M4A Music Files, Linux, and Amarok

By choice, these files have some issues under Ubuntu.  There is “something” about the origins of M4A that disagree with the Ubuntu (and Debian) mission statement/s.  So, some manual steps need to be taken to get proper playback.

If I remember correctly, Amarok 1.4.9 did not play M4A files at all.  This appears to have been fixed under 1.4.10.  That is nice.  However, the tags are not read correctly, nor can they be updated — that is not so nice.  So, to get Amarok to read these tags, some manual compilation is necessary.

It is actually not as hard as it sounds once all of the necessary information is aggregated from “umpteen” different sources.  I’m strongly tempted to simply put together a shell script to do this.  I wouldn’t be able to verify it on all systems, but with adequate embedded comments, the ambitious person would be enabled to coerce it to work on their system, assuming it needed coercion.

(1)  Downloading the sources from the Amarok site and using the command-line is essential.

(2) The commands end up being quite easy.   It assumes (a) the source has been downloaded, (b) the source has been extracted (tar xvfj amarok-1.4.10.tar.bz2) into a directory, and (c) you are in said directory.

$ sudo apt-get build-dep amarok
$ sudo apt-get install libmp4v2-dev libfaad-dev libavcodec1d libavutil1d libfaac0 libgsm1 liblame0 libpostproc1d libxine1-ffmpeg libxvidcore4 libfaad0 libmp4v2-0 libmpeg4ip-0 libmpeg4ip-dev
$ ./configure --enable-mysql --enable-postgresql --with-libmtp --with-libgpod --with-mp4v2
===  Amarok - PLUGINS  ========================================================
= The following extra functionality will NOT be included:
=   - NMM-engine
=   - Helix-engine
=   - yauap-engine
=   - Rio Karma Support
= The following extra functionality will be included:
=   + xine-engine
=   + libvisual Support
=   + MySql Support
=   + Postgresql Support
=   + Konqueror Sidebar
=   + MusicBrainz Support
=   + MP4/AAC Tag Write Support
=   + iPod Support
=   + iRiver iFP Support
=   + Creative Nomad Jukebox Support
=   + MTP Device Support
=   + DAAP Music Sharing Support
Good - your configure finished. Start make now
$ make
$ sudo make install

Note these lines, the presence of the “+” is very important:

=   + MP4/AAC Tag Write Support
=   + iPod Support

No plus, no functionality.

This worked under Kubuntu 8.10.1 using KDE 3.5.10.  This does not work under Kubuntu 9.04 using KDE 4.2.2.  I am going to wait for Amarok 2.2 to come out and see what improvements have happened.  My compelling reason to do this at this point would be to get my “smart playlists” back along with better M4A support.  Amarock 2 has M4A support (though buggy in 2.1.x) playlists and dynamic playlists, but they seem to have not understood the value of smart playlists and how the way they worked in KDE 3.5.x / Amarok 1.4.x was good.  I understand “radical new version, radical new features”, but I consider the absence of these a deal-breaker at this point.

I hope to update this post later when I get a successful compile of Amarok 1.4.10 under Kubuntu 9.04.


About John

I write about technology interests, cooking, and my own writing (sci-fi and fantasy... sometimes both). I try to keep things light, but sometimes I get side-tracked on an issue that I feel strongly about. No offense is meant, I'm just like any other person who feels strongly about something when I write. View all posts by John

3 responses to “M4A Music Files, Linux, and Amarok

  • jhimm

    I believe the “something” that does not agree is that m4a are the iTunes file format and so they have the potential to be locked with DRM. They may not have originated with iTunes, I just know they are what iTunes uses (although being phased out for non-DRM’d mp3’s in the wake of Amazon’s offer of mp3’s) and the reason was to allow DRM’ing of the files. Not too shocking that open source media players on an open source operating system would have a problem implementing those.

    • John

      The DRM files are M4P. They used to be able to be decrypted with the “hymn” algorithm, but updates to the {forget the name} scheme that Apple uses stopped that algorithm from working. You basically gave the program your m4p file and password and it took out the garbage bits Apple’s algorithm puts in there. Simple but effective encryption scheme — which is probably why they changed it.

      m4a is “just” another audio media format, but it is “even more proprietary” than mp3 it seems. Once upon a time Amarok wouldn’t play mp3s for the same reason. I guess prevalence of the format changed the minds of the more “devout” F/LOSS proponents.

      • jhimm

        (looks in iTunes)

        So they are. I misread somehow whenever it was I last looked.

        The new iTunes tracks are m4a since they lack the DRM.

        Yeah, I think even among the most devout of open source types, mp3’s are more or less unavoidable, no matter the need to license the algorithm. Shame that sort of thing isn’t a patent, instead of a copyright (but I get why it isn’t).

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