Archive | July 2008

Amarok vs Rhythmbox

After reviewing Amarok, a great music player, I’m going to talk today about Rhythmbox. Rhythmbox is the default music player for Ubuntu, so it deserves a little review. I recently installed Ubuntu on a new Laptop and this time, instead of installing Amarok, I gave a little try to Rhythmbox (version 0.11.5). Although I’m no fanatic about Gnome, I do prefer Gnome over KDE (both are good, it’s just a matter of choice). Normally I use a mix of Gnome and KDE applications, but this time I decided to use just Gnome applications and see how it goes.

First Impressions

Rhythmbox is not very different from Amarok. It can play your music collection (and organize it by playlists), tune in internet radio stations, integrate with last.fm, receive podcasts and even browse the online stores Magnatune and Jamendo.
The differences are mostly on the interface. All of the features are easily reachable from the sidebar menu, which essentially works like Amarok tabs. By selecting one of the menu options, both the toolbar and the "body" changes context. In the toolbar you have the basic actions, like play, pause, etc and some specific ones depending on context (like "love song", "ban song" when using last.fm).

Rhythmbox screenshotBrowsing your music collection

Rhythmbox uses a classic system of select boxes, like many other players. In the first box, you select the artist and in the second you select the album. The third box (shown on the bottom of the other two) displays the songs of that selection. This is a simple and efficient way to browse a collection (you can configure this and select "genre" for one the box for example). Above those select boxes you have a search box that works surprisingly well, by letting you search for artists, albums and titles (or all). Results are displayed as you type, which makes this is, by far, the fastest way to find a song, if you know its name.
The list of songs has all the usual information: title name, genre, duration, rating, etc.

Playlists and Play Queue

If you want to play one of the tracks in the track list of you music collection, just double-click on it. If you want to choose which songs to play, you have a few choices: you can make a playlist or you can add songs individually to the play queue. The concept of a play queue is simple, but using it, maybe a little confusing. First, let me explain how you use the play queue. Right-click on a song and select "add to play queue". Simple.
However, what happens when you don’t do that and double-click on a track of your music collection ? The song is played and when it finishes, the next one in that list starts, despite not being in the play queue. And when you do have songs in the play queue and you double-click on a song of the collection, that song is played, but afterwards the play queue is resumed instead of playing the next song in the collection list. This is a little confusing at first.

Playlists are extremely simple to create in Rhythmbox. Just select a song, right-click and select "add to playlist". From there, you are shown a list of available playlists and the option to create a new one. Creating is simple, using them has the same problem as with individual songs. I would expect that a double-click on the playlist would start playing the songs in that playlist. It doesn’t, so I tried double-clicking a song in that playlist which worked. However, to my surprise when that song finished, it didn’t play the next one in the playlist. Instead, it continued to next song in the Play Queue, that I had filled earlier. Then I found that right-clicking on the playlist name gives you the option "queue all tracks". That worked, but I first had to clean the "Play Queue" because there were still some remaining songs that I hadn’t listen. It’s not difficult, it’s just a matter of getting used to it.

Internet radio

Rhythmbox doesn’t come with many radio stations configured and you don’t have access to shoutcast AFAIK. But you can add any radio station you like and categorize it. I like the fact you can also rate the stations like you do with songs in your music collection.
Last.fm works as expected and like the other radio stations you can also rate your custom last.fm radios.
Podcasts also work as expected and the interface is similar to the rest of the application. You are also given a search box, which is very useful to find the feed or episode you want. And finally, you can also rate your feeds and episodes as well, which is cool.

Cover art and lyrics

There are other small details I didn’t mentioned, like the ability to fetch covers from Amazon and lyrics. The lyrics are displayed in the properties window, which is cumbersome and too small. It should be given a different space. A space where one could follow the lyrics when the song changes, for example. Instead I have to open again the properties window, this time for the next song.
I also couldn’t find a box to enter details about a particular album. Rhythmbox comes with a plugin that fetches cover art from the internet, but doesn’t give any more options than that. I couldn’t find a way to change that cover, for example.

Conclusion

Overall, Rhythmbox is a nice player that does its job. I’m using it at work, because it’s simple and works well. Because I’m working, 99% of the time it’s minimized, so I don’t watch lyrics or cover arts or artist’s information (for this, Amarok is much better). One thing I like better than Amarok is the support for internet radio stations. Amarok also supports it, but I find Rhythmbox’s interface easier and richer.

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