Posts Tagged ‘audible.com’

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This iPhoneless Life #6 – Playing musical music players

April 11, 2009

iPod Following on from my voyage of discovery, I had settled into using Mobile WMP for playing podcasts on my HTC Windows Mobile phone, and AudiblePlayer for playback of audiobooks. All was fine and working well.

Then my kids, bless them, took my hints and bought me a set of Sennheiser MM200 bluetooth stereo earphones for my birthday. Fantastic bit of kit.  No fiddling with wires.  No tangles. Great quality audio. Only one teensy drawback.  AudiblePlayer didn’t appear to support A2DP properly so that my audiobooks played out of the left ear only.  The books are mono so I wasn’t missing anything, but it’s very disconcerting to have the narrator’s voice just coming out of one channel.

In the search for a solution I found myself trying a sequence of alternative Windows Mobile audio playback applications, looking for the magic bullet that would play audiobooks on both channels and, while about it, meet my podcast and music playback needs too.

PocketMind’s Pocket Music

I found Pocket Music by Googling for WM music players that could play audiobooks.  There don’t seem to be many of those, and the ones that do aren’t free. WM players seem to come in three categories: free, around $20 and around $40.  The free ones presumably pay no licence fees so have the most limited coverage of music file formats.  Pocket Music is $19.95 and claims to play audible books.  It looks like you have to pay an extra $9.95 for AAC support, which affects me because at least one podcast I listen to is in that format.


At first I thought I’d found a real winner. It did, as billed, play audiobooks in .aa format. And out of both ears over bluetooth. Not only that, it had some other features that were a positive boon to audiobook/podcast playback.  For example, you can program hardware buttons to carry out actions chosen from a wide range, such as 30 second skip forward or back. The former is perfect for going past adverts in podcasts, Tivo style, or short boring bits. The skip back is great if you didn’t quite catch something and want to hear it again without risk of zooming way past it.  I also like the excellent support for bookmarking of both audiobooks and podcasts, and the ability to remember the place in a podcast even after the player was closed and relaunched.  These two features alone put the podcast experience on my WM6 phone way ahead of an iPod, and that is saying a lot.

I thought I had it, my all in one solution, and was quite ready to pay the $19.95 at the end of the 15 day free trial. Alas, it was not to be. Sadly, Pocket Music does not like long files. After a while it starts to struggle with playback.  It stops in mid sentence, pauses and goes back a couple of seconds then restarts.  It is then fine for a few minutes, then does it again.  After a while, on a long podcast, it starts to become very, very irritating. No amount of fiddling with the ample options for thread priorities and buffer sizes could cure the problem.

It was definitely the fault of the player.  This never happened with any of the others I tried, even in combination with the bluetooth earhones, and I tried a fair few.

Pocket Music was also a bit buggy. There was a facility for re-ordering playlist items but it was clunky to use and never seemed to work. Worst of all was the tendency, after making settings changes, to lose the application-specific options in the lower menu bar.  The standard Today screen options of Calendar and Contacts would appear instead of Playlist and Menu as in the picture above.  The only way out was to close and relaunch the player.

I decided to move on.

Pocket Tunes

Pocket Tunes has been around for years in the Palm OS world, but only fairly recently became available for Windows Mobile.  It is a premium product at a premium price: $37.95.

It is very slick in use and playback is exemplary; definitely no skips or jumps. It is supposed to support audiobooks, but not the free trial version.  Still, I gave it a fair try-out listening to podcasts.  It was excellent at locating my podcast playlist and sorting my podcasts into correct order of date/time created.  Better at it than any other player, including WMP, but didn’t allow manual override of playback order.

Pocket Tunes is well specced, but lacks the excellent forward/back skip feature of Pocket Music.  It does though have good bookmarking capabilities.


One particularly cute feature is the ability to sync directly with iTunes, but this does require various bits of extra software installation to set up.

Pocket Tunes does seem more promising than Pocket Music, but it is expensive and does not quite seem to tick all the boxes.

Might keep playing musical music players for a bit longer.

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This iPhoneless Life #5 – Audible adventures

April 7, 2009

iPod If you’ve been following the series, you’ll know I’m in the middle of an experiment to find out whether a  modern Windows Mobile phone can do all the same things as an iPhone, and with a reasonable degree of aplomb. That means serve as mobile phone and media player, provide access to email and the web, etc.

So far I’ve been majoring on the difficulties of getting a slick workflow for podcasts. To my great amazement I think I’ve been successful, and there will be more on WM and podcasts in a later post.

For now, though, I’m looking at audible books (eg from audible.com), another mainstay of my out-and-about listening schedule.

Very disappointingly, audible books on a WM device are a far cry from the experience on an iPod/iPhone. With the latter, playing an audible book is just like playing a music file, except that your place in the book remains bookmarked no matter what.  Other than that, the synchronisation via iTunes, selection with click-wheel etc is just as for playing a song or podcast.

Not so with WM, the problem being that Mobile WMP will not play an audiobook file in the .aa format used by audible.com.  Audible Download Manager will download to WMP on your PC, WMP then plays the audiobooks and you can sync the .aa files to your WM device, but you then need to use Audible’s AudiblePlayer to actually play the books on your phone.  It’s not the end of the world, and AudiblePlayer is well suited to its purpose (revolting green colour scheme aside).  It’s just clunky to have to use different tools when the whole experience is so seamless and simple with an iPod.

