How to join multiple tracks into a single audiobook file

by Michael Alderete on 1/16/2008 · 67 comments

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.

MP3 to iPod Audio Book Converter

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.

Join Together

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

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.

{ 66 comments… read them below or add one }

Andree March 16, 2010 at 5:08 pm

Thank you! From the look of the comments you have made a lot of folks happy. I had a Mac. It died. So my Mac audiobook builder (or maker? I can never remember.) which I loved dearly died with it. Now my new audiobooks don’t play properly again after being downloaded to the iPod from Windows. They just plain STOP in midsentence and I have to pull over by the side of the road and try to figure out where I was. And it happens again and again. Exactly like what happened with my Mac and my audiobooks — before I bought the Mac software. So I downloaded your Windows suggestion and it is converting right now. I hope this Windows software works as well! Thank you again and again. (Why doesn’t Apple fix this audiobook problem anyhow??)

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lizzie May 23, 2010 at 2:11 pm

didnt read all the comments. but for mac there is also the freeware app “audiobook binder” http://bluezbox.com/audiobookbinder.html

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Graham October 9, 2010 at 12:05 pm

Windows Users try the freeware application Chapter & Verse at http://lodensoftware.com/chapter-and-verse/ I have been using it for the last 12 months and it works great.

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Peter from Oz October 26, 2010 at 3:18 am

I tend to record a lot of BBC radio plays, comedies and documentaries. I find it much easier to keep them in mp3 and to deineate them in iTunes and on my iPod as music rather than as audiobooks. The main reason for this is that I can then assign a genre to them which I can use to sort them on the iPod. I don’t think you can search for audiobooks by genre on an iPod.

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Alderete October 26, 2010 at 10:46 am

@Peter: You are correct that the iPod and iPhone only organize audiobooks by title, an aggravating limitation. At the very least by author would be extremely useful, and genre would help people who want to manage a lot of shorter works. And with iTunes 10 (and 9, I think) you can still use the File > Get Info panel to change the Options to skip when shuffling, and remember playback position, for all media kinds, so sticking with music doesn’t have that downside.

Something to consider (and I haven’t yet tried this myself), maybe instead of using a Media Kind of Music or Audiobook, perhaps you could change your items to Podcasts? Then you might be able to organize by show, which might give you similar options for grouping, etc. If you try it, let me know how it works!

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incassobureau December 8, 2010 at 12:40 pm

I use audiobinder, its a great program but i think it’s only for osx users.

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manonstreet January 23, 2011 at 4:37 pm
Sam Orchard May 13, 2011 at 2:24 pm

I generally use goldwave, but it’s such powerful software, it seems overkill for such a simple task. Will give some of these suggestions a go next time.

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Poey December 21, 2011 at 4:44 pm

Thanks for your post. I was looking high and low for something to join audio tracks together. Audiobook builder does the job. Easy to use.

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randy December 28, 2011 at 8:29 pm

i just use imovie

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James Curtis February 14, 2012 at 8:34 am

I just downloaded Audiobook Builder from the Mac App Store for $5.99. I was able to convert my old Harry Potter audiobooks that I had imported from CD’s into excellent audiobooks in about 10 minutes each (something that I’d been trying to do for several weeks now with various iTunes scripts). Thank you so much for sharing this app.

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Mark October 11, 2012 at 9:34 am

Just getting up to speed on OS X, itunes & using a shuffle (gift). Been using WXP for years with a Sansa Clip. You’re instructions are great! Really learned a lot as a beginner. I’m a big fan of audiobooks and just made do with WMP and lots of tracks. Thanks for taking the time to write this all out & post. I appreciate your efforts!

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lakemamaw April 22, 2013 at 8:06 am

I manage my audiobook downloads from CD by highlighting all the tracks and going to Get Info. Add to the Artist field “Author-” in front of Author’s (Artist) name and add to the Album field “Book-” in front of the Title of the Book (Album). When you access by Album all the “Book-” appear together. When you access by Artist all the “Author’-” appear together.

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Maggie May 19, 2013 at 7:56 pm

Thank you for this blog! I have been having all sorts of trouble with my switch from an iPod Touch to an iPod Classic and I think Audiobook Builder (now 5$) fixed them for me!

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