More Ways iTunes Sucks for Large Digital Music Collections

Ok, have been playing around with iTunes quite a bit the past few days and in addition to iTunes being enormously stupid in how it handles duplicates (iTunes should be smart enough to realize that if the exact same file in the exact same location is already in your library that it doesn’t need to reimport it), I have to say two other things really suck for large digital collections.

1. Determining Gapless Playback Information.

2. Finding album art.

While I can understand how many iTunes users with small mp3 collections might enjoy these features, for those of us with large digital media collections they really suck. The problem is that your iTunes is essentially *frozen* while iTunes does the two tasks above leaving you with no music.

No call me strange. But personally I’d rather have my iTunes actually play music for me than show me album art or analyze gapless playback for me.

The problem? There is no way to disable these two annoying features which take hours and hours and hours to complete for large collections. Heck, I’d be happy if I could just temporarily disable this analysis and then run it at night when I’m sleeping.

Why does iTunes force me into this analysis? Why can’t I disable these annoying bloated features?

The more I use iTunes for my large mp3 collection, the more I’m realizing just how much it sucks.

It’s ironic to me that the company that can make such perfect and simple tools like the MacBook and iPhone (things that actually work) are really so horrible at making a decent music player.

Oh, here’s one other thing Apple. The X in software, usually ought to allow you to either stop or cancel an activity happening on your computer. Close it out, whatever. Why do you have an X next to the great annoying gapless freeze out that does nothing when you select it? My recommendation is that you either get rid of the X there or have it actually do something beyond just freezing up your iTunes.

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  1. Jason Weems says:

    Hit the x to the right of the progress bar (visible in the screenshot) when it starts to determine gapless playback, which should stop it from determining gapless playback.

    Go to the general pane in the preferences and uncheck “automatically download missing album artwork.”

    That should take care of you there, but you can find some other info in the links and comments here:

  2. Thomas Hawk says:

    Jason, that’s the problem. When you click on the X to the right of the progress bar it does nothing.

    As to the preference to “automaticaly download missing album artwork”. I did in fact uncheck this, but iTunes still insists on trying to load album artwork.

    I agree that these things should do what you’d think that they do but in fact they do not which is part of why I find the software so lame for large digital collections.

  3. William Beem says:

    The option for “Get Album Art” works on your entire library. However, there is an option to get artwork for only selected songs. Look in the help for an article titled “Adding artwork to songs and other items.”

  4. Nate says:

    But what’s with all the vitriol??

    Why do these problems with iTunes mean that it sucks? Why can we not discuss where we think market leaders like iTunes needs to improve without resorting to rocks/sucks language?

  5. Shawn Oster says:

    I’ve come to the conclusion that handling large libraries just isn’t high on most media application developers lists. The only music system I’ve found that really hands a large library solidly is my Sonos system. Sonos rocks both in the hardware and software when it comes to keeping my library up to date and understanding the metadata.

    Actually the new Zune software is pretty solid on my 90GB library but then again it doesn’t do gapless but at least the album art aspect is in a background thread.

    iTunes baffles me, for a company that often makes such beautiful interfaces it’s turned into a rather bloated, stark, very “corporate” looking application not much different to a thin skin stretched over a database. Most of my friends that have iPods with PCs actually use WinAmp to manage their iPod vs. iTunes.

  6. There is no incentive for Jobs to fix this. Anyone with a music collection this large obviously didn’t buy it from Apple. I’d tell you to switch to a PC, but Microsoft doesn’t seem to care either.

  7. I use iTunes with a 40 GB library. iTunes is still very reactive and easy to use. Never had a problem …
    Gapless Playback calculation only happens once or twice a year when the library version changes and artwork finding only happens the first time you install iTunes !!!
    Is that enough to make it sucks !!!

  8. Rick Pali says:

    Having just recently moved to the Mac, I’m disappointed to see a very small selection of other music players/managers. I’m guessing that most just use iTunes.

    I’m really missing Foobar2000, but it seems silly to bring up a Windows virtual machine just to listen to MP3 files.

  9. Thomas Hawk says:

    Why do these problems with iTunes mean that it sucks? Why can we not discuss where we think market leaders like iTunes needs to improve without resorting to rocks/sucks language?

    Nate, I didn’t say it sucked. I said it sucks for large digital music collections, which clearly it does.

    I use iTunes with a 40 GB library. iTunes is still very reactive and easy to use. Never had a problem …

    Oliver try it on a 700GB library and you get a whole different version of pain.

    Windows Media Player doesn’t do such a good job with large media libraries either in my opinion, but at least WMP can monitor folders to avoid dupes and doesn’t lock up for gapless and album artwork near as long as iTunes does.

    I’m not the only one who hates this gapless feature for large libraries. Just google it. The point is, why can’t Apple just make an option to check to skip the gapless playback option?

  10. Bill Allings says:

    “why can’t Apple just make an option to ___”

    Apple is all about simplicity, options are complicated, in this case you got what you asked for.

  11. Anonymous says:

    It gets worse than that, have you figured out that if you switch windows while iTunes is determining gapless information, it actually doesn’t do it in the background, meaning that you are at the same point when you switch windows back hours later!

