Creating An Audio Book - A Better Way

As soon as the iPod came out people have worked to get their old audiobooks onto their new digital devices.  My family got one of the 1st gen iPods and I used a huge kluge setup to get an audio recording of Alice in Wonderland off a 33 rpm LP and onto the iPod. When you have an audiobook on CD and want to create a digital copy for your iPod, iPad or iPhone, it's easy (but time consuming and tedious) to create manually.

Today there are a collection of scripts and applications that make creating an audiobook a breeze. My favorite for the task is an application called Audiobook Builder.

You can try Audiobook Builder (ABB) for free by downloading it from the Splasm web site but if you want to buy it, I recommend you save yourself $4 and buy it from the Mac Store

Building an audiobook with ABB is easy. Just launch the application and select "Create a New Project".  On the panel that pops up, enter in the name and author of the book and drag in a JPEG of the cover art. 

If you want to add more detail just click the "more" button and go wild.

Once the preliminaries are out of the way it's time to start ripping the CDs. On the main screen select "Chapters." You can see that there are several ways to add files. You can use the buttons at the top. Drag files to the drop zone or import from CD. I'm going to assume that you want to build an audiobook from CDs.
Just insert your first CD and select import as a single file.  You can play with the quality of the recording but the "normal" setting works fine and the file size isn't too large. For really long books that don't contain any music or other sound effects you could lower the quality. Conversely if you want to bring out the high's and low's of narrators voice you can bump the quality up. 

After the first disk is done you will be presented a screen asking for the next CD. Just keep feeding the disks until you are done. One of the cool features of Audiobook Builder is the ability to stop importing, quit the application and resume the build later. All your data is saved in an intermediary Audiobook Builder file. You don't create your iTunes Audiobook until you select the "finish" button after all your disks have been imported. 

When you are done importing all your disks your screen may look something like this:

Since we have created one file per CD, Audiobook Builder uses the CD name for each chapter. That makes importing easier but the iTunes CD database may contain different names for each CD. Just remember that the names of the chapters will show up in your iTunes Audiobook as the file name. 

Kind of ugly isn't it? The order of the books is correct and it will play just fine but I think it's ugly and annoying.  Maybe it's my OCD nature, but  I think it's better to rename the chapters so it's a bit more organized. Before you build your audiobook clean up the name of each chapter so it is easy to tell the order of the book. Just double click each chapter and rename it. I like to use the name of the book and "1 of 15" and increment up to "15 of 15." Nice and tidy.

Now that things are cleaned up it's time to build the audiobook. Select the "Finish" button and the "Build Options" button in the upper right under the artwork. 

At this point you can change the audio quality if you want to. If you're happy with your original setting just use the "Pass through" check box. The M4B setting allows you the ability to bookmark your audio files. Unlike music you want to be able to start where you left off so make sure you select M4B. You can also size the chapter to any length you want but because we went to all that trouble of creating one CD per chapter just use the per chapter part style setting. Once you have all your settings the way you want them click OK and then build your audiobook. 

That's it! When the build is complete Audiobook Builder will automatically add the files to iTunes and store the output files to the destination you selected.  

I'm a miser at heart but for $6 you can have a full featured way to build your audiobooks that makes life a lot easier. I highly recommend it.


Creating An Audio Book

If you spend a lot of time in your car one of the ways to pass the time is to listen to an audiobook. If you have an iPod, iPhone or iPad you know that you can download audiobooks from an online store like the iTunes store or Audible.  But if you have the Audiobook CD's you can also rip them and create your own audiobook. The challenge with ripping an audiobook CD is getting the set up correct so your file size isn't huge and your books don't get mixed up with your music.

To manually rip a set of audiobook CD's you first need to change your import settings. Open iTunes and go to the "Preferences" menu.

Click the "Import Settings" button and change the settings to a bit rate of 32 kbps. Make sure the checkboxes are checked for variable bit rate encoding and Optimize For Voice. The Optimize For Voice limits the frequency to the range of the human voice.

