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Audio players in Linux

OK, here’s another round of “Krank tests stuff and says nasty things about them”.

In Windows, I’ve been using Foobar for a few years, and it’s more or less erverything I want from an audio player; an opt-in library function, great flexibility, extensions to do more or less everything… And an incredibly low footprint. And it’s portable, as in I can stick it on an USB stick and take it with me. Well, as some of you may know I switched to Ubuntu a while back, and after an initial experiment with MPD (Music Player Daemon) I began using foobar2000 through Wine. MPD didn’t really work for me; too library-based. Sometimes I got just one single downloaded song and I just don’t feel the need to add it to my library, you know?

Anyways, today I had some spare time and decided to try out some of the more popular Linux alternatives. I limited the scope of this experiment to only include non-winampish software, since I have come to really dislike their interfaces. The foobar/itunes/amarok interface appelas more to me, with playlists being central and part of the main window etc. The players I’ve tested this time around are: BMPx, Exaile, Songbird, Foobar2000 (through wine) and Amarok (late additions: Rhythmbox, Banshee, Quod Libet, Decibel). Foobar2000 was seriously modded using addons etc, and I did my best to look for addons etc for the other players as well. If you think this is unfair, fuck off.

So; let’s begin.

1. Indexing my library.

Being a very manly guy, I am of course sporting a large… audio library. To be exact, I have 14.184 song, totalling 62.4 gb. They’re all on a shared folder on my server. I know this means slower indexing and access, but it’s the same for everyone so the test’s still fair. I used Stopwatch from the Ubuntu repos to measure how much time it took each player from the moment i clicked “OK” in the directory selection box to the moment where the indexing process declared itself finished. There is, I think, enough distinct difference in time between the different players to excuse my inexactness.

  • BMPx: 6:09
  • Exaile: 11:58
  • Songbird: Epic fail
  • Foobar2000: 8:10
  • Amarok: 14:50
  • Rhthmbox: 18:40
  • Banshee: Epic fail
  • Quod Libet: 9:00
  • Decibel: 8:17

BMPx was the fastest, but either it didn’t index IDv2 tags at all or it just ignored secondary and tertiary genres. Since I use a lot of secondary etc genres, this made BMPx a less than perfect choice for me. Songbird failed completely, getting stuck about 1/10 into the indexing. I waited for 10 minutes, but it was just… stuck. I couldn’t even see what file it got stuck on. Less than ideal. Same thing with Banshee, but Banchee got stuck on different files every time. Either way,I’m not impressed. Quod Libet fared better, but gets a heap of minus points for the complete lack of progress intication – I couldnä’t see how far it had gone or what file it was currently indexing, nothing.

2. Opt-in database/library indexing of every song

I’m not really a “library” kind of guy. I’m the kind of person who is very much anal about directory structures and ID3 tags, so flat libraries never really appealed to me; I want direct file control. I got nothing against libraries, I just don’t want to have to use them all the time. And also, like I wrote before, I like being able to listen to a file without necessarily adding it to the library.

  • BMPx: yes
  • Exaile: yes
  • Songbird: no
  • Foobar2000: yes
  • Amarok: yes
  • Rhythmbox: no
  • Banshee: no
  • Quod Libet: In theory…
  • Decibel: yes

I was expecting problems here, but it was only Songbird that seemed to add my selected file to its library. (Late addition: Rhythmbox and Banshee also failed, and Quod Libet seemed to support what I wanted, but I couldn’t get it to work. And if I don’t, then your average joe won’t even fucking bother…) Being kind of unimpressed with Songbird since the last test anyways, I simply sighed, and moved on to:

3. Ability to index by multiple genres

Like I wrote before, I use a lot of multiple genres. For instance, swedish punk songs are marked as “punk” and “svenska” (“svenska” is swedish for “swedish”). That way, in good library browsers, I can choose to listen to all punk or just my swedish punk, and even all music in swedish regardless of genre.

