The Quest For A Decent Music Player

So I have an iPod, and I have several PCs. I have the 60GB iPod, which is enough to hold my entire music collection. I want to have my music there, and on the PCs, and sync it all together: if I rate something 4 stars one place, rate it 4 stars everywhere. If I add music to my PCs, add it to the iPod, and in the same playlists.

Nothing like that appears to exist.

So here are my reviews of some of the Linux-based music playing systems. I am not all that happy with any of them. Actually, these aren’t reviews so much as they are wishlist (or more serious) bug lists.


Last looked at it just before KDE 4.

  • Copied tracks to iPod OK, but couldn’t put them in a playlist on the iPod.
  • Poor sorting of stuff on the iPod. One giant list of albums, and no sorting of the playlist.
  • Did seem rather stable.
  • Showed album art from local collection only — not from the iPod.
  • No apparent actual syncing; just copying back and forth.

Banshee 1.4.x

  • Claims to sync with the iPod, but doesn’t actually document what it does anywhere. Messed up my iPod when I tried it.
  • Mysteriously can only copy tracks from PC to the iPod; can’t copy tracks from iPod to the PC.
  • Rescan library wouldn’t remove missing tracks. Not sure if it did anything at all.
  • Listen

    • Couldn’t ever get it to even see the iPod. Complex interactions with hal. Numerous bug reports with complicated workarounds — or not. Fail.


    • Bug in the box that asks where the iPod is. Couldn’t get it to see the iPod.


    • Doesn’t actually delete iPod tracks. Moved them to /ipod/.Trash-1000. Caused my iPod to fill up until I noticed that.
    • Doesn’t update the iTunes DB at all, rendering new tracks invisible to the iPod.


    • The best, most fully-featured iPod support out there. Far better than iTunes even.
    • Docs claim to have some sort of iPod-to-PC syncing, but it is poorly documented and appears to break if the absolute path to the music on the PC ever changes — and doesn’t support more than one PC because it writes the paths to a file on the iPod.
    • No built-in player, but can send tracks to xmms, xine, audacious, or the like.


    I have had brief experiences with the popular proprietary software such as iTunes. The one time I tried iTunes, it ironically scrambled most of the metadata on my iPod, especially the playcounts and the data that said whether or not I had listened to the podcasts. I am none too enamored with other Windows software either, and of course all this stuff is proprietary.

    So, I guess music players are like mail readers. They all suck. Some just suck a little less.

16 thoughts on “The Quest For A Decent Music Player

  1. As an update:

    I’ve just tried Amarok with KDE 4, and can state that its iPod browsing problems are gone.

    Also, Banshee does now seem able to copy tracks to the PC, but without specifying where or how to name them.

  2. when Microsoft doesnt suport open standards, its their fault. when Apple doesnt, apparently its the crapy-linux-reverse-engineering-attempt’s fault

    1. No, that’s not it at all. I absolutely agree that Apple is as much into proprietary lock-down as Microsoft is, if not more so in many instances.

      There is perfectly good iPod support on Linux — libgpod. It is, incidentally, behind the iPod support of gtkpod, amarok, rhythmbox, and listen. As seen from gtkpod, libgpod is quite capable and powerful.

      What I’m seeing is more a lack of features, testing, and thoughtfulness on some of these. For instance: not letting someone choose the path for music when copying from the iPod to the PC has nothing to do with Apple and everything to do with that program. Ditto for weird display issues, broken dialogs, etc. They can all read the iPod just fine.

      Now, iTunes corrupting my database: *that’s* an iPod communication issue!

  3. Have you tried putting rockbox on your iPod? Then it becomes a dumb mass storage device that understands all sorts of audio files and m3u playlists, and can be handled with “rsync -t”. No need for anything special.

  4. Your comments about rhythmbox suggest that it was treating your ipod as a generic usb player – in particular, I’m pretty sure we’ve never used trash directories on ipods. I don’t know why it would have been doing this, but I’m sure we could figure it out quickly enough on IRC or bugzilla.

  5. Please change the title of you are post. It seems you are not looking for decent music player but a decent ipod manager software. Because your reviews have no mention about library management, crossfade support, easy to use interface, internet radio, UPnP, podcast etc. These I believe are the features of decent music player/manager.

  6. I’ve used Rhythmbox with my iPod Nano for quite some time and haven’t run into the problems you describe. Something is going on…

  7. I can see I’m not equipped to be in this conversation but I will say you can talk to people my age and the ipod and such is when they got left behind. I have a cd player and no idea which of the 4 million products is next so I buy nothing and listen to AM radio.

    1. Cliff, sadly this all started with my innocent request. I wanted a new CD player for the kitchen, smaller than what we currently have & preferably one that would mount under the cabinets. Now I’m getting something that is geek-approved and John promises he’ll teach me how to use…

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