Amarok vs Songbird


Reviewed: Most migrants from other operating systems will seek out a Linux alternative to the ubiquitous iTunes, and chances are they'll come across Amarok 2.0 and Songbird 1.0. They're both contenders for the Linux music player crown, but take different approaches. Which one is right for you?

Amarok is a native KDE application (but is also available for other operating systems besides Linux via KDE ports), while Songbird has been built using Mozilla technology, so it's cross-platform from the first step. Migrating to either from other, lesser, applications is a breath of fresh air. They do the same kind of things, but in a more effective and better-looking way.

In testing we used Amarok 2.0 and Songbird 1.0 running on KDE 4.2 and Gnome. Amarok arrived via a Kubuntu repository with no issues and Songbird came in a 30MB file from Once the tarball had we double-clicked the Songbird script to run the installer. This is efficiently cross-distro, but you have to add your own shortcuts, while Amarok just fell into the appropriate application menu.


There are only so many ways a music player can be presented, and both take a similar line. But once you get beyond the basic interface conventions, things begin to diverge a little more and each application presents its strengths.

Amarok divides its main interface into three columns. On the left you'll find file operations, including a tree view of your collection, playlists, file browser and internet services such as Last.FM. The centre column is user definable and can contain Plasmoids (KDE/Plasma applets) for album art, lyrics and so on.

There are some excellent playlist features that are cleverly designed to provide you with many blasts from your musical past.

There are some excellent playlist features that are cleverly designed to provide you with many blasts from your musical past.

These work extremely well, though it depends on a decent broadband connection to acquire the additional info. The current playlist is shown on the right-hand side of the main window. Playlists can be created by dragging tracks from the collection to the playlist window and can be saved or exported for use on other applications.

One of Amarok's aims is to help users to rediscover their music, so it contains lots of search options using the metadata in music files to pinpoint exactly what you're looking for. There are also 'smart playlists', which try to gauge your mood from a selection of tunes and then keep that going with new tracks.

Songbird takes a slightly different approach, putting your library at the heart of the app. By default, it presents a filter interface so you can drill down through your collection based on genre, artist, album and track. The filter can be switched off using the View menu, just leaving the song list and search bar.

Both applications provide useful ways to find music, but Amarok feels quicker. Songbird's Most Played and Highest Rated playlists told us what we were listening to, but Amarok's dynamic system was great at digging up little-heard gems. Previous Amarok users will will be at home and there are no radical, deal-breaking changes. The Plasmoids column should also allow users to really make the application their own.

Fade to grey: Interface comparison


Songbird: Songbird offers a very familiar interface that's almost identical to iTunes, but also has some useful collection views.


Amarok: Amarok's transport controls are now given more emphasis, and are easy to navigate with. The glossy look reflects the new KDE too.

Somesync good

Our test system contained 3,500 tracks on a networked drive and a subset on a 4GB fruit-branded media player. Amarok picked up the player with no bother, allowed us to transfer songs back and forth from the library and play songs straight from the device.

This is great if you want to play tracks from a friend's player, but not so great when trying to sync the software and the device. Sync was available in version 1.4, but 2.0 just doesn't have it. Annoying.

Songbird fared a little worse in the iPod stakes. It has an add-on that will manage your device, but can't handle a Mac-formatted iPod so you may need to reformat using the FAT32 filesystem. Songbird offers manual transfer and syncing across a range of devices. You can also treat the iPod as a disk and add the tracks manually, but this could lead to hundreds of duplicate tracks.

Neither of these packages offers seamless support for the iPod, but they're usable and full sync support is soon likely to be available on both.

Optional extras

What sets Songbird apart from the herd is its selection of add-ons. These work using the same principle - and the same process - as Firefox and can be found and installed via the Songbird interface.

Two to install are the Last.FM plugin, which will scrobble your play history to your Last profile. and MashTape which is used to display information about the currently playing track pulled in from sources such as Amazon reviews, Flickr images, Google News, Last.FM, Wikipedia and YouTube.

Last.FM integration is a two-way process, with both scrobbling and radio access among the online services.

Last.FM integration is a two-way process, with both scrobbling and radio access among the online services.