I also had some teething problems to overcome, one relating to my pet hate ActiveSync (rebranded as WMDC on Vista) and another involving bluetooth headphones.  More on that in later posts.

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An iPod named Lazarus

October 28, 2007

iPod Dead as an iDodo as it might seem, your old defunct iPod may not have made its way irreversibly to iHeaven after all.

As mentioned in my post about audible.com, I wanted to revive my son’s long discarded, non-functioning 4G iPod so that my wife could listen to audiobooks in the car. We had never had the heart to throw the thing away and it was still kicking around the house, useless and inert, having given every indication that the hard disk had rotated its last.

iPod

I had it in the back of my mind that there was a way of salvaging iPods where the disk appeared to have failed. I was sure I’d seen something on the Internet. I found this set of instructions. I’m not sure if this is the exact same website I’d come across before but it covered the same ground.

The revelation is that the hard disks on older iPods sometimes stop working because the disk cases get misshapen over time, particularly with iPods that get heavy use, due to the temperatures generated. The curvature of the case stops the disks spinning, or something, even though they are otherwise sound. If you can get the back off the iPod and introduce a piece of card or similar to hold the disk casing flat then it can spin up again.

Well it had to be worth a try. The hardest bit by far was getting the silver back off the iPod. You can apparently get special plastic tools to help you, but as I was more concerned about getting the thing working than preserving its dated looks I used a kitchen knife (shame on me). It was still very hard to prise the back off but I managed it without, as it turned out, inflicting any visible damage. I used an old business card between the disk casing and the inside of the back of the iPod to achieve the required flattening effect.

With the iPod case back on and the device connected to my PC via the USB dock connector I was amazed to see the Apple sign appear and then a very long wait for the battery to charge up from flatter than a Des O’Connor joke. After all, the iPod had not been used in around two years, my son having switched to a Creative Zen Vision:M. In due course the iPod made a complete recovery and all the music was still there and playable.

I had thought my efforts had been a waste of time when my wife decided she wasn’t all that interested in listening to audiobooks, but my son was very glad to have his iPod back as he had lost the original source for a lot of the music on there and had thought it lost forever. So there was a happy ending after all. Aaaah!

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Fare use of SoundTaxi

October 16, 2007

Books In my recent post, inaudible.com, I referred to the DRM on audiobook files from audible.com (or audible.co.uk) preventing them being burned as mp3s onto a “data” CD, as opposed to an uncompressed audio CD. This stops you squeezing a whole audiobook onto a single CD, or manageable number of CDs, for playback via a car stereo (assuming the in-car CD player supports mp3 playback).

There were, in the the past, a number of options for converting audiobook (.aa) files to mp3s, such as specific old versions of software from River Past, Goldwave, etc., but audible seem to have very much the same mentality as record companies, forcing the relevant software vendors to remove the conversion facility from current versions of their programs. I’m not certain whether the old executables, if you can find them, still work on current audiobook files.

I did find one program, SoundTaxi, that does work. It is not free, but reasonably priced. I downloaded the demo, which only converts the first 30sec of any file, but that did succesfully convert an audiobook so that I was able to burn the resulting mp3 to a CD-RW which played just fine in the car, for 30 seconds anyway. OK if you like your books very abridged.

I rather suspect that if I were to use SoundTaxi in anger for playback of audiobooks in the car I would be in contravention of audible’s terms of service or wider copyright legislation, even though I would only be making personal use of an audiobook I had acquired legally and paid for. It doesn’t arise in practice because I succeeded in salvaging an old iPod long believed dead, as mentioned in my previous post.

I mention SoundTaxi out of interest, having considered it, but wouldn’t be surprised to see the vendors forced to go the way of Goldwave et al and remove the audiobook conversion feature at some point.

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inaudible.com

October 15, 2007

Books audible.com is the main sponsor on the TWiT (This Week in Tech) podcast network, the mainstay of my podcast listening schedule, so I’ve been getting audible ads and Leo Laporte‘s audible book picks in my ears several times a day.

All this advertising has taken its toll. I succumbed. I ran out of podcasts the other week so signed up with audible.co.uk (us Brits get no choice) to fill the silence while driving to work, etc.

Unlike TWiT listeners in the US you don’t get the option of keeping a free book by cancelling the trial before the first subscription payment is due. In the UK you pay straight away but get 2 book credits in the first month, then one a month thereafter on the basic plan.

I messed up straight away. The book I chose for my first download was Snow Crash by Neal Stephenson but hadn’t realised it was the abridged version until after I’d spent my credit. It turns out that by convention books listed on audible are abridged unless the website explicitly states they’re unabridged. I really can’t be doing with abridged books. I rang up audible.co.uk expecting to be put through to a soulless call-centre, but found myself talking to a charming gentleman. No background call-centre hubbub – he might have been speaking from his kitchen. Maybe he was, except he had a computer to hand. When I explained my mistake and that I hadn’t completed the download, he reversed the “purchase” there and then, and gave me my credit back.

That’s the good. The bad is the very annoying DRM. Audiobooks from audible come as “.aa” files, not mp3s. You can only play them on supported devices such as PCs and iPods. You are allowed to burn them to CD but that uncompresses the audio, so the typical book gets spread over many CDs. The idea was to let my wife use some of my credits to listen to books in the car, but she is not an iPod person. I’d hoped to burn the audiobook files in compressed (mp3) format as the CD player in my car (and I think her’s) can play them. But the DRM put paid to that. Luckily I was able to bring my son’s old defunct iPod back from the grave. More on that in another post.

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