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Are Audiobooks The Same As CDs?

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As digital storage and cloud storage become more accepted, some of the older forms of data storage are disappearing. For years, the purchase of compact discs (CDs) was a usual and convenient way of acquiring music, audiobooks, computer programs, and even photographs. Many new computers today no longer have CD drives, as they have been replaced by widespread smartphone usage, high-speed internet access, and cloud storage.

The term ‘audiobooks’ refers to the digital content , while CDs are a type of storage device which holds the content. CDs can hold an audiobook, but audiobooks also can be acquired in many other ways. Digital downloads are the most common today.

As with many technological evolutions, there are positive and negative features for requiring internet access in order to procure audiobooks. The same is true of using CDs to obtain audiobooks, music, and games. Read on to learn more about file formats for audiobooks, both downloadable and on CD.

What is a CD?

A CD or compact disc is a portable storage medium that can be used to record, store, and play back audio, video, and other data in digital form. As the name indicates, a compact disc is a round flat, optical storage medium made from plastic. The first digital compact discs were invented by James Russell in the late 1960s, a change from the analog vinyl record format. The first produced to the modern standard we now call ‘CD’ was created in Germany at a  Philips-Magnavox factory in 1982.

When most people hear ‘CD’ they think ‘music CD’, but the term actually refers to the compact disc format itself, which could contain music, audiobooks, computer programs, or even photographs. Most CDs can be played in any car stereo system which has a CD player, as well as some computers. Many modern PCs and laptops no longer have CD drives, as the industry has come to rely heavily on high speed internet connections being available for a majority of users and high volume storage drives becoming more affordable.  

Common formats for audiobooks

Audiobooks are available in multiple formats. The two major categories are lossy compressed and lossless compressed. The type of category can affect the quality of playback. Compression of a file is the process of reducing the size of the file for storage purposes. Lossy compression permanently removes some data in order to greatly compress file size. Lossless compression maintains the quality of the audio while compressing a file by removing redundancies rather than losing information. 

The most common lossy compressed digital formats are:

  • MP3
  • AAX
  • M4B
  • AAC
  • OGG
  • WMA (original)

Lossless compressed formats include:

  • FLAC
  • WAV
  • ALAC
  • WMA Lossless

Digital formatting is the most common way to find audiobooks now, as downloads, but there are often audiobooks on CD at the local library. Purchasing audiobooks on USB sticks (also known as thumb drives or flash drives) is not as common, and some audiobook publishers provide audiobook files in formats that cannot be transferred to USB. Other publishers may sell collections of audiobooks preloaded in this way.

Playback quality

Audiobooks on CD are available in two different types, which can affect the playback experience.  Some audiobooks are produced in regular audio format, the same as a typical music CD. Because of the long running time for many audiobooks, the format may be inconvenient. Swapping multiple CDs in and out of a CD player can interrupt the flow of the words, and reduce the positive listening experience.  

Audiobooks which come in MP3 CD format, where the MP3 files are compressed and saved to the disc, can be played on any CD player which supports MP3 CD format.The advantage of lossy compression is that an unabridged audiobook which might require 15 CDs in standard format can be condensed to one or two CDs in MP3 format.  This compression does not typically have a negative effect on the spoken word, whereas it might degrade the sound quality of music slightly.


A special type of compact disc player is called a DAISY (digital accessible information system). A DAISY is designed specifically for use by people with visual impairments or print disabilities, and intended to be a complete audio substitute for printed material. DAISY players play regular CDs as well as DAISY format discs and files, MP3s, and some other common file formats.

Advantages and disadvantages of audiobooks on CD

Some of the advantages for acquiring audiobooks on CD include the tangible satisfaction of holding a physical storage unit. The printed case is visually appealing to those who want to be able to glance quickly at the CD when making a choice for listening purposes. While CDs are preferred by many fans, they can degrade over time. They could become unreadable if old or damaged. A level of temperature control is necessary as they could warp over time if exposed to direct sunlight or the hot interior of a car. 

It is apparent that CDs, while requiring less room to use and store than print books, are still less portable than downloading from the cloud. 

Where vinyl fans still argue that music on vinyl records sounds much better than music on CD, CD fans may argue that anything on CD sounds much better than the same thing in MP3 format, due to the lossy compression.


Advantages of audiobooks in digital format

Modern computing devices increasingly feature higher capacity for data storage at more affordable prices, compared to older storage drives. Even tablets and other mobile devices are more likely to have a significant amount of storage space for digital data such as audiobooks. CD-read/write functionality is becoming less common. Digital audiobooks are portable anywhere, and can often be backed up in cloud storage or on a USB drive, if one is concerned about device failure. 

Another benefit to digital storage of audiobooks is the ability to add and organize files within your digital library.  Many playback apps now offer some degree of ability to sort, search, organize, label, and link audio tracks for ease of use.

CD storage considerations

Compact discs are fairly fragile. They need to be kept in a dry, cool climate-controlled area with minimal direct sunlight. They should be stored standing up vertically rather than flat. Avoid storing them in a dusty area, since dust can damage the CDs and the player mechanism as well. Keeping the CDs in their original case is recommended, as the cases are designed to provide the maximum amount of protection. However, it should be noted that the cases require additional room for storage–about three times as much as the discs themselves.

Some people remove the CDs from the cases and put them in plastic sleeves for insertion into binders or storage boxes designed specifically for CDs and DVDs.

Before placing your CD into a storage area, be sure to use recommended cleaning methods and products to remove dirt and fingerprints from the surface. Because you want to be able to see and easily access what you have on a compact disc, they should be stored so it is easy to read the title of the audiobook and the author. 

Future developments in audiobooks and file storage

The digital world is creating new data in enormous quantities, daily. Storing it can be costly and takes up physical space. The evolution of technology requires enormous information storage and data transmission capabilities in order to handle more and more information in digital format.  We can expect that future innovations in technology will continue to change how we access, store, and transmit data.