Music players: so much choice, but…

Music players in Linux are a dime a dozen. Even if you don’t count the media players like VLC and mplayer, there are still enough that will manage and play your music collection. I’m pretty sure I’ve tried them all at this point…and I still haven’t found one I’m perfectly satisfied with.

To meet my high (and very personal) standards, a music manager has to be three things:

  • It must be lightweight/fast
  • It has to look good
  • It must have a certain set of features I can’t do without.

The first item on that list means no Amarok, Rhythmbox, Banshee, Exaile or anything similar. It’s not that I think they suck, because they dont. They look good, they have all the features I want, but they make me wait, and I don’t like waiting.

The second condition, as usual, boils down to “being able to follow my gtk-theme or qt-theme”. That means no xmms style players (they don’t offer much “management” either), although I do use audacious to test the quality of recently downloaded files.

The features I need are easy enough to list:

  • Decent music/playlist managing
  • Last.fm support
  • Being able to listen to my favourite radio-stations
  • Decent tag-writing support.

As I’ve found out, such an application simply doesn’t exist 🙂 The one that comes closest is actually a combination of two applications: MPD and Sonata.

MPD is an interesting beast. It’s the application doing the actual work (playing your music), but you have to install a different program to actually tell it what to do. There a lot of these programs, or “clients”. And when I say “a lot”, I really mean A LOT.

Problem is, most of them aren’t any good. The past hour I installed about a dozen of them (yes, that’s how serious I take research), and only three of them came close to Sonata: gmpc (didn’t provide an easy way to scrobble my songs to last.fm), ario (looked very nice but doesn’t actually provide any different features from Sonata), and QtMPC (really nice, but still in it’s infancy, and no last.fm support either). The others I tested were a bit of a joke, really.

Sonata on the other hand looks very sharp (it’s says right on the homepage it’s “elegant”, and I’m a sucker for elegant), provides last.fm scrobbling, has a powerful batch tag editor, and provides context-info in the info-tab, in a way that’s really…well…elegant.

It’s not without its faults, though. There are two areas where I find Sonata + MPD lacking, which are database search and playlist management. I have to be fair here, the problems listed probably aren’t Sonata-problems, but MPD-problems.

Firstly, and I don’t know if it’s even possible in a MPD client, but I like my searching to happen “on the fly”, like in iTunes or Rhythmbox. Sonata makes you hit enter every time, and then select the searchbox again for a new search. It seems trivial, but it can get really annoying when you want to fill your playlist with more than a couple of songs.

Also, managing the playlist isn’t really expanded beyond the basic functions either. You can load, add, delete playlists, but editing them is rudimentary: you can only add the (entire) current playlist to an old one, so forget about adding specific songs from your current playlist, or adding them anywhere else than at the bottom of the file. You’d think this would be easy to implement, but apparently mpd doesn’t support it.

Another thing I miss is a “Smart Playlist” feature. Something like this exists as a plugin for gmpc, but it filters only by tags. I’d really like a “play new songs”, or “play 50 unplayed songs” kind of feature.

There are ways to work around all this, but it’s a bit annoying that everything I want is available…but not in the same music player. I guess I’m just a very difficult person.

San

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6 Responses to Music players: so much choice, but…

  1. Sue Massey says:

    Nice site. Theres some good information on here. Ill be checking back regularly.

  2. mads says:

    The thing about MPD is of course, that you don’t need to choose between different intrfaces – you can have them all – even running at the same time (I know, that probably does not qualify as elegant). I’m sorry to say can’t help you with many of your requests as I haven’t ever thought about them but I believe the mpd databse is just an xml file, which (I think) means that smart playlists and on-the-fly searching is out (wouldn’t you need some kinda database for that? or reading the entire database file into memory every time mpd starts?) I think that sort of thing wuold really make you wait.

    BTW there are quite a lot of mpd scrobblers out there and several which run independently of the player (typically as a daemon alongside mpd). Can’t give you anything specific as I stopped caring about last.fm stats sometime back 🙂

  3. evets says:

    I have a friend who was in a similar situation as you, and who is very picky whne it comes to his music. He ended up turning to MPD because of it’s felxibility with the client/server model, and not uses it with a combination of sonata and some commandline MPD player to control him music. As for tagging and library management, he uses other programs for tagging and ripping. I recommend easytag over ex flaso, since it has the ability to distinguish between ID3v2 and ID3v1 tags. As for ripping, that’s what grip is for. That little program is by far THE best audio ripper I have ever seen. It does one thing, and it does it well, with as little or as much configuration as you want.

  4. xploited says:

    I think xmms2 has everything you need. did you try it?

  5. celettu says:

    mads:

    yes I know. When I tested mpd clients, I ran them side by side. Really cool, but not actually useful 😉
    Concerning the lack of database, that’s what I thought either. It’s not that hard to do without on-the-fly searching…
    I know about the scrobblers, and if I had found a mpd client who just lacked scrobbling, I’d have used it. But Sonata was the best one anyway, and it has native scrobbler support.

    evets:

    thanks for the suggestions. I’ll definitely check out grip 🙂

    xploited:

    xmms2 looks promising, but it too uses a server/client model, and the clients don’t look like much, to be honest.

  6. sm4tik says:

    My setup is mpd(svn), mpdscribble, ncmpc(svn – tradiaz branch), easytag and ripperX. Sonata is still installed, but for this machine, I think there will come a time I’ll let it go. I don’t know what it was with grip, it just hung with some cd’s where ripperX did the job without the hassle? Didn’t even care to find out a cure since I found another app to do the job. Maybe today things are different?
    I also encourage you to read the dev plans for mpd from mpd wiki. You’ll find some interesting plans for mpd2. It’s not perfect for us untill we make it to be so 🙂
    For laptops, if you’re conserned about battery life, I wouldn’t recommend mpd though for it’s constant activities. For listening only, I haven’t come across a substitute for xmms!

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