How to convert MP3 files to iTunes/iPod/iPhone m4b Audiobooks

I love to listen to audio books in the car while I commute 30-40 minutes each way to work. It is also a nice way to pass time in airports and during flights. I listen to music about 40% of the time and audio books the other 60%.

For music and audiobooks I use an iPod – I have an Alpine car radio which interfaces to the iPod through a digital cable. I use the radio’s buttons to control the iPod which is hidden in the glove box of my car so I can access dozens of audiobooks and thousands of MP3 songs from the car dashboard.

The following method works in Apple’s iTunes and can be played from iTunes directly or on either an iPod or iPhone by using Sync. This method, including software suggestions, is for Windows XP.

The m4b file format for iTunes Audiobooks

This all leads me to this discussion about how to create m4b Audiobooks (one word) from mp3 audio books (two words) files for iTunes. Apple has a special filetype for iTunes Audiobooks called m4b. The m4a (for music) and m4b (for audiobooks) use a compression codec called Advanced Audio Coding (AAC). Audiobooks in m4b format are one large audio file containing the entire book and have the ability to remember where you stopped listening – a bookmark! Even if you listen to other music tracks or even other audiobooks on the iPod/iPhone, when you go back to that book it will resume where you left off. This is much better than the old way I listened to books on CDs where if I stopped the CD I could resume it from the same spot only if I didn’t eject it to listen to something else. If I ejected the CD to listen to something else, I lost my place.

Since I get my audio books as mp3 fragments of the whole book, sometimes over 200 separate mp3 files for one book, I need to convert these to a single m4b file. I could purchase the books from Apple already in the single m4b format, but that is very limiting.

No, I need a way to convert multiple mp3s to one m4b. There are at least two ways to do the conversion.

1. mp3 to m4b Conversion – direct method

There is a free software tool for directly combining many mp3 files and converting the output to a single large m4b file. This tool is called, appropriately enough, MP3 to iPod Audio Book Converter and I have used it successfully – sometimes. The problem is the output file sometimes has the wrong duration encoded in the file which causes various problems, including causing iTunes to crash. I say sometimes, but it is actually more like 75% of the time.

Not good.

2. mp3 to m4b Conversion – indirect mothod

As luck would have it, there is another, almost foolproof, way to make the conversion. Unfortunately, it takes several steps, although just a little longer it actual processing time.

I use another free tool called MergeMP3 to combine all the mp3 fragment files into a single mp3 file of the whole book. I’m careful to include the proper mp3 Tags like title, author, and album (same as title) in this step. Then I drag the finished full-book mp3 file into iTunes and it immediately adds the file to my library – but as music, not an audiobook. Next I locate this file in the iTunes music library under the artist (author) and Right-Click the title and select Create AAC Version.

iTunes now converts the mp3 to an AAC format called m4a. This takes a few minutes and is the longest part of the process. When complete, I locate the m4a file and change the extension to m4b. The file is the same, just a slightly different name. Finally, back to iTunes and under File I select Add a file to Library and locate the new m4b (b for book) file and it will be added to the audiobooks category. I can go back to the music category and delete the original mp3 file and also delete it from the folder on my computer.


There are a lot more steps to do this manually, but I haven’t had a single file with errors using this method.

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31 thoughts on “How to convert MP3 files to iTunes/iPod/iPhone m4b Audiobooks

  1. I posted this comment on the ringtones section – it is actually audiobooks that I’m interested in.

    Again – during the mp3 to m4a conversion a white noise is added. (I’ve checked the before and after files and it is definitely an artifact of the conversion)

    Do you have this problem? If not what settings do you use for the conversion bitrate etc?

  2. I have been using your method for a while and have had good success. However I just noticed a new much faster way to make an “Audiobook” in iTunes. I still use MergeMP3 but instead of converting to AAC and changing the name and all that. If you right click the .mp3 file and go to Info in iTunes. The Options tab now allows you to select Media Type as Audiobook and select Remember playback position.

    I don’t know if there are other benefits by converting to AAC over leaving it an MP3 and doing as I stated above but it seems to work fine at least for me. The benefit of the AAC for me is just that I usually pick a really low bit rate to save space but that can be done with the MP3 also.

    Just thought I would pass on the tip incase anyone wants to give it a whirl.

    • So you’re saying that there is no need for any conversions, because the new iTunes supports using mp3’s as Audiobooks?

      • It’s actually been that way for a year or more. I’ve done all my audio books this way for quite a while. :-) Just right click on the file name … you’ll see what we mean!

    • Thanks so much for your pointer on marking Audiobooks options in iTunes itself–I’ve been having trouble trying to get iTunes to recognize, not MP3 audiobooks but some radio program audiobooks I bought from iTunes, that they sold in their regular protected m4a format.

      Just renaming the m4a as m4b did not work (could not select to remember playback position and files would not reimport into iTunes, however when I first followed the iTunes Get Info options step you gave to select the file type as Audiobook and afterwards renamed the files to m4b, iTunes then automatically marked Remember Playback position for me.

