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Home General How-To: Convert Audible (*.aa) files to MP3 format.
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How-To: Convert Audible (*.aa) files to MP3 format.

Audible.com is a great service for downloadable audio books, but they use their own format for the audio files. This format is internally very similar to MP3s, but without Audible’s own software to play the files, they are nearly useless. Audible files are also notoriously annoying to convert to MP3 format, and information on converting the files is hard to come by, and often incorrect. Also, most of the tools that you see recommended for converting audible files don’t actually work, so it is easy to throw a lot of money away buying commercial conversion tools only to find out they can’t help you anyway. So, I’ve decided to share my own recipe for audible file conversion here. I’ve converted hundreds of my own books using this process over the last several years, so I know it does work, but this is NOT an easy process. Also, it doesn’t always work out for some people due to other software or settings on their system. Anyway… I’ve done my best to make these instructions as clear and concise as possible, but I make no guarantees that you’ll be able to get this to work.

If it doesn’t work for you, feel free to drop in some comments about your experience here, but don’t expect me to troubleshoot it for you. I offer these instructions “as-is”. Read on…

The disclaimer:

I do not advocate the stealing books, especially audio books. Unlike the RIAA and MPAA, book publishers only rip-off authors a little bit (by comparison anyway). Audio books also have a LOT of additional overhead, what with all those narrators and sound editing and stuff. And audio books have a smaller audience from which to recoup those costs. So I urge you to buy your audio books honestly please. The more people buy them, the more likely we’ll continue to see lower prices and larger selections in the future.

The advice I’m giving here is NOT intended to help you pirate audio books. It can be used for that purpose if you choose to use it that way; but that’s on your head, not mine.

What I’m going to explain is how to take an audible file and convert it to MP3 format for your own personal use.

There are many legitimate reasons you might want to convert your Audible files to MP3s. The most popular is so you can play the books on a portable device or PC audio player other than those supported by Audible’s own software. My own personal reason for converting is to ensure that my files will not become useless should Audible go out of business down the road (backup purposes); also, so they can’t revoke my ability to listen to the book through the DRM should their own business arrangements with the books’ publishers change in the future.

So on with the show!

Overview:

The idea here is that you will:

  • Download the Audio Book via an older version of Audible Manager
  • Open and Rip the audio book file in GoldWave
    • Read the file using the audible media player plug-in
    • Set cut/points and split the file into smaller chunks
    • Save the chunks as “wav” files
    • Convert the “wav” files to MP3s
  • Tag the MP3s
  • Enjoy the book

Here is what you’ll need:

Older Version of Audible Manager – v3.5:

So far, I have been unable to get the newer versions of the Audible manager to work with MP3 conversions, so you’ll need to get a copy of an old version of the Audible Manager (version 3.5).

If you already have a newer version installed you’ll need to deactivate and uninstall it before installing version 3.5. Don’t forget to deactivate! Audible limits how many activations you can have at a time and you don’t want to use them all up by accident.

You can tell if you have the newer version of Audible’s software because it has a nauseating green color scheme. The old version is NOT green, just plainish grey and white and very “old-skool” looking.

Audible does NOT make this specific version easy to get to from their regular site, so use this link to be sure you get the right file (the file is hosted on their site… it’s just hard to find).

If you plan to do this on Windows Vista or Windows 7, you will want to turn off UAC and make sure to run the installer as an administrator (right-click the installer file and choose “run as administrator”, see the link for more info).

You might prefer to use Virtual PC for Windows Vista or Windows XP Mode for Windows 7 and do your conversions within the virtual OS. This allows you to keep the newer Audible software installed on your main system. The older version of Audible Manager doesn’t work with the newer “enhanced format” files either.

After you install audible manager, you will need to upgrade it through the Audible update service. If you are on Windows 7 or Vista, keep UAC off and launch the Audible Manager as an administrator just like you did with the installer.

To upgrade, open Audible and go to the Help menu and choose “Check for update”. Once it connects to audible and gets the (big) list of upgradable components, scroll though and choose to upgrade only the “Audible Desktop Playback” and the “Burning Audio CD Support” component. It will need to reboot the system.

DO NOT install the “Windows Media Player Filter” component when you get the updates. I also suggest that you make sure that all this stuff works before you go bothering to install any of the other optional components either.

