eMusic Audiobooks Review: Audiobook Downloads and Rentals
|Cheapest plans and good selection, though it may lack some high-profile titles; audio quality is not top-notch|
eMusic is primarily known for its subscription music-download service, but it also offers an audiobook subscription service. The cost is $9.99 per month, the cheapest service we reviewed, and can be purchased alone or with one of their $11.99-per-month music subscription plans. You get your first two weeks free, a trial period that includes one audiobook credit, which will pretty much get you any title (though a small number of titles cost two credits).
The library is considerably smaller than Audible's. At 8,307 titles it pales next to the latter's tens of thousands of audiobooks (not to mention the newspaper and magazine titles). Still, it has a number of popular titles including those by bestselling authors Dan Brown, Gregory Maguire, Cormac McCarthy, Douglas Adams, John Hodgman, Patricia Cornwell, Steven King, James Patterson, Sarah Palin, and Barack Obama. If you're looking for The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, then you're in luck. Noticeably absent are J.K. Rowling's Harry Potter books as well as the popular teen blood-sucker, Twilight.
Signing up for just an audiobooks account with eMusic was less than simple and required a phone call to eMusic support. The phone support has a long menu to navigate through, but once we'd connected with a representative, he was helpful and friendly. However, to get our audiobooks subscription, we had to sign up for a music account, upgrade it to add an audiobooks account, and then have the representative manually cancel the music portion over the phone. During this process, the representative sent us to a site that led to an error message and had to use a bit of a technical workaround to get to the signup page. This whole process left us with a free $25 to use for music files in addition to our free first audiobook credit, which is a nice bonus, but it was frustrating to be unable to sign up simply for the package we wanted.
The eMusic store is well organized and easy to use. Each title has a generous, high-quality audio sample and you'll usually find a bit of description too. There's also a spot for user reviews, but it's a smaller community, so don't expect a lot of those. Downloads are processed through the eMusic Download Manager. We tested it on a Mac and it worked quite well, handily plopping our downloads into iTunes.
Here's where we start talking about the difference between eMusic and just about everyone else. Most other download services use DRM (Digital Rights Management) to limit the number of times you can sync and burn your audiobooks. With eMusic you're using regular MP3 files without any DRM. This means much greater freedom since you're not using a proprietary format. It also means they play on any device than can play MP3 files. There's no need to check a compatibility chart.
eMusic does other things differently too: books are downloaded as multiple files (you still pay per title, and not per file). Also, since the MP3s are not auto-categorized in iTunes as audiobooks; you will have to set their media type from "music" to "audiobooks" if you want them grouped together in your iTunes library. So, while you gain considerable freedom, it may require a bit more work.
How do the files sound? You don't get a choice of audio quality with eMusic. The 64kbps format does not provide flawless sound quality. For comparison's sake, a song downloaded from iTunes is sampled at 256kbps (which means much less loss of detail). Of course music is generally more sonically complex than an audiobook. We used fairly high-end headphones with our iTunes equalizer turned off for our comparison test. We found eMusic's audiobook quality to have a slightly compressed sound, particularly during sections that incorporated music. The narrator's voice was also a bit flat sounding. It wasn't terrible, and some users may not notice. We have pretty sensitive ears when it comes to sound quality, but we would rank it below Audible's Enhanced audio format, and definitely below true CD quality.
eMusic certainly is the bargain leader in this space. $9.99 is an excellent price for an audiobook. eMusic, unlike Audible, does not let you roll over unused credits, but you can purchase additional credits for $11.99 (or you can upgrade to a higher credit plan). One caveat: eMusic does not warn you if you want to spend beyond your limit, so be careful with the "download" button. If you've used up your credits eMusic will purchase another one for you. All-in-all it's a good service, particularly for those who like their audiobooks without digital rights management. With a two-week free trial that automatically gives you one free audiobook, there's no reason not to try it.
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