  • BMPx: no
  • Exaile: partial
  • Songbird: partial
  • Foobar2000: yes
  • Amarok: partial
  • Rhythmbox: no
  • Banshee: no
  • Quod Libet: yes
  • Decibel: no

Exaile and Amarok simply merged my multiple genres, so “punk” and “svenska” became a genre known as “punk svenska”. Sure, this allows me to select all swedish punk, but not all punk or just all swedish music. Songbird lets me select multiple genres, but (like BMPx and Rhythmbox) didn’t seem to index secondary genres. I couldn’t get Decibel to show genres at all.


4. System resources.

I am a big fan of resource-friendly software. Not only because I’ve spent a lot of time on low-end systems, but also because I think it’s kind of rude to use more than the resources necessary to accomplish a given task. They’re my resources, and if I want to waste them on useless crap, I get some useless crap programs and run them, in stead. Resource waste should be opt-in, is all I’m saying. The first number is processor usage and the second is RAM, both according to the Gnome System Monitor. I’m using a 3.0ghz hyperthreading CPU and tests were run using a fully indexed library (except, of course, in the case of Songbird) and the same song playing (“Balladen om Olsson” by swedish punk band “23 till”).

  • BMPx: 2-4% 34mb
  • Exaile: 3-6% 154m
  • Songbird: 4-11% 137mb
  • Foobar2000: 4-11 26mb
  • Amarok: 4-7% 52mb
  • Rhythmbox: 2% 37mb
  • Banshee: 1-2% 52mb
  • Quod Libet: 0-2% 67mb
  • Decibel: 1-2% 30mb

Both Exaile and (unsurprisingly) Songbird get big fat epic fails here. 137 mb’s without even a library to blame it on? Crap, is what I call this. Utter crap. BMPx was low but not very surprising given its limited indexing, so the two big winners here are clearly Amarok, which performed admirably and surprisingly good, and foobar2000, which (as usual) worked very, very well. Rhythmbox was a very nice surprise here, although its small footprint might be exmplained by its relatively simplistic id3 tagging.
5. Album art

All my music has folder art. In each album’s folder is a file called “Folder.jpg” which contains a medium-to-high resolution version of the album’s cover. I want this to “simply work”; I want the player to support album art and be able to detect the existing folder art.

  • BMPx: no
  • Exaile: yes
  • Songbird: perhaps; couldn’t make it work
  • Foobar2000: yes (through addon)
  • Amarok: yes
  • Rhythmbox: yes
  • Banshee: no
  • Quod Libet: yes
  • Decibel: no

Yeah, Songbird fucked up here, as well. Big whoop. And, as usual, BMPx was too limited; it could use album art but it did not detect Folder.jpg’s. Same with Banshee.
6. Smart Folders

I’m not much of a “smart folder” person, but I imagine I could be, if they were done right. As in, intuitive and fast. For those who’ve been living under ricks for the past few years: Smart folders, Smart Playlists or Saved Searches or whatever you call them are a way to have a playlist which, for instance, contains all your hard rock – and which automatically adds or removes items when they are added/removed from the library. You can usually specify a number of rules – for instance, songs in swedish that aren’t punk, or hard rock bands not beginning with a “p”.

  • BMPx: no
  • Exaile: yes
  • Songbird: no
  • Foobar2000: partial
  • Amarok: yes
  • Rhythmbox: yes
  • Banshee:yes
  • Quod Libet: no
  • Decibel: no

Songbird fails as usual, but promises to do better in its next version. There’s an extremely non-intuitive foobar2000 addon to accomplish something like smart folders, but it’s far from perfect. Rhythmbox was the absolute best here, its smart folders being easy to set up, intuitive and easily accessed. Banshee was similar, but not nearly as good – Quod Libet only supports a kind of limited”saved searches” feature.

7. Support for transferring files to an mp3 player

Sure, I can transfer stuff to my various mp3 players by simply dragging and dropping using Nautilus or other explorer-like software – but I’d like the possibility to do it through my audio player software as well. If nothing else, because my archive’s directory structure (Artist/year – album/(CDx)/tracknum – trackname.mp3) isn’t really ideal for mp3 player use, where multiple subdirectories are kind of tiresome. I don’t own an Ipod, so I couldn’t test that functionality, but I do have a few regular USB-connected cheap things.