The base Audible Manager has built-in media player support through an older plug-in (it even works with Windows 7′s media player).

Once installed and upgraded, you will have to activate your audible desktop player.

It is optional if you want to activate the CD burner component or not, but you DO have to at least have to install the CD burner component, even if you don’t activate it. I don’t know why exactly, but if you don’t upgrade the burner then the media player plug-in tends not to work right.

On Vista or Windows 7, you can probably turn UAC back on at this point, but you should continue to run Audible as an administrator. You can also setup the shortcut or exe to always run as administrator administrator.

Audible can be a pain in the balls on Windows Vista and Windows 7. If you run into errors complaining about not being able to write to the registry or the media player plug-in doesn’t work right then you may have to setup the audible *.exe files to always run as administrator. These can be found here:

C:\Program Files\Audible\Bin\ or C:\Program Files (x86)\Audible\Bin\

The three files you’ll want to set run as administrator are: AudibleCD.exe, adhelper.exe, and Manager.exe.

You may also have to turn off UAC while you do the conversions as well, though I’ve been able to leave UAC enabled with Windows 7 at least.

On one of my systems, I had to change permissions in the registry through regedit. if you don’t know how to do this, I advise you reaserach this before trying it yourself. You can seriously break stuff in regedit, which is why I’m not linking to detailed instructions for this.

HKEY_CURRENT_USER\Software\Audible

Right click this, choose permissions, and make sure your own user account, the system account, and administrators group have “full control” of this key.

Lame:

You don’t need this, but GoldWave’s built-in MP3 encoder doesn’t handle variable bit rate (VBR) encoding. If you want to use VBR then install LAME. GoldWave will be able to use LAME for the MP3 encoding instead of its own built-in encoder without any special setup on your part.

You can get LAME from the project site, but I find it easier to use this old installer package that includes the LAME encoder and RAZORLAME front-end GUI. It sets everything up in the right places so GoldWave can find it.

It is an older version of LAME, but I’ve never had any problems with it for book conversions.

GoldWave:

The big piece of the puzzle is to get a copy of the GoldWave audio editor.

GoldWave is an old, but awesome sound file editor. It has tons of really nice features, most of which you will not be using here. It is a daunting tool to use if you aren’t familiar with sound editing, but relax… I’ll walk you through it.

GoldWave is cheap (like $50), but you can download the trial and still be able to convert entire audio books. I do recommend you pay them for having made awesome software though, so don’t be a cheap bastard! Use the trial to make sure you can get all this to work, and then buy it!

On Windows Vista or Windows 7, you will always need to run GoldWave as an administrator. I highly recommend setting the shortcut or even the *.exe file itself up to always run as administrator.

MP3 Tag Editor 3 Tag Editor:

You will probably want an MP3 tag editor so you can tag your books once you’ve converted them. I use ID3TagIT, which is an old product that is no longer under development, but any tagger that you are comfortable with should be fine as long as it allows you to pull the tags from file names and edit tags on multiple files at a time.

Prepare for conversion:

The conversion will create some temp files, and these can be quite large. You’ll want to create a “staging” folder in advance where you will put those temp files.

You will also want to create a folder where your MP3s will be put when you are done converting them.

Make sure you have a good bit of free hard drive space. During conversion you might have 2 or 3 gig of temp files floating around.

How to convert the book to MP3s:

OK, now that you have everything installed and setup, it’s time to convert a book!

Get the Book:

Go to Audible’s site and download the book you want to convert. If the book is available in “enhanced format” don’t download that version. Instead change the book to one of the numbered formats. I prefer to convert the format “4″ files. These are the highest quality (short of enhanced).

If the book has multiple parts, go ahead and download all the parts.

Audible, by default, puts the files for your book in

C:Program FilesAudibleProgramsDownloads or C:Program Files (x86)AudibleProgramsDownloads

You can change the default location for these files in the Audible Manager options if you prefer.

Once you have the book files downloaded, close audible manager. Check the taskbar to make sure it isn’t running in the background; if it is right-click and choose “exit”.

Open the Book:

Open GoldWave as an administrator.

Choose” “file –> open” from the menu

In the “open sound” dialog, change the “files of type” drop down list to “all files”.

By default GoldWave only shows files it “knows how to open”. Several years ago, Audible got upset with GoldWave’s ability to open audible files, and once the lawyers were done, GoldWave agreed to exclude “*.aa” files from the “supported files” list.

