AmaroK: Media Player Reviewed
I was filling out the online survey recently launched by Novell looking at the applications people would most like to see on Linux. One of the applications that people would most like to see on Linux is iTunes and if we could get it on Linux that’d be great. But in the meantime I’ve been using amaroK to move music to my iPod. For those who may not be aware of it AmaroK is one of the best, if not the best, music management applications around. However as it is installed as standard on most modern SUSE systems I am sure many of you have already had some exposure to it. This article is an outline of the what I think are the best features in amaroK and why it’s a joy to use. Please bare in mind however I am not writing about every feature in amaroK (that’s what the manual is for) but just the features that have drawn me to it.
The Player Window
The first thing that I noticed about amaroK was its interface. As it is developed by KDE the look and feel fit in very well with my current KDE theme. The Application window itself is laid out in a very easy to navigate manner, with the tracklist in the right larger pane and your navigation options in the left pane. Particularly useful is the left panes ability to slide in and out so maximising the about of information that can be displayed. Everything is laid out in a very clean, easy to use and intuitive manner.
In my opinion the most useful feature of amaroK is its ability to fill in the ID3 tags automatically. The ID3 tag of a track is basically a way of storing the name of the song, the name of the artist, the album name and other information about the track in the file so it can be read by any music player. Other music players I had used didn’t have this function (at least not for free) and there is nothing more annoying then trying to organise a music collection where every song you have is called “track1” or “unknown title”.
To update the ID3 tags on a song simply right click on a track, select “Edit Track Information” and choose “Fill in Tags Using MusicBrainz”. To ensure you get the correct data multiple options may be presented to you, just select the one that matches and away you go. Not only will this update the tracks information in the player window but it will also write the data to the file. Once these tags have been filled in properly organising your music collection is a breeze. The tags are also very useful when you transfer the file to another machine or an MP3 player. As well as that there is a search bar built into the playlist window that allows you to quickly search for a particular song using the information provided by the ID3 tags.
Another nice feature is amaroKs ability to download album covers from Amazon. Simply select the “Context” tab from the left pane and click on the cover with a question mark. You can cycle through all the available results from Amazon and for some reason should one of them not be correct you can refine your search using the “New Search” button. This is a nice feature when used with the “On Screen Display” that flashes the name of the song briefly at the top of your screen along with the album cover.
However this can be very time consuming if you have a large collection. So amaroK allows you to download covers for all your songs at once! Simply open the “Cover Manager” from the “Tools” menu and click the “Fetch Missing Covers” button. Easy! Should an incorrect album cover be assigned to an album you can unset the cover and search for it again individually. If the cover cannot be found you can set the cover manually by browsing to an image of the album or simply dropping the image in the albums folder. Again a search bar, similar to the one in the playlist window, is available to make finding the album you are looking for that much easier. Also some built in searches are included to find all albums without a cover etc.
Transfer to/from MP3 Player
So now from a collection of “unknowntrack.mp3” playlists you now have mp3s with full ID3 tags and even album covers. This is very useful for organising your music collection on your PC but even more so when using a portable MP3 player, such as an iPod, as an MP3 player uses these tags to organise your collection.
To copy songs from your Music collection to/from your iPod simply connect your iPod to your machine and select “Media Device” in amaroK.
Click on the “Connect” button and a list of the songs already on your MP3 Player will appear. Now all you have to do is drag and drop songs and select “Transfer”. And that’s it! The songs you selected are now on your iPod. Who needs iTunes?! Not me!
But that’s not all amaroK has a lot of other features that make it a joy to use. On the left side of the amaroK window (which doesn’t have to be open all the time by the way as amaroK can be run from the system tray and operated using the windows key on your keyboard) you have a context pane. Within this pane you have four useful tabs which I will outline very briefly.
This contains quite simply
Your 10 most recently played tracks
Your 10 most frequently played tracks
Your 10 newest tracks
Current is the most useful of all these tabs. It shows you the name of the current track along with the artist and album name. Underneath this it shows the album cover and when the track was first/last played. Under that it shows your favourite (most played) tracks for this artist and under that what albums you have for that artist. Fantastic for navigating your way around your collection!
Also it can suggest similar songs to the one you are playing using the LastFM service, which is very useful for discovering new bands you may not have been aware of. Personally I have discovered a host of new bands I was not previously aware of.
Exactly what is says on the tin. Allows you to search for lyrics using the Lyrc database. Also if it doesn’t find the lyrics for the song you have the option to add the lyrics to the database yourself. Thus helping your fellow amaroK users.
The artist tab allows you to view info on the currently playing artist/album from the Wikipedia database. This is achieved by embedding Konquerer in the left pane. And since you have a fully featured webbrowser you can follow links, view images and basically get the full benefit of the data stored in Wikipedia.
Apart from the Context Pane there are other panes that can be accessed in the left pane.
This pane stores all the music in your collection. Your collection are the folders where your music files are stored. You can change which folders make up your collection from the configure amaroK menu. You can sort your collection by Artist, Album, Genre, Year etc. Also this section has the, now familiar, search bar.
There is a playlist pane where your different playlist types are stored. You have “Dynamic Playlists” which contain “Random Songs” and “Suggested Songs” playlists which uses your listening habits to dynamically create a playlist of songs. Other playlists contain albums and artists of the same type. Also you can listen to Radio Streams and Podcasts. AmaroK has some Radio Streams preconfigured so you can try them out. A great site for finding more Radio Streams is Shoutcast. AmaroK also has smart playlists which are collections of 50 most played tracks, Newest Tracks etc. All very useful for organising your collection.
This pane, as mentioned earlier, allows you to copy music files between MP3 players. Currently, as far as I am aware, only iPods are supported.
And finally the files pane which allows you to navigate through your file system for playable files. This has a very useful search panel built it which allows you to search through the current folder for music files.
And finally one of the most convenient aspects of amaroK is it’s ability to operate while being minimised to the system tray.
When the main window is minimised you can skip tracks and stop/start the player by using the windows button as a hot key. For example pressing the windows button and the “B” key skips forward. When a track begins an On Screen Display shows the current track information (Track, Album, Artist, Album Cover). If you miss the data displayed by the OSD, as it is only displayed for a moment, you can hover over the amaroK icon in the system tray which will show you the same information.
Overall amaroK can’t be beaten in my opinion. It is so straightforward to use and packed which so many useful extras I can’t but recommend it to everybody. It is very well intergrated with KDE and maintains the look and feel of my theme. And when I want I can make it disappear to the system tray and control it using shortcut keys. Also nearly everything is customisable. Shortcurt keys can be changed, the engine that plays the tracks can be changed and much more. Brilliant!