Over the last year or two I gradually made the purchasing switch from CDs to downloads. Mp3s sound good enough for me, the iPod is now central to my listening, downloads are cheaper than CDs and cut out the chore of ripping, and I like instantaneous buying.
But a fly in the ointment has now made me go back to buying and ripping CDs: the unreliability of gapless playback. It was the lack of gapless playback that kept me from buying an iPod for several years; but I've now found that an unacceptable number of continuous-music downloads will not play without infuriating glitches between tracks – either gaps, dips in volume, or clicks. I've had this experience with downloads from the iTunes store, Amazon.co.uk, and now Play.com; the glitches occur in several different versions of iTunes, on several computers, on my iPod classic, and in other players such as VLC.
The non-gapless issue appears only in certain albums, and I suspect that the problems lie in the files provided by the record companies. I first found the problem with Solti's Tannhäuser from the iTunes store; for comparison I downloaded two consecutive tracks of the same recording from Amazon, and they had the same glitch problem. Another non-gapless album from iTunes is Schoenberg's 5 Pieces by Kubelik (although the gaps are less distracting as they occur in stretches of 1950s tape hiss). Most recently I downloaded from Play.com the Chandos King Priam, which plays with really nasty gaps. Whereas iTunes have eventually given me refunds for non-gapless albums, Play.com have lived down to their appalling customer service reputation, promising refunds which are never made.
I'd be grateful to learn if anyone has had experiences similar to mine.