  • BMPx: no
  • Exaile: partial
  • Songbird: partial
  • Foobar2000: yes
  • Amarok: yes
  • Rhythmbox: yes
  • Banshee: no
  • Quod Libet: yes
  • Decibel: no

Exaile had a few plugins, but I couldn’t get them to work very well. Same with Songbird. Amarok has support, as does Foobar2000 (through a plugin) but they’re all but intuitive. Amarok didn’t autodetect my devices, though, which might be because I’m not using KDE. I don’t know. Rhythmbox and Quod Libet excelled here – they found my mp3 player automatically and adding songs to it was a breeze. I am genuinely impressed here, and that’s not happening very often.

Conclusions

So, where does this bring me? Well, of the five I tries, only three made any lasting positive impression. Amarok is very, very close to what I want from an audio player. It only fails the “send to device” and the (to me) very important “multiple genre selection” criterias. The late addition Rhythmbox was very impressive when it came to sending stuff to devices and smart playlists – but also failed the multiple genre crtiteria. I mean, c’mon – is it really that hard? Am I the only one who like using multiple genres? Quod Libet was also amongst the top contenders, but failed short mainly due to difficulties in playing external files and lack of smart folders.

The overall worst one was, beyond all doubt, Songbird. It was so useless I actually found it hard to even see if some of the stuff I was looking for were there. Its indexing seems broken, its interface horrible,… It’s possible this’ll be something usefull in the future, but right now it’s just crap.

My conclusion is simple: I’ll continue using foobar2000. I’ll try a few of these at some point in the future, to see if they’re good enough. A few of them, like Exaile, Quod Libet and Amarok, are kind of close – while others, like Songbird, seem to be just crap. I can’t believe this is the same Songbird I keep getting referred to, this is completely useless…

Anyways, I hope this helped someone.

5 Comments

  1. sideways sideways June 25, 2008

    I was gonna write a long response but realized that all i want is foobar ported to linux (which is not gonna happen). All the others are pretty elementary, not even in the same league, sort of jealous actually at how easily you get pleased especially after knowing that you are coming from fb2k. things like cue sheet support, replaygain, native playback of atleast the most common/free codecs, proper seeking etc, These are the things i look at before i start worring about wikipedia, lyrics, album art, my ipot or whatever. . . those things are just plugins using existing libraries and can be added to even the poorest players with little effort or use other apps for those tasks, but if theres an app out there that calls itself an ‘audio player’ i expect it to support every feature of atleast the most common codecs or else they are nothing else but a frontend to gstreamer/xine with a couple of plugins to boot.

  2. krank krank June 26, 2008

    Well, thing is… I just tried the stuff I actually use. YMMV and all that. I never had any use for ReplayGain since all my music is pretty much at an OK level, all of it. Cue sheets… nope, don’t use them either. And when it comes to codecs… I use mp3’s, maybe ogg, and once in a very long while I might use a FLAC file. So different sound formats isn’t a big deal for me, not really. Wikipedia and lyrics I coulnd’t care about either. To me they’re about as important/usefull as cue sheets. Anyways, Foobar2000 runs pretty OK under wine, and I expect compatibility to increase as the wine project evolves. Right now, there are a few small problems, like menus not behaving properly (have to manually close a menu before opening another) but I’m sure they’ll be addressed…

  3. bandsxbands bandsxbands February 2, 2010

    My friend and I were recently discussing about the prevalence of technology in our day to day lives. Reading this post makes me think back to that discussion we had, and just how inseparable from electronics we have all become.

    I don’t mean this in a bad way, of course! Ethical concerns aside… I just hope that as technology further develops, the possibility of downloading our memories onto a digital medium becomes a true reality. It’s one of the things I really wish I could encounter in my lifetime.

    (Posted on Nintendo DS running R4 SDHC DS NetServ)

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