I have some audio books from each and I find Stephen Fry far better. Jim Dale's Hermione is whiny and awful. Indeed, all of Dale's women characters sound awful. Plus he pronounces several words in the oddest way I've ever heard. Stephen Fry is great!
Lighten up! It's OK for people to have different opinions. I think both readers do an great job. But there are so many things that can make someone's voice, style, art, more appealing. It's very similar to the way I think of the Hamish Macbeth series written by M. C. Beaton. Two different readers, Davina Porter and Graeme Malcolm, have each done about 15 of the books. Davina did the earlier volumes, and Graeme did the latter, but both are wonderful for the series. I think in those early series books read by the Davina Porter, it's easier to see the woman's perspective in the story, and with Graeme Malcolm narrates it's like you are hearing Hamish himself tell the story. Both are excellent.
First I listened to the Stephen Fry version through all 7 books. Now I'm halfway through the Jim Dale version of the first book (but I've heard excerpts from Dale of the 7th book). I think Stephen Fry does a better job, by far. Fry sounds more authentic (i.e., British), is more subtle and he pronounces the names and words correctly (i.e., Rubius not Ru-bay-us as Dale does; VoldemorT not Voldemor as Dale does; GriffendOR not Griffender as Dale does; bezoar not bezwah as Dale does). Fry's Hagrid sounds just like in the movies, and is better than Dale's Hagrid; so is his Voldemort. And generally I find his voice more pleasant, sonorous and appropriate for the text he is reading.
[UPDATE] Having listened now to the Jim Dale version almost until the end of "Sorcerer's Stone" I am sure beyond a doubt that Stephen Fry is MUCH better. Besides the main kids, every one of Dale's characters sound Scottish. He also gets confused and sometimes uses the wrong voices, and he even said, "Snipe" instead of "Snape". The Dale version is certainly entertaining and, had I never heard Fry I'd have said it was great, but Stephen Fry is on another level entirely.
[UPDATED UPDATE] Finished the whole series with Jim Dale and went on again to the Stephen Fry version. Jim Dale is okay, but Stephen Fry is overwhelmingly my favorite. There really is no comparing the two, Fry wins hands down. If you are a Dale fan, try listening to a whole book or, better yet, the whole series by Fry before you come to your final conclusion.
It's interesting to see the American curiosity in the british versions. As a Brit, I was brought up on the Stephen fry versions and personally can't imagine anyone else doing it. When it comes to exploring a different take on something you know very well, it is difficult to accept new styles. I listened to extracts of the Jim Dale versions and found it annoying and unpleasant. More than anything, the above debate highlights the influence of personal taste, and often which version you hear first. Dale and Fry have very different takes. Fry's sounds like you're sat next to the fire in the gryffindor common room while he reads aloud. Whereas Dale's sounds like he's on stage acting it out for you. Personally I prefer the former as it gives more room for your imagination. Dale is highly praised for his ability to give each character a unique voice, but I found that often the voices interfered with my own interpretation of the characters and scenes. Stephen Fry seems to have captured the characters more completely. They come across the same way that they do on paper, but Stephen Fry breathes life into them. It is also an important point that the Stephen Fry version is the original british version; the version that J.K. Rowling put on paper with all the british-isms. Harry Potter wears trainers instead of sneakers, but this surely this adds more context, depth and texture to the world of harry potter. The Stephen fry versions offer something the dale versions can't: authenticity.
I listened the whole series first by Jim Dale and I just finished PS and started CoS now, narrated by Stephen Fry. And I must agree with Skin Todd. Jim Dale's version is very heavy handed, and although I have immense respect for all the voices he created, some were just really off for me (Hermione, Voldemort). He really over-acts, which I understand could be appealing to some. But Fry can really tell a story, I feel like a kid who's being read to by his dad right before bedtime. With Dale it's too high energy all the time, which gets tiring after a while.. Both are good in their own way, but I really prefer Fry. Even after having listened to Dale first.
