How to join multiple tracks into a single audiobook file

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.

68 thoughts on “How to join multiple tracks into a single audiobook file”

  1. Wow! Just tried BOTH programs … the “free” one technically “worked” but it was slow and has no progress bars.

    Building multi-hour books takes time, and AB-Builder is faster and chimes when done … it’s just VERY EASY to use!

    AudioBook builder is *SO* worth the $10, that I purchased it to finish my “test” project … download AudioBook Builder … the demo limits you to about 20 minute build-output, so you can see everything except the final (full-length) output.

  2. For PC I’ve just been trying Goldwave and it has a file merge tool that merges m4a (and loads of other formats) very nicely indeed. You get a good trial period with full functionality. Good editing facilities as well. Just make sure you select All Files from the file type when you Add Files in the File Merger Tool (otherwise it doesn’t see the .m4a files). Quicktime has to be installed but if you’re using itunes it probably already is. Well worth a look.

  3. I used Audiobook Builder a while ago and found it excellent. Takes time to convert the files though. My saviour here was Audiobook Maker. It is not as sofisticated as Builder, but it does not re-encode the files if you tell it to use the same format as the input files.

    The caveat is that it chokes on some files and hangs up; no audiobook for you. It is free though, and quick. Worth the try before any of the other options (I found Join Together to be slow and unreliable).

    1. @Ben: Audiobook Builder will “pass through” your files, if your output settings match the encoding of your files. That is, if the shortcut that Audiobook Maker is taking is possible, it will use it, but your output settings will override pass through, if they are different from the input files. In other words, you always get optimal output from Audiobook Builder, at the (sometimes) expense of encoding time. (And really, with modern hardware the time to transcode even a 12-hour audiobook isn’t too bad, maybe 15 minutes…)

  4. Why isn’t there a software for windows which does everything that audiobook builder does??

    this entire process is so tedious..i could pay someone to write me a prog. like that

  5. I can get the tracks joined but lose the book’s description so I can’t view it on my iPod. I have tried copying the synopsis to LYRICS, VIDEO, and COMMENTS. Any suggestions?

  6. Yes, this is an old post, but I found it while looking for an .m4b merger. For anyone else still looking for something to join .m4b (or .m4a) files in Windows without doing unnecessary conversion, Boilsoft Video Joiner (google it for link) seems to do the trick. I had issues with YAMB similar to other commenters. Boilsoft’s program doesn’t do any re-encoding, is easier to use than YAMB (which I found unnecessarily complicated) and the files ran perfectly in iTunes and on my 2G iPod nano.

    The downside is that it is shareware with a 10 day trial, and the $30 price tag seems kind of steep for what it does. Also, if you have chapters in your .m4b files, those will be lost in the merge.

  7. Wow thank you so much! My iTunes has been clogged up with audiobook tracks for a year now. Now I can finally put my iPod on shuffle without having to skip tracks every two songs because its in the middle of an audio book! Thanks!

  8. Why, when I import my audiobook CD, the length of the tracks are correct but hen when I eject the disk and the tracks are moved (the screen changes) to my music library, time is deleted from some tracks. For example a 3:39 minute track becomes :25.

  9. I have using my IPod for several years and always have 8 to 10 books on it with probably another 40 titles in my PC waiting to be heard. My daughter (with a masters in Creative Writing) says that I may not be the “best read” person she knows but I am definitely the “best heard” person she knows.

    I have been having problems lately with ITunes in the joining of tracks. I have always used your advice in “Joining Tracks” but lately (after a download of the latest ITunes software) the “Joining Tracks” option is always “greyed out”.

    I have taken pains to ensure that the tracks are sorted correctly and that I have selected the track names but nothing seems to work.

    Is there something new going on here? Have others had the same problem?

  10. I tried the mp3 to ipod audiobook converter and it has only successfully converted one of the four books i am attempting. Any suggestions for that problem?

  11. Just thought I’d let you know that I tried JoinTogether after reading this, and I was able to stitch tracks from two different CDs together (disabling “Chapterize”), then stitched that track into the total audiobook (with “Chapterize”) and it worked fine! Not sure if they fixed QuickTime or Join Together, but whichever it was this function now seems to work.

