The Quest: Introduction

For as long as I can remember, I have been on a quest to find the perfect media player for the PC. Obviously, the perfect player for a real audio system is a well constructed turntable (like the one I just bought: Audio-Technica LP-120-USB, or the classic Technics SL-1200MK2). Since I spend most of my time at a computer, and I'm not always in the mood to flip records, a good digital media player is something I really need.

Several years ago, the options for media players were pretty slim. The first "media player" I remember using was the Play button on the Caddy-based CD-ROM drive on one of my family's first MS-DOS PCs. Old disc drives had a four-conductor cable that would run from the drive directly to the sound card for analog audio playback without software. As software became more sophisticated, applications were able to control CD playback. The first application I remember using came with the sound card and was supposed to resemble a stereo system (it had three "components", a pre-amp, that controlled the volume, a player that controlled tracks, and a pointless "amplifier" window that did nothing). I also remember using Windows Media Player (probably v6.x) and Winamp (v1.x and 2.x).

I never owned a Windows XP computer (thankfully), but went from Windows 98 to Linux. In my early Linux days, I used a few players, including XMMS, before settling on Amarok, which I used until only a couple of years ago. Amarok was eventually rewritten into a totally different application using version 4 of the KDE libraries. Once the KDE 3 libraries were removed from Gentoo Linux, I was forced to begin my full-time search for the perfect media player. To this day, I consider Amarok 1.4 to be the best media player around.

My standards are pretty high nowadays, and I have a pretty stringent set of requirements. I've made a little contest out of my search, scoring various players in several categories. I'll post the full list of requirements in a few days, and I'll start posting reviews of the players I test as time goes on.