What’s better than regular audiobooks? Immersive audiobooks with extra sound design and musical elements! These are effectively a movie without visuals – or a movie in your mind.
I’m a huge fan of audiobooks that contain more sonic elements than the voice alone. The added sound effects and ambiance make me feel like I’m in the story, rather than just listening to it.
I’ve actually worked on similar projects myself as an audio engineer. I was commissioned to produce an immersive audio story for BBC Sounds, so I know firsthand how much attention to detail the creative process needs to produce a gripping atmosphere. (Listen here!)
Immersive audiobooks are often relatively hard to find compared to standard audiobooks, so I thought I’d share this list of my top recommendations. This includes audiobooks, companies, and websites where you can find a range of augmented and enhanced audiobooks!
What Are Immersive Audiobooks?
Before getting into my recommendations, I first thought it would be a good idea to share what makes immersive audiobooks different from regular ones.
Immersive audiobooks are enhanced with additional sound elements. These are either diegetic (originating from the story world, i.e footsteps, fighting, characters speaking voices) or non-diegetic (sounds that don’t occur in the story world i.e music, voiceover style narration).
The types of sound elements used in immersive audiobooks typically include:
- Sound Effects – Any sounds that match the events of the story.
- Music – Compositions that match or enhance the current emotions of the story.
- Multiple Voice Actors – Rather than a single narrator reading the whole book, a whole cast of voice actors might be used to play the various character roles.
- Ambiance Tracks – These are essentially background sounds that match the natural atmosphere of the book’s current setting. For example, the wind blowing through trees, or the background chatter of a busy restaurant or street.
It’s worth noting that immersive audiobooks are slightly different from “full cast audiobooks”, which simply have a range of voice actors, but not necessarily the additional sound effects or music.
Where Can I Find Immersive Audiobooks?
You can find immersive audiobooks from a range of distributors. You can often find them on the main platforms, and you don’t necessarily have to look for them in a separate place. Here are some places I suggest you look at:
- Graphic Audio – These are one of the leading creators of immersive audiobooks with a huge library of productions. You can buy directly from Graphic Audio and listen on their app, or you can access a selection of their titles on any of the leading audiobook services listed below.
- Audible – You can search for full-cast or dramatized audiobooks noting some but not all of these will be ‘immersive’ (but they normally appeal to the same audience). You can also check out these Audible pages: 3D Audiobooks and 10 Best Full-Cast Audiobooks.
- Audiobooks.com – This is a curated list of the best immersive listens on Audiobooks.com.
- Libro.fm – This large full-cast audiobooks playlist covers a broad range of genres. They don’t all have sound effects, but you can expect a diverse cast of actors in each book.
- Chirp (review) – This is a list of the 14 best full-cast audiobooks on Chirp Audiobooks.
- The Library (Libby and Hoopla) – You’ll find many of the titles in this article or on the lists I’ve linked to are available from the library. A great option if yu are on a budget!
- r/Audiodrama – Audio dramas offer a similar experience to immersive audiobooks, although they aren’t strictly based on books. I enjoy listening to the random (often shorter) creations on this subreddit.
The Best Immersive Audiobooks (and Publishers)
If you are looking for an exciting listening experience, I recommend any of the following immersive audiobooks (and publishers).
1. Graphic Audio
Graphic Audio productions offer so much more than standard audiobooks. These are exciting, vivid experiences that truly transport you to other worlds.
Their releases typically feature a full cast and are enriched by sound effects, music, ambiance, and more. They have a huge catalog on their own website, but I particularly recommend the Graphic Audio curation on Audible. Many of their books are included in an Audible subscription, although you will have to pay for the newer ones.
I’ve listened to so many great audiobooks from this company, so I’ll give you a list of my top picks rather than a deep review of a single title.
In my opinion, these are the best Graphic Audio audiobooks on Audible:
- A Court of Mist and Fury (Part 1 / Part 2) by Sarah J. Maas – Fantasy
- Red Rising: Sons Of Ares by Pierce Brown and Rick Hoskin – Fantasy
- Space Team: Sentienced to Death by Barry J. Hutchinson – Sci-Fi/Comedy
- I recommend any of the books in the Space Team series!
- Elantris by Brandon Sanderson – Sci-Fi & Fantasy
- There are a bunch of great Graphic Audio books based on Brandon Sanderson’s writing!
These are just some of my suggestions. You can find a whole load of other Graphic Audiobooks on Audible!
I’m always really pleased and entertained by the attention to detail in the additional audio and music in Graphic Audio releases. Rarely is there a second of silence or lone vocals. There is always a great mix of sound effects, ambiance, and music.
2. The Sandman by Neil Gaiman
With a huge range of cast members including legends like Andy Serkis, Riz Ahmed, and Kat Dennings, The Sandman dramatized audiobook is an exciting and visceral experience.
The Sandman was originally a comic series written by Gaiman between 1989-1996 and was published by DC Comics. You’ve probably seen the title in the news more recently, as in August 2022 it was released as a TV adaptation for Netflix.