If your audiobook contains music as well as voice you may want to increase the bit rate to 64 or 128 kbps. 

For each disk you insert you will want to select all the tracks and make sure the Album and Artist information is correct. Set the genre to Audiobook and make sure that the disk number is included.  You will want to make sure that you have the disk number because you will want to keep your files in order. 

One of the things that's different about ripping audiobooks rather than ripping music is how your rip the tracks. With Audiobooks you will want to rip the whole CD as one track rather than ripping them individually as you would do with music. Otherwise you end up with hundreds of tracks for a full book. I always create one track per CD. To do that you will need to join the audio tracks as you rip. 

After you insert each disk and edited the Album and Artist info to your liking, select all the tracks on the disk and go to the "Advanced" menu and select "Join CD Tracks"

A bar will show up around all the selected tracks and only a single check box will be available. Now just click the "Import CD" button and iTunes will rip all the tracks and combine them to one file. 

Repeat this step will all the CDs of the Audiobook until you have as many files as you have CDs. 

Once you are done ripping you now need to make sure that your tag info is correct. To make things easier I've developed a personal system where I change the name of the track to the title of the book, then add 1of 15 or 2 of 15 depending on which track it is. I also make sure that the track number is correct and change the "Composer" information to whomever is the reader of the book.  Make sure that all the tracks have the same Album name or iTunes won't group them together.

You now only have one step left. You may notice that even though you selected the genre as Audiobook the files still show up in the "Music" menu. That can be a real pain if you have set iTunes in shuffle mode and suddenly someone starts reading a book to you. To get your book to show up in the iTunes book menu you need to change the file type.  Apple distinguishes music from audio books with a file extension. The music file extension is .m4a, the audiobook file extension is .m4b.

Select one of the tracks and go to the File menu and select Show in Finder. Open the folder of audio files and for each track just edit the filename and change the extension from .m4a to .m4b. You will get a dialog box asking you if you're sure just click the "Use .m4b" button. 

Now in iTunes delete the existing files and drag the new .m4b files back into iTunes. Your book should now show up in your iTunes Books menu and are ready to play!

I'm just letting you know that this is the hard way to do things. There are actually a  lot of applications and Applescripts that can simplify the job. In my next post I'll review my favorite app for creating Audiobook files. 


Add Chapters to Video Files

In my family, exercise is a way of life. But rather than workout at a gym we workout at home using workout DVDs. Since DVDs are so cumbersome to deal with I usually rip the DVD and use AppleTV to stream the workout to our TV. It's much easier to pick the workout you want and you don't have to paw through dozens of DVDs trying to find the right one. 

The challenge here is that most workouts you buy don't have chapters. That sounds like no big deal until you have a workout manic like my daughter who likes to repeat parts of a workout to make sure she breaks a sweat. So this post is dedicated to her so she can add her own chapter markers and really get a good sweat going.

People other than the workout obsessed may need to add chapters as well.  Adding chapters to a home movie makes it easier to find the section you want to show. Adding chapters to TV shows you record can make playback more enjoyable. Whatever your need, adding chapters to videos is easy to do. The first thing you need is a video file. 

If you need to rip a DVD, Handbrake is the easiest to use. You can read about how to do it here or here. After you have a file, the easiest way to add chapters is to use a free application called Subler.

Subler is a Mac OS X application that opens video files, allows you to add or remove media tracks inside them, and then saves them out again. In the specialized language of the video world, Subler is a "transcoder" or "muxer." It's an application dedicated to creating MPEG4 files (.m4v, .mp4) for Apple's  iDevices.

Subler's original purpose was to allow you to easily add subtitles to your video files, and thus the name "subler". In time, new features were added to help Subler solve similar common problems. For instance, with Subler you can open an existing media file, add chapter titles, remove an unwanted commentary track, tag the file with season and episode information, and then save it back out again.

