Ask the iTunes Guy

Kirk McEl­hearn an­swers your iTunes ques­tions

iPad&iPhone user - - CONTENTS -

When is shuf­fle not shuf­fle? When it shuf­fles things you don’t want shuf­fled. iTunes’ shuf­fle fea­ture is great, but not when you want to lis­ten to au­dio­books. I ex­plain how to use shuf­fle and how to keep books in or­der. I also men­tion the se­cret com­mand to turn off iTunes’ hideous al­go­rithm-gen­er­ated colour scheme, and give a bit more de­tail about how Ap­ple Loss­less files can be smaller than the orig­i­nal mu­sic on CD.

Shuf­fle or not

Q: I have a mix of songs, al­bums and au­dio­books, all in playlists in my iTunes li­brary. I would like to have the playlists that con­tain mu­sic shuf­fle all their songs, and the au­dio­books play in chap­ter or­der. How­ever, when I switch shuf­fle on it af­fects all playlists, which ob­vi­ously plays au­dio­books out of or­der. It there any­way to set up iTunes so shuf­fle is on for some playlists and off for oth­ers?

A: The iTunes shuf­fle fea­ture is great for mu­sic, but, as you point out, not for au­dio­books. There are sev­eral ways you can con­trol shuf­fle in iTunes, and it’s good to know about these.

To turn shuf­fle on glob­ally for your li­brary, choose Con­trols > Shuf­fle > On, and start play­ing a track.

Or dou­ble-click an item to start play­ing it, and then click the shuf­fle icon in the iTunes LCD (that’s the dis­play at the top of the win­dow).

You can shuf­fle a playlist by click­ing the crossed-ar­rows icon in the playlist header.

And you can start shuf­fling any item in the side­bar – mu­sic li­brary view, playlist, and so on, by right-click­ing and choos­ing Shuf­fle.

In your sit­u­a­tion, there’s an easy so­lu­tion to pre­vent your au­dio­books from shuf­fling. Se­lect all the tracks of one of your au­dio­books, press Cmd-I, and then click the Op­tions tab. Check Skip when Shuf­fling, and iTunes will ig­nore the tracks when you’re play­ing all your con­tent in shuf­fle mode. So you could do this for all your au­dio­books (you can se­lect them all and make the change with a sin­gle click), and still leave shuf­fle on for your mu­sic.

Colour un­bal­ance

Q: Re­cent iTunes ver­sions have a black back­ground on the top por­tion of the win­dow, so the song ti­tles are im­pos­si­ble to read. Is there some way to change that?

A: This has been an iTunes ‘fea­ture’ for quite a while (since iTunes 11), and it was en­hanced a bit when iTunes 12 was re­leased last year. An al­go­rithm in iTunes uses the dom­i­nant colours from the al­bum art­work of the se­lected al­bum, or of the tracks in a playlist, to choose a colour scheme.

Un­for­tu­nately, this al­go­rithm seems like it was de­signed by an in­tern, and doesn’t take into ac­count the lack of con­trast be­tween pale coloured fonts and dark back­grounds. It also ig­nores the fact that many peo­ple are colour-blind, and have even more trou­ble view­ing con­tent like this.

For­tu­nately, you can turn this ‘fea­ture’ off in iTunes’ Gen­eral pref­er­ences. Uncheck the Views set­ting of Use cus­tom colours for open al­bums, movies, and so on, and you’ll have white text on a black back­ground. You won’t see it change im­me­di­ately on the se­lected al­bum or playlist; click an­other item for the change to show up.

Is Ap­ple Loss­less truly loss­less?

Q: Can you ex­plain how a CD track that’s 1,411kb/s ends up with only 767kb/s as an Ap­ple Loss­less?

A: The reader who sent in this ques­tion asks some­thing that a lot of peo­ple won­der about. CDs con­tain PCM (pulse code mo­du­la­tion) au­dio at 1,411kb/s, so it seems counter-in­tu­itive that a com­pressed file could still re­tain the same qual­ity.

Loss­less com­pres­sion for au­dio files al­lows you to take an orig­i­nal mu­sic file – on a CD, for ex­am­ple – and shrink it to save space, yet re­tain the same qual­ity. It’s not as small as a lossy com­pressed file, but when you play it back, the file is de­com­pressed on the fly, and the re­sult­ing data is ex­actly the same as the orig­i­nal. This is sim­i­lar to the way a Zip file of a Word doc­u­ment con­tain­ing the text of Moby Dick has all the same words when it’s un­com­pressed.

Note that the fi­nal bit rate of an Ap­ple Loss­less file (or any other loss­less file) is an aver­age of an en­tire track, and that bit rate can vary greatly. Here are some ex­am­ples of Ap­ple Loss­less file bit rates in my iTunes li­brary.

Shuf­fle just the con­tents of a playlist by click­ing its shuf­fle icon

This is an ex­treme ex­am­ple of how this colour al­go­rithm goes wrong, but it’s not that un­com­mon

All these files are in Ap­ple Loss­less for­mat, but you can see that the bit rate varies greatly ac­cord­ing to the den­sity and vol­ume of the mu­sic

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