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How could it sound better? xmms plays MP3s and plays them very well - at least on my system. Have you tried adding a new skin to xmms? You can make it look like pretty much whatever you want. Are you having a specific problem with xmms?
My sound with rh9 for some reason was also a little distorted. I saw the light and got Slackware9.1 (for several reasons i switched not only sound)
It comes standard with alsa drivers, although its best to download the source. because everytime you recompile your kernel you need to recompile alsa modules as well. Anyway, now my sound ROCKS. using xmms, and mp3blaster, and dcd (comand line cd player)
my sound has never come close to this with winamp. A tip with alsa is, to run: alsaconf, which automatically sets everything up to run perfect for your sound card
if still a little distorted run alsamixer, and make PCM a little softer.
As far as sound drivers go, you can go with the commercial OSS drivers, but I personally have moved up to ALSA, which completely replaces OSS. It also understands things like 5.1 surround, and gives you more control over your sound.
As far as mp3 players go, there's XMMS, Noatun (KDE's official media player,) JuK (has nice features for managing playlists & large collections of mp3s), and a few more which I can't think of at the moment (both GUI and command line players.) Freshmeat should be able to help you there.
I'm rapidly coming to the conclusion that all mp3 players suck. XMMS is buggy as hell. I'm getting segfaults, leftover processes after exiting & so on. The crossfade plugin is completely broken. I do like the IMMS plugin though - automatically learns your song preferences and plays music that Doesn't Suck.
I've tried Juk, which is decent, but it doesn't crossfade, doesn't learn my preferences, doesn't have a plugin interface, and just doesn't have the features I want.
Madman looks decent, but it runs XMMS to play MP3s, and as I've stated earlier, XMMS is buggy.
Are there any MP3 players that 1. crossfade, 2. have decent playlist management & have ways to learn your preferences, and 3. aren't broken?