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This article describes a fairly simple method of using iTunes and free software on an Apple Mac to convert DRMed audiobooks into .mp3s that you can either burn to disk or use on players that are not compatible with DRM schemas. A method which does not involve decrypting, removing, reverse engineering or breaking the DRM — a questionable practice fraught with legal complications and consequences.

This method simply routes your Mac’s speaker outputs to its microphone inputs so that sound can be re-recorded. No cables necessary. I hear no loss in quality.

The big downside is that it takes as long to re-record as it takes for the book to play — so you’ll typically want to do this overnight.

DRM in audiobooks can be a problem: I’ve wanted to gift audiobooks to people not invested in the iPod/Mac ecosystem, who are not net savvy and may not want to be forced to open an account to redeem a gift card for an audiobook. I’ve often wanted to create economical .mp3 CDs to use on the road — rather than burn the many CDs required by the conventional audio format.

Typically I buy from audible.com and the iTunes store and most of the time I’m happy enough to listen to audio on my Mac, iPod or iPhone. However using an FM transmitter in my iPhone to play audiobooks through my car radio is somewhat impractical and also rather dangerous. Dangerous because of having to futz with the iPhone’s controls while driving, especially after it has gone into lockdown mode. It’s the unsafe equivalent of texting while driving in my opinion. Impractical because of the interference of so many commercial radio stations in the city and the large number of disks you have to work with to get through just one book.

Burning audiobooks to CD’s is also not practical since the burns require time slicing which, while automated, frequently fails — not to mention the heap of disks created using the conventional audio format. A sixteen hour book requires almost as many disks. The same book converted to .mp3s can be burned onto just two CDs — and the .mp3 files can be played on almost every other player out there, making it an ideal item to gift.

This method actually requires that you have a legitimate, authorised purchase. I respect copyright and do not advocate piracy. I run a respectable tab at the iTunes store, my whole family does — and I’m a monthly subscriber at audible.com. Unless I buy for the purpose of gifting we use our .mp3 files for our personal use. I am not a lawyer but I believe this method, for the purposes described, is legal.
 


 
Required

Hardware: An Apple Mac with a generous amount of free disk space (not that the process takes up that much space, but if you don’t want to babysit the re-recording process you’ll want some free space to deal with the extra hours of silence that’ll be recorded onto the back end of each file until you’re able to hit the stop recording button).

Software: iTunes, which you should already have installed, Audacity (with the LAME plugin to export .mp3) and Soundflower (to redirect audio output to microphone input — digitally — without the need for cables). Installer instructions, if required, are appended to this post.

Very simply stated the method is: The audiobook will play in iTunes on your Mac. Soundflower will route the speaker audio to the microphone where Audacity will pick it up and re-record it.
 


 
Setup Instructions

1. We’ll start by digitally wiring audio out to microphone in. In Systems Preferences>Sound under the Output tab select Soundflower (2ch). Done. All sound, iTunes included, will be directed to Soundflower. You won’t hear anything. The default selection you will need to revert to later will be Internal Speakers so you can hear sound again.

2. Next we’ll tell Audacity to listen to Soundflower. Launch Audacity. Under Audacity>Preferences>Devices in the Recording pane change the Device from the default Built-In Microphone to Soundflower (2ch) and change the Channels from 2 (Stereo) to 1 (Mono)*. You may need to undo these changes later if you want to use Audacity for other purposes.
*Mono files are half the size and since most audiobooks are recorded with one voice there is no need for Stereo.


 


 
How to Re-Record an Audio Book

1. Quit all other applications that generate alarms and sounds — that noise is going to be recorded in your .mp3 if you don’t!
2. Purchase your audiobook and authorise it to play in iTunes. Select the book file you want to play. Take a note of its running time. Size and position your iTunes window so that you can line it up, side by side, with the Audacity window. Do not hit Play yet.
3. Launch Audacity. Size and position your Audacity window so that you can line it up, side by side, with the iTunes window. Punch the red Record button.
4. Quickly switch back to iTunes and hit the Play button.
5. Go do something else for the running time of the file you’re playing and re-recording — then come back and Stop recording. With ample disk space and some knowledge of clipping in Audacity it doesn’t matter much if you record several hours past the end of the file — you can easily edit it back down to size. For the purposes of this quick set of instruction I’ll assume you now have an Audacity recording of the right length.
6. File>Save as by the book’s name — a relatively quick save. A proprietary file type and a project folder will be created, which may be deleted after you’ve successfully exported an .mp3 version of the recording.
7. Then File>Export, giving the book’s name again and your preferred location to store it in and select MP3 Files as the Format. If this is your first time doing this you’ll be asked to locate the LAME plugin, see the installation instructions appended. The export will take quite a bit of time.

8. Test your .mp3 file in QuickTime or iTunes for quality and completeness before deleting the proprietary Audacity file and folder created in Step #6. Done.
9. Rinse and repeat for all the audiobooks you need to convert to .mp3s.
 


 
Software Installation Instructions

Installing Audacity …
1. Download “Audacity 1.3.12 (Beta)” and install the application. Copy the entire content of the virtual disk to a similarly named folder in your Applications folder.
2. Find and install the LAME plugin to enable .mp3 exports.

Installing LAME for use with Audacity …
1. Install Audacity first.
2. Download “Lame Library v3.98.2 for Audacity on OSX.dmg”. Open the virtual volume and double-click the “Lame Library v3.98.2 for Audacity on OSX.pkg” to install the “libmp3lame.dylib” plugin. By default it’ll suggest saving it in /usr/local/lib/audacity but my recommendation is to navigate to your application folder for Audacity and save it there. It’ll create a subfolder awkwardly called “audacity”, all in lowercase — but it’ll be easier to find and will copy with the Audacity app folder if you choose to back it up, share it or reinstall it.
3. The first time you use the “File>Export as MP3″ command in Audacity you will be prompted for the location of the LAME file “libmp3lame.dylib”. Navigate to the file’s location and then click “OK”.

Installing Soundflower …
1. Download “Soundflower-1.5.1.dmg” (or a different version if appropriate for your version of Mac OS X). Open the virtual volume and double-click the Soundflower package to install.
 


 
Suggested reading: Transfer Audible.com content to Droid at JPWhite’s Tech Blog |

 

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3 Comments

  1. Works great! Thanks for the easy-to-follow tutorial. My only question is how can I maintain the chapter markers in the AA file? A 16 hour audiobook is hard to navigate without chapter markers.

  2. @scarlson22 It’s an inconvenient truth, I believe, that .mp3′s don’t have the ability to store chapter markers — although you can bookmark you present position in iTunes using Get Info>Options and checking off “remember playback position”.

    If you or anybody find solutions or workarounds to this, please come back and post for all to benefit. Thanks!

  3. I guess splicing the giant file into multiple mp3 files, each containing a chapter, and then bind them together with Audiobook-Binder would work…but finding where one chapter ends and another begins is difficult. Any suggestions?


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