Monday, April 19, 2010

Zune and Audiobooks

The problem for Zune users who want to listen to audiobooks has always been the lack of a bookmarking feature. I used to get around that by cutting the audio files, usually MP3s, into 45 minute (or thereabouts) sections. I then had to edit the file data to indicate that the genre was "audiobook" and make sure to title each section in sequence so that they would appear next to each other in the list of files. Because there was no bookmarking feature, one needed to listen to the 45 minute file in a sitting, or keep track of where you were in the file in order to quickly find where you'd left off. That was servicable, but not optimal.

Then, along came Audible. With Audible, audiobooks were kept in their own category--not mixed with music, and were usually kept in one or possibly two, large files (3+ hours each). Best of all, they had a bookmarking feature, which meant that you could pause playback, choose a new file to play (if you had a hankering to listen to "Magic Carpet Ride" in the middle of your book, for example), and return to resume the playback where you had left off. Unfortunately, the audible format was proprietary. Audible manager, the software used for loading books on your Zune, would not recognize any file format except the proprietary .aa (Audible) format.

But then along came Overdrive Media Console. With a little bit of work, one can turn MP3 files into an OMC compatible Audiobook with a bookmarking feature. You have to join the files back into one large file (if you've split them, or ripped them from a CD). I use Roxio Media Creator's Sound Editor. I load all of the files into the sound editor, then export the mix as one large file. Then I use the Overdrive Media Console Wax creator to create a wax file. This file marks the location of the audiobook file and will associate cover art with the file. You then use the Overdrive Media Console's transfer wizard to put it on your Zune. The book goes in the Audiobook section, next to your Audible downloads. It's a slick method. Not as easy as simply ripping a CD to your Zune, but the time it takes (probably 5-10 minutes per title) is worth it for the bookmarking feature.

It took me a few attempts to work out the kinks. Here's what I found. When trying to transfer the file to the Zune I kept getting an error that my wax file had an invalid path. I spent a few hours trying different methods until I realized what I was doing wrong. I had a hyphen in the pathname. The transfer Wizard does not like hyphens, but it seems to do okay with underscores. Also, to save time in the future, I associated the .wax file extension with the Overdrive Media Console transfer wizard. So all I need to do is double-click the .wax file to transfer the audiobook. Slick!

The second thing I learned is that 96 bits or 64 bit samples are plenty for an audiobook. Mono is actually a clearer and more satisfying listening experience for voice recordings than stereo and it takes up half the disc-space of stereo. So, most of my unabridged books are in files about 90 MBs, 90,000 kb. For a 30 GB Zune, I still only have half of it filled, even though I have 2 dozen audiobooks on the hard drive.

I love my Zune, and I didn't want to have to switch to Itunes and the Ipod in order to enjoy audiobooks. Zune + Overdrive Media Console is the the best solution at present. Until Zune comes out with a solution which is as simple as ripping audio CDs, that is.

No comments: