What’s that sound? Linux Audio Players

What’s that sound? Linux Audio Players

Sound is one of those portions of the Linux operating system that is often unappreciated and not even given a second thought. When examined from a technical perspective, the sound frameworks and architectures used within Linux are quite fascinating.

You may not be aware that Linux supports many different audio architecture sets. The most commonly installed on mainstream Linux distributions is Pulse Audio. But ALSA (Advanced Linux Sound Architecture) is also another popular framework. And there are of course others. OSS (Open-Source Sound) is probably the third most common framework set that you may or may not have heard of.

But the framework and architecture of the audio service you use is not the only part of the system that makes your system produce all that noise. Your system also uses many different plugins and codecs. But all of this would not at all be possible without the very tool that allows you to play all those sounds-The Audio Player.

I’ll show you just a few of the most popular media players used on Linux and explain the basics of how they work to produce that sound that you so take for granted.

VLC Media Player

VLC Media Player is my personal favorite. VLC is a popular media player and one of the most popular media players used not only on Linux, but also Windows. And it’s also available for BSD, Mac OS and Solaris users too.

VLC users its own set of codecs which comes packaged and built-in to VLC. Which basically means that you can technically have no other codecs installed on your system, yet VLC will independently play your audio, regardless. Pretty neat and probably one of the main contributors to its popularity and loyal user base.

VLC can also be configured to use other external codecs if you want and can also be configured to use any audio framework you have installed. VLC is highly customizable and does everything that you want in a media player.

URL: http://www.videolan.org


MPlayer is another popular media player. MPlayer is a powerful media player which is ridiculously customizable. It’s often regarded as an advanced media player for power users. It has all the features of VLC and even more. You only have to check out the Manual pages for MPlayer and you’ll be overwhelmed at the amount of options available.

Of course, MPlayer doesn’t have to be complicated. Out of the box, it’s a command-line driven media player, but GUI are installable which bring it’s functions more in line with standard graphical based media players.

As far as codecs are concerned, they’re all handled by MPlayer itself and don’t rely on any pre-installed codecs for any of its functions. And it can output to any architecture and framework that you tell it to.

I’m not going to explain too much about MPlayer, as there’s simply too much information for this space here. But I will go as far as saying that anyone can find something from MPlayer. It seriously is a media player capable of anything you throw at it.

URL: http://www.mplayerhq.hu


Rhythmbox is the default audio player for the GNOME desktop environment. Rhythmbox relies on the GStreamer sounds framework to be installed. Without it, it will not work.

Some audiophiles and power users are put off by this as the GStreamer framework can be seen as a very basic and clunky form of audio output function.

Rhythmbox is also limited in a sense that it is tightly integrated into the GNOME environment and uses the audio configuration set based on GNOME’s settings rather than it’s own configuration set. For example, if you use ALSA as your GNOME sound framework, then Rhythmbox will use ALSA. But if you set GNOME to use Pulse Audio, then Rhythmbox will use Pulse Audio. This can be a minor annoyance as you can’t specify your system-wide framework choice to be different from that of Rhythmbox.

The way Rhythmbox works is limited and is often seen as the very reason is can not be taken as a serious contender in the media player market.

URL: http://www.projects.gnome.org/rhythmbox


 is a more simple graphical based approach to an audio player. It is plugin based. It can output to Pulse Audio, ALSA and OSS. But it does use ALSA as the default output architecture. And some users have reported issues when using Audacious with Pulse Audio output. The Audacious website packages all the plugins into one neat tarball archive. But some Linux distributions package the actual Pulse Audio output plugin separate. I can only assume this can be assumed due to reported issues with Pulse Audio output.

Audacious uses the GStreamer framework. So before you install Audacious, make sure you have the GStreamer framework all all desired plugins installed.

I have used Audacious in the past and my experience was always pleasant. It can be fiddly to setup and get just the way you want it, but once configured and working correctly, its intended simplicity means there’s nothing more to worry about.