  12. Thanks for the advice here. One quibble, though: I have to say that your criticism of Markable is not shared by me. I am a Windows user, and I tried out Markable since I thought it was the only option I had to approximate what Audiobook Builder can do on a Mac. I was pleasantly surprised to find that Markable worked terrific . . . there is also an accompanying tool called Chapter Master that enables perfect editing/creation of chapters within the newly created audiobook. I just made three audiobooks (The Hobbit and both Charlie and the Chocolate Factory books), and they came out perfect. They are bookmarkable on my iPod touch and I can view and play each chapter in the book.

    The only downside I can say about Markable is that it appears to be the costliest option for audiobook creation and editing. I bought both Markable and Chapter Master for a combined cost of $25. But, considering that I have been looking for these kinds of features for years, I didn’t mind paying for them.

  13. I’m an old duffer that listens to nothing but audio books, 8 hrs a day, 5 days a week, sometimes 6 or 7 with overtime. I listened to so much music, too loud, all my life, now almost can’t hear nuttin. My Sony cd player died, cheaper to replace than fix. . .stupid to replace with same media device? That’s what the kids said when they saw me looking a CD players at WallyWorld. Just downloaded iTunes 8, have no clue what I’m doing. . .but stumbled through converting 10 CD audio book I checked out from library to iTunes 8 and downloaded to my brandy new refurbished 4k Nano. Followed your steps for iTunes 7, close enough for government work. Only about 3 steps involved I later found out. This time a 15 CD audio book. Load CD as AAC, Select all, join tracks, submit name, (added disk number to artist field to retain sequence), DONE. I leave it in my Music folder. All I’m interested in listening to is Mystery Books while I Graveyard Shift Guard. I carry it in my shirt pocket, better than carrying CD player in pants pocket. My fear is I’ll prolly lose the durn thing.

  14. @David: Yes, MarkAble has been revised. I was checking out the new version a couple weeks ago. It has risen from terrible, to being solidly not-very-good. It will work if you just want a chapter per CD, or per time block, but compared to Audiobook Builder on the Mac, it’s pretty limited. I just worked my way through the entire Harry Potter series, importing all of the CDs and grouping into the exact chapters, with chapter artwork, etc., using Audiobook Builder; this same process is not possible to achieve with MarkAble, as you cannot create arbitrary groupings of the imported tracks.

    For Windows users, I recommend using iTunes to import the CDs as grouped tracks, and in MP3 format, and then using MP3 to iPod Audio Book Converter to merge the tracks into a single audiobook. I’m woefully behind on writing this up, but I think it’s easier than using MarkAble, which adds a lot of complexity, without adding much in the way of flexibility.

  15. There are a couple of mentions of MarkAble here. Readers may like to know that it has been completely redesigned and re-written, and now indeed merges AAC files and places chapter stops at the original file or track boundaries (or alternatively at given time intervals eg every 15 minutes).

  16. I have loaded a number of CD Audiobooks following your instructions with no problems. Just recently I have found that the join CD although having shown up and working on iTunes when playing on the iPOD is playing one track at a time. Have I missed something?

  17. For some reason the “join CD tracks” under the Advanced menu is grayed out; is this something new in iTunes 8? It is still there, but I cannot activate it to join tracks on a CD. Thanks for any help you can offer.

  18. Thanks so much Alderete! After I posted I realized I hadn’t mentioned that I’m using the iPod Touch. But you figured it out anyway! I’m glad that I’m not as stupid (or technically challenged) as I sometimes think I am.

    I did get that audiobook builder software you mentioned and that should eliminate some of the problems, as it consolidates some of those tracks into one. The tip with the playlist is also a great one! Thank you! And other than that I’ll wait and hope for the next firmware update!

  19. @Steve: On older iPods, there is a software defect that causes this kind of behavior. I haven’t verified if it still happens on newer iPods, but I just got a 4G iPod Nano to test with, so we’ll see.

    But just in case your specific problem is not running into the software defect, do be sure to do a Get Info on the track that has the problem and make sure that in Options you’re seeing that the Remember Playback Position option is CHECKED. That’s another possibility, worth verifying.