  12. dssstrkl says:

    Without taking sides here, the fact that iTunes doesn’t handle large libraries is a known issue, and has been for a while. I remember an article from a year or two ago where some guy was using a dedicated PowerMac G5 with an Xserve RAID to manage his library and it taking days to even load.
    To mind mind, the problem is one of database management. ITunes uses an xml file to store the library instead of a real database or even a SQL Lite database. Apple could use Core Data, but that’s an OS X only technology that would require the Windows version to either include a Core Data port in the download, a la Safari 3 or the Boot Camp beta (both included 10.5 tech in the download) or just use some SQL database. That’s the only real solution.

  13. I’d pay cash money for a “pro” version of iTunes which DID use SQL or CoreData instead of XML. One which could remember ratings and other ephemera which don’t get written as ID3 tags.

    And Thomas, you didn’t even mention the startup time with a large library. My own main library is about 350gb and it takes about thirty or forty seconds to read the library file. Quitting iTunes takes a similar amount of time to write the library file out again. I can only imagine how much worse it is with a 700gb library.

  14. Anonymous says:

    I’m kind of blown away by the sheer size of the music collections being talked about here. Mine’s about 80Gb and it comes out to about 45 days of continuous audio. 350gb, I’m guessing, would be about around six months worth.

    It’s also impressive that most of the software solutions that catalog and play back all of that music are available for free. If you look at it that way, the fact than none of them handle 350gb gracefully doesn’t seem as big a deal.

    On the other hand though, they have the technology…

  15. Anonymous says:


  16. anthony says:

    show me a player that has the same functionality as iTunes’ SmartPlaylists and I will switch. Until then, there’s nothing better.

  17. Anonymous says:

    according to this website, it looks like you have to wait a few minutes before the gapless check actually stops (have you tried that?)

    “While iTunes is Determining Gapless Playback Information, make sure to stop it by pressing this X before you try the steps on page 1 of this post. Note: Only press the X once and give it time to stop… give it a couple minutes if necessary. I had over 3,500 songs on a network storage device and I believe it took my computer about 2-3 minutes before iTunes actually became functional again. So be patient, wait it out, and then try the steps noted on the previous page.”

    as for me – I’m actually a huge fan of gapless playback – I actually stumbled upon your blog as I’m trying to figure something out – I like to make mixes of various songs (using Acoustica Audio Mixer) and blend the songs into each other (like a dj or radio station might overlap songs) – back-to-back-to-back, these songs play back gapless-ly on iTunes, and its supposed to play back gapless-ly on iPod as well… but it isn’t for some reason – not sure if its because the Acoustica creates a wav file, not an mp3 file, so maybe iTunes can’t determine gapless information on wav files – if anyone has any ideas on this, I would love to hear them

  18. myra says:

    I have nearly the same problems as you. I was using itunes 6 until I got an iPhone a few weeks ago and was forced to finally upgrade. My library is nearly 1TB (120,000+ files) and the gapless playback is by far the most annoying feature I’ve ever encountered. After putting it off, I finally decided to spend today loading each partition (about 50-100 gbs in each) and letting itunes do its business step by step, but still after deleting the “corrupt” files that freeze it, it just keeps doing it over and over and over and over again. It slows my Macbook Pro to a near halt while doing this so I can’t even use my computer while it’s “determining” things.

    I hate itunes 7 with a passion. All we’re asking is for a simple little button to disable this unnecessary feature. It’s been out for over a year and this complaint has been around since day one.

  19. Quikboy says:

    I use WMP 11. I find that it handles large libraries pretty well. And it doesn’t come with the bloat like iTunes does.

    And I also find the navigation pretty more straightforwards, and I just love the add-ons!

  20. Anonymous says:

    Hmm,I’ve been using mediamonkey gold for the past year and IMHO it handles my large digital audio library with the ease that I find itunes 7 severely lacks due to using SQLlite for its database structure. Also, the options available for its smartplaylist analogue (auto playlist) is more comprehensive, with the addition of five custom fields in the place of just one group field found in itunes. I found that an extremely useful feature in creating autoplaylists for reading, mood, etc. Finally, synching my ipod to my created autoplaylists is a snap.

    Here’s a screenshot of my config. from available scripts and skins:

  21. Anonymous says:

    Mediamonkey is Windows only.

    My large but not overwhelming collection (200G) has frequently had its config wiped out while iTunes evemtually hung and a force quit corrupted the database. Get some programmers who understand transactions, Apple.

  22. moodfood says:


    my library is 150GB it’s 15,000 tunes and lots of video content for the AppleTV. My music folder contains over 2500 sub folders, and is located on an external drive, it takes forever to open that puppy! I dread having to do maint work in that music folder! Even re-naming a folder causes it to refresh the whole list – which can take over 3 minutes! (I play a lot of solitaire while waiting!)

    I wish I could COLOR CODE a song in the database list view similar to the color coding in the Finder (mac) Then I could sort by the color code in addition to artist, title, etc.

    I just found out about separate libraries from this article – good reading, but not quite advanced enough for my needs, it has some good advice:

    iTunes definitely needs some new features that help manage large libraies!

  23. wesfest311 says:

    this is a great article, i know i am a year behind the last post but it helped. I have itunes 9 and an external hard drive with 65,000 tunes, and had never had a problem until i threw away my old dell desktop, now i have my itunes running well and smooth on my macbook… at least i finally got it working and can upgrade my iphone i have been putting this off for some time now.

    thanks for helping me turn off that damn gapless playback… it was easy just had to wait five min…