What Does Continuous Mean on iTunes?

Emulating software playback with physical media requires multiple players and frequent disc swaps.
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The focus on individual music tracks and digital downloads de-emphasizes the "album playback" experience that dominated music listening on vinyl and CDs. When you access your music collection through Apple's iTunes, you can tailor playlists to your liking in a way that playing a stack of physical media can't replicate. The software's preferences have included options designed to avoid losing the continuous impact of albums meant for start-to-finish listening without gaps.

1 Album Setups

Most albums of popular music present sequences of individual songs, each with a defined beginning and end. Some albums diverge from that setup. When you play Pink Floyd's classic "Dark Side of the Moon," for example, you don't get the full experience the artists intended unless you hear a continuous flow from track to track without breaks between them. The same playback arrangement holds true for recordings of free-form jazz, live performances of opera or musical theater, and some types of classical music.

2 Crossfading Songs

Apple's iTunes includes the ability to crossfade between the tracks on an album or in a playlist. With this feature active, the volume of one track gradually reduces as it ends and the volume of the next song rises to fade it in. Crossfading can help blend together songs you play back in random order, providing a form of continuity among them, but it interferes with the sonic impact of truly continuous music. If you're using an iTunes version between 7 and 10, you can turn overall crossfading on or off in iTunes' preferences and selectively set crossfading for two or more tracks.

3 Gapless Playback

When Apple introduced iTunes 7 in 2006, it debuted a feature called gapless playback. This feature let users select songs as exempt from crossfading. To enable this override between two songs or among a subset of a playlist by selecting the songs, you opened the "File" menu and chose "Get Info." In the Options tab of the Listen dialog box, you activated the "Part of a Gapless Album" check box to override crossfading. With the introduction of iTunes 11 in 2012, the check box that enables gapless playback disappeared from the program's Options settings. Instead, the program analyzes your tracks and automatically applies gapless playback to contiguous songs from gapless albums.

4 Other Considerations

If you process your music tracks in another application before you add them to your iTunes library, you may be able to assemble an entire album as a single track, with no gaps between songs and no markers that designate track starting points. In this scenario, the entire album becomes a single track. The disadvantage of this arrangement lies in its lack of support for individual-track playback. To play a single song, you must locate it manually by its time position in the unified album.

Elizabeth Mott has been a writer since 1983. Mott has extensive experience writing advertising copy for everything from kitchen appliances and financial services to education and tourism. She holds a Bachelor of Arts and Master of Arts in English from Indiana State University.