  20. @Astrid: You have either an iPhone or iPod Touch; this is a known defect in the current version of the firmware for these two devices. Apple is aware of the issue, and I’m hopeful it’ll be fixed in the next firmware release.

    Until then, the only answer is to keep your list of non-Audible audiobooks under 20. (But you can load an unlimited number of audiobooks, they’re not affected by the defect.) You can also create a playlist of your audiobooks, and access them through the Playlists section, rather than the Audiobooks section. It’s only the Audiobooks section that crashes the iPod player when there’s more than 19 audiobooks on the device. HTH!

  21. Alderete – Thank you so much! I followed all your steps and now have a couple of books on my ipod. I ran into a small problem. One of my books was 17 discs – so I now have 17 tracks for it in audiobooks. And I can import 2 more tracks from a different book – 19 tracks total (I played around with various variations). If I try to sync more than 19 my audiobook menu on the ipod will just not show up. It’ll try to go in but then reverts back to the home screen. I tunes says it’s synced, but I can’t open the audiobooks menu on the ipod. Space is definitely not an issue. I got 14 GB of free space. Any ideas?

  22. Thanks, this works great but some times my iPod won’t keep my bookmarks. It’s fine until I connect to my computer with my iPod and I’m in the middle of a book. When I disconnect I go back to the book I was listening to and it shows the time on the bottom of the screen as usual then resets to 0:00. Any ideas here?

  23. @AOV: Yes, it’s true that conversion from one lossy encoding format to another entails a drop in audio quality. However, if you have control over the bitrate of the MP3 files, you can start with higher quality tracks (e.g., 64 kbps or greater). Then when you convert to AAC optimized for spoken word audiobooks (e.g., 32 kbps or so), you’re losing more to the downsampling than to re-encoding. That is to say, it shouldn’t make any difference. Another thing to keep in mind is that spoken word recordings are less affected by conversions from lossy to lossy formats.

    So while it’s ideal to only convert to a lossy format once, the loss of quality from an extra conversion can often be minimal, or inaudible.

  24. The MP3 to iPod Audio Book Converter for Windows, from what I understand, will merge multiple MP3 files into AAC audio with the .m4b file extension. This is encoding from lossy to lossy, which results of quality loss.

  25. I followed these instructions to the letter. At the end of this process, the books have an exclaimation mark and itunes doesn’t recognize the source.

    Perhaps the fault lies in the initial steps I am taking:

    (I have zip mp3 files from Librovox in download folder)

    I make a folder in itunes/music, extract to that destination, then I convert to aac in itunes, delete the mp3 files, drag the aac files to the desktop and convert to m4b and delete the aac copies still in itunes, then I drag the m4b files into the itunes library, where they show up in audiobooks but don’t play.

    I thought maybe extracting them initially in itunes might be the problem, so I extracted them somewhere else and dragged them into itunes to start the process (convert the mp3s to aac, etc.), but then they played, but only while the files remained on the desktop – if I removed them, I got the exclaimation mark.

    By the way, if you don’t want to help me any further, I fully understand…it is just that I get no feedback from any Apple forums or iLounge…is there anywhere else I can go for guidence?

  26. Thanks for your clarifications, I followed your instructions but it does not work the way you suggested. (I assume that I am at fault here, but I followed all your instructions)

    You wrote:
    July 30th, 2008 at 1:59 pm
    @mike: Let me try to be more clear how what to do here:

    1. After you have properly imported/encoded your audiobook tracks into iTunes (see my various instructions documents), select the tracks in the iTunes Library window and drag them to your Desktop (or a folder, or wherever). This will copy the tracks out of iTunes.

    2. Delete the tracks from iTunes. When asked about moving them to the trash, do so.

    3. If you have not already changed the file extensions of the tracks to .m4b, do so now, on the copies on the desktop.

    4. Drag the tracks from the desktop into the iTunes Library window. This will re-add the books to iTunes. Once they have been copied back into iTunes, you can delete the copies of the tracks on your desktop.

    After joining and importing to aac, I went to windows and changed the file extensions, then followed above procedure but when I dragged them back into itunes they didn’t recognize them and same old ! problem. However, when I changed the extensions while they were on the desktop, then followed above instructions it seemed to do the trick – they played in itunes under audiobooks.

