So, the 5G iPod has a problem with Audiobooks…

Not all audiobooks, mind you, just homemade ones; downloads from the iTunes Store and Audible seem to work fine. The story goes like this…

My carpool ended a couple weeks ago, as my riding buddy resigned to take another job. I’m going to miss the amity, conversation and, of course, the gas and mileage savings, but my solo commute will now give me the opportunity to invest more time into audiobooks and other spoken audio, passing the dreadful Atlanta Interstates somewhat more productively. I’ve started with Foucault’s Pendulum by Umberto Eco. It’s a fascinating adventure story about literature, philosophy, old secrets and the legacy of the Knights Templar told with compelling intellectual prose.

I first read the book eleven years ago when I was in high school and it inspired my to write a paper on the Templars, which brought me into contact with a strange world of the paranoid and the occult. Since then, I’ve noticed in modern books and movies, how mythical versions of the Templars, like Atlantis, are often brought up as keepers of ancient secrets, power and wealth that even today’s advanced civilization can’t understand.

Plus, a good portion of the book takes place in Paris, where I happened to be at the time I was reading it. At one point, I finished a paragraph and decided to immediately visit the location that had been described. That was pretty cool. However, unbeknownst to me at the time, between the publishing of the book in 1988 and my visit in 1996, the actual Foucault’s Pendulum was moved from the Conservatoire National des Arts et Métiers to the Panthéon, so I never did get to see it.

That’s great and all, but what does it have to do with the iPod?

Well, having decided to re-read/listen to the book, I promptly stitched together the nineteen audio parts into a bookmarkable AAC (m4b), which iTunes and the iPod treat as an audiobook. I started listening to it on the ride to work, getting about 30 minutes into the story. Once at the office, I switched to music, then when the day was over, switched back to the book for the ride home.

As expected, the book picked up where it had left off, continuing the story. All was well for about a minute, then the book suddenly stopped, returning to the iPod’s main menu. When I restarted the book, it began playing from the beginning, having lost the bookmark. Annoying to say the least. I noticed the next I synced up that the file’s play count had increased by one, as though the iPod thought it had played to the end.

This was not the first time this had happened; I had previously encountered this problem with a bookmarkable AAC audiobook of Al Gore’s The Assault on Reason, but at the time, I chalked it up to an error in the file. But this second occurrence indicated that something else might have been afoot. The behavior occurs anytime a homemade M4B file is interrupted, whether by playing another song/podcast/audiobook/video, syncing the iPod with iTunes, or if the iPod is asleep for long enough that it turns itself off and requires a reboot. The problem doesn’t occur if the audiobook is simply paused and restarted.

So I set about trying to find a solution to this irksome problem.

A quick trip to Google turned up a thread on the forums at Audiobook Builder’s website. Audiobook Builder stitches together many files to create (build), you guessed it, one long audiobook, which is great for books spread across multiple CDs. ABB happened to be the program I used to create my Pendulum M4B file, so it looked like a good place to start (though I’m not implying that Audiobook Builder was at fault; my Assault on Reason files were similarly deficient and those were stitched together with the Join Together AppleScript).

The direction of that discussion leaned toward the mix of the file, specifically if it were mono, was the culprit. Sure enough my files had been encoded as mono. (Quick aside: Files encoded in mono aren’t any smaller than a stereo counterpart at the same bitrate. However, you can use a lower bitrate and maintain the quality of the sound with mono). Thinking I had the case solved, I converted the files to stereo, synced up the iPod and continued with the story.

For about a minute.

The thing quit again. Clearly the channels were not the issue. Without any further leads, I set about trying to eliminate variables. I tried a higher bitrate. I tried a lower bitrate. I removed the album art/book cover. I took all the chapter markers out. I removed all ID3 tags until all that was left was a bare bones AAC file. Then, just when it looked like that might work, it failed again.

