The best free text-to-speech software lets you easily convert text to the spoken word for every budget.
As a productivity tool, text-to-speech software excels when reviewing written documents while multitasking and sense-checking your work - because it’s harder to miss a typo when you hear your work out loud. And to keep you on track, many of the best free text-to-speech software let you transfer files across desktop and mobile devices.
This software is also ideal for increasing accessibility, with major benefits particularly for the visually-impaired and those who struggle reading on-screen text. It can also help overcome linguistic barriers for people who read a language but don't speak it, or are in the process of learning.
Helping you choose the right tool, we’ve tested out the best free text-to-speech software - whether you’re a home or professional user, you’re working with short paragraphs here and there or long, complex documents.
We've also tested the best text-to-speech software, if you’re looking for paid-for tools.
The best free text-to-speech software of 2022 in full
Natural Reader offers one of the best free text-to-speech software experiences, thanks to an easy-going interface and stellar results. It even features online and desktop versions.
You'll find plenty of user options and customizations. The first is to load documents into its library and have them read aloud from there. This is a neat way to manage multiple files, and the number of supported file types is impressive, including eBook formats. There's also OCR, which enables you to load up a photo or scan of text, and have it spoken to you.
The second option takes the form of a floating toolbar. In this mode, you can highlight text in any application and use the toolbar controls to start and customize text-to-speech. This means you can very easily use the feature in your web browser, word processor and a range of other programs. There's also a browser extension to convert web content to speech more easily.
The TTS tool is available free, with three additional upgrades with more advanced features for power-users and professionals.
Read our full Natural Reader review
There are a couple of ways to use Balabolka's top free text-to-speech software. You can either copy and paste text into the program, or you can open a number of supported file formats (including DOC, PDF, and HTML) in the program directly.
In terms of output, you can use SAPI 4 complete with eight different voices to choose from, SAPI 5 with two, or the Microsoft Speech Platform. Whichever route you choose, you can adjust the speech, pitch and volume of playback to create a custom voice.
In addition to reading words aloud, this free text-to-speech software can also save narrations as audio files in a range of formats including MP3 and WAV. For lengthy documents, you can create bookmarks to make it easy to jump back to a specific location and there are excellent tools on hand to help you to customize the pronunciation of words to your liking.
With all these features to make life easier when reading text on a screen isn't an option, Balabolka is the best free text-to-speech software around.
For more help using Balabolka, see out guide on how to convert text to speech using this free software.
Panopreter Basic is the best free text-to-speech software if you’re looking for something simple, streamlined, no-frills, and hassle-free.
It accepts plain and rich text files, web pages and Microsoft Word documents as input, and exports the resulting sound in both WAV and MP3 format (the two files are saved in the same location, with the same name).
The default settings work well for quick tasks, but spend a little time exploring Panopreter Basic's Settings menu and you'll find options to change the language, destination of saved audio files, and set custom interface colors. The software can even play a piece of music once it's finished reading – a nice touch you won't find in other free text-to-speech software.
If you need something more advanced, a premium version of Panopreter is available. This edition offers several additional features including toolbars for Microsoft Word and Internet Explorer, the ability to highlight the section of text currently being read, and extra voices.
Developed by the University of Edinburgh, WordTalk is a toolbar add-on for Word that brings customizable text-to-speech to Microsoft Word. It works with all editions of Word and is accessible via the toolbar or ribbon, depending on which version you're using.
The toolbar itself is certainly not the most attractive you'll ever see, appearing to have been designed by a child. Nor are all of the buttons' functions very clear, but thankfully there's a help file on hand to help.
There's no getting away from the fact that WordTalk is fairly basic, but it does support SAPI 4 and SAPI 5 voices, and these can be tweaked to your liking. The ability to just read aloud individual words, sentences or paragraphs is a particularly nice touch. You also have the option of saving narrations, and there are a number of keyboard shortcuts that allow for quick and easy access to frequently used options.
Despite its basic looks, Zabaware Text-to-Speech Reader has more to offer than you might first think. You can open numerous file formats directly in the program, or just copy and paste text.
Alternatively, as long as you have the program running and the relevant option enables, Zabaware Text-to-Speech Reader can read aloud any text you copy to the clipboard – great if you want to convert words from websites to speech – as well as dialog boxes that pop up. One of the best free text-to-speech software right now, this can also convert text files to WAV format.
Unfortunately the selection of voices is limited, and the only settings you can customize are volume and speed unless you burrow deep into settings to fiddle with pronunciations. Additional voices are available for an additional fee which seems rather steep, holding it back from a higher place in our list.
For manual text-to-speech conversion, we've reviewed the best transcription services.
Free text-to-speech software buying advice
How to choose the best free text-to-speech software
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When selecting the best free text-to-speech software is best for you depends on a range of factors (not to mention personal preference).
Despite how simple the concept of text-to-speech is, there are many different features and aspects to such apps to take into consideration. These include how many voice options and customizations are present, how and where they operate in your setup, what formats they are able to read aloud from and what formats the audio can be saved as.
With free versions, naturally you'll want to take into account how many advanced features you get without paying, and whether any sacrifices are made to performance or usability.
Always try to keep in mind what is fair and reasonable for free services - and as we've shown with our number one choice, you can get plenty of features for free, so if other options seem bare in comparison, then you'll know you can do better.
What are the limitations of free TTS software?
As you might expect, some free versions of TTS software do come with certain limitations. These include the amount of choices you get for the different amount of voices in some case. For instance, Zabaware gives you two for free, but you have to pay if you want more.
However, the best free software on this list come with all the bells and whistles that will be more than enough for the average user.
What is SAPI?
SAPI stands for Speech Application Programming Interface. It was developed by Microsoft to generate synthetic speech to allow computer programs to read aloud text. First used in its own applications such as Office, it is also employed by third party TTS software such as those featured in this list.
In the context of TTS software, there are more SAPI 4 voices to choose from, whereas SAPI 5 voices are generally of a higher quality.
Should I output files to MP3 or WAV?
Many free TTS programs give you the option to download an audio file of the speech to save and transfer to different devices.
MP3 is the most common audio format, and compatible with pretty much any modern device capable of playing back audio. The WAV format is also highly compatible too.
The main difference between the two is quality. WAV files are uncompressed, meaning fidelity is preserved as best as possible, at the cost of being considerably larger in size than MP3 files, which do compress.
Ultimately, however, MP3 files with a bit rate of 256 kbps and above should more than suffice, and you'll struggle to tell the difference when it comes to speech audio between them and WAV files.
How we test the best free text-to-speech software
Our testing process for the best free text-to-speech software is thorough, examining all of their respective features and trying to throw every conceivable syllable at them to see how they perform.
We also want to test the accessibility features of these tools to see how they work for every kind of user out there. We have highlighted, for instance, whether certain software offer dyslexic-friendly fonts, such as the number two on our list, Natural Reader.
We also bear in mind that these are free versions, so where possible we compare and contrast their feature sets with paid-for rivals.
Finally, we look at how well TTS tools meet the needs of their intended users - whether it's designed for personal use or professional deployment.