If you follow the instructions I offer for importing audiobooks on audio or MP3 CDs into iTunes, you end up with a single album with the title of the book, that is composed of sequentially numbered tracks, which make up the chapters or discs of the book. These separate tracks are kind of painful to manage on an iPod (the iPhone and iPod Touch make it a little easier), and are definitely not aesthetically pleasing when viewed in lists in iTunes. One of the most common questions I get from readers is how to merge all of the tracks into a single file, ideally with chapter marks at the right places.
This post isn’t a thorough tutorial on how to accomplish this, merely an expansion of the existing FAQ on the subject. There are all kinds of extra details you might want to consider if you’re as anal retentive as I am about getting all those details “right.” Still, this should give you most of what you would want to know.
For Windows Users
If you are using iTunes on Windows, there is a free tool called MP3 to iPod Audio Book Converter that will allow you to take a collection of MP3 tracks, and do two things:
- Merge the tracks into a single, long track.
- Convert the track from MP3 to AAC, and change the file type to make iTunes consider it an audiobook.
There are some limitations. First, you need to start with your audiobook tracks in MP3 format, not AAC format as my instructions recommend. Just choose the MP3 encoder when you set your iTunes import settings, instead of AAC, before you import your audiobooks. Second, the tool does not add chapter marks in between the tracks. It’s one long track. While iTunes and your iPod will save your place, allow you to speed up or slow down playback, and let you scrub through the track, there’s no navigating by chapters, i.e., clicking forward or backward to skip to the next chunk.
For Mac Users
If you are a Mac OS X user, you have two options, one free and very good, one $10 and outstanding. First the free Join Together AppleScript application put together by Doug Adams of Doug’s AppleScripts for iTunes.
I’ve written about Join Together previously, so I’ll keep this to the pluses and minuses. On the plus side:
- It works within iTunes (with a separate application for entering audiobook information).
- It handles AAC and MP3 files equally well, and turns out perfect audiobooks every time.
- It adds chapter marks at the track boundaries.
- It’s straightforward.
- It’s free (though donations are requested, and it’s well worth making a small contribution).
There are a few minuses:
- It’s free, so support can be limited.
- You still have to follow my long instructions to get your audiobook tracks imported from CDs in the first place (though you can simplify or omit some of the steps).
- Quirks and UI limitations, due to working as an AppleScript.
- Can’t handle multiple merges of tracks.
This last issue is the one that killed me, while importing the Harry Potter books. The trick is that I wanted to merge all of the disc tracks for a single chapter together, and then merge all of the chapters together to make a single book. But once the chapter tracks were merged, the chapter track would cause the merge of the entire book to fail. It seemed to be an underlying bug in QuickTime, but there was no way around it. Until I found…
The Recommended Solution: Audiobook Builder
I’ve written a complete review of Audiobook Builder, a $10 utility whose sole purpose is to create perfect audiobooks. So again, I’ll keep myself to plusses and minuses. On the plus side:
- Perfect audiobooks, every time.
- It handles the entire process, from importing CDs to adding to iTunes. You can skip all of my silly steps, and work entirely within Audiobook Builder. This is a huge timesaver. Even if you only work at Starbucks, after 3-4 books you’ll have saved enough time to pay for it.
- Handles discs and tracks that are in any format, and adds chapter marks at exactly the places you tell it. Also handles the merge-chapter-tracks-then-book-tracks problem easily.
- It automatically works around a few bugs known to exist in iPod firmware, related to very long tracks like audiobooks.
- My experiences with Splasm Software’s support have been exceptional.
The minuses are very minor:
- The user interface for grouping tracks together prior to the final merge can be confusing initially, and tricky even after you master it. This is only a problem if you’re being anal retentive (like me) about having your chapter marks at actual chapter boundaries in the book.
- There are a few features that I’d like to see added, to make things even easier.
That last “minus” really isn’t fair. Audiobook Builder comes very close to being the ideal tool for making audiobooks, so calling it out for not being perfect is really nitpicking.
Anyway, for more details on these three tools, follow the links. Until I get around to writing an excruciatingly detailed account of how I build my audiobooks, those are my last words on merging audiobook tracks.