Linux Music Player War

There rankedmusicare a wide variety of free music players out there for Linux. Some of the most popular ones for Ubuntu Gutsy are Rhythmbox Music Player, Amarok, Banshee Music Player, and Exaile Music Player. All of these players are in Add/Remove (Applications -> Add/Remove…) and are ranked very high. We will also review Songbird; to install go to their website and extract files, then click on the songbird executable. If that does not work you can always try the Ubuntu community way, however, it is a little outdated.

Rhythmbox rythmboxscreenis already installed on Ubuntu Gutsy 7.10 so it is no wonder that it is on the top of the list for music players in Add/Remove…. It has a simplistic way of organizing your music; it has three categories that reflect each other – artists, album, and track. Rhythmbox has four radio stations preset when you install it. You can add more station easily but most other music players have an extensive amount of stations or has the option of getting stations from SHOUTcast or another type of software. The podcast section in Rhythmbox is very easy to use. It is very easy to download and update all feeds but it lacks options like ‘Download current’, ‘Only keep the 5 most latest’, as seen in the ever popular iTunes. Sadly, Rythmbox rmagcan only handle audio podcasts so you can not view some of the most popular podcasts such as Ask a Ninja which are only available in video format. Rhythmbox also has a pretty big list of plugins. Without most of the plugins, Rhytmbox would not be able to compete against most of the other music players. There are two store options in Rhythmbox plugins – Magnatune and Jamendo. Magnatune is great because CDs start at $5 and 50% of the price goes directly to the artist! You can either download the files or buy a physical CD. The only bad thing about Magnatune is that it has less than 300 artists and 9,000 songs, but they give you a free song everyday. Jamendo is where artists allow everyone to download and share their music. It’s free, legal and unlimited. They have about 6,500 artists and 60,000 albums. Both music services allow you to preview the song before you buy/download. Rhtymbox’s notification blends in with your system theme quite nicely but does not pop up when a song changes etc;. Also, you can not close Rhytmbox and have the music still playing in your system tray like most of it’s competitors.
Overall Rhytmbox has a clean feel. It is made for those wanting organized music.

Amarok is built for KDE but it still works on amarokGnome machines (sorta). While updating my music, I encountered a fatal error; apparently Amarok cannot handle .wav files? It also can not handle video files for podcasts. It will play the audio from the video so it is not a total let down. There are a billion things you can configure in Amarok; shortcut keys, appearance and color (green in screenshots), toolbar, and even the engine it uses. Another cool thing Amarok gives you is information on what you are playing in the sidebar. Amarok is connected to Magnatune so you can buy music (for more on that read above). It also has an extensive radio list and easy to use album art manager. It’s notify feature is extremely nice as it is in the system tray. When you quit if fades the song, too.
Amarok is a great music player, but it is better suited for KDE. It is extremely customizable.

Banshee has the best options for podcasts but not the best support; it doesn’t play video. bansheeOne great feature I like is what it does with – it recommends what artists you will like depending on what you listen too. Banshee has a slim list (22) of radio stations though. It does have CD options so you do not have to use Sound Juicer CD extractor. Banshee can also be run in the system tray and it looks good while doing it.
Sadly, Banshee does not have many features, but when they do incorporate a feature it is done right.

Exaile is exailebased on Amarok but built in/for GTK+ (Gnome). I personally do not like how it organizes files, but I am sure it is easy to get used too. It puts the play/pause items at the bottom like Amarok. Exaile has AWN support via plugin; Exaile has a butt-load of plugins with a total of 24+. It has video podcast support too, but it does not show the entire feed, just the latest ten. Exaile is very big on playlists; something that is different than all of the other players and can be difficult to get used to. The tabs add up very quickly. On the plus side, you can change multiple tracks information. On my computer, Exaile crashed multiple times, but you might have better luck than I. It also appears as if Exaile can not be closed to the system tray; it has a mini-mode plugin though. There is no store in Exaile but it does connect to Shoutcast radio or any other radio streams. If you can get used to the different way of organization Exaile is simple and a great player.

Songbird is more than just a beautiful music player; it has the backbone of a Firefox. This means you can play video (youtube) and audio files on the web in Songbird. Songbird is podcast ready which includes video support (File -> New Subscription…). It however boshes the names pretty bad (it takes the exact file name). It also puts all of your podcasts into your library. Some may like this feature, but when I put my music on shuffle it also playsongbird geeks the videos. It doesn’t have podcast options either. Songbird does not have an official store, but it does have access to the web so it is not that big of a deal (Amazon store). This is yet another player in which all of the plugins (or at least most of them) should be downloaded. If you do not like the dark theme you can download a lighter theme; or you can create your own. There is an Ubuntu theme but I don’t like it. Songbird does not have a radio section but since it has the internet built in it doesn’t matter. Songbird cannot be closed to the system tray but it has a mini player and song notification plugin. The next version of Songbird should be very good and actually feel completely right out of the box, and I hope it will be in Add/Remove… for Hardy. Songbird is a beautiful media player with access to the web; with the web it can do anything.

Out of all these music players I like Songbird and Exaile the best. This is because I am very into video podcasts but since this is a review of MUSIC players, I would think most people would like Banshee or Rhythmbox. If you are using KDE, Amarok is the best bet for you. If you haven’t tried KDE, I suggest you do; it is free just like Gnome and is available in Kubuntu.

If the sound is not playing for any of these players go to System -> Sound -> Device Tab -> Sound Events -> Sound Playback -> Autodetect.