    It all went well up until point 4 and your last sentence: when I deleted the files from the desktop as you instructed and then went back to play the files in itunes it couldn’t find the file and it gave the old ! exclaimation mark!

    I got bold and took some initiative: I retrieved them from the recycle bin and placed them in the itunes music folder in windows (I can’t find an audiobook file/folder in itunes in windows) but that hasn’t helped.

    Were your instructions correct? I can’t work out how I still stuffed this up.

  27. @Ravi: I think you’re making the process a lot more complicated than it needs to be. You can simplify it to just:

    1. Use iTunes to convert your AAC tracks to MP3 tracks.
    2. Use the tool I suggested above, MP3 to iPod Audio Book Converter, to merge the new MP3 tracks and create an audiobook.

    Did you try doing that, before coming up with what appears to me to be a much more complicated process?

  28. Arrgh, sorry it doesn’t merge the tracks. So you need to use a freeware mp3 merge tool to join the tracks, which is yet another step in the process (sigh).

    So the best I can do is:
    use the tool to merge all your m4a files into a smaller mp3 files.
    use a freeware mp3 merge tool to merge all the mp3 files
    re-import the new merged mp3 file into itunes as an m4a file
    rename it as an m4b file.

  29. Update, I think I have it.

    I found a free tool here:

    that converts M4a files to MP3 and merges them at the same time.

    The tool also allows you to drop the bitrate (so you can make smaller files) – I find that a bitrate of about 40 or so is fine for audiobooks.

    so the process is:
    use the tool to merge all your m4a files into a smaller mp3 file.
    re-import the new merged file into itunes as an m4a file
    rename it as an m4b file.

    Not ideal and a little

  30. I’ve been struggling with this too. I have a load of single .aac chapters already in my itunes library and I want to join them. Both items of software which have been mentioned above (audiobook maker and iTunesJoin) will only run on a Mac – and I use a PC.

    Through another blog I found a piece of joining software called YAMB, which is a free. YAMB accepts .aac files, joins them and converts them into mp4 format. The problem was that when I did a test run and played the mp4 file, it sounded like all the tracks were layered on top of each other and played all at once.

    – back to the drawing board!

  31. It was great finding your blog on audiobooks & iTunes; Good to know I wasn’t the only one who ran up against the problems involved in importing an audiobook.

    I found a particularly useful tool that solves just about any problem you would run across: iTunesJoin, which can be found at:

    $10 shareware, and worth every penny, in my opinion. It runs as a script, directly through iTunes, and has numerous options for joining AAC files. I think the neatest feature is that during the merging, iTunesJoin will take each track title, and use that as a chapter title in the merged track.

    The only drawback that I’ve found using iTunesJoin is that the merging process is extremely slow. It definitely not your typical five minute project.

  32. @Derek: When I look up the .cda file extension, it’s listed as a shortcut file, without any audio content. So I am guessing that you’re not looking at a commercial CD, but something that someone burned for you? You’ll have to return to them, and get them to put the real audio files on the disc before you’ll be able to import them into iTunes. The .cda files themselves won’t be usable with any tool.

  33. This is an interesting idea for conversion but I found when trying to use the first recommended tool (“If you follow the instructions I offer for importing audiobooks on audio or MP3 CDs into iTunes”), that in fact it was not useful because the files on the audio CD are .cda files so nothing could be done.

  34. @Dan: Yes, there are limits. I believe the fundamental limits are due to underlying limits in the QuickTime format, having to do with a maximum number of samples in one file. This means that, at the lower sample rate that I recommend in my Optimal iTunes Import Settings for Audiobooks article, an audiobook track can be longer than if you imported it at the default, much higher sample rate.

    However, there are also defects in software/firmware on the iPod, which limit track lengths to quite a bit less than the theoretical maximum. The longest tracks in my collection are just under 17 hours long.

    But I wouldn’t even go that far these days. Audiobook Builder limits you to 12 hour tracks, and will automatically split up a longer book into tracks no longer than that. The developers of Audiobook Builder have done a lot more technical research than I have on the practical limits in length, and so I trust that’s the right maximum length. So your 40 hour book should be split across four tracks.

