Sunday, November 1, 2009

Audio Books, MP3 Players (and Linux?)

I have recently become engaged in some discussions about MP3 players and audiobooks. This is becoming rather fun and exciting, with a lot of libraries (such as any public library in MI*) offering audiobook downloads, as well as options such as Audible.Com, Barnes and Noble.Com or for lower priced downloads, there are sites like Audio Books Bay. has a lot of audiobook downloads for free, there is another listing of them here and most of the paysites have free download options as well. For most any bibliophile, while actual hardcopy books are preferred, audiobooks are a great way to pass time on long drives or while engaged in most any mindless tasks.

And with the option of audiobooks in mp3 format, the question becomes - what is the best option for listening to them?

Personally, I am very happy with my 4gb Sansa Fuze. It has a Micro SDHC expansion slot, which allows you to insert a micro SD or SDHC chip at 1,2,4,8 or 16 gbs. And I am currently listening to three different books (I like to be able to suit my mood) - flipping from one book to another does not mean I lose my place, nor does powering down. When I want to resume one of the books I have been listening to, I just click resume and I am right back where I left off. It doesn't allow me to skip around within the book and go back where I was, but that is of little concern to me. It is my understanding that Sansa mp3 players do not have audiophile quality sound, but as I have hearing issues anyways and mostly listen to books, this is not a problem for me. And no one who I have played music for with it, had any issues with the sound quality.

The other option that seems popular, is the iPod touch. Stand alone it is apparently not a whole lot different than my Sansa Fuze for holding your place, but there are applications for audiobooks that apparently allow you a great deal more flexibility - including multiple bookmarks per book and the option to add notes. The downside of course, is that apposed to my Sansa Fuze that can be found for less than $60 brand new (less for the 2gb), the iPod touch starts at around $200. Of course the iPod touch is incredibly versatile, including fucking wifi, so there are other advantages. But for something cheap that will primarily be used for audiobooks, there are far more practical options available.

I have only written about the players that I have confirmed familiarity with. If you know of a player that would work well for audiobooks, please mention it in comments. I am also rather interested to know whether formatting a player with Linux would make it possible to install a better audiobook platform and whether such a thing is available. I recall Greg Laden posting instructions for formatting an iPod with Linux and would love to find out what sorts of fun things one might manage to do with a Linux based mp3 player.

* MI residents should click here to help protect the Michigan State Library system. This includes not only the MI digital library, but Melcat and other great MI library services.


Greg said...

Linux is a great platform for a small device (the Kindle seems to run it) but the trick of installing Linux on a device yourself is just a trick... the devices that run on Linux (and your fave device may well already) are using adapted embedded Linux of some kind.

I just don't do audiobooks (though I've enjoyed the few times I've don it) so I don't know much about where to go with this.

DuWayne Brayton said...

You don't do audiobooks?!?!? Actually I am not surprised - a lot of people don't. I am just becoming an enthusiast myself, since discovering (I got a free trial with my mp3 player, that included one free download - I got Dawkins new book) and then discovering that we now have a download to external device option with the library.

I wouldn't be surprised if my player does run with Linux - I noticed that the library uses an open source download manager. I actually started wondering if a lot of non-iPod mp3 players aren't also using a Linux platform - though they seem to work well enough with Windows media player.

Dan J said...

I do audiobooks, but I listen to them on an even older Sansa: a 1GB m240. My wife has a Sansa Fuze, and loves it (works great plugged into her Linux box as well).

For myself, I have no bookmarking capabilities, etc. If I power down in the middle, it will pick up where I left off, but if I change tracks, the last spot is forgotten forever.

The audiobooks that I listen to are broken up into separate files per chapter, so that makes it easier to navigate.

I've already vowed to never own an audio player (or pretty much any device at all) that has a name starting with a lower-case "i" and is marketed by the company that stole their name and logo from the Beatles.

[captcha is "burnin" ROFLMAO]

Jason Thibeault said...

It seems to me that most non-iPod mp3 players start off with a FAT32 file system (as it's an open standard), and use a proprietary interface. Installing Linux is possible on anything you can convince a C compiler to run on, as long as you're willing to hack at the drivers and code long enough to make it all compile and boot.

That doesn't mean it's necessarily a good idea, though. I've seen an iPod running Linux, which is a neat trick (as Greg said), but when it eliminates some of the iPod's capabilities like video playback, kind of useless ultimately. Unless you intend to develop the code such that it matches and beats the original interface, what's the point, really? Other than to be able to answer yes when Slashdot asks, "does it run Linux?"

Thomas Joseph said...

I used to love my Sandisk (which makes the Sansa) MP3 player, but alas it's gone away somewhere. I bit the bullet and purchased myself an iPod nano, and I really like it (almost ashamed to admit it). They are such versatile devices it has really justified my switch.

The one complaint I do have though, is that I cannot upgrade/expand the memory. I used to be able to do that with my SanDisk.

I have not used my iPod for audiobooks, but I may have to give it a shot. Wonder what is out there that might catch my fancy.