URL: http://audacious-media-player.org


XMMS2 is another command line driven audio player. And it also uses plugins. But what’s different about XMMS2 is that each plugin is a different package which is to be installed to get that function to work.

It’s a powerful little package though. It can output to any audio framework architecture that you choose and also supports almost all audio formats you can think of. Even a couple of rare file types on Linux!

I was a loyal user of XMMS2 for many years and was more than happy with its performance level. But I wouldn’t recommend it for the general Linux user or someone new to the Linux scene, as installing those individual plugin packages can be fiddly sometimes. But if you’re up for a challenge and want a powerful audio player, give XMMS2 a try.

URL: http://www.xmms2.org

I hope you found something interesting in my audio player recommendations. Let us know what framework architecture and audio player you use on your own Linux system.

  • Seb

    How can you mis THE best and most popular Linux audio player: Amarok – http://amarok.kde.org/

  • Federico Repetto

    And the best based on Amarok when it was at its best, Clementine. http://www.clementine-player.org/

  • ArchaicReality

    Dont forget banshee…really enjoy it

  • Manja

     Couldn’t agree more. Amarok is by far the best.

  • Clyde

     no way clementine is real the best try it and you will change mind !!!

  • Chrisjones

    There are many more player that I could have included. But as always, as Staff Writers we have time constraints and can only post what we think is more appropriate. But I agree, Banshee and Amarok probably should have been included.

  • http://writtenandread.net M. Juhl-Johansen Zölde-Fejér

    I would probably not have put Mplayer in a piece on audio players – but of course, it is extremely well-equipped to play anything if you drop in the right codecs. It shines with modularity.
    While I use VLC for everything nowadays – I like just having one media player – I do like Deadbeef, and Exaile offers a lot of what Amarolk 1.x did, but in a GTK toolkit.

  • Praxis

      My requirements for a audio player are relatively modest, based on what I got from old versions of Winamp back before I started using Linux and I haven’t found a single Linux audio player I’m happy with. I want to be able to quickly start the player by double-clicking on a music file or playlist from a file manager. I want it to clear the previous playlist when it starts up. When I hit the little X icon in the corner I want the thing to close, not fade out, not minimize-to-the-indicator applet (banshee, I’m looking at you, who wants a media player you have to pause before you can close?)  Extra points if the media player can display the album art I have carefully added to my files and can fetch lyrics off the internet. Also, it is nice to be able to save a playlist with a relative path, what possible advantage is there to saving a file list with an absolute path so you can’t use the file list from another computer?  Braindead. Configurability and customization options are ALWAYS nice. And maybe throw in a tag editor, while you are at it. A file conversion engine and collection manager are OK, just allow me to turn them off, thank you very much.

     I used to like XMMS until it was abandoned, then I moved to audacious after KDE4 ruined amarok 1.4, but the latest 3.X iterations have lost me, more bloat, more attempting to be a music manager (I manage my own files, and my collection is so big that if you try to update your database before you start playing I will have logged off before I hear my first song). 3x also has an inability to write relative-path playlists, though it can read them, but now audacious won’t interpret a as a /, why? What else would that character be? Some people dual boot, most Linux audio players understand backslashes, not audacious 3, fooey. Clementine would be a reasonable substitute for amarok 1.4, but it won’t allow me to configure it to clear its previous playlist when I start it from a file manager. And clementine insists on writing absolute playlists, bah. I use decibel-audio-player or gmusicbrowser as much as anything now, though I don’t like them, no lyrics engine, no relative playlists (though at least it can read playlists). Aqualung will do in a pinch. Foobnix is my current favorite, but it isn’t in Ubuntu (though it is in Debian testing). A little bloated, with some irritating defaults, but it mostly works pretty well if you don’t use its “collection” features (except that it won’t save relative playlists).  I think it was based on foobar, an open source Windoze music player that I like much better than any of the Linux ones I’ve seen, but I’m a Linux user.

  • Errans

    I have a love affair with Quodlibet. 
    Not bloated, and as simple as it may seem it’s pretty efficient.

