iPod purpleIn many ways, listening to an audiobook these days is far simpler than six years ago when I first discovered my love for them.  At the time, I still relied on a cassette tape player and frequently changing tapes or turning a tape over to side B were all necessities for listening.  I never thought to be annoyed or saw stopping what I was doing to attend the cassette player as an inconvenience.

Now, most of my listening is via my iPod and downloading audiobooks rather than waiting for one to come by mail is not only extremely convenient but immediately gratifying as well.  No longer do I need to check to make sure I’m not missing any tapes before beginning a book, nor do I spend time wondering if I kept them sitting in the sun too long.  Rather than loading that box of tapes (and usually a rather large player) in the car for a trip, I just drop a very small device in a specially sized pocket in my purse or clip it to my shirt and I’m off.  But give me a grueling night of technical challenges on my laptop when I’m attempting to download my latest purchase or, dare I say, a loss of my hard drive, and I find myself wishing for the – yes – simpler days of a cassette tape player.

Strange as it may seem, CDs never played a large part in my audiobook listening experience.  I have listened to books on CDs and still do, but rarely.  I hung on to audio cassette tape technology as long as possible before graduating directly from tapes to my iPod (an MP3 player).  I was so accustomed to changing/turning tapes that I saw CDs as rather inconvenient, especially since I found those discs difficult to back up just enough to re-listen to a certain passage.  Nowadays I usually copy a CD audiobook to my computer which then allows me to download it to my iPod for easier listening and reversing if required.

Cassette tapes are still a part of my life since I own a large collection of great romance audiobooks in that format in addition to the fact that some audiobooks are available only in cassette format.  But finding a new cassette player may prove to be a real trial since many retail stores no longer stock such items – especially in any sort of portable form.  After hunting unsuccessfully for a replacement player two years ago, I purchased one through eBay and it was quite affordable.  I guess tape players are considered relics these days – at least here in the United States.  On the other hand, I still see a number of  new audiobooks available only in cassette tape format as I look through the new releases each month but those are usually produced outside of the U.S.

Today’s selection of listening devices however is vast and goes far beyond my simple experience of cassette tape player, CDs, and iPod.  And that’s what we’re discussing today.  What is your preferred device(s) for listening to audiobooks?  Is there one type or brand of listening device that you recommend over another?

ZEN MP3 PlayerAs I looked at a list of audio devices that utilize downloads, I found 18 brands of MP3 players and I am sure there are more.  What, you may ask, is an MP3 player?  It’s very technical if you want to know the entire story but here is a shortened answer from PC.MAG.com:

A digital music player that supports the MP3 audio format, which started a revolution in online music downloads and distribution. All portable music players, the iPod being the leading brand, support MP3 along with one or more other audio formats.

As I continued looking, I discovered many more listening devices such as PDAs (Personal Digital Assistant), cell phones, various eBook readers, GPS (Global Positioning System – that was a surprise), as well as Book Port and Braille Plus for the visually impaired.  And then there are the less complicated downloads to your computer solely for the purpose of listening (from that computer) either through ear buds or its speaker.

Another audiobook device we are seeing more of these days is the preloaded digital audio player, a ready-to-go digital audiobook or more simply put – one player dedicated to one book with no required download.  The emphasis here is ease as the only listener requirement is to start playing the device.  Unfortunately when you are finished with the audiobook, you are finished with the player as well (although you can listen to it again).  I have no personal experience with this product and doubt I will anytime soon since it is relatively expensive.  (Jane Castle’s recently released Obsidian Prey runs $23.09 for unabridged CDs at Amazon while the download costs $18.37 for non-members at Audible.) However, the preloaded digital audio player format for the same book carries a price tag of $69.99.  There are opportunities online to trade your preloaded digital audio player in for another (at a cost).

Although I have a lot to share about romance audiobooks, unfortunately I can offer little in the way of expertise on choosing an audio listening device.  I walk the audio path my two adult children laid for me several years ago when I was presented with an iPod and told there was a better way to listen to audiobooks.  So, I am merely acting as a conduit here, hoping that you all will not only share your choice of listening device but interesting facts, praises, or cautionary statements for the various devices available.  Hopefully, those of you looking for your next listening device can also ask questions and gain a better understanding of the numerous choices on the market today.

223464Reads From the Past

Untamed – Elizabeth Lowell

Anne Flosnik’s lovely voice was striking and drew me in immediately but her narration lacked the necessary speech variation for many of the secondary characters.  However, the heroine’s beautifully  accented voice was completely distinguishable from the hero’s almost husky monotone and sometimes that’s all that counts in a romance audiobook.  Recalling that Untamed was one of my favorite historical romances in 2002, I was thrilled to find it available in audio earlier this year.  My enjoyment was not curbed by the narration and production, but rather the worn out Medieval formulas.  Listening to Dominic’s determination to train Meg just as he tamed his peregrine sounded harsher than I recalled when reading.  Regardless, it still rates a “listen to another day” since I don’t think I will ever forget how much I loved it seven years ago.

Gentle Rogue – Johanna Lindsey

Narrator Laural Merlington’s portrayal of hero James more or less ruined the audio version of this 1990 romance favorite.  Not only did the hero’s rough, uncomfortably deep voice resemble a much older man but his laugh sounded exactly like the devil’s “Ha, ha, ha” in the online game Slingo (and believe me, that’s hard to overcome).  And while I found the print version very humorous when I reread Gentle Rogue just two years ago, I failed to see much humor in the audio version.  The fault was the narrator’s failure to grasp the required timing and cadence of speech to effectively depict James and Georgie’s amusing verbal games, causing those encounters to fall flat and sound absurd rather than funny.

No Place Like Home – Barbara Samuel

As far as narration goes, Kristine Thatcher ranks slightly above average in my book but, combined with its touching story, this one is a sure-fire success.  Romance is only one feature in this tale of returning home to a large family and bringing a dying friend along.  This is one audiobook that has stayed with me for years and memories of bad boy Malachi, the heartthrob brother who has come to ease his brother’s dying, made me want to hear it all over again – on cassette tape no less!


The first week of November, our Speaking of Audiobooks column will be dedicated to the audiobook versions of Diana Gabaldon’s Outlander series.  Please plan to join us in discussing this memorable series as we highlight the audio aspects of books 1-4.

Time for Your Thoughts

What is your preferred device for listening to audiobooks?

Is there one type or brand of listening device that you recommend over another?

What interesting facts, praises, or cautionary statements can you share with us concerning the choices for audio listening devices?

What advice do you have to offer the audio enthusiast who is looking to purchase a new audio listening device?

What do you see as the simplest audio device for those who are wary of downloading books?

And, as always, what are your latest audiobook successes or failures?

Ending Notes

See you later this month when we take a look at new audiobook releases for November.  In the meantime, you can find me whiling away the hours happily listening to Diana Gabaldon’s Drums of Autumn in final preparation for our November discussion.

-Lea Hensley

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