Review: Audiobook Builder 1.0

by Michael Alderete on 3/14/2007 · 30 comments

Audiobook BuilderOver the course of importing dozens of audiobooks, I’ve used a variety of techniques and different tools to try to improve my workflow and the final product. And in the course of answering hundreds of reader questions, I’ve mentioned and even recommended a few of those tools. This is my first full on software review, and I’m inspired to do so by the quality of the tool: Audiobook Builder is awesome, and at $10 it’s also a bargain.

Audiobook Builder gets my rave review for three reasons:

  1. It’s easy to use
  2. It saves a lot of time
  3. The final product is superior

The only real “problem” with it is that it is for Mac OS X only.

Update: Audibook Builder was recently reviewed as a Mac Gem by Macworld, and received a 4½ mouse rating.

Easy to Use

If you’ve followed, or even read, my instructions for how to import Audio CD audiobooks into iTunes, you know that the process of importing a series of CDs which are all connected, and which need to be played back in strict order, is a cumbersome task that involves a lot of steps: disc swapping, settings changes, and fiddling with file extensions and iTunes meta data. It’s painful, and only the desire to have a good book on your iPod keeps you going.

Except for some set-and-forget options to configure the first time you use Audiobook Builder, the process of importing a new audiobook is a sequence of three steps, two of which are dead simple, and the “hard” one is straightforward.

Step 1Step 2Step 3

Audiobook Builder deals with all the complexities of audibooks for iTunes and the iPod behind the scenes. This means that it is easy to import audiobooks correctly, every time, and without painstaking attention to detail.

Saves Time

My manual process requires a few steps before and after importing a disc, which are repeated for each disc or track imported. This can take quite a while, because there is a wait of up to 10 minutes per disc while it’s being imported. The attention to detail required to get correct results (due to the finicky behavior of iTunes and the iPod with regards to audiobooks) means that it can be hard to multi-task while you’re doing it. So importing an audiobook from CDs, especially if it’s a long book, can take a fair amount of time. For me, a 10+ disc book is going to take 30-45 minutes of time, minimum. This adds up if you are importing books regularly, to feed a 2 hour daily commute.

With Audiobook Builder, there’s still the amount of time it takes to import and encode the audio tracks from the CDs; that remains constant. But most of the other tedious steps are eliminated, and so the amount of attention required drops by 90%. By comparison to the example above, the same audiobook takes me about 5-10 minutes of actual effort, most of which is looking for cover art on Amazon.com. That’s a huge difference for me.

Superior Results

But the real value of Audiobook Builder may be in the results. In contrast to my manual method, the books that come out of Audiobook Builder:

  • Are one or two continuous tracks, not a series of tracks, one for each disc in the audiobook.
  • Have chapter marks placed wherever you want them; by default, at the disc boundaries, i.e., about every hour or so.
  • Always appear in the Audiobook menu in iTunes and on the iPod.

The number one question readers ask me is How do I get an imported book to appear in the Audiobooks menu?, and problems with playback or list order are also frequent. Using Audiobook Builder pretty much eliminates all of those issues. And by reducing the number of tracks required for a single audiobook (down to just one for a 12-hour or shorter book), it makes organizing in iTunes far simpler, and finding and playing back on an iPod far easier.

Limitations

Although Audiobook Builder is terrific, it’s not (yet) perfect. In particular:

  • The window for organizing tracks into chapter groupings can be hard to use, until you understand it. I figured it out by making a bunch of mistakes. Unfortunately…
  • There is no Undo for mistakes you make when organizing tracks into chapters. Correcting a mistake can take a fair amount of work, up to and including starting over.
  • I would like an auto-feed-and-eject mode for adding discs, like iTunes provides for importing stacks of music CDs.
  • I would like more control over where to split long audiobooks; splitting at a fixed number of hours can leave you with one long part, and one very short part, when the book is not much longer than the part limit setting. (I expect this would be for advanced users only.)

With regard to the first two limitations, they sound like a big deal but they are not. Audiobook Builder’s default behavior and grouping is usually fine. It’s only when you want to obsessively get every chapter just so (hello Harry Potter fans!) that this can be a problem. I have only fiddled with 2-3 books so far, out of 10-12 that I’ve imported with Audiobook Builder, and only because I’m anal retentive particular about some things.