The last recourse was to segment the file into shorter pieces. Rather than one 24 hour file, I have ten 2-2.5 hour files. Yeah, that’s fewer than the nineteen files I started with, but it’s not as elegant as a single long one. But it works, so despite my frustration that the bug exists, I can finish my story without the constant scrubbing to a lost place mark.

I love my iPod, but *sigh*



Another workaround I thought of is to use join the pieces into one long MP3 file. Then, after adding it to the iTunes Library, get info on it, marvel at the incredible length of the file, and select “Remember Playback Position” in the Options panel. That will emulate the bookmarking feature, but you won’t be able to play it slower of faster like a bona fide M4B Audiobook.

8 thoughts on “So, the 5G iPod has a problem with Audiobooks…

  1. I’m not sure how you got Audiobook Builder to allow you to create one large 24-hour track; normally Audiobook Builder limits you to a maximum of 12 hours, specifically to work around the issue you describe, which only occurs with longer tracks.

    The iTunes Store does break up audiobooks into smaller tracks, usually in the 2.5-3 hour range. Presumably this is to make downloads more reliable, as well as work around the issues with longer tracks. But I’ve found that even 12 hour tracks produced by Audiobook Builder work just fine on my iPod nano (2nd gen), and now on my iPhone.


    tunequest Reply:

    Actually I didn’t get a 24-hour file out of ABB; it produced one 12-hour and a second 11+ hour M4B. I still ran into trouble with those files. At one point during my testing, I did use the Join Together script to make a single 24-hour file, to see if it were ABB causing the problem.

    But, that didn’t work either.

    And from what I’ve been able to find out about this phenomenon, it’s specific to the 5G iPod with Video (both versions), so I’m not surprised that they work with your other devices.


  2. I guess that makes sense. I haven’t had a disk-based iPod in quite some time. I listen almost exclusively to audiobooks, and a 4 GB nano can hold a dozen or more books easily, so that’s more than enough for me. And the form factor is so perfect.

    I’d be very interested to read more about your troubleshooting of this problem, if you come up with additional information or data points. I.e., if there’s a particular size threshold where the bug is triggered. Good luck!


  3. I think I may have found the solution to this problem. I was getting echos on all of my audiobooks, those that I purchased from iTunes,, and even those that I ripped myself. But not all of them. What was the difference? Why would some have an echo and others not? After hours of troubleshooting and searching numerous support forums, I finally found the answer to my problem. iTunes version 8.0 has a “Media Kind” feature for all media in which you can classify your music as “Audiobook” kind or “Music” kind. Selecting “Audiobook” places your music in the Audiobook folder, even if you ripped it yourself. The problem was, for some reason this feature was causing an echo on all my audiobooks. Well, turning this off, or changing all my audiobooks to “Music” kind fixed it for me. All my audiobook sounds great, and the “Remember playback position” feature allows me to return to my audiobook position spot like normal. Now to get back to my audiobooks!


  4. For what it’s worth, I have also experienced similar problems, but with a different setup.

    In my case, I have a 4th gen iPod Photo, 60 GB. The same situation of audiobooks resetting to the beginning happens not only with this iPod, but with audiobooks purchased through iTunes. Most recently with “The Tipping Point” by Malcom Gladwell – a single file roughly 8.5 hours long.

    In addition to the exact situation described by the OP — listening to audiobook on ride to work, switching to music at the office, then returning to audiobook on ride home — I’ve found that the audiobook will reset after having the iPod paused for roughly more than 10 minutes or so. For example, I was listening to “The Tipping Point” for about 45 minutes, then stopped for about 30 minutes while I had lunch on the road. When I started it back up, it began playing right where I left off for a minute or two, then reverted back to the main menu. When I restarted the book, it started at the beginning.

    It’s really rather annoying, especially since it’s happening with content purchased through the iTunes Store. Even more annoying is finding multiple stories of similar issues, with no resolutions. I’ve now gotten in the habit of making a mental note of where I am in the book, letting it reset and then manually fast-forwarding to that point.

    Has anyone else experienced this with iTunes Store-purchased content? Any resolution?


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