Cantata – A New Music Player for Linux

It seems that every year there’s a new music player for Linux. This is not necessarily bad, as it gives us a wider selection of software to choose from. Users can pick a lightweight player or try those that offer plenty of options and services. Cantata is one of the latter, and it has a few features that make it stand out from the rest.

Formerly a player with KDE dependencies, since version 1.4, Cantata is now a cross-platform application that only depends on Qt and MPD. MPD (Music Player Daemon) is a free and open source music server. It runs in the background of your system as a service (or daemon) and requires a client (frontend, usually with a GUI) to manage music and organize playlists.

You can use MPD to turn an old computer into a juxebox, connect other computers in the network to it, set it up on a Raspberry Pi configuration and even continue playing music when X crashes or is shut down. Thanks to ffmpeg, MPD can open all popular audio file formats (Ogg, MP3, MP4, AAC, FLAC, WAVE …) and can also stream music over HTTP. Among other things, it supports gapless playback and crossfading.

Cantata is just one of many MPD clients for Linux. If you’d like to try it out, the installation packages are available for several Linux distributions as well as OS X and Windows. Ubuntu users can add the unofficial repository for Cantata:

sudo add-apt-repository ppa:ubuntuhandbook1/cantata
sudo apt-get update
sudo apt-get install mpd cantata

At first run, Cantata will help you configure MPD.


MPD plays music from collections or databases created from your music folder. This is why you have to provide the path to at least one folder containing music files. Cantata supports multiple databases which you can add anytime from the “Settings -> Collection” tab.

If you encounter problems with configuration, you can manually edit the “mpd.conf” file in “/home/$USER/.mpd” (or “/home/$USER/.config/mpd”, depending on your distribution). Likewise, if there’s no audio output from Cantata and you’re using PulseAudio, check to see that the “mpd.conf” file contains the following:

audio_output {
type    "pulse"
name    "MPD"
# server    "remote_server"   # optional
# sink    "remote_server_sink"  # optional

For further troubleshooting, you can consult the MPD wiki. If everything is properly set up, you can start using Cantata to play music from your computer or stream from online radio services like TuneIn, ShoutCast, IceCast and Dirble. Cantata also supports Jamendo, Magnatune and SoundCloud, and even more online music providers can be installed from the “Settings -> Streams” dialog.


The range of customization that Cantata offers is amazing. Options are grouped in tabs where you can adjust everything from tooltips, song grouping, background images and playback fade-out to lyrics, scrobbling and custom keyboard shortcuts. Multimedia keys are also supported, and Cantata can copy music to and from USB and MTP devices and even rip audio CDs. The best thing about Cantata is the incredibly flexible interface.


By default, Cantata is divided into panes with playback buttons at the top and a small toolbar at the bottom. You can access your playlists, folders and streams from the toolbar and preview and select music in the tree-view pane. The queue (playlist) opens in the sidebar on the right where you can right-click any track to access the context menu and change tracks’ priority, organize files, add them to playlists or copy to a device. You can also show and edit current song information and edit tags directly from Cantata.


If you don’t like the default look, you can put the toolbar on top and organize your files into one of three views: Library (tree view grouped by artists or albums), Album (with album covers shown as thumbnails) or Folders (like in a file manager). The Folders view is the most practical for managing your music, and you can also open the file manager from there. The Settings dialog hides even more options.


Here you can choose which parts of the interface will be visible and set the size, position and color of icons and text. Apart from the full (expanded) layout, Cantata also has a mini interface which you can enable from the View menu.


Another feature that puts Cantata above other MPD clients is the fact that it caches a copy of the MPD database. This helps with faster file copying and seamless sorting and enables quick access to music files for building dynamic playlists. These playlists are based on rules or filters which you choose when creating them. Criteria for filters include genre, year, artist, track and album names, and this information is obtained from metadata tags.

Advanced users might enjoy Cantata’s hidden features which can be enabled in the “/home/$USER/.config/cantata/cantata.conf” file. For example, you can force Cantata to use any icon theme by editing the iconTheme= value or adjust volume increments by changing the number after volumeStep= value.

Cantata is among the most powerful music players I’ve used. Although it takes some time and effort to set up and get used to, it’s a pleasure to use because you can make it look and behave exactly like you want.

Have you tried any other MPD clients? Leave your recommendations in the comments.