Recommendation

Obviously, I think that Audiobook Builder is an outstanding tool. Reading the support forum and exchanging email with Splasm Software, I understand that it will get even better, reducing or eliminating my caveats above. But even today, at version 1.0.6, Audiobook Builder is a terrific piece of software that is well worth your $10.

Let me be even more clear. You should definitely buy Audiobook Builder if:

  • You import audiobooks from CDs regularly (no matter where you get the audiobooks, library, Kitabe.com, etc.). I would define “regularly” as twice a month or more.
  • You value your time, and spending time in front of your Mac fussing with CDs and iTunes is not your idea of fun. (This is especially true if you bill by the hour, and spend time importing CDs instead of working. cough)
  • You’re anal retentive particular about the organization of your iTunes collection, especially your audiobooks.

If any of these are true about you, you should get Audiobook Builder. If all of them are true (welcome brother!), then today the clouds will part and the sun shine brightly down upon you. I.e., what are you waiting for? Go buy it now!

Summary

Audiobook Builder by Splasm Software.

Requirements

  • Mac OS X 10.4 or later
  • QuickTime 7 or later

Audiobook Builder is a universal binary and works on both PowerPC and Intel-based Macs. There is no Windows version, nor does Splasm Software have one planned.

Pricing

  • $9.95 for a single user license
  • $14.95 for a family pack

Disclaimer

I paid for my Audiobook Builder license, and I don’t get any referral fees or other kickbacks from Splasm Software. I just like the product, a lot.

(I do get affiliate payments for Audible.com and Amazon.com; but Audible.com could be seen as an alternative/competitor to Audiobook Builder.)

Jan March 16, 2007 at 4:38 pm

I just purchased Audiobook Builder and am wondering what setting you would recommend for audio for an audiobook. Low or normal?

Alderete March 16, 2007 at 9:25 pm

@Jan: Great question! I forgot to mention that I will be adding a set of instructions for use with Audiobook Builder. In them I will recommend a custom setting, but for now, either Normal or Low will work fine. The Normal setting results in higher quality than I recommend in “Optimal iTunes Import Settings”:/audiobooks/itunes/import-settings/, and the Low setting is slighlty lower. If you have sensitive ears, use Normal. If not, then Low will be fine (I used the equivalent myself for a while, before I got tired of the manual labor involved).

Lynne May 7, 2007 at 9:25 am

OMIGOD! This sounds like the perfect thing. However, I don’t have a Mac. :(

Do you think there’s a window version out there somewhere?

Thanks for such informative articles BTW. It was only after discovering this website/blog that I decided to go ahead and get an iPod Nano. I wanted to be able to listen to my already purchased audiobooks and I didn’t want to have to “re-buy” them.

Thanks again.

Alderete May 7, 2007 at 11:42 am

@Lynne: My wife and I tested a Windows tool called “Markable”:http://www.ipodsoft.com/site/pmwiki.php?n=markable.Homepage once, a long time ago. It was terrible, nothing at all like Audiobook Builder. Then again, maybe I just couldn’t figure out the (horrible) user interface. In any event, I know of no equivalents to Audiobook Builder on the Windows side of things. If you find one, please do let me know!

Rossy July 3, 2007 at 12:37 pm

Thanks for the review! I’ve used your manual process to download by audiobooks with great success.

One question though, do you still need to use the “make bookmarkable” AppleScript with this software or does it take care of that issue as well?

Alderete July 4, 2007 at 9:06 am

@Rossy: I’m sorry you found the review unclear on this point, but yes, Audiobook Builder takes care of every detail. You need no other tools, other than iTunes to load your iPod.

Nay August 7, 2007 at 5:34 pm

Thanks for all the info! I’ve got a ton of audiobooks on CDs and I’m just about to buy an iPod so I was doing a bit of research to make sure it would all work well together. I’ve got a [Windows system], so I won’t be able to use Audiobook Builder. However, I found the following website and was wondering if you’ve seen it before or have any quick thoughts about it: http://www.freeipodsoftware.com/

Alderete August 8, 2007 at 8:37 am

@Nay: I have seen that tool, which is called “MP3 to iPod Audio Book Converter.” I’ve been meaning to test it out, and post a review, like I did for Audiobook Builder, but time has been short (my “Honey Do” list is pretty long…). My initial impression is that it’s a terrific tool for Windows users, and will do a number of things that are currently cumbersome on Windows. When I update my instructions, I’ll probably include it in the Windows version.

