Although “Books On Tape” may be a relic of an earlier decade, CD-based audiobooks are still quite popular. But the popularity of the iPod (and other portable media players) has led to a common question from Macworld readers: How do I get my CD audiobooks onto my iPod so everything works correctly? By correctly , the reader usually means getting those tracks to show up under Audiobooks rather than Music, keeping the book’s chapters together, letting you navigate between chapters, and allowing bookmarking.
You can rip your audiobook CDs in iTunes and then spend some time massaging the resulting audio files into formats that work like audiobooks; in fact, we recently explained the process. But that’s a hassle if you’re an avid book listener. An easier—and faster—alternative is Splasm’s Audiobook Builder 1.0.7 ( ; single user, $10; family pack, $15). This handy utility automates the process from beginning to end. It also lets you create true audiobook files out of audio files already on your hard drive; for example, tracks you previously ripped from a CD.
When you first launch Audiobook Builder, you create a new Project—basically, a session for a particular book. (The benefit of this approach is that you can stop working on a Project at any time and come back to it later, and you can copy a conversion-in-progress to another Mac.) You choose the audio quality—Low, Normal, or High Quality, or custom settings—and then the format for the resulting audio files. For spoken-word audiobooks, Low Quality is likely adequate; if your audiobook includes music, Medium or High Quality is preferable. The default file format is “M4B (AAC, Bookmarkable),” which, as its name implies, allows iTunes and the iPod (any model since and including the iPod mini) to automatically bookmark your audiobook so you can pick up where you last stopped listening.
The actual process of converting an audiobook has three steps: proving information about the book; importing (and organizing, if necessary) the audio files; and building the book. The first step takes place in Audiobook Builder’s Cover screen (see the image above): you input the book’s title and author—the title is pre-filled with the name you gave the Project, but you can change it if you prefer—and then drag an image of the audiobook’s cover, if you have it, to the well in the middle of the window. (Unfortunately, you can’t copy the image—for example, from iTunes or Amazon.com—and paste it; you have to drop it in.) Cover art you provide here will appear as album art in iTunes and on your iPod.
Click the right-arrow button, or the Chapters button, to move to the Chapters screen. This is where you tell Audiobook Builder where to get the book’s audio. For a CD, you simply insert the CD in your Mac’s optical drive and then click on Import CD; an Import CD screen (see image at right) will appear with the CD name at the top and the tracks listed at the bottom. (Tip: If iTunes is running when you insert the CD, iTunes will automatically try to locate the CD name and track information from the Internet; Audiobook Builder will grab that information from iTunes and display it here.) If you want each track on the CD to be a separate chapter, choose Import As Individual Files.
After importing the CD, the Chapters screen will display the disc with its total time. Click the triangle to the left of the disc name to view its tracks; click the Show Details triangle to view information about each disc or track; here you can edit names, play any track, and even apply different artwork for each chapter.
One aspect of the CD-import process I found odd was that I expected each track to be imported as a separate chapter; instead, the CD is displayed as a single chapter with the CD’s tracks listed as sections of that chapter. To fix this, select the CD in the list and then click on the Split button. (It’s also possible to combine tracks/chapters here, as well as to rearrange them; however, unless you’ve imported a book’s CDs in the wrong order, or have some specific reason for editing the tracks, you can ignore these features.)
If an audiobook spans several CDs, place the next disc in your Mac and click on Import CD again; repeat the process until you’ve imported the entire book.
The Chapters screen also lets you import audio files already on your hard drive (for example, audiobook chapters downloaded from a Web site ) or files you’ve previously added to iTunes. For the former, click on Add Files and then choose the files to import; for the latter, select the files in iTunes and then click on Add iTunes in Audiobook Builder. Two things to note here. First, depending on how the files were stored on your drive or sorted in iTunes, you may need to rearrange them in Audiobook Builder to ensure they’re in the right order. Second, Audiobook Builder supports QuickTime-compatible audio files; if you have the appropriate QuickTime plug-ins (listed on the Splasm Web site), this even includes unprotected WMA, Ogg, FLAC, and Speex files. Unfortunately, Audible and protected iTunes audiobooks are unsupported (although those files should already be properly configured as audiobook files).
Click on the right-arrow button, or the Finish button, to move to the Finish screen. You’ll see a summary of information about the resulting audiobook file—title, author, length, chapters, and destination folder. (By default, Audiobook Builder adds the resulting file to a new Audiobook Builder playlist in iTunes and places the file in the iTunes Music Folder; you can change this behavior in Audiobook Builder’s preferences.) You can click on Cover or Chapters at any time to return to the respective screen and made edits. Assuming everything looks right, click on Build Audiobook.
After the process of building the file—which was surprisingly fast on my Mac Pro—is finished, the resulting audio file appears in iTunes as a true audiobook. You can then delete the original Project file from your Mac. Note that Audiobook Builder audio files appear in iTunes as “Protected” files; iTunes uses this description for all M4B files, but Audiobook Builder files actually aren’t protected and can be edited in any program that supports the AAC format.
One other note: If your audiobook is over 12 hours in length—or a smaller length, if you prefer, set via Audiobook Builder’s preferences—it will be split into multiple files, each under that length. This is because, according to Splasm, 12 hours approaches the maximum length of a track the iPod can play successfully.
Audiobook Builder is an excellent tool for getting your audiobooks into iTunes and onto your iPod. If you’re a regular listener of audiobooks, $10 is more than reasonable for a utility that will save you lots of time fiddling with file conversions, merges, and renamings. I’ve also found it useful—as you can see in the screenshots in this article—for converting children’s CDs to chaptered audio files. My daughter has several such CDs with nearly 70 short tracks each that I don’t want cluttering up my iPod; instead, I’ve got a single track for each CD that I can play as an audiobook when she wants to listen, and iTunes and my iPod remember where we left off each time.
Audiobook Builder 1.0.7 requires Mac OS X 10.4 or later and is a Universal binary.