18 thoughts on “Linux Music Player War

  1. Anya

    I use Amarok on KDE and tend to like it, though I do have a few issues (like a number of songs that resist being filed correctly no matter how I modify/update the metadata and it sometimes refusing to delete a file). The main reason I use Amorak (and haven’t really tried anything else) is because it connects to my rather old iRiver (which I adore). Do any of these other players connect to external devices easily?

  2. Ryan Post author

    I have been told that many if not all of these player connect to the iPod. I personally do not own an iPod but this is what I hear. I do own a PSP and I believe Rhythmbox can connect to that, didn’t try anything else.

    Feel free to link.

  3. Meneer R

    They all (at least Banshee, rhythmbox, amarok) use the same libraries to connect to music-devices, so they same stuff should work.

    Rhythmbox likes most gnome app, unlike the author claimed, can be hidden in the tray. Just left-click the tray-icon and it will minimize into the tray-icon.

    This is actually quite common behavior on the gnome-desktop. They prefer _not_ to minimize/close into the tray by default, because that would break consistency.

    As for wanting to watch video podcast, why would any one use a music player? Your brain is obviously shaped like a windows-media-player thingie.

    What you need to is Miro.
    Which is the rhythmbox of video. There you can easily watcht ask-a-ninja, but also video’s distributed by torrents on an rss-feed. Like the ones you find at .. which pretty much includes every english spoken series being broadcasted. Lost, The Daily Show, Southpark, etc.

    I actually like to keep things seperated. All these integrated tools disgust me. Songbird .. i already got an operating system, desktop environment managing both my browser and my music player. The added benefit of putting it in one application? NONE. Songbird is crap by design. Why not add a powerpoint viewer into songbird, for websites with ppt-files. Why no movie support? Why no calculator? And before you know it, its a desktop-environment.

    Off course, people should use what they want, but they really should question wether a more ‘locked down’ mini-platform type of application offers something they actually need, or that its just the psychological idea of ‘yeah, i do these two things together alot’

    Also, if you go with firefox, konqueror or epiphany, and you ‘tune-in’ .. it will open totem en play the radio-station. WOW, the gnome/kde desktop is as integrated as like a super-songbird.

  4. Ryan Post author

    Thanks for the useful comment. A lot of good information there.
    I myself, like you said, like the “media player”. If linux wants to exceed it needs to compete with iTunes – which plays music and video. Songbird is the linux alternative. Like you said though, it is bloated.

  5. Blair

    Thank you for this article. It was easy to read and informative.
    I want to make a request, since I have been using google for many hours without success to find the instructions for transfering my windows itunes library over to a music/media player in linux. Prefer Gnome, but if the instructions are describing the use of Amarok, then I would probably be choosing to use KDE.
    So far this is what I have: I transfer the itunes music folder to the linux computer, and import the files.
    The problem: I am not finding a way for the information in the itunes library xml file to be used in such a way so as to have the artist, album, year, etc. fields populated in the linux environment.
    The distro I plan to use when I do this is Fedora 9

    Thank you for letting me post such a long message (shorten it if need be)



  6. Ryan Post author

    I only have experience with Ubuntu so I can’t help you with Fedora. There are a multitude of plugins to import your iTunes library to Linux. You can find the banshee plugin at ubuntuessentials and the songbird plugin in their addon section.

    Most of the time there is an option to import your library when you first start the application.

  7. fourforces

    I really enjoyed reading your post. It’s interesting that I posted something about the best audio players for Linux before coming accross your post and I picked the same 5 players.

  8. Jaymoon

    Exaile can be closed to the tray with the music still playing. All you have to do is check the box “show tray icon” in the options. Took me all but 5 seconds to find that.

    Also, the way you don’t like how Exaile “organizes files”…. What’s not to like? I have my music organized in my music folder such as this: “artist/(year) album/# – song”. I LOVE how exaile gives you an actual directory to browse your collection, because I know where the song I want to listen to is.

    If however you are convinced that searching for the song/album/artist you want to hear is the way to go, Exaile has that too. Instead of the “Files” area, just select “Collection”. As long as you imported your library, simply search for anything.

    I don’t mean to sound like some shill for Exaile, but I found this article trying to find a better alternative for Exaile. Instead, I found out after reading this page that Exaile is EXACTLY what fits my needs, and there’s really no need for change.

    Just my 2 cents.

  9. :// Post author

    Thank you for the excellent input Jaymoon!
    I will make a better guide than this soon. Most of the players have released new versions so I will see if exaile is as good as you say.

  10. Laa Wase

    I just installed ubuntu Ultimate edition “the Hardy Hotrod.” I love the KDE, trying to migrate from windows for good. One thing i liked about itunes was the way they display their Album art. I can find my songs that way under the album, just like taking a CD out the old fashion way and putting it in the cdplayer itself; only this is more virtual looking of course. I’m a click and drool kind of guy. I saw that Amarok has album art per say; but it’s only a means of display. But i’m looking for something that gives that same feel as the itunes album art.
    Does anyone have an idea what program can give me that. I would love to be done with Windows all together.

  11. Satwant

    I use amarock, listion. exaile and rythm….but in the end of qust of best manager as rythm… least for gnome….exaile feel good but on large collection it looks ready………to loose life………..listen not provide much tool support……….amarock is very good but on gnome rythm always performs better………….

  12. Matthias

    … can’t share the enthusiasm for songbird as it does NOT support samba/NAS folders … only local musicfiles can be used …


  13. :// Post author

    New version of banshee beats them all :)

    Not using linux anymore so I don’t think I am going to write that 2nd review.

  14. Kenton

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