Just a quick note regarding updates to the firmware. The Sansa firmware versions can be considered “portable”, or “standalone” depending upon how you look at it. Firmware upgrades are not cumulative, meaning that you don’t need to add them in sequence like a Windows Update.
Each revision is a complete bin ary file containing all updates and functionalities. You can swap between a current version or a previous version as you wish.
Now, about that audiobook question. Audiobooks are currently available in one of two main venues, on CD, or via download. It’s pretty amazing just how many CDs it can require to publish an unabridged edition, isn’t it! This is because the audiobook is published for playback in a conventional CD player, using Red Book standard CD audio (cda) PCM sampled at 44.1 kHz, just like a music CD.
When the Compact Disc was envisioned, getting 70 minutes or so was a hurdle. It was really nice to be able to listen to classical music in one CD, packaged in one “jewel box”. Pop music releases were much easier to fit in that single format, as an album is shorter than one would find in the classical music venue.
Times have changed, haven’t they? Today, it’s safe to say that the mass market is downloads of MP3, AAC, or WMA format online. The venerable CD format could use some “catching up”. One can encode those files on the CD in MP3 format, allowing several hours, at the very least, on that common CD. The problem is that portable CD players don’t all play this format.
As an audiobook publisher, I would look seriously into the more portable MP3 possibility, but the problem of media rights and protection against piracy rears its ugly head. This is why library books are available through the NetLibrary and Overdrive formats as secure WMA files (requiring the Sansa to be connected in MTP mode for the transfer, with licenses). Having the files in MP3 / WMA format makes loading your Sansa (or any portable digital player) much easier.
Audible has bypassed this problem by offering a great selection in .aa or .aax formats, with convenient chapter breaks. I’ve gotten spoiled with Audible, as I love listening to books, and I hate abridged versions.
If you are transferring from an audiobook CD, you must “rip” the CD into a digital (compressed) format for your Sansa. When doing this, you will run into the Big Problem: the commercial CD tag libraries that Windows Media Player and other rippers use are geared towards music releases, and not audiobooks.
One can end up with a gaggle of files that will not display correctly or won’t play in the correct order, a problem easily corrected by editing the ID3 tags embedded in each audio file.
To do this, prior to transferring the CD to your Sansa, use an ID3 tag editing utility like MP3Tag. It appears complicated the first time you use it, but the Auto Numbering Wizard is very powerful, correcting the track numbers for you in one pass. It’s very important, listening to a murder mystery, that after listening to Chapter 1, the player doesn’t zip to Chapter 14, and whodunnit is revealed!