Banshee (1.7.4)

  • Programming Language: C#
  • Engine: GStreamer
  • Age: 5 years
  • Pros: Fast, large development community; many features
  • Cons: Abstraction-oriented UI; few utilities; a little pokey on large libraries

Banshee was, in its early days, a laughable competitor even to Rhythmbox. It lacked, among other things, such basic features as a music browser or album list (lead developer Aaron Bockover seemed to think that searching was music was sufficient). Then, by the time I performed my second GNOME Audio Player Shootout, the client had just seen a major rewrite, a rush of young blood in the form of a thriving developer community, and had finally become one of the most powerful and feature-filled clients available for the GNOME desktop.

Fast forward two years and the “unstable” series of Banshee sits at 1.7.4, and has become one of the most well-known audio clients, as well as the default player for some distributions (openSuse, and one can’t help but expect that Ubuntu will follow suit sooner or later). The User Interface has not changed dramatically since the tremendous 1.0 release several years ago, but some additional bits are visible: a new album view piece which displays covers rather than a list of albums is the default for 1.7.4; in previous unstable releases, one could toggle between views if the album view was not conducive to quick scanning, but I can no longer seem to find that option.

The biggest change to the interface comes in the form of the Meego plugin, which allows the user to toggle between Banshee’s usual interface and a compact one more suitable for mobile devices like netbooks. Odd design decisions aside (why is there a large blue bar at the bottom solely for closing the program?) this extension has a lot of promise, and emphasizes that the Banshee team puts a lot of work into their interface.

I say that with caveats, however, since there are still many parts of Banshee’s UI that are inconsistent or confusing, not least of which is the disappearance of some options between releases (yes, I know this is an “unstable” series). As well, though right-clicking produces context menus in the navigation pane (far left), it acts the same as a left-click in the music browser. When I right-click on an artist in hopes of discovering additional options, Banshee instead selects that artists and changes the other UI panes.

Like most most GNOME players, Banshee sticks to a strict column layout: the columns themselves are configurable, but horizontal space is at a premium, and it doesn’t allow for grouping like the excellent foobar2000. As well, although Banshee is capable of understanding data tags like “Composer” and “Conductor” (I have an extensive classical music collection), it lumps them all under “Unknown Artist” in its browser pane, and one has to choose for the “Composer” column to be active—which is fine for classical, but wasted space when I listen to modern music which has no Composer.

One of Banshee’s strengths is still its tag editor, which is a custom engine which uses Taglib#. In fairness, most of the tagging options are a direct clone of iTunes’ tagging screens—the sorting panel in particular reveals just how little original work the team did in that regard. In fact, you could argue that Banshee is really attempting to be the iTunes of the Linux world: the searching, the new Amazon MP3 store integration and other hooks to music sources, and the heavily abstracted UIs all indicate the developer focus. I can’t call this bad in and of itself, though given the relative surfeit of “easy-to-use” music players for GNOME, what I’d really like to see is one that approaches the level of foobar2000.

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§5650 · August 29, 2010 · Tags: , , , , ·

7 Comments to “GNOME Audio Player Shootout v3.0”

  1. Fips says:

    Feel free to delete this rather unconnected comment, but the one plugin which very much keeps me by foobar2000 is the CUE Playlist Filter. Took me ages to discover, but it keeps a tab on all those folders containing files referenced by .cue files and prevents them being loaded into playlists twice.

  2. anonymous says:

    As a peer music-lover I would suggest you actually give yourself more time to use Guayadeque (now on version 0.8 and about to produce mp3 player support). I can easily agree on icons and that but in my view Guayadeque is in fact the best music player/organizer for Linux. I really think this is not an overstatement. For the last few years I’ve been looking for and trying all the others and have never been satisfied (and very often deeply dissatisfied) with any of them. Once you find YOUR layout (and believe me it is there for you to find) and have your files properly tagged; once you’ve created your dynamic playlists and filters you’ll be hooked into how fast/responsive/flexible/powerful this software is. I won’ t give all the long list of features you have not mentioned (other than support for composer tag) and I’m really assuming that you just don’t gave yourself enough time to discover this program. I’ve never actually used myself either itunes or foobar200 but in the ubuntu thread where most of the support is happening there are plenty of former foobar users which are thrilled to finally have found a worthy substitution.
    Best regards

    • Ben says:

      I believe you that Guayadeque is powerful, and I’m happy that it’s continuing to receive developer love (do you mean v0.2.8?). I will disagree with your implication that my files are somehow improperly tagged, though. I should not have to cater my tagging scheme to a particular program; rather, the program should be intelligent enough to handle my tagging scheme, provided it’s not too esoteric.

      I’ll definitely be checking up on the program periodically—I think it’s one of the most promising players out there.

      • anonymous says:

        I didn’t mean that you don’t have your files properly tagged (how could I know!). I apologize if I seemed to suggest that. I was just stating the obvious: to use effectively this programs (or any other similar) the music files have to be properly tagged.

        But I was also pointing to a really good feature here (not so obvious): Guayadeque supports labels. Labels can be apply at three different levels: artist, album and track and you can apply as many labels as you want (a label can be any thing you want). The implications for sorting/organizing your library, creating filters/playlists etc. are obvious.

        So Guayadeque has a tabbed view (which I find excellent): library, browser, file manager, playlists, lyrics, last.fm, jamendo, magnatud, podcast, radios, but these are services it provides; if you don’t use them don’t need to have them there.

        Just out of curiosity: what player/manager do you actually use?

        My main point remain though, I had the feeling that you

      • Ben says:

        I think perhaps I misread your original tagging comment as speaking to my common complaint about the composer tag being a second class citizen, which, now that I reread it, it appears you weren’t.

        As to my current software layout, I use foobar2000 on Windows and (currently) Clementine on Linux.

      • me says:

        I have also tried many players until I found Guayadeque. Of course it’s not perfect, but in my opinion it’s the best linux player.
        And I agree that when you fist open it, it looks awful, but with a bit of simple customization it improves a lot.

        But for me the best thing is how responsive it’s developer is. I’ve seen some bug fixed and feature request implemented in a matter of hours.

        There is also a new official site http://guayadeque.org/ with forums and soon there will be a wiki and a manual.

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