Enjoying the freedom of speech

For those of us whose sights are trained on a computer screen all day long, reading in-depth articles on our favourite blogs or sifting through long emails is the last thing we want to do at the end of a day at the office. Imagine our delight then when we came across a program that promised to read all this text for us as we give our eyes a well-earned rest.

The beauty of TextAloud is that it not only reads out anything you copy and paste into the voice window but also allows you to save the resulting speech as an audio file. Effectively this means you can transform any web page, email or text document into a podcast to download to your MP3 player and listen to at your leisure. File sizes are kept to a minimum so it’s possible to save entire novels as an audio file of less than 1Mb.

Having tried similar text-to-voice applications before, we were sceptical about how monotone the speech would sound. Sure enough, the one preset voice in the free download sounds like the boring brother of HAL 9000 from 2001: A Space Odyssey and before too long you want to rip your earphones out to escape his ceaseless drone. Although you can change the pitch and speed of the voice, this proves no less robotic.

Before we reached for our reading glasses again we thought we’d try an upgrade to the full version of TextAloud, which incorporates the use of AT&T’s Natural Voice technology as an alternative to the free Microsoft voice tones. With a wide range of different voices to choose from including, UK English, Indian English, and Spanish, the speech is seamless and almost as convincing as having someone sitting next to you. We particularly enjoyed being able to download a 150-page book from the net then sitting on the train listening to the dulcet tones of a softly-spoken English lady recite the tale to us.

The novelty of a text-to speech system is initially amusing but the voice in the freeware version soon becomes irritating. However, paying for the upgrade to more natural voices turns the application into a genuinely useful piece of kit that frees your eyes from the shackles of your computer screen.

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