managing a quite big playlist. So Exaile has a good equalizer but constantly crush under a lot of music. VLC runs quite well with my two requeriments but lacks of very useful features offer by Clementine or Amarok. Sometimes I have used RB but it crushes too under big playlists. Now I am quite happy with Clementine and I have always Amarok available on my laptop. These last two supports heavy playlist and have acceptable equalizers.
      (Sorry about my english)

    • mosmith

      the dead-look deepin music player is better than all above.while not have a try?

    • ChanceDM

      Maybe because no one can spell/pronounce it? Seriously though, maybe I’ll give it a try.