Audio books: pros, cons, links, and tips

I first tried out audio books last year, when I realized I wasn’t reading much anymore—not because I had lost my taste for it, but because I spent a lot of time working on the computer. My eyes were strained when evening came, and I preferred to give them a break rather than use them to read. So I downloaded my first audio book—and I instantly liked the experience.

The pros of audio books vs. their traditional counterparts

The best thing about audio books is that they don’t make you use your eyes. They’re great for people who work on computers and readers with bad eyesight. And since they can be read in any position, they’re wonderful for reading in bed with the lights off.

Audio books also allow you to savor the content. I don’t know if this is true for everyone, but to me, traditional reading is more susceptible to distractions. When I read audio books, I drop everything and listen so I won’t miss anything.

Also, audio books are completely spoiler-free. They make it less tempting to read the last page of a mystery first. Since you don’t even get to see (or hear) ahead by a few lines or pages, surprises remain surprising.

Poetry audio books are great too—assuming a good reader, of course. I tend to read poetry too fast, which causes me to miss some of the nuances. Audio books allow a better poetic experience.

Other reasons why audio books are better:

  • They save physical space.
  • It’s possible to do menial chores while listening (although I wouldn’t recommend it).
  • They’re environment-friendly—they don’t contribute to tree-cutting and solid waste.
  • Audio books of classics are free for download. Check out LibriVox.

The cons of audio books vs. their traditional counterparts

It’s the reader of an audio book who contributes the most to its success or failure. While traditional books allow you to read the way you wish in your mind, audio books don’t give you a choice. For a successful audio book, the reader’s voice volume, reading speed, age, gender, and intonation must be appropriate for the book’s content.

It’s more difficult to backtrack in an audio book when you’ve lost concentration or would like to reread a passage. Also, in case you forget to enable bookmarking, looking for the specific place where you stopped is more difficult than with a traditional book.

The sound quality may vary from book to book. This may not be a problem with commercial audio books, but for free audio books read by volunteers, it can be an issue.

Other reasons why traditional books are better:

  • Audio books have to be downloaded and set up before they can be used. Downloading may take a while for slow connections.
  • Books let you move at your own pace, and would be better for very slow or very fast readers.
  • Audio books are not as portable as books. Noisy venues and places where you can get easily mugged don’t make for great audio reading.
  • Books have that lovely paper smell.
  • Books don’t require batteries.

Audio book recommendations

I admit that it does take a little work to find really good audio books—that is, those with good audio and good content. But on the whole, listening to audio books a wonderful experience and I highly recommend it.

Two of my favorite audio books so far are:

If you’d like to look for your own audio books to download, I recommend:

  • LibriVox (free audio books from the public domain, read by volunteers)
  • Audible (over 60,000 titles available for purchase)

Tips on acquiring and listening to audio books

Always listen to a sample first. Here are some factors to take note of when sampling an audio book:

  • sound quality—check the clarity and consistency of the sound. Make sure that the noise level is tolerable.
  • volume—the difference between the reader’s lowest and highest volume of voice. A big difference means that you will have to adjust your player’s volume from time to time, and more often for action/adventure books.
  • speed—there are ways to adjust this using software or your player, but it’s better if the speed is comfortable to begin with.
  • age and gender—I personally don’t mind the reader’s age and gender, even if they’re not ideal for the book—I get used to it after a few minutes. But if you can’t imagine a middle-aged man reading Twilight, this is probably something you should consider.
  • intonation—this may contribute to your understanding or misunderstanding of the book. On one hand, intonation may make a book sound boring, pause at the wrong times, make an angry character speak happily, etc. On the other hand, it can make a book more interesting and really bring forth the dialogue, tone, and atmosphere that the author intended.

Set it up properly in your music library software before transferring it to your player. This is done to avoid any problems when you start listening. If you use iTunes, for example, you should do the following for all the audio book tracks:

  • Set the media kind to Audiobook.
  • Make sure the tags are correct. If not, fix them. Ascertain that each track title contains the chapter number of that track. See to it that the tags contain track numbers so you can play the entire book from start to finish without intervention.
  • Check the option to skip when shuffling.
  • Check the option to remember the position. If you stop in the middle of a track, listen to music, then go back to the track, it’ll be exactly where you stopped listening.
  • Adjust the volume. Audio books tend to be softer than music tracks, so you might want to make them louder.

Sit back, relax, and enjoy!

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Hello! I’m Madeline Ong, a web designer, avid reader, and tech enthusiast. Magic Lantern is an online journal where I write about design, literature, technology, and other subjects of interest. Thank you for your visit. Please make yourself at home.

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