With MashTape installed, the application becomes something far beyond a mere media player, giving you options to discover new tracks, artists and features without having to go into the wilds of the internet. In fact, there are even plugins for the plugin, which add Vimeo or MTV music videos to the package, so it's definitely one to watch.

MashTape is what music applications should provide in the noughties.

MashTape is what music applications should provide in the noughties.

Songbird and Amarok both deal superbly with large collections and online services. On balance, though, we think Amarok pips its rival thanks to matchless playlist management, the almost psychic dynamic playlists and brilliant integration of various web services.

iPod syncing was a disappointment; if we were syncing an entire library, Songbird (and a reformat of the iPod disk) would be the way to go. But we're really looking forward to a MashTape equivalent Plasmoid, and Amarok's close integration with KDE means that it looks great.

Songbird, meanwhile, comes in a very creditable second place thanks to its cross-platform chops and the brilliant MashTape add-on. If the latter is an example of the type of add-ons that the Songbird community has up its collective sleeve, this could be a really exciting application. While we found some of the other add-ons to be less successful - the iTunes-like coverflow was impossibly slow to render - all demonstrate the strength of a decent plugin architecture.

Amarok Verdict: Visually refreshed and ready for action. Amarok is our open source music player of choice. 9/10

Songbird Verdict: A brilliant mashup of web and media technology that's definitely worthy of attention. 8/10

Comparison of features

  Amarok Songbird
Version 2.0.1 1.0
Platform KDE Mozilla XUL
Licence GPL GPL
Dynamic playlists Yes Yes
iPod sync No Yes (Windows format)
Last.FM scrobbling Yes Yes
Online radio Yes Yes
Video No Yes (via plugin)
Plugins Yes Yes
First published in Linux Format

First published in Linux Format magazine

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Your comments

What about Banshee?

I switched from Amarok to Banshee at least a year ago. It's fulfilled all my needs.

Re: What about Banshee?

Ever find Banshee ramps your cpu through the roof? Or it never ever automatically updates your library when new things are added to /your/media/directory from outside of Banshee? Or that it lacks any kind of persistent metadata features for podcasts, so things like a news podcast always ends up on a device under "Unknown Artist," and although you COULD go into the properties and write the dang artist name for that file yourself, you can't do that for the entire feed so every time you download a podcast you have to add the artist's name again?

I have. I've filed bugs. For other things as well. I was told they either weren't problems or weren't necessary features. (There's still no easy way to see the description of a podcast episode in Banshee.)

Hence I still use Amarok more than Banshee, even though it looks teh ugg on my Gnome, and has crazy crashes telling me it can't find Kmail client. At least I can organize my news podcasts under News, my tech ones under Tech, etc. in Amarok, which makes dealing with them so much simpler. Banshee could add a tagging feature or something to take care of that. They just won't (yet).

That said, the Banshee team has been a lot more cordial in responding to bugs than what I've seen at Amarok (when their is a response at Amarok).

I'm using Listen...

The GUI is simple and not attractive as Amarok and Songbird, but it works great for me: fast and friendly. The only complain I have is that it often fetches wrong lyrics compared to Songbird (I'm using Songbird too once in a while), but to me is no big deal.

Nice comparison. Worth noting that I'm on Ubuntu and after Gutsy Amarok has never worked fine on my computer :(

Gong for a song...

I have Songbird a try after reading about it in the mag. It's not too bad, I like the interface however the lack of MTP support on Linux is a killer. It is also unstable when in scans over media it doesn't support (e.g. stuff with DRM, typically). It isn't 'smart' when reading untagged media either, unlike Amarok.

I also tried Banshee and that also proves to be unstable. I'm a Gnome user so Amarok sticks out like a sore thumb but it really is the most stable media player on Linux, is fast and provides a lot of features like the smart playlists and Internet radio integration.

Songbird is certainly worth keeping an eye on though!

Rhythmbox here. I'm a simple

Rhythmbox here. I'm a simple person...


The crazy cashes where Amarok tells you it can't find KMail client are not quite so crazy. On a KDE desktop, when Amarok crashes, for whatever reason, it opens a new message in KMail with information about the crash event and asks you if you want to to send it along with a brief description of what you were doing immediately before the crash. The intent being to provide the developers with information that will let them fix common bugs.
I suppose it would be a good thing if they offered integration with other popular mail clients.

