Listening to audiobooks is a terrific way to while away a long commute or airline flight, and audiobooks are pleasant companions when you’re hanging out in your backyard, in a park, or on a beach. They’re also a great resource for people who, due to physical limitations, find reading books challenging.
Purchase an audiobook from the iTunes Store, and you’re in business. But if you get an audiobook from another source, you’ll frequently find only emptiness beneath the iPod’s Audiobooks entry. This is often because of some confusion surrounding audiobooks and their relationship with the iPod. For example, Audible.com sells audiobooks in a variety of formats—which one is right for your iPod? And how do you get audiobooks you rip from your own audio CDs to appear under the iPod’s Audiobooks heading? We’ll clear up the confusion by showing you the ins and outs of audiobooks and the iPod.
Play purchased audiobooks
The iTunes Store sells audiobooks in only one format—as protected AAC files, encoded in mono at a bit rate of 32 Kbps and a sample rate of 24kHz. This results in much lower fidelity than the iTunes Store’s music files have; Apple uses these settings because they create smaller—but still perfectly listenable—files.
Audible sells audiobooks in three formats that are compatible with iTunes, iPods, and Apple TVs—formats 2, 3, and 4. All three formats are protected by Audible’s digital rights management. In order to load these files into iTunes, you must authorize them with your Audible ID. To do so, double-click on a file and enter your Audible user name and password when iTunes prompts you. Audible lets you authorize up to three computers for audiobook playback.
Create iPod-compatible audiobooks
When you move audiobooks purchased from Audible and the iTunes Store to your iPod, they appear under the Audiobooks heading. But if you’ve ripped an audiobook from a CD or downloaded it from elsewhere, the program has no way of knowing that it’s an audiobook—therefore, the program treats it like a regular audio track and files it under Music in iTunes and on the iPod. But you can change that. The first step involves ripping files from a CD.
Rip Your CDs
There are a couple of ways to approach this. One way is to rip all the separate tracks on the CD as a single long track. To do so, launch iTunes, insert your audiobook CD, select all the tracks on it, and, from the Advanced menu, choose Join CD Tracks. This ensures that iTunes treats all the selected content on the CD as one track rather than a series of short tracks, which can be hard to manage. Repeat for any other CDs in the audiobook set.
The disadvantage of ripping separate tracks together is that you lose the ability to move between chapters (each file on the CD represents an audiobook chapter). If you want to navigate to separate chapters with your Click Wheel iPod, you’re better off ripping individual files and joining them afterward. To do so, simply insert the CD and click on Yes when a dialog box asks whether you’d like to import the CD into your iTunes library. (If you don’t see this option, select the CD in iTunes’ Source list and click on the Import CD button at the bottom of the iTunes window.)
Convert Your Files
Now that you have these files in iTunes, you need to convert them so they’ll appear in the iPod’s Audiobooks menu. While you can do this by hand—converting the files to AAC and then changing their file extensions from .m4a to .m4b—there are easier options.
The first is a combination of Doug Adams’s AppleScript Studio application
Join Together 5.1.2
(payment requested) and Apple’s free
Chapter Tool. Start by dragging the ChapterTool folder to your user folder’s Music folder. After ripping the files from the CD in iTunes (which is more reliable than using Join Together to do so), select them in iTunes and launch Join Together. You should then see your files in Join Together’s window. In the QuickTime Settings area, choose 32 kbps from the Data Rate pop-up menu, Mono from the Channels pop-up menu, and 22.050 kHz from the Sample Rate pop-up menu. If you’d rather not reencode your audio files—because you really can’t stand low-quality audio, for example, or your files are already encoded at a lower quality—and you just want them to appear in your iPod’s Audiobooks menu, select the Pass Through option. This works as long as all the files have the same bit rate.
You’ll also need to enable the .m4b Save As option. And if you want to maintain the ability to jump from one section of the book to another—to skip the opening prologue or dash to the end to find out whodunit, for example—enable the Use ChapterTool option. iTunes 7 will display a new Chapters menu when you play such a file, and the iPod will recognize its chapters as well.
Click on Proceed, and Join Together will join the files, convert them to a format compatible with the iPod’s Audiobooks settings, add chapter markers, and move the completed file to your iTunes library (where it will appear under Audiobooks in the Source list). Like downloaded audiobooks, your files will be of a lower audio quality than the music files in your iTunes library. That’s OK, for two reasons: Audiobook files can take up a load of memory unless you use space-saving encoder settings. And you don’t need pristine audio quality for speech, as opposed to music, where you can really hear the difference.
If even taking two steps—ripping your audiobook CDs and then encoding them for iPod compatibility—seems like too much work, Splasm Software’s
($10) is a worthwhile utility for constructing audiobooks from beginning to end. It can easily convert a series of audiobook files into a long file (complete with chapter markers), convert that file to an iPod audiobook format, and even add artwork to your audiobook and its chapters.
Navigation and playback
There’s an Audiobooks entry on every iPod that has a display, and all those models support bookmarking—meaning that when you return to an audiobook, it will start where you left off. But only Click Wheel iPods support a couple of special audiobook features. First, on these iPods, you can change playback speed. Second, only these models recognize chapters embedded in audiobook files and allow you to skip ahead or back a chapter with the iPod’s controls.
To play an audiobook at a faster or slower speed—for those times when you want to zip through a less interesting section or slow down to glean more information—go to the Audiobooks section in the iPod’s Settings menu. There you’ll see Slower, Normal, and Faster commands. If you choose Slower, your iPod will play the material more slowly while maintaining its original pitch. Faster also maintains the pitch but plays the material more quickly.
To navigate through chapters while the audiobook is playing, simply press the forward button to skip forward a chapter or the back button to move back a chapter.
The iPod shuffle features neither a display nor a true Click Wheel, so where does it fit in? To begin with, iTunes doesn’t automatically copy audiobooks to an iPod shuffle, even if they belong to a playlist you’ve designated for syncing. Instead, you must manually drag them in iTunes to the shuffle icon in the Source list. Also, while the iPod shuffle supports bookmarks, it doesn’t support chapters. Press the forward button, and you’ll move to the next file rather than the next chapter. So if you want to navigate through chapters on an iPod shuffle, don’t join the original CD tracks—keep them as separate files. Finally, when you’re playing an audiobook on a shuffle, be sure to switch the shuffle to the play-in-order mode, rather than the shuffle mode, so the audiobook plays in the proper order.
Senior Editor Christopher Breen is the author of
The iPod and iTunes Pocket Guide, second edition
(Peachpit Press, 2007).
Convert Audiobooks for the iPod: Doug Adams’s Join Together can easily join audiobook tracks and convert them for iPod use.Join Tracks: iTunes’ Join CD Tracks command lets you rip selected CD tracks as one long file.