Stephen Fry's version is way, way, WAY better. Not to say Dale's is bad, because it isn't, but Fry's is probably the best audiobook rendition ever done. Dale reads in a monotone while Fry breathes life into the story. Dale overacts with silly voices and doesn't emphasize emotional subtext while Fry has this subtle way of capturing the nuances of each character. The way he emphasizes a certain word here or there, the way he varies his reading speed to match the text is absolutely brilliant. JK Rowling likes to detail how characters act and speak, and while Fry seems to perfectly adapt her guidelines found in the text to his reading, Dale seems to ignore them almost entirely. It's distracting when a character is described as being particularly angry or giddy or ashamed or whatever at the moment and Dale reads the dialogue with the same monotonous tone and pace he does everything else. Fry has no problem communicating these emotional subtexts and that is part of the reason he really brings the books to life.
You simply can not read a book out loud better than Stephen Fry did with the HP series.
I suspect those who prefer Dale either A) have not listened to the Fry version or B) are stupid Americans who can't understand Fry's perfectly intelligible accent. As seen in the review by Randy Wilson on the first page, who complains that the British man reading the British version of a book written by a British author featuring British characters doesn't "tone down" his accent. I'm sorry, the world doesn't revolve around you, Randy.
I honesty can't say who's better as I've never heard the jim dale versions. I grew up with the Stephen fry version on cassette and have tried to listen to the dale version and it just didn't feel right after having heard the Stephen fry version for so long. In response to earlier posts, Harry potter was intended - in both the uk and the usa to be a children's book, and that anyone who struggles with Stephen fry's accent should probably avoid the uk as his accent is extremely clear (and posh) in comparison to the (most of the) rest of the country. I also disagree that children would prefer the dale version as I listened to the fry version and fully understood and greatly enjoyed it from the age of four. I highly recommend the Stephen fry version as its just amazing (if a little expensive)!
I really don't know how anyone can prefer Jim Dales reading over Stephen Fry's. I have both versions of the complete series and lord knows I've tried to give Dale's version a chance on 4 separate occasions and I just can't stand it. Fry's version however is on a constant loop in my car, and I imagine I've heard the entire HP series no less than 20 times by now.
First, I'll share my conspiracy theory: I have no evidence to support this theory, but I truly believe because JKR is very um... "Eurocentric" she chose the better reader to read the UK version, and it is truly the performance she envisioned when she wrote the book. Jim Dale mispronounces so many things in his version that it's hard not to think JKR just wasn't too concerned with what the US audience ended up with.
With that said, I'll share what I believe sets Fry apart from Dale...
The very first thing I noticed after hearing both readers was that JD reads the non-dialogue parts of the story as if he's reading an instruction manual: quick, monotone, and with almost zero inflection in his voice. SF on the other hand reads every single word from beginning to end as if he's painting a picture. Yes it's a bit slower than Dale, but the payoff is there are no throwaway moments.
When it comes to the character voices, the only words that seem to resonate in my head when I hear JD is "No one talks like that." Some characters sound, for a lack of a better term, mentally challenged. It's almost as if JD decides at random where to put accents and emphasis on words. The worst violation, of course is Hermione's "Harryeeeeeeeeeeeee". Another gripe that I have is JD blatantly ignores descriptive actions, adjectives and adverbs that should modify how the character is speaking. It's as if he just read straight through the books in one take without really understanding the overall scene. Because of this, much of the emotion of the book is lost, especially the humor because humor is all about the delivery.
SF's voices, on the other hand, are nothing short of masterful. The one word that comes to mind when I think about his characters is 'subtlety'. The changes in SF's character's voices aren't immensely drastic like JD's but mastering dialects and voices isn't about how many different cartoony voices you can make. It's the difference between watching Robin Williams in concert frantically rattle off a bunch of stereotypical accents and watching his toned down and more delicate performance as Mrs. Doubtfire. Once you're able to appreciate this aspect of Fry's reading, the characters really come to life. And like the non-dialogue portions of the book, Fry doesn't miss a thing. Every um, uh, stutter, shudder, gulp, gasp, drone, drawl, bark, and bellow is right on point. If the book says, "he sighed," then SF sighs the words. If the book says Voldemort has a high pitched voice, then guess what? Fry gives him a high pitched voice and not the deep, raspy, gravelly type mess JD delivers.
Look, I could go on and on, but I think I already wrote more than enough to realize I take this stuff way too seriously, and I should probably focus my energy on something more important.
Considering that JK Rowling herself said that Voldemort is pronounced with a silent T as in Voldemor, I'm not sure that your review is credible. As for Dale, he is English, like Fry, but with a different accent that you appear to have some trouble with. I have listened to both and love them both. There is no clear winner in my book. They are just different.