Thursday, June 19, 2008

The Great Music App Search

My long-promised Hardy Heron review has been delayed in my search for a new music application. I’ve tried just about everything available at this point and I’m quite surprised it took this long to find a player. Note: I did not find a “player I like as much as XMMS” but rather “one that works well”.

See full post for a recounting of my slightly disgruntled examination of music applications.

Goddammit. Why no XMMS? Really. What’s so wrong with a really simple music player whose appearance I can change? I know, after my Rythymbox woes, I decided to search around for something else after the Hardy upgrade. But this is a forced change...I don’t react well to forced changes. I went through a crazy number of players until I found something that actually did the one or two functions I need in a music player in a way that didn’t annoy the ever-loving heck out of me. Here’s a summary of my music player adventures:

Aqualung: Didn’t work AT ALL. As in, didn’t even open. No link for you.

Audacious: Opened and allowed me to load my library as a playlist but didn’t play AT ALL. No link for you either.

BMPx: Opened and very feature rich but easy to navigate interface...With one key exception...You cannot load your entire library as a playlist. This is for some complicated technical reasons but frankly, I don’t care.

Amarok: Opened, loaded library as playlist and played. However, it was slightly buggy sound. Occasionally it would fritz out entirely and I’d have to tweak some preferences to get it playing again. Also, there are too many features in this program! It felt like I was using a 100-function Swiss Army knife to chop celery.

Exaile: I had high hopes for this one. Opened, loaded library and played music with no problems. Much fewer features and a less cluttered interface than Amarok (even though its supposed to be an Amarok clone for GNOME):

Unfortunately, Exaile has one key flaw: a terrible, horrible tag generator/editor. It imported a lot of my filenames as “Titles” instead of the actual tags. This isn’t a few files. It’s 1000+ of 2600 files. Which is a ridiculous amount of work. Not to mention, the tags menu is useless.

Banshee: Opened, loaded library & played. No bugs. One key thing some people may not be aware of: The version of Banshee available through “Add/Remove...” is not the latest (indeed that version kinda sucks). To get the latest version, open “System”—“Administration” – “Software Sources”. Under the “Third Party Software” tab add the following two entires:

deb hardy main
deb-src hardy main
Then open up your terminal and type the following:
sudo apt-get install banshee-1
This version of banshee has Last.FM compatibility but it doesn’t let you play “Friends” or “Neighbors” only similar artists to stuff you’ve already played. Still, it’s good to finally have something decent to play music:

There’s still a major tagging problem, where some of my general folder names (“70s Stuff”, “Musicals”) are being loaded as album names. Also, the “Download Album Art” feature is especially irksome. Thank god they at least give me the option to turn it off. But I have to turn it off each time I open the program, yuck. Is there nothing better?

Songbird: FINALLY. It looks complicated but this sucker does exactly what I want. Opened, loaded music library and played. This one requires an install similar to Banshee. Add the following to "Third Party Sources":
deb hardy main
deb-src hardy main
Then run the following from the command line:
sudo apt-get install songbird
When you first open the program,you select a folder and it automatically loads your library, first thing! I had a moment of "Oh not again!" panic when the library first loaded. The tags don't fill in until you play the tracks!

Meaning.....I do not have to re-input tag data. EVER. Between this and the (thankful) lack of automatic "Download Album Art" feature, I'm officially SOLD on this player. There's also an add-on that allows for audio-scobbling via Last.FM.

Although the default theme is really dark, installing different themes is as easy as in Firefox. (They are called "Feathers" here)

Right now, I'm running a nice light green/gray theme to go with my desktop a bit better.

Now, after all this searching and frustration, I would like to get on my soapbox a little. Please ignore the following....

(/Begin rant)
For all their so-called variety, the music players available in Ubuntu aren’t very satisfactory to me. I understand a lot of people have very strong favorable opinions of these players but, for me personally, they seriously underwhelm. They all look the same and while they let you do complicated things, there’s very little emphasis placed on making simple actions simple. 97% of the time, I do one thing with a music player: load my library as a playlist, hit “shuffle” and play. That’s it.

BMPx considers this unnecessary; Amarok worked but was buggy and the other features just overwhelmed (who needs all that crap?). Exaile had the worst tag editor in the history of mankind. Don’t even get me started on Rythymbox. Simpler players such as Audacious and Aqualung didn’t work at all. I’ve gotten to the point where I see that oh-so-recognizable style of interface and cringe. Because it means that this player will be a complicated chore to use. I was even reluctant to try Songbird simply because its similarities. Thankfully, while it has plenty of fancier features, it's very easy to use and doesn't require a lot of work on my part.
(*deep cleansing breaths* End rant\)

Now that I have a player that shows songs with correct tags, I can now complete my cross-reference between my music collection and my MP3 player. Once I’ve correctly synced my files, I’m going to go on a celebratory music-buying spree like you would not believe. Amazon Downloads better brace themselves....

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