Brilliance Bits: Weekly podcast on audiobooks

Brilliance Audio is a major publisher of audiobooks, and they’ve recently (re)started a weekly podcast called Brilliance Bits. The 12-15 minute episodes vary in type of content; some are interviews with authors, while others are excerpts from recent audiobooks. Four episodes so far.

It remains to be seen how interesting these will be over time, but the first three I listened to were decent. Worth checking out if you’re interested in extra information about authors and so on, and the excerpts are a good way to sample new books you might not otherwise check out.

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows

I missed the announcement last week of the title for the final book in the Harry Potter series and, since others might have also, thought I’d pass the news along:

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows

I am so looking forward to this book. A month before it gets released I am going to re-listen to all six of the prior books, to have the whole series fresh in my head. It’s very exciting to know that it must be getting closer!

Free today only: Direct Audio Converter (for Windows)

I haven’t yet used this software myself, but it’s free only for the next 12 or so hours, so I wanted to pass it along quickly. Normally $25, it looks like it might provide a streamlined workflow for importing audiobook CDs or converting existing MP3 files to AAC for better bookmarking capabilities.

Free for 12 more hours (on 19-December-2006): Direct Audio Converter and CD Ripper

Note: You need to download, install, activate, and register the software (four distinct tasks) before the deadline, when the registration code expires. Read the instructions for the details.

How to digitize cassette tapes

It doesn’t provide the level of detail, screenshots, etc. that I would like, and it’s not focused enough on audiobooks, but Lifehacker has an article that outlines a procedure you can use to convert audiobooks on cassette tapes into MP3 tracks you can listen to on your iPod:

Lifehacker: How to Digitize Cassette Tapes

It’s basically as simple as using a specific cable to attach the line out on an ordinary tape player to the line in port on your computer or sound card, and pressing the record button in Audacity.

I think the article needs more screenshots, and details of moving the tracks into iTunes, and I think their recommended recording format (128 bit MP3) is not optimal for audiobooks, but if you’re trapped for days and need a break this holiday, the instructions will certainly get you something usable.

New tool: Audiobook Builder

I have not yet given it a try, but a new application for Mac OS X looks like it may be even better than Join Together 5, which I recommended back in July. Audiobook Builder appears to go quite a bit beyond what Join Together is able to do, including the ability merge individual CD tracks into chapters before merging the chapters into a chapter marked whole-book track, add artwork to each chapter, etc.

My initial suspicion, based solely on looking at the screenshots, is that it may be a little complicated if your needs are simple. For myself, I usually only want to merge entire CDs into chapters, which iTunes does if you use the %(itunes)Advanced > Join Tracks% command, and then join those into a whole book, with chapter marks and full audiobook format and metadata, which Join Together does quite ably, and very simply.

In any event, I’ll be giving Audiobook Builder a try in the near future, and I’ll post a full review then, but in the meantime, I wanted to point to it, and see what other people think.

Importing Audiobooks with iTunes 7

The most popular page on this site is my instructions for How to Import Audio CD audiobooks into iTunes. The process has changed slightly with iTunes 7, and while I’ve been meaning to publish all new instructions, with an improved process and additional details, it just hasn’t happened yet. So, in the meantime, and to answer the many reader questions I’ve received, here are the main differences you might run into. It really boils down to just three changes:

Change to Import Settings

One option has changed in the %(itunes)Preferences > Advanced > Importing% preference panel, what should iTunes do when you insert a new CD. There are a couple new options, and the one you want has changed, from Show Songs to Show CD. Here’s the updated settings panel for my Optimal iTunes Import Settings description:

iTunes 7 Import Settings

Change to Start Import

The button for importing a CD has moved, from the top right corner to the bottom right corner. It no longer has an icon (it’s a text-only button now), and it only appears when you have a CD inserted and ready to import. Seems to have hidden itself from a lot of people.

Change to Expectations

When you import an audiobook using my instructions, it will appear in the Music source list, which is not what people are expecting. The expectation is that it will go into the Audiobooks section, but that won’t happen without more work.

I’ll provide more details in the revised instructions; for now, you can read through the FAQ for the information about putting tracks into the Audiobooks menu on the iPod; the steps involved are the same.

Five things about the new iPod nano

Here are five things I’ve noticed about the new iPod nano I picked up yesterday (I bought the new 8 gigabyte nano, available only in black), which I have not seen anyone else write about yet:

  • The packaging is not just smaller, it’s hard, clear plastic instead of cardboard. It’s a really clever design that holds the nano suspended in the front of the box. There’s a small label on the back of the bracket that holds the nano tightly, which illustrates how to flex the bracket to release the nano. Very clever design…but it took me a few tugs and pulls and a bit of frustration, before I turned the piece over, and saw the illustration.