Don’t worry; if everything setup right with Audible Manager, GoldWave can still open the files.

In the “open sound” dialog, navigate to the location where audible is putting the files (see above), select the file for the book (or the file for the first part), then choose “open”.

If everything is working right, a small pop-up window called “section navigation” will appear. This window has Audible’s logo and a couple of buttons. Just leave this window open and NEVER click the buttons.

Another pop-up from GoldWave called “Processing Audio Decompression” will open too. This one has a progress bar and will close itself once GoldWave has finished reading the file (this can take a few minutes).

After GoldWave finishes decompressing the file, it will open the file in the main editor window.

Edit the Book:

GoldWave has all kinds of tools to allow you to edit and/or modify a sound file.

I will not be explaining how to edit the books in detail here, but if you want to edit the book’s contents go for it!

A lot of people like to cut out the audible lead-in and lead-out stuff from the file. This is very easy to do in GoldWave, but when you are done don’t forget to “select” the entire file (CTRL + A) before you move on to the next step.

Split the Book:

Audio books are BIG. You “can” convert the entire audile file to one really big MP3 file if you want to, but I don’t recommend just saving the book as one giant MP3.

If that’s all you want to do, you can just choose “file –> save as” from the menu, change the format to MPEG Audio (*.mp3) and setup any custom attributes you want to use. Then you are pretty much done.

Most MP3 players aren’t too good about fast-forwarding within a file, and odds are you won’t listen to the whole book in one go. It is best to split the book into smaller chunks to make it easier to resume playback mid-book later. Also, some books are so large that the entire thing might not fit on portable devices with limited storage space.

To split up the file, we’ll tell GoldWave to scan through the file, find “quiet” spots where the narrator pauses, and put in cue points into those spots at some interval we choose (like every 5 minuts or so). Those cue points will be used to let GoldWave break the file up into smaller parts, without cutting the narrator off in the middle of a word.

By default, the entire book will be “selected” in the editor (the background will be bright blue). Make sure the entire book is selected now (or use CTRL + A to select everything).

Keep in mind that when splitting the book, we’ll be dropping a lot of *.wav files in the staging folder. These files are big compared to the MP3s we will eventually produce so make sure you have spare free space on your hard drive.

To split the book:

Choose “tool –> cue points” from the menu then choose “auto cue” from the “Cue Points” dialog window.

In the “auto cue” pop-up window:

Make sure you have this set to Mark Silence (the default).

For most audio books set the “Below Threshold” slider to “-40.0″. This setting is “how quiet it has to be in order for it to be considered “silence”. Files with static or background noise may need a higher setting.

For most audio books set the “Minimum Length” slider to “1.00″. This determines how long the silence has to last in order for it to be used as a Cue Point.

The “Minimum separation between cues” setting tells it how frequently you want the markers placed. This will become the approximate length of each of the files after we split them. I personally prefer my MP3s to come out around 5 minutes each, but if you want to split it into longer or shorter MP3s set this appropriately. For a 5 minute length set this to “5:00 00″.

Don’t worry about “Cue Placement within Area”; the default 50% setting is fine.

Click the OK button and GoldWave will scan the file, put in the cue points, and return you to the Cue Points pop-up window

In the Cue Points pop-up:

You should now see the cue points that were created and their position within the file (measured in time).

Take a second to make sure these cue points are spaced out reasonably evenly and are generally as far apart as you wanted. Some books have authors that talk fast, or have a static background sound, or what not. If the cue points aren’t very evenly spaced, you may have to delete the cue points and repeat the auto-cue process using difference settings.

Don’t worry too much if the cue points are off a few seconds or even a minute or two here and there. This usually just means there are some “intense” areas of the narrative and you probably don’t want a file break right in the middle of one of those anyway.

Once you are satisfied with the cue placement, click the “split file” button to open the “split file” dialog.

In the Split File pop-up:

Set the “destination folder” to the “staging” location we setup earlier.

Set the “Method of naming split files” to “use base filename and number” (the default).

Set the “Base Filename” you want to use. Remember that books can often run into the hundreds of files if you are splitting them up in 5 minute chunks, so this value should look like “### – My Book Name”.

The “#” represents the track number, so this example uses three digits to represent track numbers allowing for up to 999 files (I’ve never had a book need more, and I have some REALLY big ones).

