Not all audio players progress at the same time, and it’s unfortunate that so many players have to keep solving the same problem over and over again; why, for instance, do some players handle diacritical marks well and others don’t? I just filed a ticket for the new Qt-based Clementine player, which did not yet handle such diacritical characters correctly (luckily, the solution seems to be as simple as using Qt’s locale-aware string object).
As such, new players often show the same problems that old players had several years ago; in other words, there’s a fair amount of the same stuff being churned about. It’s tough to find a player doing something new and exciting in a desktop whose normal usage case appears to be grandmothers and Apple fans—in other words, a conservative desktop environment which tends heavily to abstraction and minimalism.
My biggest surprise of this comparison was GMusicBrowser, which has apparently been doing its things for many years now, but which far and away outperforms most other audio players on the basis of features and customizability alone. I realize this approach isn’t for everyone: refugees from the world of Windows or OS X who miss their iTunes may want to stick with the familiar, smooth interface of Banshee. Amarok fans may still prefer Exaile’s layout (or you can always use Clementine and count on Qt’s excellent GTK widget emulation). Power users will still probably prefer Quod Libet or GMusicBrowser, although I have a little more faith in the former’s tag editing capabilities, since the engine in question is tried-and-true.
The inclusion of a Java (Swing) program in this year’s comparison further underscores the lackluster GTK integration of Java’s Swing code; it gets about 90% there, but that remaining 10% is very obvious and very ugly. On the other hand, the Java program in question (aTunes) makes us remember just how different Java is from the typical GNOME program: it’s got a superfluity of features, almost too many, compared to the minimalism of a lot of GTK+ players. It’s a trade-off, and a decision that you as a consumer have to make.
It seems as though I’m being a little unfair to the GTK+ ecosystem and GNOME in particular; my opinions about GNOME, its development vectors, and its HIG notwithstanding, I will say in its defense that among the many things which recommend a GNOME desktop against others are the fact that one has so many choices with respect to media players. Were I to do a similar shootout for KDE, I would be limited to Amarok, JuK, and (recently) the aforementioned Clementine. And that’s basically it for library-aware music players; compare that to GNOME, for which there are so many players (admittedly, some of them half-developed or abandoned) that I had to pick and choose which ones to review.
Ultimately, your choice of media player has much to do with your intended aims. Depending on whether you favor programs with built-in utilities, or favor music store integration, or can’t live without your Shoutcast (Rhythmbox will get this support soon), or really, really want to know the vendor string of your encoded files (see Aqualung), you will necessarily favor one flavor of player over the other. I can’t make that decision for you. I can say that despite its faults, GMusicBrowser is my new personal favorite media player, both for its full-featured UI and its powerful utilities.