    And really, that’s a good idea anyway. That way as you finish a part of the book, you can remove that section from your iPod, saving space for other books. If it was one huge track, you wouldn’t be able reclaim the space until the very last word.

  35. I’ve heard hints that there is a limit to the length of a single audio book track in itunes. Or maybe that it causes some issues. Is there truly a limit or issue? I would like to just like to have my audio book in one huge track/file. Will my 40 hour audio book track cause an issue?

  36. @Zenjamin: I’m sure the iPod Shuffle _can_ be used for audiobooks, and make work well for some people. And I would imagine that having proper chapter marks, etc. from Audiobook Builder makes it easier to use. But I think it’s a rare person or situation where the iPod shuffle is the best solution for audiobooks. For most people the nano is a lot better. Lots of details in “Which iPod Should I Buy?”:/audiobooks/ipod-recommendations/

  37. @Paul: Sounds like you need to check out the FAQs, though if you’ve set the “skip when shuffling” setting for a track, it really shouldn’t be included. Are you sure you’ve changed that setting for all your audiobook tracks?

  38. Is there a way to prevent the audiobook files from showing up in the “songs” list on the ipod? Sometimes I enjoy just having all my songs on shuffle, and every now and then the audiobook comes up. They are already checked for “skip when shuffling”, however they still show up.

  39. I also have a Shffule, and with audiobook builder, it is the best possible audiobook MP3 player IMO. True, the lack of a screen and a scrool wheeel makes it difficult for you to know what chapter you are on, but what does that matter?

    I was at work today (washing dishes to pay for college) and I had my Shffule attached to the outside of my pocket. and I was able to, with one hand, while carrying a load of pans, reach down, pause the shffule, rewind it, control the volume, ect… all intuitively without stopping what i was doing.

    and now, with all of the audiobook files joined, I will be able to switch just as effortsly between mu music any my audio book by turning on the shuffle feature when the music hits me, and just hit the play button three times to go to the last bookmark in my audiobook as it will be the first thing in my playlist. with a nano, I would have had to stop what i was doing and take the thing out of my pocket. really, navigating the thing is verry intuitive once you get used to it.

  40. As a new ipod shuffle owner struggling in rough seas while trying to download audiobooks, this site is a life-saver. However, I still have questions. Should I just quite now and buy a nano, or are these instructions going to work for my shuffle. Your instructions for the “ipod” aren’t always specific enough for me, cuz, I’m such an ipod idiot. But, this site is great, and I plan to print and read EVERY word of your advice. Thank you so much!

  41. In Windows try “BonkEnc”: You can rip a CD directly to one mp3, aac (m4a,m4b), … file. After making several files for each CD of an audiobook, you can easily join these files to another “one-audiobook-file”.

  42. @Erwin: The last time I tried Markable was 3-4 years ago, so I don’t know what it’s like now (I didn’t like it back then). Do you have a URL for the current release? I really should re-review it at this point. Thanks!

  43. I don’t know of a tool that directly merges AAC files, but I’ve used Markable with success. It works well with iTunes. You drag the files from iTunes (or anywhere else) into Markable. It will then convert/rip them to mp3, merge them, convert them to m4b and place them in the audiobooks folder of iTunes.

    My primary complaint is that it does NOT retain chapter stops. However, if iPod and iTunes remember where you’ve left off so if it’s just a straight listen through that’s not a big deal.

  44. If some one came up with an m4a or m4b merger, I think they would make a killing. (i would buy it)

  45. @tony: I don’t know of any tools for Windows which can merge AAC (.m4a or .m4b) tracks with a reasonably easy-to-use interface. If I did, I’d add it to this post. Perhaps some other reader will suggest a tool they have used and like.

    In the meantime, if you import your audiobook tracks into MP3 files, instead of AAC, you can use MP3 to iPod Audio Book Converter, described above.

  46. I have read up a lot on joint audio book files. however, I have not see any program that will join m4a (or m4b) files. Is there one out there for pc users?
    I already understand that you can do it with a mp3 merger?

  47. I’ve been using Audiobook Builder for nearly a year and have found it very useful. While I only use it on an irregular basis, it has proven its worth in the time it has saved me.

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