2008-04-22

Audible? Inaudible more like.

I have now bought a few audio books from Audible and I have to say: the product they are selling is utter shit. If you are upset about my use of expletives, I am sorry, but it is exactly the appropriate word for describing Audible's audio books.


(Hey, Leo Laporte, if you read this posting I think you should grab the phone and talk to the people at Audible. Since you plug the bejeezus out of their products on your show they might listen to you).

I tend to read a lot. Lately I have started to listen a lot to audio books for digesting novels while travelling. It is relaxing to have someone read to you and it gives me something to pass the time while stuck in a plane for hours on end or while walking somewhere. It isn't really practical to read a book while you are walking or driving, so audiobooks come in quite handy in those situations.

This is why it pisses me off to no end when Audible have the gall to screw me over by giving me 24khz, 32kbit mono sound when I pay them about the same as a physical soft-cover book would cost me. I thought these people were in the media business? I thought they knew about these things. It is audio, for pete's sake. It isn't rocket science. And 32kbit, 24khz mono spoken word sounds pretty shitty. In fact, low sound quality is just about the LAST thing I need if I am going to listen to a book for hours. Let alone if I am going to listen to it in a noisy environment like a plane. And it doesn't help to get expensive, noise-cancelling headphones either -- it just makes it even more obvious how horribly BAD the sound is.

Not even podcasts are usually this bad, and podcasts are to audiobooks what newspapers are to books: they are cheap and they are interesting today and...well, yesterday's news tomorrow. Books, one would assume, is something you might want to hear more than once. And if not, at least if I pay good money for something and I am going to spend hours of my life listening to it, it should not suck.

This Week in Tech is 64kbit, 44.1khz mp3, The TED Talks audio downloads are 56kbit at 44.1khz. The Ricky Gervais podcasts vary from 112kbit 44.1kgz down to 64kbit 44.1khz for the ones I checked.

Come ON, Audible! People are paying for the product.

Additionally, some of their narrators have that stereotypical male movie-trailer-voice that has too many low frequency harmonics. It isn't that bad if you only have to hear one phrase of it ("coming soon, to a theatre near you") during a commercial break that you are going to skip past anyway, but when you have hours and hours of it, it becomes pretty damn annoying. It doesn't help that the guy is pathetic at reading -- making a hash of doing the various voices of people in the novel and making it physically painful to listen to.

On that shitty recording of Michael Crichton's "Sate of Fear": what are those distracting squeaky noises? Does the narrator have a constantly upset, gassy tummy or are those encoding artifacts? It is hard to tell on the standard iPod earbuds, but it makes it really hard to focus on the story when you are wondering if the narrator is going to let one rip soon.

Did any of you clowns at Audible even listen to the encoded audio? If yes, is the quality control person bloody deaf? Did he (or she) play around with firecrackers a lot as a kid?

Oh, and one more thing: the announcement at the beginning of the audio book: lose the drunk-sounding lady. Get someone who can speak normally to do the tagline, OK? Just a tip.

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