Audiobooks have become increasingly popular as devices such as the iPod, iPhone, and iPad have become commonplace. While it's great to listen to music while commuting or exercising, you can use some of that time to listen to your favourite author or the latest non-fiction bestseller.

You can download digital audiobooks from the iTunes Store or Audible, but you can also buy audiobooks on CD and add them to your iTunes library yourself. If you do the latter, you need to rip them, and use special strategies to manage and enjoy the resulting files. Here's how to best deal with those CDs.

Ripping audiobook CDs

If you buy your own CDs, ripping audiobooks is simple, but you'll likely want to do so differently from the way you rip music. You won't want to use the same import settings, because spoken word recordings don't need the same audio quality as music.

Settings

Before you rip the first CD, go to iTunes > Preferences in iTunes 10, click on the General tab, then click on Import Settings. If you're only planning to listen to the audiobook on an iPod or in iTunes, choose AAC Encoder from the Import Using popup menu. If you want to use the files with other players or software, choose MP3 for better compatibility.

You can choose from two types of settings. The first way is the simplest: from the Setting popup menu, choose Spoken Podcast. This contains most of the settings I'll mention below.

However, since most audiobooks are recorded in stereo, these settings have iTunes rip in stereo, which generally isn't necessary, ripping in mono will take up half the disk space as stereo. Make sure to note the settings you were using before you make these changes, so you can revert to your original settings for music when you've finished ripping your audiobook.

If you want to use more detailed settings, choose Custom from the Setting popup menu; you'll see settings for Stereo Bit Rate, Sample Rate and Channels. For bit rate, choose 64 kbps, voice needs only a small amount of data to sound good. Leave the sample rate at Auto and from the Channels menu, choose either Stereo or Mono.

For most books, Mono is fine. I only use Stereo for "full cast productions," such as plays, where several performers are spread across the soundscape. Note that the above settings give you 32-kbps mono files. 64 kbps is the stereo bit rate, when you choose Mono, that bit rate is halved.

To get the most out of your encoding, select the Optimise For Voice and Use High Efficiency Encoding (HE) checkboxes. The former limits the frequency ranges used to those needed for voices, and the latter provides better encoding at low bit rates.

HE encoding doesn't work on older iPods. If you have an older device, try with one file to see if it works before encoding a whole book. Then click on OK, then on OK again twice to save your changes.