An Update on the Music Player Quest

July 6th, 2009

I’ve written a few times (parts 1, 2, 3) about my annoyance at music players. I’d come down to two finalists to consider: Rhythmbox and Banshee. I’ve used both for awhile now, and as of today, am also trying Songbird (after finally managing to make it run; see part 3 above).

In addition to my previous observations, then, I’ll add:

Rhythmbox

Two problems exist in the current version. The first is that playlists aren’t sortable, which is annoying for those of us that use them as an organization tool. I put a patch in bug 327042, but the authors say they won’t apply it, and there has been no recent activity from anyone working to do something better. Highly annoying, but I’m running my own patched copy anyhow.

More annoying is that it doesn’t let you modify metadata of tracks on the iPod. Perhaps worse, its GUI lets you remove tracks from iPod playlists, but this change is not saved back to the iPod (bug 586964). Confusingly, adding tracks to playlists does get saved. There has been no action on that bug in the 1.5 weeks since I’ve reported it.

I was able to supply the Rhythmbox developers with the needed information to resolve the issue of moving files to .Trash-1000 instead of deleting them on the iPod (586649). However, they refuse to fix the larger problem of leaving these directories on the filesystem; a great annoyance for people using KDE or no desktop environment at all.

Banshee

On the surface, its iPod support looks even better than Rhythmbox. Yet it silently ignores some (not all) metadata changes. You can modify a rating, a compilation artist, etc. and it will look like it changed. But close Banshee and open it up again and you see it wasn’t. (Bugs 580632, 389550) They’ve done some troubleshooting with me, but there hasn’t been activity there since June 30.

Songbird

Aside from my story today griping that it doesn’t even start by default on Linux, I haven’t written about this one before. Its philosophy is somewhat similar to Thunderbird: ship with a very minimalistic set of features, and support multiple addons.

I found that its iPod support works the best of any of these I’ve mentioned, at least for manually-managed iPods. It has a feature to sync your iPod, but has no documentation whatsoever on what that does. It also doesn’t document what it will do with the FLACs I’ve downloaded from Magnatune when it puts them on the iPod. The only references I’ve seen to transcoding state that it will be present in 1.2.0 (which I have), and that it won’t be present until August. Not very helpful.

With a few addons, it makes a quite nice player, with quite good iPod support. The interface, however, has a few quirks. First off, it’s really sluggish, even on very fast hardware. Secondly, if you flip from playlist to playlist, or even breathe on it the wrong way, it will move you back to the top of the playlist you’re on, leaving you to manually find the track that’s playing again. It has no “jump to currently-playing track” feature like other players do. Its tray icon (which you must get an addon for) has a basic menu of play, pause, next, but no ability to set ratings from there. Also, sometimes setting ratings don’t appear to work from the UI, but might have actually been saved anyhow.

Overall, though, Songbird looks like my best bet for the moment. I’ll keep using it and see what I think.

The other option is gtkpod+audacious. I’d miss the integration of player with browser, and gtkpod’s extremely sluggish interface makes even Songbird look like a Formula 1 car in comparison. But its iPod support works well (though its attempts to sync with the filesystem are undocumented and cause issues more than once).

Categories: Music

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Comments Feed3 Comments

  1. Daniel

    just click on the song name on the “display” and it will take you to the “jump to currently-playing track”

    Reply

  2. Patrick

    Hej John!

    Actually I am missing one player I always come back to: quodlibet.

    I can not judge on its behaviour with iPods of any kind – I do not have one.

    Its only downside for me is its locale support, which is somewhat broken, but using LC_ALL=C is my very broken workaround and it does the trick for me.

    Reply

  3. carl

    What about Mediamonkey? It really does support ipods and you can tell it which file types should be converted on the fly when synchronizing with other devices.

    Reply

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