I have a long commute and I used to listen to the radio while driving. After an hour of the same jabbering on the talk radio station, or the same morning zoo DJ on the music station, along with the same commercials playing every 5 minutes, I was frazzled. I got to work frustrated, and in the evening I got home frustrated. It got so bad that nobody wanted to talk to me for an hour or so after I got to work or got home.
So I started listening to audiobooks as a way to pass the time, with the added benefit of “reading” books that I would have never had the time for otherwise. I have listened to business books, the latest best sellers, nonfiction books, and the classics. Quite a bit is available from Arthur C. Clark to Zig Ziglar.
Many public libraries have audiobooks available for download, but most will have books-on-CD available for checkout. Many people like to listen to audiobooks while driving or working out, but a CD player is no longer the most convenient way to listen to an audiobook. More and more, your iPod or smartphone is the way you want to listen.
When I get a book-on-CD from the library, I want to digitize it and make it easy to manage the file so I can play it on my iPhone. If you just pop the discs into the computer and let iTunes rip them, you will end up with hundreds of tracks for a single book, and keeping them all organized and in the proper sequence will be challenging. Instead, I convert all the tracks to a single MP3 file, which makes it easy to manage and add to iTunes. One note before beginning: This process is most likely technically illegal. But if you are only using the MP3 files for your personal listening and not sharing them online it is highly unlikely you will get a knock on the door by someone with a badge.
Step 1 – Rip the discs
I use Express Rip to rip the tracks from the CDs. There is a setting in the app that allows you to copy the CD as one track, which is very handy for an audiobook. I also set it to rip at 64kbps since audiobooks are primarily spoken word and don’t need to be at a high bitrate; this also makes the final file size smaller, but it will still be hundreds of MB per book. It is free for home use (you have to constantly confirm that you are using it for home use when starting the app), but it won’t add track metadata without payment. For audiobooks, that isn’t a big deal for me. Available here: http://www.nch.com.au/rip/index.html
Once each disc is finished ripping, I rename the file in Windows Explorer to Disc01.mp3, Disc02.mp3, etc.
Step 2 – Check the files
To confirm that the MP3 files are good, I run them through mp3val. One note, mp3val will show a problem if there are no tags in the file. After you run the program once, it creates a .ini file with settings. Open the .ini file in Notepad and change the “IgnoreMissingTags=false” setting to “IgnoreMissingTags=true”. Available here: http://mp3val.sourceforge.net/
Step 3 – Merge the discs together
Once I confirmed all the MP3 files are good, I use MergeMp3 to combine the individual disc MP3 files to one large MP3 file. The app has a problem with merging extremely large numbers of files, so if you ripped each disc as individual tracks, merge those together first for each disc, then merge the discs together. Available here: http://www.shchuka.com/software/mergemp3/
Step 4 – Add metadata
I take the large MP3 file and add the tags with MP3tag. I usually add the following tags: artist (book author), title (short book title), album (long book title, usually including the book’s subtitle), year, track (always 1), and genre. If I feel ambitious, I will add the book summary to the Comment tag. I also try to find a book cover image and add that to the tags. Available here: http://www.mp3tag.de/
I also use MP3tag to rename the file with the format: %artist%-%year%-%title%.mp3
Step 5 – Add to iTunes
Lastly, I add the MP3 file as an audiobook in iTunes, following the directions here.
All of the software mentioned above is freeware or free for personal/home use. Some of the software has a bit of a learning curve, so take your time and read the documentation to get up to speed.
I prefer this method for the following reasons:
- Adding the books as audiobooks in iTunes lets me save my spot when listening on my iPhone. When I pause the track, it saves my place, even if I sync or reset my iPhone.
- Adding the books as audiobooks in iTunes lets me play the book at 2x speed. It takes about 5 minutes for your ear to get used to listening to the faster speed. After that, you don’t even notice it.
- I have a minimal number of actual MP3 files to manage. Managing hundreds of MP3 files for each book would be difficult, at best. With this method you end up with just one MP3 file per book.
- I always have my iPhone with me, so I just plug it in when I get in the car and I have the latest book ready to go.
File sizes can still be quite large, so make sure you have enough space on your hard drive and iPod or smartphone. How much space? I recently ripped a 6-CD book and it was 168 MB. I also ripped a 13-CD book and it was 441 MB. This is at 64 kbps/22,050 Hz.