I’m All Ears: Evaluating Audiobooks

I know a lot of us librarians are audiobook fans, and while we are experts in what makes a good story, it can be hard to say what exactly makes an audiobook good? Most of us have no problem evaluating books in print, but few have had training in critiquing an audiobook. We can often easily spot a bad one, but pinpointing what exactly the problem is harder to do! I myself was pretty clueless about this when I was first asked to serve on YALSA’s Amazing Audiobooks Blogging Team back in 2018. I really got thrown into the deep end there. Since serving on that committee, and now that I am serving my second year on ALSC’s Notable Children’s Recordings Committee, I feel like I have a much better grasp on things. 

Here are some key criteria to consider when evaluating an audiobook:

image via launchpo.com

Narration:

  • Does the narrator feel like a good fit? 
    • For example, if portraying a child or teen, does the narrator sound youthful? 
  • Is the performance dynamic? Does the reader express character emotions authentically? Do they vary their pitch, pace, or tone to match the story
    • For example, speeding up a bit during tense scenes, or slowing down to add drama.
  • Does the reader help differentiate characters by changing pitch, tone, and inflection? Do they avoid stereotypes or patronizing mannerisms when presenting characters?
  • Do any accents and dialects sound authentic? Are they used consistently?
  • Overall, does the narrator have good diction? Do you notice many audible breaths, unnecessary pauses, or sibilance? 

Audio vs Print:

  • Does the audiobook seem to complement the text, or even expand or elevate it?
    • For example, consider the way a graphic novel adaptations often thoughtfully incorporates sound effects, music, or adapted text to make the listening experience as good as or even better than the experience of reading in print.
    • Another example is when a book references a “listener” rather than a “reader.”
  • If music or sound effects are used, do they feel appropriate for the context and tone of the book? Do they truly enhance the text or do they feel extraneous? Are they balanced well or do they overwhelm?
  • Is back matter included, and if so, is it easy to listen to?
    • For example, a timeline read aloud is difficult to perceive without a visual representation.

Overall Audio Quality

  • Do you hear any noticeable pops, echo sounds, electronic interference, etc. ?
  • Is the sound quality consistent throughout?
    • Tip: Try listening in different ways–-in the car, on headphones, and on the computer. Sometimes inconsistencies come through that way.

Keep these things in mind next time you’re listening and you’ll soon figure out not just what makes an audiobook good, but what makes one truly great. Have you listened to anything amazing lately? Please share in the comments!


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