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Rhythmbox Knows the Words and the Tune

By Jack M. Germain
May 5, 2010 5:00 AM PT

Rhythmbox, an integrated music management application, was originally inspired by Apple's iTunes. This open source app works on the Gnome Desktop and is based on the powerful GStreamer media framework.

Rhythmbox Knows the Words and the Tune

(click image to enlarge)

If you have read recent Linux Picks columns, you know that the Linux world of apps gives you several excellent choices to feed your portable music-playing devices. You also know that Amarok and Listen are two of my favorite music-playing Linux apps.

However, that high-mark ranking could change as I continue to use Rythmbox. It lacks the unique detachable interface elements of Amarok, but Rythmbox's interface is otherwise similar in its design for managing music, podcasts and Internet radio selections.

One area in which Rythmbox excels is its long list of plug-ins. These lets you mix and match features to fine-tune your listening experience your way. This offering alone could draw a new audience to Rhythmbox in much the same way as the extensive add-on repetoire in the Firefox Web browser makes it so popular.

Look and Feel

Rythmbox loads as a program icon in the panel bar. Left clicking gives you the option to play, show Rhythmbox or quit the application by clicking the selection box to place a check mark. Play selects a random title from the music library stored on the hard drive. Show displays the Rythombox program.

Media sources line up along the left edge of the Rhythmbox window. Artist and album details display in top and center columns in the rest of the program's display window.

Icons to control play/pause, next/previous and repeat/random order are available in the second row, just below the dropdown menu list.

Setup Snappy

I especially like the preferences Rhythmbox offers to set up how the program displays. You find this panel under the Edit menu. Four tabs handle choices under General, Playback, Music and Podcasts.

More setup options are found under the View menu in the top row of the program's window. These preferences are presented in checkbox format. They control the size and the type of the display. These include Party Mode, Visualization, Side Panel, Statusbar and Toolbar.

Not all Linux music player apps can handle Apple iPods, at least without jumping through hoops. Rhythmbox does this with ease. Selecting the Plugin option on the Edit menu list provides checkboxes to add support for both MTP (media transfer protocol) portable player devices and Apple iPods.

Lyrical Delight

With music-playing software, some functions just do not work as expected. Of course, the culprit may be hardware or OS flavor-related. One thing that often starts out broken is a program's ability to fetch lyrics.

Rhythmbox does not have that problem, at least not on my somewhat older desktops and laptops. Once I checked the desired lyric sources from the plug-in configuration menu, lyrics displayed flawlessly. As the music selection changed, so did the lyric display in the pop-up window showing the lyrics.

The lyrtics box moves easily to any location on the desktop. It also resizes nicely by grabbing a corner and dragging the size and shape as desired.

No Jack the Ripper

Transferring music to and from devices such as an iPod, MTP and USB mass storage music players with Rhythmbox is simple and efficient. Ripping and burning audio CDs, however, is better left to separate apps.

Rhythmbox does not have built-in tools to do these tasks well. It is more of a music file indexer and player than a ripper. But much like adding a plug-in component, you can add Sound Juicer.

Sound Juicer is the Gnome CD ripper, included in Gnome Desktop. If it is not already installed, check your distro's package management package to get it. If you cannot find it listed, you can download it directly from here and install it manually.

Adding Tunes

Rhythmbox provides access to two music stores, Janendo and Magnatune. If you run the Ubuntu Linux OS, you have a third source, the new music store added to Ubuntu One.

Jamendo is a community of free, legal and unlimited music published under Creative Commons licenses. Magnatune offers unlimited downloading and listening for US$15/month. The Ubuntu One Music Store, part of Canonical's Ubuntu cloud services, offers subscriptions to purchase music and cloud file storage with 2 GB for free or the 50 GB plan for $10 per month.

It is easy to browse, preview and download albums and individual tracks from these sources from within Rhythmbox. You can transfer existing music collections with the import option in the Music menu and can scan removable media.

Plug-In Phantasia

Rhythmbox has many cool things about it, but by far the feature that most separates this music management app from other leading contenders is its links to third-party plug-ins.

You can find a list of 20 plug-ins included with Rhythmbox in the Plug-in option under the Edit menu. Better yet, you can see a list of 38 third-party plug-ins here.

Here are some of my favorites:

  • Alarm Clock tells Rhythmbox to start playing at a certain time.
  • Desktop Art shows album cover art for the current playing song in Rhythmbox on the desktop.
  • If you do your own mixing, you will want to add Edit File. This plug-in edits the current file with Audacity via the context menu.
  • Rip internet radio streams to your hard disk using Streamripper with the Record Radio Streams plug-in. It also supports automatic recordings at a given time.
  • Get more album art choices with the Album Art plug-in. It searches the Web for the album art of the currently playing song using Google search APIs.Choose an image to set it as album art.
  • Skype plug-in pauses / resumes playback when there's a call in Skype.

Impressive Performance

Among the many features that will quickly make Rhythmbox your favorite music playing app are its ability to easily browse and build your music collection and its playlist functionality.

Other features are its searching and sorting capabilities and ability to display audio visualizations. The ability to automatically download audio podcasts is a great way for me to keep up with a growing demand for news presented via this outlet.

Rhythmbox's ripping weakness is its only real blight. The work-around is easy to apply. Match this music playing app against whatever you are now using. It just could make you switch.

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