Amarok and other audio playback applications

Wednesday, July 30th, 2008
Assuming that the reader is already familiar with audio file formats such as AAC, FLAC, MPEG, OGG Vorbis, RAM, WMA and WAV, seven players and music library managers available on Windows and OSX have been chosen for comparison with Amarok.

Amarok logo Amarok Songbird logo Songbird
iTunes logo iTunes VLC logo VLC
listen player logo Listen Winamp logo Winamp
MusikCube logo MusikCube Windows Media Player Windows Media Player
Real Player logo Real Player    

Amarok

Amarok screenshot
Amarok runs with the KDE environment and uses the core of another audio player such as Xine or gstreamer, adding the user interface and the library database on top. It has been designed to connect to portable audio players such as the iPod. Amarok relies upon remote databases to get album covers from Amazon.com and to suggest similar artists to the one played.

Strenghts

  • file tags can be edited
  • batch editing of tags
  • changes to file tags are immediately saved on the physical file
  • monitors music folders in real time and instantly updates its database accordingly
  • does a good job at consolidating a library

Weaknesses

  • only available on UNIX-like OS’s for the time being, but there have been talks of porting it to Windows
  • due to copyright restrictions, it is not able to edit WMA or AAC file tags

itunes

iTunes screenshot
iTunes is the standard audio player of Apple Inc. which comes preinstalled on their computers. As of July 20008, the latest versions have come bundled with the Quicktime video player and iTunes is required to activate the portable players sold by the company.

Strenghts

  • World’s first and only application seamlessly linked withan online music store
  • visually pleasing interface

Weaknesses

  • only available on OSX and Windows
  • uses AAC, a closed format
  • is messy at consolidating a library, sometimes overriding user settings
  • there is no effort from Apple Inc. to enable iTunes to play WMA or OGG Vorbis files

Listen audio player

Listen audio player screenshot

The Listen audio player is a recent project written in Python for the Gnome desktop. It relies upon a database and song tags can be edited and physically saved on the file. The Listen player keeps track of the first files of a playlist and cleverly suggests other songs from the user’s library using information from Last.fm. It allows to visualise an artist page on Wikipedia, the song lyrics and suggestion of similar artists from Last.fm.

Strenghts

  • file tags can be edited and saved on the physical file
  • efficient interaction with the Last.fm portal
  • efficient integration of Wikipedia pages

Weaknesses

  • only available on Linux

MusikCube

MusikCube screenshot
MusikCube is a free application developed for Windows that relies upon a database. Song tags can be edited and physically saved on the file. Although both projects ar not related, MusikCube’s interface is very similar to that of Amarok, less the additional information regarding songs,artists and genres.

Strenghts

  • file tags can be edited
  • upon request, changes to file tags can be saved on the physical file
  • upon request, can update its database records to match the physical library

Weaknesses

  • only available on Windows

Real Player

Real Player screenshot
Real’s audio player is essentially a Web streaming application, although it does allow to play local audio files.

Strenghts

  • cross-platform

Weaknesses

  • uses RAM, a closed format

Songbird

Songbird screenshot
Songbird, put together by Winamp’s developers, doubles as an audio playback application and a Web browser. Using XULRunner, the Firefox interface, it relies upon the VLC core and an SQLite database. Songbird scans local folders and web pages for audio, and it can connect to iPods and display Wikipedia information about artists and lyrics.

Strenghts

  • cross-platform
  • allows media-oriented browsing of Web pages
  • the interface skin can easily be changed
  • plays AAC

VLC

VLC screenshot
VideoLAN Client was included in this list because its name often comes up in discussions about audio players alternatives. Although is is probably the best video playback application, VLC does not compare well to other audio players in terms of interface.

Strengths

  • cross-platform
  • can play almost any existing audio and video format known to man
  • very good with audio streaming
  • plays AAC
  • besides its onw few skins, VLC is compatible with the latest Winamp 2 and XMMS skins

Weaknesses

  • not designed for handling local music libraries

Winamp

Winamp screenshot
Winamp is developped for Microsoft’s OS. On Linux, XMMS has been developped to replicate the Winamp feeling.

Strenghts

  • one of the oldest audio players around: its playlist format has become a standard and it has the broadest choice of interface skins
  • upon request, can update its database records to match the physical library
  • the interface skin can easily be changed

Weaknesses

  • only available on Windows OS

Windows Media Player

Windows Media Player screenshot
Windows Media Player is the standard audio player of Microsoft, and comes preinstalled with their OS. It also doubles as a video player. There is no effort from Microsoft to enable its player to handle AAC and OGG Vorbis.

Strenghts

  • uses WMA, a closed format

Weaknesses

  • only available on Windows OS
  • there is no effort from Microsoft to enable it to handle AAC and OGG Vorbis

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