Ruminations on the Digital Realm

Jan Stedehouder

Focus: Rhythmbox and Amarok

Rhythmbox is the default music player for Ubuntu/GNOME and Amarok for KDE. Both are ‘everything and the kitchen sink’ style programs and both are featured in our upcoming book. Why not revive the GNOME vs KDE debate a bit and compare these two programs.

Amarok: first preference
I am slightly biased towards Amarok. When I wanted to listen to Last.FM under Dapper Drake there was no Last.FM client available, but it was supported by Amarok. That, along with the context browser, made it my player of choice for the last few months. My previous experience with Rhythmbox were less positive. I used it to sync podcasts with my MP3 player, but that was more annoying than helpful.

Rhythmbox rematch
Maybe I missed it previously, but finding the plugin section was a pleasant surprise. Rhythmbox has plugins for lyrics and for three music sharing communities: Last.FM, Magnatune and Jamendo. When you like an artist served through Jamendo downloading the whole album is just a rightmousebuttonclick away. The Last.FM plugin doesn’t seem okay, since it crashed Rhythmbox most of the time.
The three panel/left sidepanel layout is used almost consistently, though not enabled by default in the podcasts section. As we can expect from a GNOME application the interface is simple, smooth with few apparent bells and whistles. The preference option is easy enough and adding/managing your podcasts is no big problem either. Rhythmbox keeps an eye out for your music folder.
Synchronizing music and podcasts with your MP3 player is not there by default. The workaround for the podcasts is still the same: pointing the Rhythmbox podcasts folder to your device. One problem: when the device is not connected there is no option to queue the podcasts for later on.

Amarok again
As you might expect from KDE based program Amarok is packed with easily accessible options. There is always more than one access point to doing things. For me that makes for a cluttered and restless interface, which is not always pleasing to the eyes.
Amarok can keep watch over your music folder and does a good job at that. Browsing your collection isn’t really hard (simple tree structure), but compared to the filters in Rhythmbox a bit awkward. Each albumfolder gets its own cover icon, but you have to search manually in the Amazon collection and select the right one. I have found this option less than perfect and somewhat below Rhythmbox’s abilities to select the correct cover.
Magnatune has it’s own tab and is easily accessible. Last.FM is a simple menu entry that just works. In combination with the context browser it’s a great way to discover new artists.
How does Amarok handle podcasts and my MP3 player? Well, adding and managing your podcasts won’t win first prices for looks and ease of use. Can anyone explain why the podcasts folder need to be red? It rings the wrong kind of bells. Anyway, the right mousebutton is your big buddy and from then on it is a matter of downloading your podcasts. Amarok does have a feature to queue episodes for the next sync with your player.
My player is a no brand generic one without a fancy name (nor the high price tag). When you plug it in Amarok recognizes an external device and asks whether you want to set it up for synchronization. From there you are just a Connect and Transfer away from adding the latest podcasts to the player. Or anything else you want to transfer.

What is lacking?
One feature I really missed, looked for and couldn’t find is the option to rip CD’s. Even the Windows Media Player has that feature and when you are designing the kitchen sink anyway. Besides this I have begun to develop a real fondness for Streamtuner and it’s easy access to loads of radiostreams. To have that integrated in both players along with a streamrip option would be nice.

Conclusions
Amarok still comes out strong with the context browser and the way I can use my MP3 player with it. The interface could use some polish, but that is personal preference. Rhythmbox did climb quite a few places on my popularity list. It’s simple and smooth. In the end I am still looking for the best of both worlds. Let’s say a Rhythmbox with a better context browser and better synchronization, or a smoother looking Amarok with a few extras thrown in for the both of them.

Tags: Ubuntu, Linux, Amarok, Rhythmbox

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4 thoughts on “Focus: Rhythmbox and Amarok

  1. Jesper on said:

    I don’t understand your complains about ripping-functionality. In rhythmbox just plug in a CD and click the copy-to-hard-disk-icon that appears in the menu.

  2. So it is there ;-). Like I wrote, it isn’t really obvious that the option is there. And it is only one complaint about the ripping functionality, unless you count it twice because it deals with two programs.
    As far as I understand it now, Rhythmbox uses Sound Juicer to do the rip, so you better make sure the rip setting are correct in Sound Juicer. One -little- notch up for Rhyhtmbox.

  3. trashcat on said:

    my problem with rhythmbox was that it wasnt recognizing my FLAC files, which kind of annoyed me. I’m using the command line+ncurses MOC player right now, and thats a pretty sweet jukebox player…plays everything, browses easily, lets you make and edit playlists, the only thing I don’t like is that it lacks magnatune integration and it doesn’t play CDs, but those are things I can live without.

  4. Jan, I use Rhytmbox and Last.fm on a daily basis. It never EVER crashed on me! By the way, the new Last.fm player is also very rewarding!

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