Amarok 1.4

Bring back the amarok 1.4 interface people. Nothing beats it and amarok 2 has messed everything up.


as foir amarok 1.4, ipodsync is superb.
I cannot imagine they dropped this feature in 2.01

i agree

Ipod support in 1.4 in Amarok is exceptional..
I've been wanting to trade in to the 2.0.2 release, but my iPod is a must!

Songbird sucks too much CPU on my machine, and honestly banshee feels lame compared to the richness of the Amarok UI.


Yeah, you're right, and I appreciate that it's trying to talk to the developers. However, it shouldn't crash so much in the first place.

Songbird wouldn't load up on my machine - just told me it was on, yet nothing was there. I was until yesterday using the launchpad ppa of Banshee but it was jumping to 1.3 GB of memory use out of the box. Back to the old one for now, and only for stability.

I like Rhythmbox for the simplicity, but can't stand it telling me about missing files and import errors. I wish I could turn that off.

Exaile... someday. I've had some really good discussions with the developers about what Amarok, Banshee, Rhythmbox, etc. do well, what they don't do well, and if those good things could get implemented into Exaile. But it's a small project, so don't wait to... exhaile.

Songbird no workie ;-)

I've tried a Songbird on a couple of releases... It still doesn't read the metadata of many of my audio files (unprotected WMA's and such), where Banshee, Rhythmbox, etc... do with no problem.

Also the interface menu text is way too small on my 1680x1050 15" laptop screen. It's not recognizing the DPI or something and I see no way to adjust it...

Rhytmbox vs BMP

For med it's enough with Rhytmbox. It syncs well with my iPod and mobile phone. Otherwise I use BMP for internet radio. It has over 20 000 radio channels in the list.

Amarok is a plugin P=layer not Music Player

What I don't like about Amarok is that the Music is not in the Middle of this programs attection! you don't get enough of your Musik ! 100 of Plugins what about my Musik! Put my Musik in the midlle of my Music Player! IT'S a Jukebox it's about Music and not about plug in's !

I myself prefer bunshee

Amarok and USB Mass Storage Devices.

I'll ask the question again here. I use a backport of Amarok 1.4 on KDE 4.2 because there seems to be no support whatsoever for USB mass storage MP3 players in Amarok 2.x? I have tried every version since release, and the MP3player widget never, ever picks it up. Manually mounted, not mounted, just silence. Has anyone used Amarok 2/x with a Mass Storage MP3 player? When I put it into MTP mode, Amarok detects something but crashes if I click on it. It might be a defective implementation of MTP though.

On the interface, I miss playlist search, but have heard it's coming and in any version, I still do this, my users do this, clicking on content from an artist, in the context browser says "Already in playlist". It should simply play the song. I live with that niggle though because the interface is customizable to match any desktop and no other music manager does shoutcast or covers better (maybe as good, not slamming anyone, but it is great).

That said, I take all of them for a drive every 6 months to a year. When Elisa becomes stable, my newbies may get it. Integration with YouTube is great.


You're forgetting a big one

You completely left out themes. Songbird can have a completely different interface if it is themed that way. Amarok can be customized, but it is within the constraints of the KDE system. The actual interface does not change. That difference is BIG in terms of potential end user experience.

Why not Amarok vs. Rhythmbox?

Songbird is weird... besides the fact that it is very slow, i am very easily lost in preferences menu... (eg: i want to change the font for the player and realize that i only changed the font for the web pages :-/)
Anyways... i personally don't like this mash up... a player should play music... not browse the web, we have firefox for that.
So, in this situation, i'd definitely choose amarok.
Still... rhythmbox is just what a player should be, and it uses only 30-40MB RAM with my 4500+ music collection :)

Amarok can play videos....

via plasma plugin....!

my complaints on songbird

I've been trying Songbird for a few months now, but I've decided to switch back to Amarok for good as my player of choice.

Here's why:

Songbird's strategy was basically "Let's make an app exactly like itunes except with add-ons". Good for itunes lovers who have been wanting add-ons. Bad for all the people out there who hate itunes and want something completely different.