However, it does appear to do less than Audiobook Builder, so for those who truly want to go nuts on making the perfect audiobooks, that’s still the better option. Things Audiobook Builder can do that other tools do not: Merge tracks into proper chapters, instead of just discs; Add chapter marks on the chapter boundaries; Add album and chapter artwork; Import CDs directly.

Frank Higgins August 19, 2007 at 6:40 pm

On your recommendation, I’ve invested in ABB. It is an awesomely simple and straightforward. I purchased the family edition so I might share with my family. Need to convert the lot to Mac first!

One question, am I safe in deleting the *m4b files left in the ABB folder? They appear to be duplicates of what is in iTunes.

BTW, I successfully imported and converted the 47 discs of “The Fiery Cross” by Diana Gabaldon. As I got this book on Inter-Library Loan, it would have been impossible to read the discs otherwise. Now, I easily pick up right where I left off, and no schlepping of the mountain of cd’s.

One other apparent benefit to converting cd’s into audiobook files - no skips! Either the disks have just been so good, or the conversion process filters these out, I don’t know. The end result is a smooth listening experience.

Best regards,

Frank

Alderete August 19, 2007 at 8:01 pm

@Frank Higgins: Once I’ve finished building a new audiobook, and I’ve verified that it has imported into iTunes, I simply delete the entire Audiobook Builder document that was created for the book. There’s no point in keeping it around, unless you want to go back and fiddle with settings, chapters, or other stuff, and then re-build the book. And if that’s the case, then you don’t want to delete the .m4b files inside the document, because that’s what Audiobook Builder uses to build the book tracks.

Jeanie September 25, 2007 at 4:37 am

Love your info on audiobooks! Thank you so much. I use them extensively with several of my kids who have struggled with reading assignments over the years. Ipod and audiobooks keep learning cool, if you know what I mean.

My question: I have several audiobooks that we would like to burn to cds for the car. Do you know if there is a way to break up some of the longer tracks so they will fit onto a standard cd? I appreciate any advice you can offer.

Gayle September 25, 2007 at 8:54 am

Thanks for the recommendation of Audiobook builder. It’s a great program that makes ripping audiobooks (from the library and Kitabe) so much easier. Now my new iPod nano contains a relatively short list of books rather than hundreds of individual files. Your blog contains so much information about using audiobooks that isn’t available anywhere else. Thanks again!

EmilyS January 6, 2008 at 7:21 pm

What a disappointing application. I have produced several AudioBooks and each one skips at about one hour, or if I try to fast forward. Now I read that this is a common problem, which Splasm blames on Apple.. which is darn stupid, since it’s an application that supposed to work on Apple IPods. Splasm never responded to my email

It’s cheap, but it doesnt work. I’m going to go back to having my audiobooks be “music” tracks. Though that’s stupid (stupid of Apple not to have a real bookmarking feature on iPods, unlike EVERY OTHER Mp3 player), at least I know it will behave consistently.

Alderete January 6, 2008 at 7:34 pm

@Emily: Sorry to hear you’re having troubles. I’ve imported several dozen books with Audiobook Builder, without any problem like you’ve described. Nor has my wife had any problems, when using it on her computer. And other correspondents have been quite excited to learn of and use the tool.

Indeed, this is the first I’ve heard of the specific issue you describe. So, with respect, perhaps the problem is not Audiobook Builder, but some other issue with your computer, or your technique…? In any event, the Splasm discussion boards are probably the place to take the question. Good luck!

samov June 4, 2008 at 12:09 pm

For Windows you can use “MP3 to iPod Audio Book Converter”. Google for it. Works perfectly. :) happy listening.

Alderete June 4, 2008 at 6:52 pm

@Samov: No need to Google for it, I’ve got a link and description for it in the post “How to join multiple tracks into a single audiobook file”:http://aldoblog.com/2008/01/how-to-join-multiple-tracks-into-a-single-audiobook-file/, which covers several such options. The MP3 to iPod Audiobook Converter tool appears to be quite good, but it does have limitations. Review the description on the linked-to page for more details.