The Sandman falls into the categories of Dark Fantasy and Superheroes, and while the full story is too complex to cover here, it covers themes of mythology, the occult, rebirth, responsibility, and most centrally the concept of dreams. The original comics had a huge influence on subsequent media and are regarded as a key work of recent decades.
The eternal ruler of dreams, storytelling, and imagination, The Sandman (also known as Lord Morpheus), is held captive on Earth for decades by a sinister sect. Once released, he must gather the three relics that will give him his power back, enabling him to rebuild his weakened kingdom.
I found the production quality of this audiobook to be mind-blowing. The level of detail and depth in the audio is incredibly immersive and well-made. I haven’t heard many other pieces that come close in terms of realism and quality. The voice acting is spot on, the music is perfect, and the ambiance and sound effects transport you directly into The Sandman’s world.
Be sure to also check out The Sandman: Act II and just released The Sandman: Act III.
3. The Wireless Theater Company
The Wireless Theater Company is another skilled publisher of immersive audiobooks, audio dramas, and full-cast productions. A lot of their releases are based on classic books from internationally recognized authors. They have a pioneering and refined take on the immersive elements added to an audiobook.
They also have a fairly large catalog covering sci-fi, comedy, drama, and more. I’ve provided links to a couple of my favorites, although I encourage you to explore their full library!
- The Hound of the Baskervilles (Also on Audible) by Arthur Conan Doyle.
Everybody loves a Sherlock Holmes story, and this dramatic rendition from the Wireless Theater Company indulges listeners with a rich (and terrifying) soundscape. I particularly enjoyed the animalistic sounds used for the hound, and of course the full cast narration including Stephen Fry.
- Treasure Island (Also on Audible) by Robert Louis Stevenson.
This dramatized version of a legendary pirate tale will immerse you deep into the exotic and dangerous world of Treasure Island. Voiced by a full cast of talented actors (Philip Glenister, Catherine Tate, and more) and full of lush ambiances like waves on a tropical beach, creaky pirate ship interiors, and catchy sea shanty singing. This is one of the most engaging and entertaining books I’ve listed too. If you dream of sailing the high seas then this is the ultimate escape.
4. BBC Radio Dramatizations
BBC Radio is a long-standing industry leader in terms of radio dramas and immersive audio experiences. They have a huge library of classic books and plays which have been turned into full-cast audio dramatizations. They cover most genres from true crime to fantasy, sci-fi, romance, and more.
Most of their releases contain a full cast with accompanying music, and many of them include sound effects and ambiance. The quality is always high, with discerning and gripping production values.
Some of their releases are versions of internationally recognized books, so you can be sure to find something for everyone.
The BBC library is also huge, so here are a couple of my highlights!
- Norse Mythology by Neil Gaiman. (This is fantastic, particularly if you’re into myths and history).
- The H.G Wells Collection (Sci-Fi and other classics).
- The Diary of Samuel Pepys (History).
- The Shardlake Collection (History/Thriller/Mystery).
5. LA Theater Works
LA Theater Works create their own unique brand of ‘Audio Theatre’. These enhanced performances feature some of the best voice acting I’ve heard and are always entertaining and entrancing.
These offer a slightly different format to most of the other projects on this list and are based on stage plays rather than books.
They have a large section of free theatrical podcasts, this is often my go-to when I’m looking for a quick listening experience that doesn’t take 12 hours to listen to.
I also recommend looking through the full LA Theater Works Catalog which includes over 500 classical plays and stories performed as immersive audio dramas.
6. William Shakespeare’s Star Wars
While this creative audiobook is generally aimed at a younger audience, I found it surprisingly gripping and hilarious, even as an adult.
Something is charming about the concept. Imagine Star Wars written by William Shakespeare – it’s as entertaining, funny, and dramatic as you would expect. This is a must-hear for any Star Wars or Shakespeare fan!
Don’t forget the sequels – The Empire Striketh Back and The Jedi Doth Return!
7. Impact Winter by Travis Beacham
From the producers of The Walking Dead, this Audible original production is a post-apocalyptic thriller. The sound design immerses you into the dark, frozen, futuristic world where the last remaining members of humanity struggle for survival in the fallout of a disastrous event.
Impact Winter was written exclusively for Audible and uses cutting-edge 3D audio to enhance the narration. If you’re brave enough, this audiobook is unmissable!
8. World War Z by Max Brooks
Based on the book which inspired the movie starring Brad Pitt, this immersive version of World War Z puts you straight into the apocalypse. It’s a classic end-of-the-world zombie scenario narrated by a full cast of talented voice actors. Clocking in at 13 hours, this intense, gripping story will make your hairs stand on end. Read our full World War Z audiobook review.
Enjoy, Audiobook Addicts!
Immersive audiobooks are one of my favorite ways to relax. I hope you get as much enjoyment out of the above projects as I have! If you’re interested in similar experiences, also check out our list of the Best Full-Cast Fantasy and Sci-Fi Audiobooks.
FAQ – Immersive Audiobooks
What’s your favorite immersive audiobook? Please tell me in the comments below.