Set the “first number” to 1. When you are converting a book that has multiple audible files, you can change this for the second and subsequent parts so that the file names stay in order. Example: if you have 74 files in the first part, you’d start the second part at “75″.

Leave the File Format setting at the default “Use CD compatible wave format and alignment”.

Click OK and GoldWave will start splitting your file up. This can take from several minutes to hours depending on how fast your computer is and how big the file is.

Repeat for multi-part books:

If the book has multiple parts, after splitting the first part go ahead and repeat the “Open the Book”, “Edit the book”, and “Split the book” steps above for the second and subsequent parts.

Drop all of the split files into the same stage folder so you can convert them all in one go.

Convert the Book:

Once you have the files all split up and the *.wav files sitting in the staging folder, it’s time to actually convert them to MP3 files.

You can use any wave-to-mp3 converter for this, but GoldWave can do this part just fine. It can do an even better job if you’ve installed the optional LAME encoder.

First though, close any open file you have in GoldWave, or close GoldWave and restart it.

Choose “File –> Batch Processing” from the menu to open the Batch Processing dialog:

At the top of the pop-up window:

Click “add folder” and navigate to the staging folder where we dropped the wave files.

Set the “type filter” to *.* (the default)

Click OK to add this folder to the Batch Processing dialog.

In the “convert” tab at the bottom:

Check the “convert files to this format” checkbox

Set “Save as Type” to “MPEG Audio (*.mp3)”

Pick your MP3 Attributes:

In the “attributes drop down you can either pick one of the default settings, or click the attributes button to open the custom settings window.

I recommend the custom window if you have LAME installed.

For custom attributes:

Most audio books don’t require high quality encoding. They are just spoken word for the most part so you can be conservative with the settings to make the MP3s smaller.

You probably don’t want mono MP3s though, so in the custom attributes set “Channels” to “stereo”.

The default sampling rate of “44100″ is probably fine too.

Audio books lend well to variable bit rate (VBR) which will make the files a good bit smaller. I recommend setting “VBR Quality” to somewhere between 0 and 4 (I use 1 most of the time). Then in the bitrate range set it to 64000 to 128000. 128k is “radio quality” which is fine for most audio books, but if you are an audio purist you may prefer higher settings.

In the Folder tab at the bottom of the Batch Processing pop-up

Choose “store all files in this folder” and supply the folder name where you want your MP3 files to be dropped when they are done converting.

I highly recommend having a folder with the author’s name, then a folder within that one with the book’s title. Drop your files there. This allows you to use the folder names in an MP3 Tag Editor to automatically populate the artist and album tags from the folder names.

Click the “begin” button.

This will take a long time to finish… possibly hours on slower systems or with large books.

Delete the staging files:

Once the conversion completes, DO NOT forget to go into your staging folder in windows explorer and delete the *.wav files. These files take a large amount of disk space, and you don’t want them hanging out next time you go to rip another book either.

Tag your MP3 files:

Most MP3 players read the tags in the file to display track number, artist, album, etc. Books aren’t music, but you can and should still tag them for your own convenience.

Bulk MP3 tag editors can usually pull in tags for multiple MP3s using the folder and file names.

One thing you might want to consider when tagging a book though… some players don’t use the track # from the MP3 tag to sort the file (yeah, I know… retarded!). Also, some players don’t display the track number. So I recommend that you make the “title” tag start with the track number.

That’s it… I hope you enjoy your audio books :)

 
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3 Comments  comments 

3 Responses

  1. Suzanne

    Thank you so much for posting these directions. I have just successfully converted my first audible.com book to listen to on my Blackberry Playbook. It has been driving me crazy that they do not have an application for the playbook or the new z10 – once can’t help but think they are in cahoots with damn Apple. But now I can use up the remaining credits in my membership and then cancel it.

    Again – thanks for this.

    Suzanne

  2. JoJo1

    Don’t know if anyone is still watching this, but I’ll put it here in case someone stumbles upon it like I did. You can save some steps by skipping the conversion to .wav and converting directly to mp3. Under Options > File Formats > Default Save Format > Save as Type, select MP3 and then set your attributes. Once the file is loaded and you’ve set your cue points,when you split the file, select default save format and it will automatically convert the parts to MP3 as it’s saving them.

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