In the last couple of years, I’ve gotten hooked on audiobooks. My work commute is long (an hour and a half or more, each way) and sometimes frustrating. Immersing myself in a story is the absolute best way to battle boredom and road rage, at least in my personal opinion.
Audiobooks for me tend to be either excellent or awful depending on a few factors. There is very little room for “average”. Today I wanted to talk about those factors that in my opinion affect the quality of an audiobook.
1. The narrator
The narrator is the key factor in the success of an audiobook. A good narrator has a large vocal range and can manage to make the voices of all the main characters sound completely different. Really, these talented people are actors rather than simply narrators. They bring the characters to life.
An average (or worse, a bad) narrator isn’t able to differentiate the characters’ voices well enough. Thus, a listener can get confused as to who is speaking during a conversation between two or more characters. Some narrators’ voices just grate on a listeners nerves for no particular reason. This might be a personal issue, but it’s something else to take into account before spending money on an expensive audiobook. I always suggest listening to a sample before a purchase because of this.
2. Speaking speed
To some extent, the speaking speed is dependent on the type of story and how the author paced the story. But in many ways, the speed is the decision of the narrator in coordination with the author/publisher. Although each listener might have a preference as to the speed the narrator reads at, there tends to be a sweet spot that most listeners find acceptable. This sweet spot speed is slower than you might think if you’ve never listened to audiobooks before. A slow speaking speed allows you time to world-build in your imagination and really immerse yourself into a story. If you are sampling an audiobook for the first time, don’t give up on a narrator that speaks slowly. Give it a chance before giving up. You might find you like it after all once you get immersed in the author’s world.
The reason the speaking speed is so important is that you often can’t change that speed when you’re listening. Some apps or programs allow you to slow up or speed down a recording as you listen, but many don’t. For instance, if I listen to audiobooks on CD in my car, I’m stuck at the recorded speed because my car CD controls don’t have a speed setting. Let me tell you, this can be VERY VERY annoying if you desperately want to finish a bad book instead of just quitting it. If you listen to Audible audiobooks, you can change the speed, but this too is difficult to do while driving.
3. Voice pitch
Do certain people’s voices annoy you? If so, then you want to choose your audiobooks carefully. The voice pitch is entirely a personal preference – yours is probably different than mine – but it’s good to be aware of before you buy an audiobook.
In my opinion, narrators with mid- to low-range voice pitches are better narrators. A pitch too high (like many women’s voices) or too low (like many men’s voices) are just unable to do justice to a range of both male and female characters.
A few other voice characteristics I’d put under this category are gravelly-ness, breathiness, squeakiness, and huskiness. If any of those things annoy you, then avoid narrators with those types of voices. Trust me, the more you hear it and the longer the story is, the more aggravated you will get.
4. The story
Yep, for audiobooks, I put the story itself as the least important factor. An excellent narrator can turn a badly written (or just plain uninteresting) story into a fascinating tale. On the other hand, a bad narrator, or even a narrator who just doesn’t mesh with the story, can butcher even the best story.
Do you agree with my list? What would you add or leave off?
If you haven’t tried audiobooks yet, what are you waiting for?! Get a free trial of Audible through this link:
Come back tomorrow for your chance to win an Audible audiobook! Invite your friends and family. And your neighbors. And your dentist. And your dog. 🙂