Rhythmbox: Let the Music Play

A great way to enjoy your songs

By on May 30th, 2009 15:11 GMT
Regardless of age, sex, race, ethnicity or birthplace, us people tend to have one thing in common: a passion for music. And no matter what kind of tune tingles your senses, be it the "Moonlight Sonata" or the latest club hit, you will need a music player to listen to it. Linux has been blessed with quite a nice selection of audio players, from command-line super lightweight ones to full-blown, featureful music management software. Today, I will present to you an application that falls in the second category.

Though I'm almost 100% positive that everybody heard of Rhythmbox, it would be a shame not to award it the "Application of the month" title, as it is my trusty companion throughout the day both here at Softpedia and at home. Make no mistake about it, I'm far from being a music guru/maniac, but, from time to time, the silence has to be broken. Moreover, though it's described as a "Music Player," you can always use Rhythmbox for listening to entertaining/informative podcasts or be kept up-to-date with the latest news as reported through your favorite radio station.

When first firing up Rhythmbox, you'll be greeted with not only a good-looking interface but also a smartly designed layout. At the top, the regular Menu bar offers access to certain components and settings; underneath it, a big bar hosts the main control buttons, and, depending on what resource you're using for audio playing, other buttons will add to it. The ones that are permanently available are: "Play," "Previous," "Next," "Repeat," "Shuffle," "Browse" and "Visualisation." The "Play" button also acts as "Pause" if you press it while enjoying a song; and yes, there is no "Stop" button, but who really needs that? At the end of the bar I was telling you about, a small volume icon will, obviously, let you control the master volume.
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The title, artist, album, progress and tracking bar of the currently playing song are displayed horizontally, right above the "main" area. The interface "headquarters" are split into a number of sections. On the left, you will find the library, containing the following categories: "Play Queue," "Music," "Podcasts," "Radio" and "Last.fm." Of course, this can be customized by adding/removing plugins. The "Stores" section is a portal to the "Jamendo" indie music site and "Magnatune" online music shop. The final entry is "Playlists," from where you can create, edit and configure your playlists. There are already three predefined ones: "My Top Rated," "Recently Added" and "Recently Played." These showcase the great automatic playlist feature that you will love in Rhythmbox.
How this works? Rate your favorite songs 4 or 5 stars (from their Properties window) and they will automatically be included in the "My Top Rated" playlist so whenever you feel like listening to only the best of the best in your collection, you can go there, without having to modify your playlist. There are tens of other possible combinations if you create an automatic playlist yourself from the Music --> Playlist --> New Automatic Playlist menu.

Right below the top-left pane is where the cover art will be displayed. If you don't have one available with the track, Rhythmbox will conveniently access the beloved Internet and fetch one for you. Yay! Most of the time, you will probably "hang around" the music library, so, on the right, you have separate sections for artists, albums and the available songs for your selection. If you want your whole collection to be displayed, just select "All" in the first two categories and you're all set.

I'm sure there are a lot of Last.fm users around so you'll be happy to hear that Rhythmbox gives you full access to the service, after, of course, typing in your account credentials. You can build your station however you like (e.g. Tag, Similar Artists, Neighbor, etc.) and even "Love" or "Ban" tracks.

If you're tired of listening to the same tracks every day and want to discover new artists and songs, Magnatune is an awesome resource. When I first clicked the Magnatune button, I was "flooded" with exactly 139,989 songs, a collection that, according to Rhythmbox, would last me for 410 days, 3 hours and 51 minutes before hearing a track twice. How about that? Browse through the titles, double click one, and it will begin streaming. If you like what you hear and want to support the artist, you can choose to either donate a sum of money, purchase the digital album, or even order a Physical CD, right from Rhythmbox's interface.
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Sometimes, just listening to a song is not enough and you also want some visual feedback to really immerse yourself into the musical experience. For that purpose, you can click the "Visualization" button and start enjoying the animated vibes that dance with the beat. If your video card can take it, select the highest resolution, put it in full-screen mode and impress your party guests. Speaking of parties, if you aren't the selfish, "I know best" kind of DJ and want to have a jukebox-style machine, go to "View" and select "Party Mode." This will make your music library completely cover the screen for not only a better overview of what's on the menu, but also useful to keep curious eyes off your files. Another view mode, called "Small display," will transform your otherwise large player, into a small, ergonomic interface hosting the now tiny control buttons and the horizontal tracking bar.
If you have only one folder in which you store music files and don't want to manually add them to Rhythmbox, you have the possibility of making it a watched folder, so every time you add new songs to it, they will also appear in your library. This can be done from the "Preferences" window, a place from where you can also enable crossfading, customize the interface and configure the download manager. The "Podcasts" area allows you to add RSS feeds for your favorite shows and they will be automatically downloaded as they become available. In the "Radio" section, the Rhythmbox developers were nice enough to add a few stations, but you can also add your own.

There is one thing that will probably annoy you when trying out Rhythmbox. Though the application has an icon in the notification area, closing the main interface will exit Rhythmbox completely, instead of remaining active through that icon. So, one will think, there is no way you can get rid of the tab in your application switcher while using the program. Wrong! Rhythmbox comes with a bunch of useful plugins and one of them, called "Minimize to tray," will take care of the annoyance.

Here is a list with some of the best plugins:
· Desktop art
· Last Rhythm
· Skype plugin
· Cover art
· DAAP Music Sharing
· DLNA/UpnP sharing
· FM Radio
· Jamendo
· LIRC
· Last.fm
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· Magnatune Store
· Minimize to tray
· Portable Players - MTP
· Portable Players - iPod
· Power Manager
· Python Console
· Song Lyrics
· Visualization
· Titlebar plugin
· Rhythmote

If the "Portable players" entries caught your attention, yes, Rhythmbox supports a variety of players, including the ever-popular iPod. Another interesting plugin is DAAP Music Sharing, which will allow you to share music or play songs others have shared, inside your network.

How do I install it?

Most popular Linux distributions that use the GNOME desktop environment come with Rhythmbox pre-installed. If that's not the case, be sure to check the software repositories and see if you can install it from there. If you still can't find it or want the latest available version (0.12.1, instead of 0.12.0 that is currently available in Ubuntu's repos), download the latest sources or .deb files from Softpedia. After the small download and quick installation, you will find Rhythmbox in the "Sound & Video" (or similar) category.

If you're searching for a really great audio player, look no further. Rhythmbox, in spite of its low memory footprint, has a lot to offer to both hardcore music junkies and occasional listeners.

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