I'm a firm believer that a music library manager should be an interface to all your music folders. You should be able to add and remove which music folders you want to include, and those folders should be watched for new music and music that's been deleted. ITunes/Songbird doesn't do either of these. If you delete music from the folder, itunes/songbird will give you a playback error. If you add music to one of your folders, you have to remember to import those files into itunes/songbird. Why should I have to do that? iTunes/Songbird doesn't want their software to be a simple interface to music folders. They want you to have your music all over the place and make it hard to add/remove files from your music folders (and do it from the app itself) because they think it gives the app more value to the user and will make the user more likely to use the app. But I just find it annoying. I want to organize my music folders myself. I want to specify in itunes/songbird which folders I keep my music in, and have the app automatically update itself when I add/remove music files to those folders.

The stupid problems described above also affect my ipod. If I have a folder where I keep music that I "buy", and I move those files to a music folder that I've already imported and is already on my ipod, and then I do a sync, do you think my new music is on my ipod? I wish.

my complaints on amarok

They announced Amarok 2.0 about 2 years ago. The Windows and Mac ports still barely install. Amarok was the only reason I still run linux. But now everyone says Amarok 2.0 sucks compared to 1.4. And the geniuses at Ubuntu ship an Amarok 1.4 that doesn't play .mp3 or .flac! Why would anyone want that anyway... Maybe I should have tried the Mint distro. But by now I'm so sick of linux wasting my time. I'm on a hackintosh now and everything just works. With linux, everything just doesn't work. I guess linux people actually enjoy googling for fixes and command lines a few hours a day. However, I have a life. So even if after a couple decades, the linux desktop still blows. Things like printing, webcams, wireless, playing mp3 and flac are NOT working out of the box. Check the market share numbers showing linux getting shoved aside by OS X and soon Android. If you're wondering why, I'm one statistic.


The Amarok team really did shoot themselves in the foot with 2.x.

I stick with 1.4.7. In fact, I even installed andLinux just so I could use it under windows.

amarok 2 - DONT INSTALL IT


back to amarok 1.4!

moved back to amarok 1.4... the new amarok interface's a waste of time.

i'd use songbird, definitely better looking, but it still lacks some useful command compared to amarok.

songbird also lacks global shortcuts in ubuntu :(

Excuse me...

The Amarok team may THINK their product is compatible with other desktop environments, but those of using GNOME (or Xfce, or anything not called KDE) know otherwise. I'm not downloading 500mb of KDE libraries just to use Amarok. I'll stick with Songbird, thank you. Rhythmbox is cool too. Banshee is overrated.

OSS vs Proprietary

Why do people keep comparing a community-generated, farm project by individuals donating their effort and kindness to megabillion corporation-run farms that care only about the bottom-line?

GNU/Linux and the many other open source software is not something that wall street numbers control. So quit commercializing them. If you want to sell the software fine! But don't take away the freedom of people to use, choose and refuse! That's why in a few months linux may well be like what Windows was: an out of control, virus-infested, rave party being run almost dictatorship-style!

No device support under Linux

I still have to see MTP device support under Linux for Songbird. I currently use the built-in connection from inside Ubuntu, and I can download and manage my music on my player, except for the playlists, I still have to find an application that will actually manage my playlists on the player itself. Although I have tons of music, I often want to make long playlists that I let run over the hours at work. But I cannot manage those using Songbird or the built-in connectivity tool from Ubuntu.

I absolutely agree with

I absolutely agree with Anonymous Penguin's comment above "OSS vs Proprietary". We should be supporting community generated projects, not apps (or anything else for that matter) that is controled by "wall street numbers"-- the profit motive only.

Cooperation, not for money, but for the purpose of mutual aid is the only way build healthy communities. Its a very simple and age-old principle. Linux and open-source are wonderful movements that are trying to re-establish community participation in software and the ways in which our information is used, stored and manipulated.

That is why I support open source. Not because its free of charge and I neednt' pay. (I donate to my favorite projects). But rather because these communities are dedicated to community participation, non-proprietary open formats. My data is safe, and I know that the application will likely have a healthy future- unlikely to simply disappear if the 'company' disappears.

Amarok and Songbird are both pretty amazing

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