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Here’s what you need to know.
Is Audible worth it? Even with one free credit and a 30-day trial, it’s normal to have some questions before pulling the trigger on a monthly or annual membership. I recently used Audible for a week, listening to one free book and in addition to some of the service’s original content to decide if you should sign up. Here’s everything that you should know.
Audible is the largest audiobooks seller in the world. Owned by Amazon, Audible sell books by major publishers, but it also offers a deep catalog of podcasts, romance authors, and a budding list of exclusive series. Each subscription also comes with a daily audio version of either the New York Times or Wall Street Journal. Users are granted credits for free downloads on a monthly or annual basis, depending on their subscription, and additional titles are available at a steep discount from normal audiobook prices.
How much is Audible?
The default subscription for Audible (the one that you roll into automatically after your trial ends) is $14.95 per month, which comes with one credit per month (one credit equals one free download). There are other options, though. Audible’s Platinum membership, for example, runs $22.95 a month but doubles your monthly credits.
Is Audible worth it?
Using Audible is a breeze, whether you listen to books on your desktop, an MP3 player, or via the Audible app. The company makes it easy to download files directly to your computer or onto your smartphone for later listening. If you’re flush with data thanks to an unlimited plan, you can also stream your content via its app.
We tested Audible files on two devices: the iPhone SE and a 120GB iPod Classic. The iPhone, using Audible’s app, provided the better user experience. However, whether you’re using an iPod or a smart device, your Audible files will play perfectly. You don’t need a smartphone to enjoy your Audible books, though you will be missing out on some features without it.
Audiobooks are like any medium; the quality of your product depends on who made it. Thankfully, the vast majority of audiobooks feature talented narrators doing carefully thought-out performances. Even if the book is awful, a talented narrator can often save it. From a sonic perspective, the audio quality is largely up to you. Audible’s app lets users select if they want a high-quality or a low-quality stream of their book in the settings menu. Higher-quality files sound better but take up more room, so if you’re streaming, you may want to set your audio quality to the lowest setting to save your data.
During my week with Audible, I listened to Robert M. Pirsig’s Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, read by the author, and Audible’s Damned Spot podcast via the app. I also tested several of the free Audible books available in the Channels section of the Audible app. Using the iPod Classic reminded me of the versatility of the device. Audible supports syncing with the iPod, allowing you to utilize the device’s Audiobook features, including keeping track of your place when you load another file and then return to your book. The iPod experience lacks major bells and whistles, but if all you want is to listen to your books and not lose your place, it’s a surprisingly solid option.
I spent the remainder of the week using the Audible app on the iPhone SE. Audible’s app provides a perfect user experience for listening to audiobooks. Its tabbed menus make for easy navigation between your library, streaming content, the book you’re currently listening to, and the Audible store. Your library provides you with some vital information, including which books have been downloaded to your device to how long you have left in each title.
Browsing new books via the Discover section is one of the few frustrating aspects of the app. I was unable to buy books from the app; instead Audible only lets users add books to their wishlist within the app for later purchase on a computer. It’s annoying not to be able to make purchases within the app.
Channels is a clear winner for the service, offering up high-quality podcasts like Damned Spot, which chronicles how locations recover after being the site of a tragedy. Audible’s podcasts can be downloaded by members for listening offline or streamed directly via the app. The Channels tab also offers up some free audiobooks for streaming. (Sadly, you won’t be able to download these titles for offline listening without purchasing.)
Audible’s app lets listeners customize their listening experience to their exact needs, from how fast the narrator reads to sleep timers than turn off your book after a certain amount of time or at the end of a chapter. After a few days of using the Audible app, I found it replacing my regular walking-around podcasts.
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Increasing the speed of the narrator to 1.25x let e consume the book faster without feeling rushed or like I was missing something. More importantly, there was no noticeable distortion or warping on the narrator’s voice, making it easy to ignore the difference in speed. We still have several hours left in Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance—the book is 15 hours long after all—but I was able to put a good dent in it. Audible’s easy-to-pick-up app makes you want to come back to your book when you have free time available. Heck, it even offers motion controls if you want to reach into your pocket while walking and not look down at the menu.
After a full week, I was sold.
Is Audible worth it? The pros
1. The app
There plenty of ways to listen to audiobooks, but Audible’s app is the best and easiest. Its highly customizable options let you tailor your listening experience to your precise needs while offering useful bonus features like the ability to save clips of books that are important to you. Most importantly, we experienced no lag, crashes, or problems using the app.
2. The cost
Simply put, $14.95 per month for an audiobook is a steal. Traditional audiobooks cost between $10 and $40 brand new, so unless you’re using your credits on old classics, your wallet should come out on top each month.
Whispersync is a remarkable feature for people who buy books on Kindle and also want the audiobook version. Kindle users who have already purchased a title can, in many cases, get the Audible version at a deep discount. Once you have both versions on connected devices, you can jump back and forth between the book and audiobook without having to find your place. Each device remembers where you left off and tells the other one where to pick back up. This feature isn’t for everyone, but the people who use it will find it invaluable.
Is Audible worth it? The cons
1. Audible’s site makes it hard to sort books by price
Out of credits and want to check out some cheap books? Too bad. Despite being an Amazon company, Audible’s site doesn’t let you search the lowest price to highest as Amazon does. It feels designed to make it harder to find budget titles, which is frustrating given the high cost of audiobooks. Fix your search, Audible. There’s no reason you can’t do better.
2. You can’t buy books using the app
You should be able to buy a book from the Audible app, especially in light of the app’s ability to save titles to your wish list. It’s a minor complaint, but now that I’m addicted, it’s a real one.
So, is Audible worth it? The final verdict
Yes, 100 percent. Everyone with even a passing interest in audiobooks should try Audible for a month. It doesn’t matter if you just want to get a little more informed or you if you miss reading and want to pick up a book during your morning commute. The Audible app makes you want to dive back into your book when you get a free chance, with intuitive navigation and customization options that make the experience truly yours. Even if you’re just listening on an old iPod, the Audible experience makes consuming a book something anyone can do, no matter how busy. If you’re on the fence, hop off and pick up a title.
Disclosure: The author of this piece has worked with Audible in the past, writing a script for an upcoming Audible podcast that will be released in 2018. He is not currently working with the company.
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John-Michael Bond is a tech reporter and culture writer for Daily Dot. A longtime cord-cutter and early adapter, he's an expert on streaming services (Hulu with Live TV), devices (Roku, Amazon Fire), and anime. A former staff writer for TUAW, he's knowledgeable on all things Apple and Android. You can also also find him regularly performing standup comedy in Los Angeles.