Difference Between an Audiobook and an Audio CD

An audiobook is a voice narration audio file of a physical book or ebook, that will sound slower and much more appealing than normal speech. Before the invention of the iPod, audiobooks were available on CDs, tapes, and vinyl. CDs provided the best sound quality achieved at the time. 

Therefore, since the iPod was launched to the market in October 2001 by Apple,  audiobooks started to be massively available online for people to purchase and immediately download to their favorite device.

In this article, we will go through the differences between an audiobook on CD and other earlier formats such as tapes, vinyl records, and cylinders, as well as the pros and cons of CDs, tapes, listening to streaming and downloading audiobooks.

Differences Between an Audiobook on CD and Earlier Formats

Narrating a book instead of reading it was seen as a great business opportunity by Thomas Edison with the phonograph, giving birth to the first “spoken word recordings”. Reading physical books necessarily meant using our hands and remaining sitting down with a good amount of lighting. 

This initiative did not catch up at the time, as phonograph cylinders had a very short time audio delivery from 4 to 12 minutes maximum, not convenient for audiobooks.

This image shows the first phonograph model by Thomas Edison

Although the phonograph allowed the capture of any sound, in the 1930’s vinyl allowed the production of the first audiobooks, originally called “Talking Books”, for the blind and print disabled, veterans injured in World War I, and the blind population who had no chance to be taught braille.

Radio was a dominating media in the 1920s therefore audio content and audiobooks were also widely accepted by those who enjoyed reading physical books and those who needed to learn from listening to valuable content while doing something else. 

These early vinyl discs allowed two 15-minute recordings (sides A and B) making them more suitable to make adaptations of books to their audio counterpart. The surface of a vinyl disc was prone to getting scratched, and this issue encouraged the industry to start working on other formats.

This image shows a phonograph

Pros and Cons of Audiobooks on Tape

In the early 1960s, Compact Cassettes or cassettes tapes came to the market, allowing two audio recordings: sides A and B with 30-45 minutes each. The sound quality was about the same as vinyl, and caught up easily, because of their ease of portability and stacking. 

Cassettes were a tiny version of the professional tapes used in recording studios, where engineers used big reel to reel tapes and multitrack tape machines.

After being played more than a dozen times, the sound quality decreased little by little, as the tape was worn out by the magnetic head, and the tape rolls in the device sometimes trapped and ruined the tape. 

Pros and Cons of Audiobooks on CD

When CDs came out to the market in 1982 there was a giant leap in matters of sound quality. People said goodbye to scratched vinyl and worn tapes, to welcome crystal clear music at much higher volume levels and frequency ranges.

CDs allowed one single side of digitized audio. The amount of data a standard CD could contain was about 500 MB and that represented 60-74 minutes of listening time. 

Thus audiobook classics could be remastered for CD quality, and digital audio workstations came to life: the software that allowed editing to remove unwanted noises, and level up the volume, among so many other practical tools.

Not only voice narration but also soundtracks and sound FX were part of many audiobooks, making them much richer and appealing to their current and new audiences.

CD players evolved from one single CD to a plate that could hold up to 5 CDs. CD players could be programmed to repeat the entire CD several times, or repeat specific audio tracks and that wonderful level of comfort had never been experienced.

Eventually, CDs suffered the same problem as vinyl: they got scratched and the playback got stuck on the same little section of audio that was being played. Keeping CDs out of their protective case, as well as dust particles that got on the lens of the laser device, were the main factors for CD deterioration. 

One innovation came in the early 1990s: the invention of the MP3 compression format by the Fraunhofer Society in Germany (with some US collaborators). It allowed a good quality audio track but in only a fraction of the file size.

Pros and Cons of Audiobooks Through Streaming

The creation and further development of compression formats such as MP3 facilitated the transfer of audio files through the internet. 

In the beginning, it represented a big threat to the audiobook industry, as these audio files, as soon as they were purchased and stored on a computer, could be copied and shared with other people, through CDR (writable CDs burned on a pc CD burner), as an attached file on an email message or hosted onto a webpage where any visitor could have access, incurring copyright infringement.

New formats to counter arrest this issue were developed; thus the major audiobook distribution formats can guarantee authors their royalties upon the number of sales achieved month after month.

The quality of a streamed audiobook relies on the bandwidth of the user’s connection: 4G (minimum) for mobile devices (car audio systems, smartphones, tablets, Ipods) and wi-fi modem connections for indoor spaces are the best options to fully enjoy a thrilling story or learn new skills from audio contents.

The average data consumption is about 30 MB per hour, which is very similar when downloading audio files to a device. It’s a matter of personal choice to download audio content in advance or on the go.

Pros and Cons of Downloadable Audiobooks

The unbeatable advantage of downloading audiobooks is that the user can listen to these audio contents with no distractions:

“The benefit of downloading an audiobook is that the user will keep the file permanently. During commuting, working out in the gym, or when carrying out any other activity, downloading the audiobook in advance can be very convenient for the user as it can reduce the risk of distractions when walking, running or driving.” www.audioproductcreators.com

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