Paul S. June 27, 2008 at 2:44 am

I have access to an iMac and am wondering if i could create a file on the Mac using ABB and transfer it to my windows machine to import into iTunes. BTW i want to use it for some language learning CD’s i have - I think it should still work?

Alderete June 27, 2008 at 8:30 am

@Paul S: Yes, absolutely, that will work with no problem. AAC files are completely cross-platform. Indeed, my wife and I used to swap audiobooks between my Mac and her PC all the time, until she switched to a Mac herself.

Helen Trombley August 20, 2008 at 4:37 pm

Why isn’t there going to be an audiobook builder for us PC users? Do you think someone will come up with one eventually?

Jerry January 16, 2009 at 1:21 pm

If you haven’t already posted my earlier praise of ABB you might want to hold off. I’m having stability problems with it (it freezes when I hit the Build AudioBook button). Also, on visiting the support blog I found tons of unanswered support questions. Not ready to slam it, but also not ready to endorse. Thanks

Jerry January 16, 2009 at 2:21 pm

Hmm, a bit premature on my previous post (again). I heard from Splasm (ABB builder). Long story but the apparent freeze-up is an artifact. After about 5 minutes in “freeze up” mode, the build completes as it should. I also don’t know the story behind the posts on the support site. Bottom line, definitely give this software a try.

John Wardale February 9, 2010 at 9:56 pm

Maybe this is from the newer version, but the Join and Split is the same as “UNDO” and I thought the chapter controls and Build options were very easy to figure out. It’s a GREAT program … well worth the $10!!

Jacki March 17, 2010 at 8:39 am

So I can’t use this if I don’t have a MAC, I have windows vista

Alderete March 17, 2010 at 9:11 am

@Jacki: That’s correct, but check out these other articles for Windows tools which may help you accomplish what you want:

http://aldoblog.com/2008/01/how-to-join-multiple-tracks-into-a-single-audiobook-file/ http://aldoblog.com/2008/05/another-audiobook-importing-tool-for-windows/

cheryl1961 June 24, 2010 at 6:23 am

I have used the product for a few months now and find it easy to use, however importing each approximately 1 hour CD takes a UBER long time - like sometimes almost 20-30 minutes.

Craig November 4, 2010 at 9:54 pm

I have a Windows computer. Audiobook Builder sounds awesome. Is there any program liek it for Windows computers?

Peter Norby December 23, 2010 at 10:41 pm

Maybe I’m weird, but Audiobook Builder seems like more work than iTunes. With iTunes, you get the track names from CDDB (sometimes useless, but more often than not somebody’s already done the work), you can use AppleScript shortcuts to do batch renames/etc. of your tracks. You can actually listen to the tracks to find out what they are so you can figure out where chapter boundaries are (because what’s the point of adding chapter marks if they just take you to arbitrary locations?).

Am I missing out on something here? Unless it suddenly does something magical, I think I’m going to stick with importing via iTunes, then only combining them in Audiobook Builder. I’m not sure what extensive prep work you found yourself needing to do, but I have a few hundred audio books imported into iTunes and haven’t had to do any song & dance to get them to play in order. Audiobook Builder seems like more work, due to the dearth of information it actually seems to have about the CDs/tracks (plus the pointless overhead of creating/deleting a project for every book).

-/\/

Alderete December 27, 2010 at 8:10 pm

@Peter: In my experience, except for books with devoted fans (think Harry Potter), the track names data that comes back from an Internet lookup is very frequently missing or useless, whether I use iTunes or something else (they all tie back to the same database from Gracenote). Audiobook Builder will do the same Internet-based lookup of track names that iTunes does; indeed, it basically uses iTunes to do it, so the results should always be the same. You can play the tracks in Audiobook Builder, too, just like in iTunes. In these regards, they are identical in effort.

The main difference between the two is when you want long, multi-hour audiobook tracks, the way Audible and the iTunes Store provide them. You cannot accomplish that in iTunes natively, and while Join Together (an iTunes add-on from Doug’s AppleScripts for iTunes) will do it some of the time, it’s not as reliable or flexible as Audiobook Builder.

If you want to import via iTunes, and then pop over to Audiobook Builder to combine tracks, that works too. Seems like more effort to me, I would rather do all the work in a single application, but if it works for you…

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