Audible Audio Files

I needed to clean up an old external drive to store my virtual machines back up, as the drive I use for backing up that portion of my server wouldn’t accommodate backing up the 150 gig of VMs I have (Parallels Windows7, Fusion Windows7/10, Ubuntu) in addition to the other data I backup on that drive. In doing so , I found some material I wasn’t sure I had on the server and some Audible audiobook files. The 300 gig drive that seemed so huge when I bought it is relatively small by today’s standards, but for this purpose, it’s just fine. I just knew I had these audiobooks somewhere from years ago when I subscribed. But I had forgotten where I backed them up in the days before my centralized server. So, one problem solved, but another encountered, as Audible puts DRM on the audio files so they can only be played if you have access to your Audible account.

Audible. Hmm, that was in 2008. What was the email address/user name and password I used waaay back before I started using a password manager? I did a little research and found that you can play your files even if you no longer subscribe, but I needed to get the login info and figure out how I could play the files. I guessed my user name from the naming of the Audible files and sent Audible Customer Support a question about how to get the other info I needed. They replied very promptly and I was able to reset my account. Fortunate that I still had access to the email account I used then.

Now, how to play them and, is there a way to “de-DRM” them? No mal intent here, just that I don’t want to be locked into playing the files on proprietary software on one platform.

Playing them is easy if you either use the Audible Manager software, which I didn’t want to do (one piece of software to play files from seven years ago?) or you can play them thru iTunes if you have your Audible login, which I now had. But, I couldn’t put them into Plex and play them thru that interface because of the DRM. Drat!.

There was some software that advertised it could strip the DRM from the .aa Audible files, and they ran $25-35, which seemed like a lot for my limited need, without knowing for certain whether they actually work. But I didn’t find anything that either didn’t cost me money or was free and seemed reasonably certain to work (unlike the solution I found for Kindle books). However, I did see mention of playing the audio file and recording the output to a new, unprotected MP3. I was a bit leery of the audio quality of this approach until I thought about an application called Audio Hijack. I have the new Audio Hijack 3, which is just the ticket for that, except for one (apparently) unavoidable thing. It has to be done in real time, meaning I have to play the entire audiobook and record it, without any speedup. Most of the Audible books, including the abridged ones, are six or more hours long. Ugh. Well, free was better than fast in this situation, so I set up Audio Hijack and told it to record the sound output from an application (iTunes), record the audio to a file and output to the speakers (so I could hear it actually playing). Since it is recording the output of an application rather than what it hears on the Mac’s speaker, I don’t have to worry about the recording picking up extraneous sounds from the environment. And, the silence setting ensures that if I only have one file I’m playing, once it is silent (for a selectable amount of time), the recording stops. So I don’t have to sit there for the entire six hours listening to the book record. The book I’m recording now is a total of 12 hours.

During my first pass at this found that if I had two audiobooks in the iTunes playlist and the first one finished, iTunes obediently went about playing the next if I wasn’t there to stop it (and I wasn’t). So the recording included some content I didn’t want, from the second book, rather than stopping. I downloaded Audacity (a free sound editor) to edit the file and trim out the unwanted bits at the end. I’d used Audacity off and on for years under Windows and knew there was a version for Mac as well. I experimented with the export quality. This is spoken word media, so unlike music, it is not nearly as important to have a 256k or 320k recording quality since voice does not have the dynamic range of music. 256k output produced a 880 megabyte audio file. I downsized this to 160k and made it mono, reducing the file by 50% in size. Although I had set up some metadata in the file when I recorded it in Audio Hijack, I found that after I trimmed the file and exported it, not all of the metadata was still there, so now I’m experimenting with an ID3 tag editor.

I found one ID3 tagger on the Mac app store which has a nice interface, and while it wasn’t expensive at $9.99, it only handles mp3 and m4a files. I have (mostly) mp3, but also flac and some other formats, so I need the multiple file format support. I’m going to go with Kid3 Audio Tagger, since it supports Mac (my primary platform), Linux and Windows, as well as a large number of formats besides MP3 (Ogg/Vorbis, Opus, DSF, FLAC, MPC, APE, MP4/AAC, MP2, Speex, TrueAudio, WavPack, WMA, WAV, AIFF), some of which I’d not heard of. Seems to get good reviews in the software store on Ubuntu.

I’ll give Kid3 a trial on Ubuntu before committing to my Mac.

Two and a half books down, thirty something books to go if I can stand it. It’s a slow process.
!*%¿DRM. My Mac will be working late tonight.

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