The main features are:

  1. Remux video, audio, chapters, subtitles and closed captions tracks from mov, mp4 and mkv.
  2. Add a subtitle track. Add tx3g subtitles tracks, compatible with all Apple's devices (iPod, AppleTV, iPhone, QuickTime).
  3. Add multiple soundtracks
  4. Add and edit iTunes metadata and TMDb and TVDB support
  5. Add and edit chapters

You can download it here:

Today I'm only going to cover how to add chapters to a .mp4, .m4v or other video file. Download and start Subler and then open the video file you want to edit. You should see a screen that looks like the one below giving you the basic information of your file. 

To add chapters you can do it a couple ways. If you want uniform chapter markers go to the "Edit" menu and use the pull down menu. You can add chapters every 1 min through every 30 min. 

You can also add chapters manually. This is probably the better choice because you can add a chapter at a natural break point in the video. To add chapters manually select the "Chapter Track" line, click the box to make sure it's selected and use the "+" at the bottom of the window to insert a track. You can now edit the time and the name to the values you want.

When you are done you just save the file. I recommend saving under a new name just in case you need to re-edit the file. Once you save you are done! If you open the file in iTunes or play it in Quicktime you will see that there are chapter markers. 

If you want to burn a DVD of the file you can use Apple Burn or Roxio Toast and it will retain the chapters. 


Tivo & the Mac - Edit your Tivo files

I have had an ElGato EyeTV unit for quite a few years now and it's been great for recording over the air TV on my Mac. One of the great features of this unit is the ease of editing recorded shows. With very little effort you can edit out all the commercials and just watch a show without any breaks.  Now that I have a Tivo I sure didn't want to start watching commercials again so I started hunting for a great video editing program that's easy to use that can edit the Tivo files. Although EyeTV is still the gold standard I think I found a usable work around with MPEG Streamclip

I've already covered how to download your Tivo recorded shows to your mac here. Now that you have the show you need to get rid of the commercials. First, download the MPEG Streamclip application. When you open the application you will get a screen that looks like this:

To edit a file just drag it to the screen or use the "Open Files" selection in the "File" menu. There are two basic editing functions you are going to use; trim and cut. First you need to select the sections of the show you want to edit out. 

Drag the slider to the beginning of the show and type "I" for "Select In" then just hit command+T to trim out that section. Trimming a file will cut out everything you haven't selected.

Now move the cursor to the start of the first commercial break and hit the "I" key again. Move the cursor to the end of the commercial break and hit the "O" key for "Select Out." Just the commercials will be selected (as shown in the screen shot below). Then all you need to do is use the cut command (command+X) to get rid of the commercials. If you have trouble finding the right spot when you use the select in or select out location use the arrow keys on your keyboard. They will allow you to move a frame at a time to fine tune your selection location.

Just repeat  this for all the commercials in the show. When you get to the end of the show type the "O" key and do a Trim again to get rid of the ending credits and trailing commercials. That's it! 

Now a few comments about the whole process; One of the challenges I had with editing video was making sure that the audio was syncing. At times, after editing, the audio would get out of sync and there would be a split second delay when an actors mouth would move and the sound would come out. It's very annoying and can render the file unwatchable. 

To make sure that things stay sync'd up here's some of hints that should help.
  • Try to minimize edits. Only use one edit per commercial break and don't do a lot of little edits. 
  • Don't use the export function to save your video. Just do a "Save As." When you save it will save to the exact same format you used when you moved it from your Tivo to your Mac. Sometimes exporting to a different format will get the audio out of sync.
  • Do a "Fix Timecode Breaks" (command+F in the Edit menu) when you first open the file. This may help.

From what I have read, the unsynchronized audio may be a result of a frame rate issue from the original video program. If you have issues with synchronization maybe try setting the frame rate to a different value when you move the file from your Tivo to your Mac. 

Good luck and enjoy your shows!