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Audible has cheap audiobooks

I’ve rattled on about Audible and audiobooks in a previous post.  Well, last week I found myself without one.  I had spent my two credits for the month… The Horror! … what to do?

Audible was showing a $10 credit for something, no idea where that came from (crossed over from Amazon?) so I figured I should spend it.  I tried looking for low cost books.  They used to have a category for that but it’s gone.

On a whim, I tried a search by keyword for “books under $5” and lo! I got a crapload of them.  Most were radio shows or excerpts (teasers) but I was able to filter them out by using the “Refine Search Results” in the left column.  Picking “audiobook” and choosing a length over an hour filtered out most of them.

I decided to go a step further.  Searching for “free books” got everything with “free” in the title… so I tried “books under $1” and got lots of free books.

Most were crap, but one was Legion, by Brandon Sanderson, the author of the excellent Mistborn series.  A well written and well narrated two hour short story, for free.  Not bad, eh?

After I finished that, I splurged and spent $5 on Oliver Twist as narrated by Dickens’ great-great-grandson.  He is turning out to be a pretty good narrator.

Anyone got other Audible tips to share?

Updated review of the “Jaybird JF3 Freedom” Bluetooth earbuds

In my previous review of the Jaybird JF3 Freedom earbuds I extolled their virtues.  I also said how tough they were.

Well, last week my beloved earbuds died.  They are indeed tough on the outside, but the inside, not so much.  The battery won’t take a charge anymore.

The little red button goes on when I plug it in, so it looks like it’s charging, but the little red button doesn’t do nuthin’ once it’s off the charger.

Sadly, I only got 10 months out of it.  But considering I used it every day, I’m willing to forgive.  It has a one year warranty so I’ll see if I can get a replacement.  That is, if my wife can find the original receipt, which is looking unlikely at this point.

I tried using a pair of wired earbuds for a day and managed to get them caught on my bike seat, my jacket collar, my car steering wheel, and my butt (I sat on the cord).

“Screw this,” I said.

So I went out to Best Buy and got a new pair.  Interestingly, at least to me, nothing has changed.  The package has changed (old one on the left, new one on the right):

But everything else is identical.  Same buds, same case, same accessories, same price, and to my disappointment, same performance.  I was hoping they would have improved transmission outdoors, but nope.

Ah well.  They are still damned good buds.

And so far I haven’t managed to sit on them while they are in my ears.

Review of the “Jaybird JF3 Freedom” Bluetooth earbuds

“Bluetooth earbuds?”, you ask.  Yes.  And for someone like me who never goes anywhere without an Audible audiobook in his ear, they are a Godsend.

Over the years I have gone through many, many pairs of earbuds.  I kept my MP3 player in a vest pocket or (recently) in a holster on my hip.  That left a cord running from my ear down the left side of my body.

That damned cord had a magnetic attraction to door handles, bike handlebars, fence posts, furniture, pets, passing dragonflies, etc.  Life gets especially exciting when the cord wraps itself around a steering wheel while you are in heavy traffic.  How we suffer for our art.

Every time something yanks earbuds from your ear, which is painful and worse, makes you lose your place in your audiobook, it weakens the internal wire connections.  I generally got Skullcandies for about $20, which had good sound and were more durable than most.  But even treating them gently I could only get 3 months or so out of them.

Last Xmas my wife got me Bluetooth earbuds, the Jaybird JF3 Freedom.  So yes, these guys have been around for a year or so already, but people still stop to ask me about them.  I’ve only used them with an iPhone, but they are supposed to work with any A2DP Bluetooth device, which includes Blackberries, Droids, etc..

Jaybird JF3 Freedom earbud

Looking at the picture above, you can see a pinky-sized grey button on the right earbud body.  That acts as a play/pause button for whatever music player (or the Audible app) you have going.  It also answers the phone but the built in mic is crappy so I don’t use the earbuds for phone calls.

The same button is also how you power on the unit, which is my biggest problem with the thing: you have to hold it down for 7 seconds (why??) to power it on.  At 8 seconds, it starts the pairing operation.  I have lost count of how many times I started pairing when I only wanted to power it on.  To stop pairing, you have to power it off, which takes 4 seconds.  Then you power it back on, another 7 seconds.  Damn it, one second too long, it started pairing again.  Power it off, 4 seconds.  Power it back on.  Et cetera.

(FYI this same button also gets you Siri on the iPhone if you press it for 2 seconds.  Sometimes when I try to turn off my earbuds I don’t hold the button down long enough, and I get Siri instead.  Not often, though.)

Also on the right earbud body, there are two tiny grey buttons that act as volume up and down.  They are nice but don’t have much range — I usually have to control volume at my iPhone.  Then there is a micro-USB jack for charging.

I read someplace that the right earbud body also contains the Bluetooth antenna.  However, these things usually use the cord as an antenna (it’s a long wire, after all).  Through trial and error, and experiments using tin foil wrapping, I’ve found the right side does get slightly better reception than the left.  I guess there are some antenna bits in there.

