While most people use their iPod or MP3 player to listen to music, many
audiobook fans have discovered that these devices are perfect for getting
their daily literary fix. You can buy digital audiobooks from Audible.com
) or the iTunes Music Store, but if you already have audiobooks on CD,
it's a simple matter to rip them so you can use them on your favorite
Audiobooks don't need the sound fidelity that music does,
so they don't need to be encoded the same way. Also, it's much easier to
manage audiobooks if they are ripped as a few large files instead of lots
of small ones. Some simple techniques can help ensure that listening to
your audiobooks is easy and practical, and that you don't lose a chapter
along the way.
When ripping audiobooks, it's a good idea to change your encoding
settings. If you're used to ripping music CDs, you know that higher bit
rates make your music sound better. This is because the compression used
at low bit rates removes much of the detail, especially in the high and
low frequencies. But voices don't require anywhere near the 20- to
20,000-Hz frequency range that music does (that's why a telephone
conversation sounds acceptable at 300 Hz to 3,000 Hz). Since spoken-word
recordings are just voice, you can use very low bit rates and save space.
Digital audiobooks generally use a 32-Kbps bit rate. If you think this
isn't enough, you can set your encoder to a higher bit rate, but you won't
notice much difference in quality unless the audiobooks also contain
music. The advantage to using a low bit rate is that files will be much
smaller, and you'll be able to put long books even on a small-capacity MP3
player. (War and Peace, at this bit rate, only takes up about 800MB
for 60 hours of text.)
iTunes is one of the best programs for ripping audiobooks. It lets you
rip CDs at low bit rates (Windows Media Player, for example, won't let you
rip MP3s at less than 128 Kbps) and has other great features. If you've
got an iPod, you probably use iTunes already; if not, it's a free download
www.apple.com/itunes . Open iTunes Preferences (iTunes |
Preferences on Mac; Edit | Preferences in Windows), and
click on the Importing tab. Choose a format (AAC for iPod, MP3 for
other players), then select Custom from the Settings menu. Select
the bit rate you want to use, such as 64 Kbps, then close the preferences.
(Selecting 64 Kbps tells iTunes to use that bit rate for stereo files and
half that, or 32 Kbps, for mono files. Most audiobooks are in mono.)
iTunes has another nifty feature for ripping audiobooks, if you've
selected the AAC format: its Join Tracks function lets you rip an entire
CD as a single track. The advantage of doing this is that your audiobooks
will comprise fewer files and will be easier to manage. Unfortunately,
iTunes can't join MP3 files, so you'll have to use a different program,
such as Audacity (
http://audacity.sourceforge.net ), a free, open-source audio
To join the tracks of a CD using iTunes, insert the CD in your
computer. If iTunes is set to query the Gracenote CDDB automatically,
you'll see the CD in the Source list, and you'll see the track names, the
artist (in this case, either the author or narrator), the title and the
genre. If it doesn't check automatically, you can select Get CD Track
Names from the Advanced menu.
Make sure the tracks are sorted by track number on the CD: Click the
column header above the track numbers so that the arrow points up. Next,
select all the tracks—either by choosing Select All from the
Edit menu or by pressing Ctrl-A in Windows or Command-A on a Mac—then
select Join CD Tracks from the Advanced menu. iTunes
shows that the tracks are joined by displaying a sort of bracket along the
left of the track name lists.
All you need to do now is click the Import button to rip the CD
as a single track. For an audiobook that covers several CDs, simply do the
same for each CD.
If you've used AAC encoding, you can make your files bookmarkable.
Windows users can simply right-click on a track and select Show Song
File, then change the files' extensions from .m4a to .m4b. (If you
don't see extensions, select Tools | Folder Options, click
the View tab, and uncheck Hide Extensions.) If you're on a
Mac, use the AppleScript at
do the conversion.
No matter which format you use, you can now carry your audiobooks in
your pocket along with your music.
Kirk McElhearn is the author of several books, including
iTunes Garage. His blog, Kirkville (
) features articles about the iPod, iTunes, Mac OS X, and much more.