How to Choose an Open Source Music Player

Linux offers an abundance of music players; how to choose which one to use?

In June 2016, I wrote about the apparent demise of my favorite open-source music player, Guayadeque. I outlined the six things I really liked about Guayadeque and looked at two obvious alternatives: Quod Libet and gmusicbrowser. Since that time, I’ve been living with gmusicbrowser on my laptop, while continuing to use mpd on the computer connected to the hi-fi system. Meanwhile, several kind readers offered other suggestions as to their favorite music players.

With all of this information available, I decided to formalize my list of “six things” and apply it to a list of candidates for my laptop music playback needs.

6 Key Features of Laptop Music Players

1. Must be configurable to transmit music as is to Alsa.


  • Allows music to change bitrate and bit depth on the fly.
  • Facilitates sending the signal into an external digital audio converter dedicated to high fidelity music reproduction and capable of driving good headphones.

2. Should have a good “smart playlist” feature.


  • Keep listening to great music while you cook that wonderful dinner.

3. Should not force the user to always interact via playlists.


  • Lets you double-click on an album and have it play, without requiring a bunch of extra clicks to rearrange the playlist.

4. Should provide a simple approach to cover art.


  • Use the built-in pouch, return to cover.jpg (or .png) in the musical repertoire.
  • There are so many weird frustrations about the cover art among so many players. Who wants to rearrange their music every time they switch players, just to see the right album art when the music is playing?

5. Should display the signal level and effective bit rate during music playback.


  • Because sometimes you want to know!

6. Must exhibit good to excellent overall organization, disposition and performance.

For me, the first item on the list is critical functionality; the others all enhance the experience to a greater or lesser degree. So I will give the first feature a maximum rating of 5 and the rest 1 each. A good music player will get a 10 based on this scheme.


Guayadeque: 10. He seems to have come back from the dead. Although Guayadeque is not yet back in the latest distribution repositories, the developer provides instructions on its installation.

Quod Libet: 7.5. Meets requirements 1, 3, and 6. Smart playlists are possible but require configuration, so I’m giving 0.5 for that. Despite great player documentation and a plethora of plugins, I failed to make 5. I had to rearrange my music to get the cover to work for those “free downloads” we all have, so no points neither for that.

Gmusicbrowser: 8. I didn’t understand how to get level meters or smart playlists. Also, its layout is so flexible that it almost deserves a 2 for requirement 6, but extreme layout flexibility isn’t hugely important to me.

dead ox: 8.5. Several readers suggested this drive, so I thought I’d give it a look. It meets requirement 1; I was able to select my trusty AudioQuest DragonFly as the ALSA output device in the sound preferences panel. Switching songs of different bitrates and word lengths went smoothly, and I verified that they switched correctly without resampling by looking at /proc/asound/DragonFly/stream0. I couldn’t find a smart playlist feature. The player itself seems a bit more playlist oriented than I’d like, but it’s easy enough to select multiple songs (an album or otherwise) and put them in the input queue, although the available option seems to be “add”, not “replace and play”. So 0.5 for that. The cover worked very well. There is a spectrum analyzer plugin and the starting bitrate is displayed. And the organization and layout is fully user adjustable through design mode. Seems to be competent software.

Bold: No rating. A drive suggested this drive to me, but looking at its configuration, I couldn’t be sure it would respond to 1. For example, in Settings > Audio, the bit depth must be selected. Since I want to play my music at its native bit depth, I don’t think I want this feature. Therefore, I did not pursue his assessment.

drum machine: No rating. Although this is the default player on my system, it is configured to use Pulse Audio for output and I never figured out how to get Pulse to play music untouched. Therefore, I did not pursue this assessment.

So far, Guayadeque is still my favorite.

Next time I’ll take a closer look at some of the other big names in audio players, such as Amarok, Clementine, and Exaile, as well as mpd and one or more of its front-end clients.

Is there anything else I should add to this list?

Find good music

Lately I explored the Catalog of erased tapes. Besides being the home of one of my favorite artists, Nils Frahm, Erased Tapes seems to specialize in what I might describe as “atmospheric electronica”, although much of the work featured there also includes acoustic instruments. My last two acquisitions are both signed Ólafur Arnalds and Nils Frahm: Glance and dive. You can hear excerpts from both at Erased Tape Store. There is also a compilation of sample tracks available for free, called Various Erased Tapes Artists Volume VII. Erased Tapes often offers music in 96kHz/24-bit versions, which I really appreciate. And of course, there is no need to install any download malware to recover your purchases.