Tuesday 17 November 2009

Accessing a Sandisk Sansa Clip+ with Banshee on Ubuntu 9.10

I've been given a Sandisk Sansa Clip+ 4GB mp3 player for my birthday. I requested the Clip+ as it has a microSD card slot (that supports up to 16GB SDHC cards) and I have an 8Gb card to use with it. I am amazed by the clarity of it's sound for the price. The player supports Mp3, WMA, FLAC and Ogg (no AAC), and arrived in a large box compared to the tiny player itself:

It supports replaygain and is gapless, is much cheaper than an Ipod shuffle and has a nice bright little screen. As you can see it looks like an ipod that's shrunk in the wash!

I set the player to use MSC (Mass Storage Class) in it's settings (you can also use MTP - Media Transfer Protocol) and plugged it in to my desktop machine that has Ubuntu 9.10 64bit. With MSC, the player and it's microSD card show up as drives, however it took a little searching on the net to get the Clip+ to show up as a device in Banshee. I'm using the newest version from the Banshee Team Repos (named 'banshee-1'). Eventually i found a solution here, and here. You need to create a text file in the root of the player and it's card called ".is_audio_player" (without the qoutes). The period is essential to make it a hidden system file, press CTRL+H in Nautilus, to show hidden files. Copy and paste this text into each file, then save:


This makes sure the files go in the right folders and with the right format, mp3 in this case. Then safely remove the player, unplug and plug back in, and now it will show up in Banshee in it's side pane like so:

Tuesday 3 November 2009

Finding An Alternative to Winamp, Foobar or iTunes for Ubuntu 9.10

Whenever i am on Windows I prefer Winamp for general use. It has reasonable tagging, good album art and info support, the media library is excellent and it's gapless. For transcoding music files i use Foobar. As a player it is good and has great tagging support but lacks decent visualisations and is tricky to setup. On my Mac i use iTunes mainly as i can access my Firefly (mt-daapd) servers. However, on Windows iTunes is a different, more hideously bloated, beast. I used to really like Amarok 1.4 for awhile before i switched to Exaile, and I'm not keen on Amarok 2. I find it lacks the features I liked in 1.4 and does not fit in well with Gnome, it being a KDE program. There are not many gapless audio player for Linux other than Aqualung, which is a little bit too bare-bones for me, and struggles with large music collections and also Rhythmbox is now gapless. There is also Music Player Daemon but it can be difficult to setup.

What I require in a Linux music player:
  • Gapless playback
  • Last.FM support
  • Album cover support (from embedded and/or folder image, and ability to download covers)
  • Good Mp3 tag support and tag editor
  • A context view with information from the internet (lyrics etc)
  • Reasonable Gnome integration.
  • To just play music, i have VLC or Totem for video files.
  • Shuffle mode and custom playlists - especially Recently Added)
  • Decent visualisations.
  • Firefly (mt-daapd) support

The Linux alternatives:


Exaile was my choice of media player for the Linux desktop, until now. I have just upgraded to Ubuntu 9.10 and sadly it has version 3.0.1 of Exaile. In this version there is a very annoying bug. Exaile refuses to close, even when I attempt to close the player's tray icon it just sits there. if i have the icon disabled and close the player, the music will just keep going without the GUI. When this bug will be fixed is uncertain. It's a shame as if it was not for that bug it would be great player. Consequently I am now looking for a replacement media player, at least until Exaile is fixed.


Rhythmbox is many users' choice as it's the default Gnome music player, however it has it's problems. it takes a long time to scan my music as i have a very large collection but that's not the biggest problem. Unfortunately the main problem with Rhythmbox is it keeps scanning non-audio files and giving error messages, and trying to download codecs for them. It does this on startup whether it has already found them before or not. This is made worse by the lack of a manual rescan library function.


Banshee seemed to take the longest (more than an hour!) of all the players I've tried to scan my music collection as it found my 31299 tracks (i actually have around 27500) then re-scanned them for some reason. Visually, the interface is a bit messy at first but once i had it configured to how i like it, it's fine. It is similar to Rhythmbox really, except with a better interface. the only problem I have at the moment is it is not submitting songs to Last.Fm. I should also say I tested using the Beta from the Banshee Team Repository.

Listen Media Player

This is the first time I have use Listen Media Player for a long time, and it looks a lot better than it used to. Once I set my music folder in it's preferences, Listen scanned my music collection. it was quicker than Banshee but not as quick as Exaile, and gave good feedback along it's progress bar, although it used quite a bit a lot resources doing it. Upon trying to play however it became unresponsive and my CPU peaked out at 100% and memory usage skyrocketed, then Listen crashed with a python error. When I restarted the player, it had to rescan the media library again *sigh*. I managed to get it to play again but with such high resource usage that I had to close it down. So no joy there, which is a shame as it does have a gapless setting.


Well for now it seems I'm going to stick with Rhythmbox but only because Last.Fm scrobbling actually works otherwise I would choose Banshee. I have disabled automatic scanning of tracks though to avoid it trying to find codecs for non-audio files everytime it starts up! If the bugs in Exaile are worked out then I'll switch to it instead. For editing tags in mp3s I use Mp3tag in Wine, and for normalising volume i use Mp3gain in Wine. I long for a decent substitute for Winamp/Foobar on Linux.

Update: I managed to get last.fm plugin to submit tracks on Banshee - it's now vieing to be my choice of player on Linux! My only annoyances: lack of a visible Skip button on the interface - where is it? EDIT: When you disable Shuffle the Skip forward button appears. I use the Cairo Dock Audio Player applet or the media buttons on my keyboard to control the player. the best thing about Banshee is the cover fetcher, it is a lot better than Rhythmbox's.

Resource Usage:

This is the output of 'top' on the command-line, when each player is playing an mp3 (separately):


16998 carl 20 0 779m 141m 22m S 11.9 7.1 64:39.88 banshee-1

21623 carl 20 0 817m 120m 26m S 5.9 6.0 0:19.64 rhythmbox

10958 carl 20 0 565m 27m 15m S 4.6 1.4 0:25.57 aqualung

12041 carl 20 0 1212m 355m 17m R 89.7 17.7 23:00.49 listen

4579 carl 20 0 743m 219m 20m R 94.7 10.9 0:27.39 exaile

Notice the astronomically high resource usage of Listen!

Update 2 - 3/11/09: For some reason, possibly because it uses Mono, I've recently found Banshee (1.6 beta) to be using more and more ram the longer it is left usually around 900mb and peaking the CPU quite a bit, I hope this is fixed soon. Until then I'll keep looking for alternatives.

Update 3 - 29/01/10: I've settled on Gmusicbrowser for now as it does just about everything I want, although transfering to USB drives is a bit cludgy.

Monday 2 November 2009

Re-Enable CTRL + ALT + Backspace to Restart X in Ubuntu karmic

As with Ubuntu 9.0.4, the shortcut to disable restarting of X has been disabled in Ubuntu karmic, and the previous method does not work now. Instead go to System --> Preferences --> keyboard --> Layouts --> Layout Options and tick the option as shown in the screenshots. So next time on that hopefully rare occasion X locks up you can now restart X, instead of resorting to holding the power button in.