Importing CDs for gapless playback

Q: I am an aerobics instructor and I would like to use my iPod to import my professional CD’s without having breaks between the tracks. Is there a way to do that?

– Gail

A: Using iTunes 7 or later with a fifth-generation iPod with the latest firmware, or a second-generation iPod nano, CDs that already have no gaps between the tracks will import and play gaplessly without any additional effort required. Note, however, that this only applies to CDs that are already gapless in their original format. CDs that have not been mastered to play back gaplessly will still play on the iPod with a small gap between the tracks.

Further, even gapless albums will play with small gaps between the tracks when played in “Shuffle” mode on the iPod, or mixed into a playlist in non-track order.

The issue in this case is that CDs that are not originally mastered for gapless playback often have a small amount of silence embedded in the tracks themselves (ie, as part of the audio stream), and iTunes cannot really do anything to remove this silence if it forms part of the actual audio track.

One possible workaround that may help with some CDs, depending on the nature of the source material, is to rip them using the “Join CD Tracks” feature of iTunes, which will take all contiguous tracks from a CD and combine them into a single large MP3 file. This was discussed in our July 12th Ask iLounge column. Alternatively, if you already have a set of existing MP3 files that you would like to join in a different order into a single track, there are several tools already available that can do this for you. A Google search for “MP3 join” should turn up several possibilities.

Note that how successful the results of this process are will depend on the source files and whether they have any extra silence embedded in the tracks themselves.

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