Design your life's soundtrack with open source music players

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Yellow and red record playing

We surround ourselves with our own personal soundtrack. Our music reminds us of the most significant times in our lives and helps us shape how we feel and view ourselves. Having a music player that supports the freedom to choose how our music is delivered to us while not detracting from the playback quality is important, and I've been carefully evaluating open source music players for quite some time.

First, I created a list of six features that I consider necessary for any player. I wanted a flexible environment that enabled me to organize and play my large music collection with a minimum number of issues and that stepped ever further into creating an enjoyable experience.

In October 2016, I continued my evaluation of open music players using my six criteria. The player:

  1. Must be configurable to pass the music through unchanged to ALSA. (maximum 5 points)
  2. Should have a good "smart playlist" feature. (1 point)
  3. Should not force the user to always interact through playlists. (1 point)
  4. Should provide a simple approach to cover art—use the embedded cover art, fall back to cover.jpg (or .png) in the music directory. (1 point)
  5. Should show the signal level and effective bit rate as the music plays. (1 point)
  6. Should present good-to-great overall organization, layout, and performance. (1 point)

My favorite player is Guayadeque, which gets a perfect 10 by the above ranking. Here is a summary of my ratings of a host of other players (N/R meaning "not rated," because I was unable to determine how to configure those players to work in bit-perfect/pass-through mode):

Open source music player ratings

Player Rate/
depth pass through
Smart playlist Queue option to playlist Embedded cover art or cover.jpg Signal level & effective bit rate Overall Organ-ization Total
Guayadeque 5 1 1 1 1 1 10
Quod Libet 5 0.5 1 0 0 1 7.5
Gmusicbrowser 5 0 1 1 0 1 8
DeaDBeeF 5 0 0.5 1 1 1 8.5
Audacious N/R - - - - - N/R
Rhythmbox N/R - - - - - N/R
VLC 4 0 0.5 1 0.5 0.5 6.5
Clementine N/R - - - - - N/R
Qmmp N/R - - - - - N/R
Amarok N/R - - - - - N/R
LXMusic N/R - - - - - N/R
AlsaPlayer N/R - - - - - N/R

Other players on my list to review were APlayer, MOC (music on console), XMMS2, SMPlayer, UMPlayer, Lollypop, Aqualung, Goggles Music Manager, and LXMusic.

I received a fair bit of feedback on my evaluations. As a result, I've taken another look at Qmmp and I've also tried to take a look at a few others, but I think I've passed the "easy to evaluate" point.

When I first looked at Qmmp, I was unable to evaluate it because I couldn't find the way to tell the player which ALSA device it should use. A reader kindly advised me how to go about setting up Qmmp to work directly with ALSA:

Use CTRL P to bring up Preferences, then click Plugins in the category pane on the left, then click the ALSA "radio button" to choose ALSA as output, then (and this is the important not obvious one) click the Preferences button at the bottom of the window pane.

This brings up a dialog window in which one can choose one of the available ALSA "sound cards" devices, including "hardware names" as well as "virtual devices" defined in asound.conf, plus the selection of mixer card and mixer pulse-code modulation (PCM), which is a digital representation of analog signals.

This advice did get me further, but not all the way; the device I regularly use with my AudioQuest DragonFly digital analog converter is hw:CARD=DragonFly,DEV=0 (or sometimes plughw), but I couldn't get playback started with this device. When I tried the device corresponding to the front speakers, Qmmp showed itself to be playing, but again no sound came out. I will continue to investigate Qmmp, and I have not rated it yet.


When installing LXMusic from the repositories, I noticed it was a front-end on XMMS2, which appeals to me because it is a nice, minimalist user interface without a lot of weird skinning stuff. I was able to set LXMusic to play to my DragonFly; however, although I was able to play MP3 files just fine, I could not add FLAC files to the playlist. Moreover, although I could add 44.1 kHz/16-bit WAV files, I could not add higher bit rate or longer word length WAV files. Like Qmmp, LXMusic requires further investigation and I've not rated it.


I wanted to like AlsaPlayer, with its strong ALSA orientation; however, I was unable to determine how to select an output device. I can set it on the command line, but that's not what I want. I will continue to investigate this player and have not rated it.

Aqualung, Lollypop, Goggles

I don't have these in my repositories. To test them out, I need to set up a machine that I'm prepared to sacrifice to "code in the wild," so once again, I'm putting these off for now.

MPlayer and related players

Because I'm going to set up a "test bed," I'm putting off trying MPlayer and other related players until I have that up and running.

And the music...

I made it to All Things Open in beautiful Raleigh, North Carolina. It was a great, energizing experience that was, but the only thing I missed was the opportunity to talk about music. I did talk to quite a few people about writing about music, but that's not the same thing, so I have some pent-up music thoughts in my head.

I was recently shopping on Bleep Music, one of my favorite Linux-friendly music sites (you don't need to install download-ware that only functions under proprietary operating systems). One thing I really like about Bleep is that you can push the listening window (the 30 to 60 seconds of music the vendor gives you to decide whether you want the song or not) further into the recording. I used this functionality to spend time listening carefully to New Order's latest album, Music Complete. Confession: I'm a huge New Order fan. When my kids were little and we had visitors for dinner, we'd move the coffee table out of the living room in case dancing should break out and crank the tunes, and one of my go-to albums was New Order's Brotherhood, especially Bizarre Love Triangle, my favorite track:

The Music Complete album is cut from the same cloth. I highly, highly recommend it, but please make sure to move the coffee table first!

If you buy the LP from Bleep, as I did, then once the physical media arrives, you can also download the tracks in 96 KHz/24-bit FLAC. It's the best of both worlds. The LP itself is extremely well-done—it has nice clear vinyl, and nice and heavy, nice and flat, nice and quiet surfaces. The digital downloads sound good, although not as good as the LP.

The other album that came in the package from Bleep was Massive Attack's recent EP The Spoils. You can also listen to it on YouTube. If I'm a big New Order fan, then I'm a huge Massive Attack fan, especially after I saw them perform in the pouring rain in Malkin Bowl in Vancouver a few years ago. For those of you that haven't seen a concert in the rain in Malkin Bowl in Vancouver: Go. Let me know when you're going to be here and what you're seeing, and maybe I'll meet you there.

I'm on a bit of a roll recently with respect to buying vinyl. It's a great open format and I like to think of the process of ordering, waiting for its arrival, opening, cleaning, setting it on the turntable as a kind of steampunk download. One enjoyable recent LP acquisition is Trentemøller's Lost (Instrumental Version). The free MP3 version that comes with the LP is not bad, being at 320 Kbps, but still it's MP3 and the LP is great.

If you aren't inclined to the LP format or the concept of steampunk download, a fair bit of Trentemøller's stuff is available in 44.1 KHz/16-bit (i.e., Red Book standard) on bandcamp, which is one of those fine Linux-friendly sites. Another great recent LP acquisition of mine, with high-resolution FLAC downloads included, is Lambchop's FLOTUS—really interesting, quirky stuff. Two other albums, which date back a few years but are new to me are AfroCubism, a fine collaboration between Cuban and Malian musicians, and Ali and Toumani, a wonderful collaboration between Ali Farka Touré and Toumani Diabaté. They play the guitar and kora, respectively. They also include FLAC downloads, albeit at CD resolution.

Chris Hermansen portrait Temuco Chile
Seldom without a computer of some sort since graduating from the University of British Columbia in 1978, I have been a full-time Linux user since 2005, a full-time Solaris and SunOS user from 1986 through 2005, and UNIX System V user before that.

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