This leads to my second problem with the thing, and what the company itself warns you about.  Apparently the Bluetooth signal needs stuff to bounce off to get from your MP3 player to your earbuds.  This is a problem when you are outside.  That’s where I do all my running.

Inside, the earbuds can talk to my iPhone across the room.  Outside, my hip is pretty much the extent of their range.  I keep my iPhone in a holster on my left hip.  Normally this is fine.  However, when I’m running or cycling it sometimes cuts out.  I could get an armband holster, I suppose, but I don’t like them.  Switching to the right hip helps a little, maybe.

The kit comes with a sturdy case, which is kind of useless unless you plan to carry the case around.  It also comes with three sizes of eartips, and three sizes of this hook shaped rubber mesh thing that fits in your ear to lock the buds in place.  With that getup I’ve never lost an earbud.

As for the cord, so far it has never caught on anything.  I wear it in front of my neck most of the time, where I barely notice its light touch.  When I’m at the gym, I string it behind my neck just to be safe, but it tends to stick to my skin back there.

Battery life is good, 4 hours I’d guess.  This leads to my third problem with these earbuds: you don’t get much warning when the battery is about to die, and there is no visual indication.  You get a few minutes of annoying beeps, then silence.

The weakest link in earbuds is where the cord connects to the buds.  Jaybird has reinforced this point with a thick metal collar.  After eight months of daily use, they are still going strong.  I would have replaced my Skullcandies four times by now.  If you look at it that way, the steep $100 price for these things is not such a bad deal.

Overall I’m very pleased with these things.  They are useless for phone calls, worse in fact than regular earbuds because you get that crappy mic whether you want it or not.  They have good high and low frequency response, as earbuds go.  For music and audiobooks, they are my best earbuds yet.

Postscript: I see Jaybird just released a new model, the JF4 Sprint.  It’s a little smaller but the battery life is also a little shorter.  Does anyone have experience with these?  Does it fix my 3 problems?


I’ve been an Audible subscriber for 9 years, although I bought my first audiobook from Audible even before that.   For a double sawbuck each month I get two books of any length — an incredible deal.

Plus all the books have reviews by real listeners.  Yeah that’s standard stuff now, but back then it was pretty cool.  It’s the best way to decide your next read.

The Audible format plays all on the major MP3 players.  I always have an MP3 player with me, and so I can grab a few minutes of my book anywhere: exercising, driving to work, mowing the lawn, standing in lines, sitting on the throne.

Sometimes it’s hard to keep up with my two books per month.  If I get behind, I buy shorter books until I get caught up.  The voice performances are usually terrific, and lately we’ve been hearing big-name actors like Tim Curry and Whoopi Goldberg.

An aside to any narrators who may be reading this: some of you are great with voices, making a unique voice for every character, and some aren’t.  If you aren’t good with voices, don’t bother.  You can still be a great narrator without them.  A pleasant and clear voice is far more important.  You will certainly lose readers if you do voices poorly.

Anyway, I guess my Audible plan is $23 per month now, but I got grandfathered in for the original $20.  Still an incredible deal, considering one audiobook from the bookstore is twice that, or more.  Plus they are CDs.  Pfft.  Old technology.

I’ve had various MP3 players over the years.  I resisted becoming an iSheep for as long as possible, but a couple of years ago I decided to claw back some pocket space.  I retired my Zen MP3 player and Nokia cell phone and got an iPhone.

iPhone and iOS are a great piece of kit, but I HATE iTunes… a subject for a future rant.

I used the built in Apple Music player for years until I found Audible had an app.  When did that happen?

The Audible app is so much better than Apple’s built in Music app.  It has some handy features such as speedup/down, sleep timer, and bookmarking.  It even integrates with Bluetooth headsets so if you tap your play button it will resume where you left off, just like with the Music app.

FYI the Bluetooth button trick works with the Music app too.  So how, you are about to ask, does iOS know which app to use when you tap your play button?  Audible or Music?  It seems to go by the one you used most recently.  Or sometimes it gets confused and does Music.

Another nice thing about the Audible app — you can download audiobooks without connecting to your computer!  It will come in over wifi.  Not 3G or 4G though, it times out (too big).

All is not rosy, though.  I’ve been using the app for a couple of months now, and I did run into a couple of annoying problems.  Well actually, it was the same annoying problem twice.

I lost all my downloaded books and had to re-download them.  Once was when Audible “encouraged” me to merge my Audible account with my Amazon account.  The second time was after an app upgrade.  Both times I was near wifi and was able to re-download without too much trouble.

At least, I hope those events were what caused it.  Maybe it was coincidence and it could happen at any time.  What if I have no wifi?  I would be without an audiobook!  The Horror!

Anyone else have problems with the Audible app?

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