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Not happy about audio players

I’m really not happy with the state of audio players in Linux; not at all. And this is not for missing support of mp3 or AAC files, that is not a problem in Gentoo since we don’t really end up in the fight over patents, as a source distribution, but rather for the fact that each player I’ve tried lately has one or more problems that make it very unfriendly to me.

Starting with mpd, that can be a mess to deal with on systems where PulseAudio is used, because of the privilege separation (that I find quite silly to be honest — I understand if you run it on just a server that it’ll have to run under a particular user, but if I want to run it on a desktop, why cannot it run as my user?), continuing with Rhythmbox (that does not work when shuffling songs) and finishing with Banshee, cmus and mocp (no, a file with m4a extension does not have to be AAC-encoded!).

I’m not really sure what’s up with Rhythmbox: if I set it on the “Music” entry, set shuffle and play, at the end of a song it notifies me of the next one but does not start playing it, and I have to explicitly request a new one or pause/play it (which is quite a problem given I use music to avoid burning out).

What really upsets me, though, are the three players that don’t play my ALAC (Apple Lossless Audio Codec) files. Oh yes now you can blame me for using some patent-ridden codec (although I don’t think ALAC has any patent on it, it’s pretty similar to FLAC — there are yet no encoders for iton Linux, that’s true, but it’s the only lossless format that I can play on my iPod, and I like my music lossless). The point is, GStreamer can play the files fine, although with a catch – the mp4 demuxer that can open m4a files is in the gst-faac package, while the ALAC decoder comes with gst-ffmpeg – and Rhythmbox also can play them correctly; Banshee on the other hand reports them as not valid because it expects m4a files to only carry AAC streams. Similarly, cmus states to support mp4 files but it only supports m4a/aac, it really lacks an ALAC decoder so I cannot blame it too much (it’s also the one that I was liking best). Finally mocp upset me as much as Banshee: it uses FFmpeg for decoding, which means it can decode ALAC files… but it also expects that the file contains an AAC stream.

Now I can understand that for the average Joe user the extension of a file declares its content (especially those with Windows background), but I’d expect developers of audio players to have a clue about multimedia file formats. Although I should have known it by the fact that for about two year the shared mime database reports wrong mime types

Comments 13
  1. If gstreamer already has the demuxer and the codec, the only missing thing is connecting everything.The player can do it, or it could just use playbin (or decodebin).Is the rhythmbox bug specific to you file formats or is it more general? (i.e does it work with plain old MP3?)

  2. I wasn’t a media library kinda guy until I started ripping all my CDs a few months back. I knew that Audacious wasn’t going to be suitable anymore and I wanted a good client/server player so I plumped for XMMS2. There seems to be an attitude in Gentoo that it’s not ready for public consumption yet but I’ve been using it daily for a good while now. The clients aren’t that shiny yet but they do work. I’m quite happy with this gkrellm-based one. I’m wondering what you’d make of it.

  3. The Rhythmbox bug happens with all kind of files; I also thought it might have been format-specific but that’s certainly not the case. I haven’t tried debugging it properly yet.As for XMMS2… I haven’t really looked into it; I probably could, but upstream is unlikely to accept my critiques I’d say.

  4. What do you mean mpd cannot be run as your user?Is it a problem between mpd and pulseaudio?I can start mpd as a user fine, but I don’t use pulseaudio.

  5. I thought it wasn’t yet in the main FFmpeg tree? But good to hear, I’ll have to doublecheck that 🙂

  6. I’m not trying to sound overly negative here, but using PulseAudio seems to me still to be a gigantic gamble. It “maybe works” in most of the cases.I’m still baffled why people seem insistant to use it when just going through ALSA always works. Individual settings of volume is nice, but let’s face the fact that we’ve lived without it on pretty much all platforms up until Vista and whenever PA came around. Until PA is rock solid and well supported I’d say that using it is on YMMV-basis.My understanding is that your only gripe with mpd was the PA problem? Besides, mpd can be run as any user afaik? Maybe I’m not understanding you correctly there. 🙂

  7. I have gone through a similar number of native Linux audio players, but none have quite met my requirements yet (most have at least one of: no unskinned mode, downloading artwork/updating tags without asking, missing format support, poor performance with large playlists, no arbitrary global hotkeys).So far I’ve just been using foobar2000 in Wine, which actually works really well, aside from global hotkeys…

  8. I’ve been using Quodlibet (which uses gstreamer) for over a year now and I haven’t had any major issues with it. I’m not really sure if it handles the ALAC files correctly but it works without any issues for all the Flac/Ogg/Mp3s files that I threw at it so far.Development has been a bit stale lately but it looks like things are moving again and a new version was released on July 3rd.

  9. I understand what you’re going through when looking for an audio player.I’ve been using Decibel for a while now (http://decibel.silent-blade…); I’m the proxy maintainer.But as I’ve started to rip all the CDs I’ve purchased over the years to my hard drive, I think I may need something that offers a bit more flexibility. Decibel can’t, for example, sort or display genre information. Nor can your music be ordered into arbitrary collections. Creating, finding, or loading playlists isn’t as simple as it could be.But all the heavyweight players out there are TOO heavy. I don’t need a pig like Exaile, Rhythmbox, or Banshee bogging down my Xfce desktop.Just today I took a look at XMMS2. I gave up on the original XMMS (and look-alike Audacious) years ago, but today I was pleasantly surprised to find that XMMS2 is supposed to be quite fast. It’s even the default music player of LXDE, and their sole goal is to create a tiny, lightweight, fast environment.A few of the graphical XMMS2 clients look quite promising. They seem to offer more than the extremely simple Decibel interface, but without being as confusing and cluttered as the heavyweight players I mentioned earlier. There are even a couple of web-based clients that don’t seem to require installing a heavy server, just some Python modules and a few SQL hooks. I like this one’s (… idea of creating a tag cloud, especially.I plan to give the clients a try real soon, once I have some time. 🙂

  10. You obviously forgot to mention amarok!I use it for years and am very happy with it – I’d recommend it (besides v2).

  11. I know this is not a solution to your problem but on your comment: “ALAC s the only lossless format that I can play on my iPod”, have you given rockbox ( a try? You’d be able to play Flac and Ogg on your ipod with it.

  12. No, I really don’t want to tinker even with a personal music player to et what I want.. I really don’t have the time to follow that too.Besides; Vorbis (it’s not Ogg) is suboptimal, FLAC has the most idiotic lossless format descriptor possible (a 12-bit field, really?) and the Ogg tagging is bad at best… no I don’t think the solution is to change the formats…

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