  • The new nano looks and feels substantially smaller than the old nano, until you line them up right next to each other. The new nano is a teensy bit thinner, but virtually identical in the other two dimensions. The size difference is mostly optical illusion caused by the new rounded edges.

  • Speaking of rounded edges, the new nano comes with a new dock connector fit bracket. The new nano fits into the nano bracket of my Logitech mm50 portable speakers, but my old nano will not fit into the new Apple bracket. It’s a bit too thick, and doesn’t have the rounded edges. I suspect that the new nano will work with most products which fit the old nano form factor, but the reverse will be hit and miss. Products that support a perfect fit for the new nano will not work with the old one.

  • The new nano requires iTunes 7 to sync with a computer. Normally I like to wait a week or two before trying new versions of iTunes, but in this case, I had to install it. (Working wonderfully so far, knock wood.) A very nice set of improvements, including a few things of use to audiobook aficionados like me; more on those in another post.

  • The center select button, the “dot” in the middle of the click wheel, is very slightly concave (the button on the old nano is perfectly flat). It seems like such a tiny difference, and I’m sure by measurements it’s a small fraction of a millimeter, but it’s both quite visible as a real-world gradient, and a really wonderful tactile difference. You instantly know when your thumb is on or touching the button. Just another one of those aesthetic touches that only Apple seems to think of and consider worthwhile. They seem small, but they add up.

All in all, I think the new 8 gig nano is a terrific refinement to a device which I already thought was nearly perfect. And now that it’s sync’ed up with my audiobooks, I am looking forward to road testing it later today during my commute.

Get Free Audiobooks from Brilliance Audio

I posted previously about BMW’s free audiobooks, a collection of four short stories, professionally read and available in MP3 format. I’ve only listened to one completely so far, and while the product placement was, shall we say, distinct, the story and the reader were both very good.

I recently stumbled across another source for high-quality spoken word fiction. THRILLER is a free podcast from Brilliance Audio, which offers five of the “thriller” short stories from a collection of 30, all by well-known, best-selling authors. Here the financial motive is more obvious; if you like the five freebies, you might buy the whole collection.

Continue reading “Get Free Audiobooks from Brilliance Audio”

How to Improve Audiobooks

Kirk McElhearn, a noted author on topics like the iPod, iTunes, podcasting and the Mac, has written a short article Digital Audiobooks: Taking Them to the Next Generation, musing about what should be done to audiobooks to take advantage of the possibilities offered by the iPod and other digital players. In particular, he calls out the need for better chapter markers, and better handling of material which cannot be read, or is often skipped, like illustrations and endnotes.

I’ve had similar frustrations.

Continue reading “How to Improve Audiobooks”

How to Join Together Audiobook Tracks

Update: This post contains useful information about the Join Together utility, but has been superseded by a new article that details additional options, for both Mac and Windows users. See How to join multiple tracks into a single audiobook file for the new information.

One of the top two questions I get asked about audiobooks by visitors to Aldo on Audiobooks is, after importing a bunch of audiobook CDs, is there any way to join the many tracks together to get a single track for the audiobook?

For a while I simply shrugged, and said I hadn’t found a good tool. Then I found a good tool, and added it to the FAQ, but didn’t advertise it too heavily because it was only available for Mac users. But with the latest release the tool has gotten so good, I feel the need to share and promote it. (Windows users, I am sorry, but I haven’t found anything for you yet.)

Doug Adams runs a terrific site called Doug’s AppleScripts for iTunes. Now on its fifth revision, his Join Together tool has evolved from a basic AppleScript into a stand-alone application which gives you a terrific interface for combining tracks and adding the right metadata such as title and author, along with options to convert to different formats, and even add chapter marks to the resulting merged track:

!/images/audiobooks/join-together_v5.png(Join Together 5.0 user interface)!:

It’s truly an outstanding piece of work. If you’re importing audiobooks on a Mac, get it now. And if you use it and like it, be sure to thank Doug with a donation!

Get Free Audiobooks From BMW

BMW is offering four short stories in audio format at the new BMW Audio Books web site:

BMW, in conjunction with Random House, brings you BMW Audio Books, a unique series of specially- commissioned short stories showcasing the work of some of the finest contemporary writing talent. Each gripping audio book is yours to download for free.

While there is some “product placement” for BMW, the stories are high quality efforts by accomplished authors. The stories average about 50 minutes, and the narration is professional. The books are free in cost (but see below), and are also in MP3 format, meaning you can play them just about anywhere. I’m sure BMW hopes you’ll do it in the cockpit of a new car from their favorite manufacturer, but it’ll work with your iPod on Muni or the bus, too. Just download, and drag the downloaded files into the iTunes Library window.

To download you need to give BMW an email address. It can be a bogus address (there’s no verification), but from the text, if you give them a real address, you’ll be notified when new audio content is published to the site. (I gave them a real address.)