Mind the Gap! Gapless Playback on Spotify

UPDATE Feb 2012: Spotify now has gapless playback!




Below is the original post, written when gapless playback seemed like an impossible dream…


Gapless playback is the uninterrupted playback of consecutive audio tracks without intervening silence or clicks where the song changes. It’s pretty common on a lot of albums. But gapless playback has been missing from Spotify since the beginning. For two years now, a growing army of Spotify users have been requesting this feature via Spotify’s getsatisfaction forum: it’s the most requested idea by far, with close to 1,000 requests. Spotify claimed that they were “seriously looking into gapless playback” about 9 months ago. So why is this request so popular, and what sort of issues might be preventing Spotify from implementing it?

Back in the day, if you were to put on a vinyl record you’d hear that some songs merge and segue together to form continous music. More recently, if you listened to that album on CD the songs would still be gapless. Popular music playing apps like iTunes, Windows Media Player and Winamp can also handle gapless playback. But not Spotify.

Listen to, for example, Shpongle’s album “Nothing Lasts… But Nothing is Lost,” where ingenious joins between tracks are integral to the listening experience. But on Spotify there’s always a little gap between each song. Since the songs are so short (it’s a 20-track album) all these breaks can take away from the enjoyment of the music. Listen to a live album, or a DJ-mixed album, or any number of classical albums and the problem’s the same.

On the gapless playback thread on getsatisfaction, there are a lot of vocal users venting their frustration. It frequently descends into flames and sarcasm but users like Dean, Kimmo, Radian and a few others manage to keep it civil and express their views clearly (mostly). Acclaimed music producer Gareth Jones (who has produced bands like Depeche Mode, Erasure and Interpol) also added to the discussion:

We are only asking that the music should be presented as the artist intended. Many times in the mastering studio we do leave gaps, sometimes we don’t. Those of us in favour of gapless playback merely wish to experience the artists’ intention.”

So why hasn’t gapless playback been implemented in Spotify yet?

Spotify music is encoded in Ogg Vorbis format, which does support gapless playback. So it’s probably not due to file format issues. It may be that additional metadata is required to describe the length of the gap, and perhaps Spotify’s mechanism to convert the FLAC files received from record labels into Ogg Vorbis format cannot handle the extra metadata.

There are reports that gapless playback works on Spotify for SONOS and Squeezebox. If true, then it would seem that the problem lies with the Spotify clients, not the source music files.

But it’s possible that it’s just not worth Spotify’s effort. Most of the users complaining about the lack of gapless playback could probably be described as “audiophiles.” Amongst Spotify’s vast userbase, these discerning music lovers are just a tiny minority amongst the hoards who think 128kbps music sounds just fine. Besides, they say the album is dead now and we mostly just listen to singles and individual tracks anyway, so where’s the incentive for Spotify to invest resources into fixing gapless playback for albums?

Perhaps there are other commercial reasons not to implement gapless playback: the gap might be required by Spotify Free to trigger the audio ads. There were even rumours that the Spotify client deliberately cross-fades tracks in and out to facilitate the ads.  If the lack of gapless playback was due to audio ad requirements, I could see how Spotify might be reluctant to reveal this as it could be thought of as unfairly limiting paying user’s enjoyment.

Gapless playback may still be coming soon though. A Spotify rep said a couple of months ago that “the popularity of the [gapless playback] thread will have an influence on product development.” And Spotify CEO Daniel Ek himself, in response to a question on Spotify’s lack of gapless playback said on Quora that:

If it is a popular feature request we will add it… We look at and carefully evaluate all of the feature requests people have, but never comment on a timeline. If anything we should have been better communicating that we are looking at this idea.

The thread on getsatisfaction is now tagged as “The company has this under consideration.

So while it’s being considered, perhaps you might want to have a listen to one of these albums: