The NAB Blog

On the Road

By Nicolas Soames

2 February 2008

I live in Welwyn, a pretty village in Hertfordshire. My home is very close to the Naxos AudioBooks office – too close even for an audiobook fix in the morning. (I am repeatedly told I shouldn’t be in the car in the first place… that my legs would serve!)

So, although I am kitted out with an in-car iPod transmitter, I don’t often have the chance to use it. I spend more time listening to audiobooks (both NAB’s and my colleagues’) when going into London on the train, or even walking in the countryside.

But the other day I drove to Birmingham, which takes a couple of hours (or a bit more with one stop). I kitted myself out for the drive. I knew I would listen for a while to BBC Radio 3, which was reviewing The A–Z of Conductors, an amazing new Naxos release written and compiled by David Patmore. Actually the programme, CD Review, spent over forty minutes on it, interviewing David and the English National Opera conductor Edward Gardiner, and generally – generously – giving it the thumbs-up. It is a box set with a 250,000-word booklet surveying the careers of 300 conductors, four CDs of key music tracks, and an unbelievable website with hundreds of hours of free streamed music, showcasing the work of many of those conductors so that listeners can make their own judgements. A milestone release.

Before that, I slipped in the first CD of one of our latest releases, Arthur Conan Doyle’s The Lost World (unabridged), read by Glenn McCready with an easy informality disguising real skill – you will hear more of him on NAB.

The road was still unfolding, and somewhere north of Coventry I decided I had better move on, and slipped in an MP3 listening copy of the ’final edit’ of Neville Jason (he of War and Peace and Proust fame) reading the abridged version (aimed at a junior audience) of The Sword in the Stone. Actually, this is not due for release until later this year, but it has been pre-empted by the first installment of the unabridged recording of T. H. White’s masterpiece The Once and Future King. There is no music with the unabridged recording of The Sword in the Stone (eight CDs, just out), but there is with the abridged version (three CDs, to be released in June).

Then came Radio 3.

And then it was iPod time. I am currently listening to The History of India by Michael Wood (rich and interesting) on BBC AudioBooks, read by Sam Dastor, who does a very good line in authentic pronunciation. I plugged the transmitter into the lighter power socket, slipped in my iPod, and off it went.

When I first got the transmitter I was hooked. At last, I would be able to move from iPod at home to iPod on the train to iPod in the car seamlessly, never losing my place in the story. But I do recognise that this method has some serious limitations.

First of all, there is the sound quality. The basic sound from the transmitter is not very good. It is as simple as that. I certainly find it an unacceptable compromise when I want to play music. Very poor. So, although I have a nice range of my personal delights – from David Bowie to the St Matthew Passion to Music for Two Cellos played by NAB editor Sarah Butcher (an unashamed plug) – I don’t listen to them in the car.

Then there is the interference from the packed airwaves in the UK. Only too often, I have to change frequency. This is both annoying and– at seventy miles per hour – dangerous, even though actually it only involves pressing a couple of buttons.

I also find that if I want to change tracks or move to a new playing choice, it is again a dangerous manoeuvre, because the transmitter in the lighter socket is situated rather low in my BMW – as with most cars, I suspect. I confess I have swerved a couple of times to adjust direction…

SO – it is time to ditch the transmitter and get a new radio, with a direct iPod input, so I can work it all from the car radio. I have felt some resistance to upgrading the hardware when my radio works perfectly, so I have delayed the change – but for many reasons (including safety’s sake!), it has to come!

By the way, I came home with more of The Sword in the Stone, a gem in the Arthurian canon which started, really, with Le Morte d’Arthur (The Death of Arthur) by Sir Thomas Malory, and from which T. H. White took the overall title of his epic.

Nicolas Soames

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