      Man, for a retailer for the supposed Cadillac audio system, iTunes store makes life hard on folks. Even the folks buying from their store.

  3. I have gotten to the part where I have converted my book to the AAC format but where do I go to change the file extension. I have found it in my Music File but I do not know how to change the extension. Could someone help me?

  4. A couple years ago you had to deal with all this, but it is no longer needed. You don’t even need to use MergeMP3 now. Just
    1) import all the Mp3 tracks into iTunes
    2) highlight all tracks of the book at once
    3) right-click, Get Info
    4) agree to modify multiple items at once
    5) Options tab
    6) Media Kind: audiobook
    7) Part of a complilation: Yes
    8) Remember Position: Yes
    9) Skip when shuffling: Yes
    10) Gapless album: Yes
    OK, and you are done!

  5. Hey, I was trying your method and realized that you can just change the type of an MP3 to audiobook directly. just right click on it in your Library and choose, “Get Info” then go to “Options” and change “Media Kind” to “AudioBook”

    Maybe this is just in the new version of iTunes, I don’t know. Thanks for pointing me in the right direction!

  6. I am a stickler for ipod organization and while the methods discussed in the comments do make an MP3 playable almost like and audiobook, I want it to be in the Audiobooks folder and not in my library. specially when scrolling down to find a song you want to play. Excellent post you are a life saver.

  7. Like Fernando, I am also a stickler for organization of my imported audiobooks as “AudioBooks” in iTunes. MergeMP3 now ships with iTunesEncoder and in one step will merge the mp3 files, encode in AAC format, and create a proper m4b file. Although it requires that you have iTunes installed, and the encoding process takes a while, I found it to be a seamless process that produced a very nice audiobook.

  8. Hi, I was wondering if anyone can help me. I have upgraded to itunes 9, I put some audiobooks on as above (convered to aac? files, then highlighed all, and went to options and changed from music to audio book). On my itunes the chapters in the book file are all together, but when transferred to my ipod, each chapter has a seperate file, i.e 10 books of 5 chapters each had 50 tracks instead of 10 books with 5 chapers, does that make sense? The files are mp4a, I was wondering if it was because it was not mp4b, but cannot find out how to change it, I have found original file under the Itunes library on my comp, but there is nowhere it change the extension.

    Thank you

    • What did mergemp3 do with their update? I just tried to do one and it’s all messed up now ….I have 25 perfect audiobooks on my ipod thanks to that and itunes (same as the comments-convert it to audiobook in itunes, it remembers my place and everything but I just tried to redo a book that was messed but the new mp3 merge didn’t work. it won’t play in itunes at all now.

    • to change from an .m4a file to the m4b, just go in your windows explorer (my computer) and rename the file. just simply right click the file, select rename, move to the m4a, and delete the a, then type a b. thats what ive been told over and over, though i havent had a reason to try it… YET.

  9. Hello all. I am using MergeMp3 but even though it says it is not restricted by file size it will not merge all the files.(Ex. A 65 hour audiobook is only coming out to be 50 hour mp3 after merge) Also when using the itunes encoder it creates a file that is only about half the size. (Ex. That same 50 hour mp3 become a 23 hour m4b. I suppose i could just put the book in parts but was just wondering if anyone had another solution. Thanks in advance for any input.

  10. Pingback: Creating audiobook on iPod from MP3 does… « In brief. David Ing.

  11. ok i did the get info change to audiobook – but now i have a different file for each disk – is there a way to combine all the differnt disk files into one file – simple way

  12. Great discussion about this, and very helpful. It’s been a huge pain to have a book in .m4b poorly converted and have it freeze or crash the iPod. It not only forgets where it left off, but can make other bookmarked files (even .aa files) revert to the former saved position, oddly enough.
    Thanks for all the info and the discussion!

  13. I have a problem that after the conversion to an audiobook, all looks fine in Itunes for the title tags (chapter 1 …) but whe i transfer to my iPhone i get a list of ”Part x of yy’. Any idea where i need to put the title information to get it correctly on my iphone ?

  14. in the latest itunes, you can set “remember the playback position” in the options tab, after “get info.” this is helpful for mp3’s. you can select all of the mp3’s to do this at the same time.

  15. I have done the above but it doesn’t seem to work. The extension of the mp3 audiobook imported is still .mp3 and not .m4b as required. Once the mp3 file is imported and in the get info it is changed to audiobook, all the files do go under books in itunes 10 but when you open the book, there is still not one file but many files. Can anybody tell me what I am missing here. How can it be made into a single file? Many thanks in advance.

  16. Thanks for instructions. Ive had some awful problems while converting audiobooks, including itunes simply refusing to create an AAC version. Turned out that the merging program I used created bad mp3 files. Using MergeMP3 seems to have solved that issue! Thanks for the tip!

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