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Converting CDs to iTunes Audiobooks

revised 25 Jun 2012

Copyright © 2006–2013 by Stan Brown, Oak Road Systems

Summary:

You can download audiobooks for iPod from the iTunes Music Store and other sources, but what about audiobooks you already have on CD? If you simply import the CDs, iTunes will treat the tracks as “songs” and you won’t get the audiobook features. I’ve seen plenty of instructions to convert MP3 files to audiobooks, but little about converting CDs.

This page tells you how to create audiobooks from your CDs, using just iTunes 6 or higher and free software. In brief, you first import your CDs as big AAC files. Then you either merge the imported files into a book with chapter marks, or reclassify the “songs” from your audiobook CDs as Audiobooks in the iTunes library. Either way, you’ll have full bookmarking, immunity from shuffle, and the ability to play faster or slower.

Contents:
See also:

What Difference Does It Make?

iTunes and iPod treat audiobooks differently from other audio files in these ways:

When you download an audiobook from the Apple music store or other sources, it’s automatically set with these features. But what if you have an audiobook on CD? It’s easier to manage one file for an audiobook than a group of files, and free software is available to merge audiobook files.

Even without special software, you can get almost all the features of a “real” audiobook: bookmarking, immunity from shuffle, the special menu entry—everything, in fact, except the chapter stops.

Why not just use the iTunes settings Get Info » Options » Remember playback position and Skip when shuffling? Two reasons: you can’t multiple select and access those settings, and even if you set them laboriously one “song” at a time, they still don’t appear in the Audiobooks menu in iTunes or iPod.


Step 1. Import CDs

What if you already have MP3 files? You’ll notice that this section is titled Import CDs. If you’ve got the CDs, you’ll get best quality by importing them fresh. The reason is that MP3 and MP4 use different compression schemes. Converting from one to another will not give as good results as importing directly from CD.

But that’s not the whole story. While it’s true mathematically that converting MP3 to MP4 loses information, you may or may not be able to hear a difference in sound after converting MP3 to MP4, particularly at 64 Kbps. If you have MP3 files, you can experiment with importing them into your iTunes library as 64 Kbps AAC files and see if they sound acceptable. If so, proceed with Step 3.

1a. Set Import Preference to AAC 64 Kbps Mono

For more details, see Import Settings for Speech.

1b. Join Tracks within a Chapter

Audiobook CDs are usually divided into tracks that are much shorter than the chapters. You want to join all tracks for each chapter into a single “song”, unless you really want the ability to play smaller units by themselves. The tradeoff is that the smaller you make your recorded divisions, the more scrolling you’ll have to do on iPod to play a particular passage.

Here’s the process:

  1. Insert the CD and wait for iTunes to display its contents.
  2. Verify that the display is sorted by track number (the left-hand column).
  3. Identify the starting and ending track of each chapter. (If you don’t have a printed track listing, you can double-click on any track to play it.)
  4. Highlight all the tracks of a given chapter by clicking on the first one and then shift-clicking on the last. Select the menu items Advanced » Join Tracks.
  5. Repeat for each additional chapter or partial chapter.

If there are any partial chapters—a continued chapter at the start of the CD or an unfinished chapter at the end of the CD—join all the tracks of the partial chapter in the same way.

If you plan to use Join Together, Chapter and Verse, or a similar product to merge the entire book into one file, then there’s no need to join any tracks. You can insert chapter markers before saving the complete book.

1c. Tag the Tracks

Elsewhere, I’ve talked about tagging CD tracks to work effectively with an iTunes library. This section lists the fields that matter for audiobooks.

Common Tags for all Tracks on the CD

Select all tracks (Ctrl-A in Windows, Command-A on Mac) and edit these tags:

Name Tag for Chapter Titles

Don’t waste time with a Name tag for every track on the CD. Give just the first track of every chapter a Name tag, since the other tracks will lose their names during import anyway.

How you name the chapters depends to some extent on whether you’re planning to merge the audiobook into a single file, and which iPod you have.

1d. Import the Chapters

Click the Import CD button. When iTunes finishes importing, eject the CD. If this is the last or only CD, go to Step 2.

Repeat steps 1b through 1d for each additional CD in the book.

Step 2. Reset Importing Preferences

At this point, you have your importing preferences set for audiobooks. To avoid a nasty surprise the next time you import a music CD, you might want to change your settings back now. My recommendations are here.


Step 3. Merge All Chapters into a Book

Now that you have the CDs in iTunes, use some handy free software to merge the files into one and insert chapter marks. (In earlier versions of this Web page I put each chapter in its own file, just making the best of the lack of Windows software in 2006 to merge AAC files. If you still prefer to keep chapters as individual files, please see the Appendix below.)

For Windows users, I strongly recommend Chapter and Verse, a freeware program by Jeff Loden. “C&V” merges AAC or protected AAC files, which you can drag and drop directly from iTunes or from Windows Explorer. It imports metadata for the merged file and optionally for the chapter names. (iPod 5G and earlier iPods can’t show chapter names, but iTunes does and iPod Classic does. When you select an audiobook file that contains chapters, iPod Classic even displays all the chapter titles as a menu and lets you jump right to a particular chapter.) C&V can even add the final book to your iTunes library.

The author clearly put a lot of thought into the user interface, and I have also found him to be highly responsive to questions and problem reports. (The problems I reported were not problems in Chapter and Verse, but errors in files created in an earlier version of iTunes. The latest version of C&V compensates for those iTunes errors in imported files.)

David Schlachter offers a suggestion for Mac users: Join Together by Doug Adams. According to the Web site, “Join Together automates the process of joining the files of selected iTunes tracks [into] single AAC Music or Audiobook file/track. Optionally, you can then create a ‘chapterized’ audio file of the exported AAC file with pointers to the ... tracks.”

Ellen Morton reports “sweet” success with a program called Audiobook Builder for her Mac with Snow Leopard.

If you can’t use the above programs, you might find some help in this iLounge Forums thread: Adding Chapters to Audiobook Files.


Appendix: If You Don’t Merge the Audiobook Files

Possibly you prefer not to merge your audiobook chapter and partial-chapter files into one file for the whole book. In that case, iTunes 10 will let you change individual “songs” to audiobooks, as follows:

  1. Right-click on the song listed in iTunes and select Get Info.
  2. On the Options tab, change Media Kind to Audiobook.
  3. Click OK. iTunes will move this item from the Music section of your Library to the Audiobooks section, but the name and location of the actual file won’t change.

I’m indebted to correspondent Eric Hansen for pointing out this new capability of iTunes.


What’s New?


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