  • Ancurio

    Hmm, are you sure Audacious requires GStreamer? The last time I compiled it I didn’t need it, and I think the devs even claimed somewhere that their audio engine was considerably more powerful than that of GStreamer. Anyway, been using it with PulseAudio since 2009 (the dark year of PulseAudio), and have yet to come across a problem. It must have been the distros screwing with packaging PA again if there really were recent incidents of it not working correctly with Audacious (although I personally have never come across any reports..)

  • Dynaxu

    Clementine !!!

  • John Lindgren

    “Audacious uses the GStreamer framework.” No, it doesn’t. Where did you get that information?

  • Hreinsijons

    Guayadeque still the best

  • http://twitter.com/explodingwalrus Carl Draper

    Gmusicbrowser, handles my 44000+ collection without a hassle 

  • Ireie

    I’m going to let the fact that VLC sucks go for a little while and be a bit productive. mplayer is a bit old, and I think that most people should look into mplayer2. If you are using linux, there is no other choice for video viewing (if you care about the integrity of the playback). Linux also sucks in terms of audio-players with gui (I like gui in my music players). CMUS is nice, but CLI. Some are decent, but they don’t compare to foobar (my benchmark). It’s really too bad, because it’s one of the things that keeps me from fully moving to linux.

  • http://profiles.google.com/plattypus1 Justin Nelson

    Seriously, you’re missing Banshee, Exaile, Clementine, Amarok, Songbird… there are a lot of Linux audio players, and many that are very popular. Clementine seems to be the go-to for the KDE crowd these days, and Banshee is the default in Ubuntu and Mint. This list is so incomplete as to be useless.

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_PT4TU7V4NVU6KYPIMZO5KUH6OQ Robert

    QMMP is another good player and its QT based

  • Mariusz Woźniak

    In my opiion the best audio player is DeadBeed ;)

  • Cleaver

    What you said about Audacious and gstreamer was wrong! Audacious doesn’t rely on gstreamer to output and decode sound. All this work is done exclusively by its own plugins that come with the package. The player itself is completely independent from gstreamer.

  • Mungo St.John

    i read the article only to know what you think about amarok, you disappointed me

  • Ned Flanders

     How much you wanna bet the writer doesnt use KDE?

  • Michael

     Amarok is weird and way to bloated for my taste, Clementine is much better, but Audacious works best for me.

  • tinez

    It would be nice to mention about ‘music on console’ player at moc.daper.net. It’s the only player I know that has true gapless playback. Fast, simple and reliable. Have been using it for a long time :)

  • BC

    I don’t see anything here about screen readers; Orca, speakup and others. Believe me, they’re important too. What architectures work best with each different screen reader? Anyone have an idea? That kind of info would be so great to know for those who depend on audio accessibility.

  • Snevzor

    I have tried many audioplayers over the years and Clementine is the best for me. It is quick, intuitive, never crashes, uses multiple modern online services and can complete ID3 tags using musicbrainz.org.

  • Babysitteronacid

    I use Clementine too. But Exaile is and Banshee are both worth a mention.

  • Someone

    DeaDBeeF anyone? :)
    Best thing about it that its portable. ;)

  • barney55

    No offense intended, but this list looks like something compiled 5 years ago. VLC anf Mplayer are good multipurpose media players but hardly suffice as more than basic music players. Many new music apps have arrived on the Linux scene during the past few years: DeadBeef as a Foobar2000 alternative (simple interface, playlist-centric, with tagging and conversion features); Guayedeque, Clementine (full featured music managers), Java music managers (Atunes, Jajuk), and very competent and feature-rich text-mode console players (e.g., cmus).

  • Deb
  • Jymm56

    I agree with you on Clementine. I love music, and found a lot of Linux audio players to be very choppy. Almost like a skip in old vinyl. Almost never tried Linux because of it. Tried Mint, PC Linux and Zorin. I found Clementine to be awesome and not have any problems. I am now happily using Zorin and PC Linux mini zen.

  • Mike

    Sorry, but you did miss the best music player. It’s Guayadeque which is lightweight, attractive, and super easy to use.