The use of audio for commands has become popular for use with assistants such as Alexa and Siri, which also allow for speech-to-text to be used, among other tools. It's also becoming much more common for audio to be used to convert text-to-speech for a number of reasons.
The traditional one is for helping people with additional sight needs. However, as with audio assistants, users commonly find that audio can be much easier to work with. This is especially the case where multitasking is required, with audio allowing the user to also direct their attention on some other physical task.
This is especially highlighted by the rise of audiobooks, which allow the user to drive, walk, or otherwise engage in a physical activity that would preclude using a text-version as impractical.
Therefore it's no wonder that text-to-speech and other voice software is becoming more commonly used, allowing the user to engage in other activities at the same time, whether it be walking, gardening, household chores, or similar.
Text-to-speech software is also popular in business environments, with people utilizing it to boost productivity, especially when it comes to speech to text software.
Here we feature the best overall speech to text software, and additionally feature a number of free apps you can also consider using.
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Best text to speech software
Alexa isn’t the only artificial intelligence tool created by tech giant Amazon; it also offers an intelligent text to speech system called Polly. Employing advanced deep learning techniques, the software turns text into lifelike speech. Developers can use the software to create speech-enabled products and apps.
It sports an API that lets you easily integrate speech synthesis capabilities into ebooks, articles and other media. What’s great is that Polly is so easy to use. To get text converted into speech, you just have to send it through the API, and it’ll send an audio stream straight back to your application.
You can also store audio streams as MP3, Vorbis and PCM file formats, and there’s support for a range of international languages and dialects. These include British English, American English, Australian English, French, German, Italian, Spanish, Dutch, Danish and Russian.
Polly is available as an API on its own, as well as a feature of the AWS Management Console and command line interface. In terms of pricing, you’re charged based on the amount of text characters you convert into speech. The Free Tier allows for up to 5 millions characters per month for twelve months, but if you need more than that it costs $4 per million characters for speech.
Based in Germany, Linguatec is another company that’s been creating text to speech applications for a number of years, and its flagship Voice Reader Home software can quickly convert text into audio files.
With the standard edition costing €49 (£42/$57) per voice, it’s a little on the expensive side - but you’re able to convert text such as Word documents, emails, EPUBs and PDFs into audio streams quickly. You can then listen to them on a PC or mobile device. What’s more, you can choose from 67 different voices, and there’s support for up to 45 languages such as French, Spanish, Italian, Danish and Turkish.
The aim of this software is to improve productivity. For instance, you can get the application to read out manuscripts for speeches, lectures or presentations to look out for incorrect word ordering or missed-out words. Overall, the user interface is sleek and easy to use. You can quickly adjust the speed, pitch or volume of audio files, and each export option is clearly listed.
When it comes to technical requirements, the software works with Window Vista, Windows 7, 8 and 10. Each voice will take up to 1GB of disk space, and it works best if your device has at least 2GB of RAM.
Speech synthesis applications are also popular in the education world, where they’re used to improve comprehension among other things. Capti Voice is one such effort, letting you listen to anything you want to read. With it, you can personalize learning and teaching, as well as overcome language barriers.
Positioned as an offline and online reading support solution, Capti Voice is used by a range of schools, colleges, businesses and professionals across the world. Supporting more than 20 languages, the app can be used to improve vocabulary and as part of active reading strategies. It can narrate a range of content, including ebooks, articles and web pages.
You can also use the software with cloud storage platforms such as Google Drive, OneDrive and Dropbox, and it’s universally accessible across a plethora of devices, content formats and age groups.
There's a free version for personal use, which allows for a lot of features but not the higher-end ones, such as higher-quality voice samples. You got those with the Pro version, which was previously advertised as costing $1.49 per month or $17.99 annually. The Educator level was previously advertised as from $0.50 per student per year, but for larger schools this means the software could become quite expensive to license.
If you’re looking for a cloud-based speech synthesis application, you should definitely check out Natural Reader. Aimed more at personal use, the solution allows you to convert written text such as Word and PDF documents, ebooks and web pages into human-like speech.
Because the software is underpinned by cloud technology, you’re able to access it from wherever you go via a smartphone, tablet or computer. And just like Capti Voice, you can upload documents from cloud storage lockers such as Google Drive, Dropbox and OneDrive.
Currently, you can access 56 natural-sounding voices in 9 different languages, including American English, British English, French, Spanish, German, Swedish, Italian, Portuguese and Dutch. The software supports PDF, TXT, DOC(X), ODT, PNG, JPG, plus non-DRM EPUB files and much more, along with MP3 audio streams.
There are three plans available, with the most basic Web Free allowing for unlimited use of basic voices, and up to 20 minutes use of Premium Voices. Web Premium unlocks these and up to one million characters of speech per month, priced at $9.99. Premium plus allows all features for $19.00 per month or $110/ year.
There are also plenty of great text to speech applications available for mobile devices, and Voice Dream Reader is an excellent example. It can convert documents, web articles and ebooks into natural-sounding speech.
The app comes with 186 built-in voices across 30 languages, including English, Arabic, Bulgarian, Catalan, Croatian, Czech, Danish, Dutch, Finnish, French, German, Greek, Hebrew, Hungarian, Italian, Japanese and Korean.
You can get the software to read a list of articles while you drive, work or exercise, and there are auto-scrolling, full-screen and distraction-free modes to help you focus. Voice Dream Reader can be used with cloud solutions like Dropbox, Google Drive, iCloud Drive, Pocket, Instapaper and Evernote.
Pricing for the app is $14.99 for the app for iOS, with further in-app purchases to unlock additional voices. For Android, the app costs $7.99, also with additional in-app purchases to unlock additional voices.
Best free text to speech apps
Free text to speech software can be enormously helpful for anyone who's visually impaired, or has a condition like dyslexia that makes reading on screens tricky. It can also help overcome language barriers for people who read a language but don't speak it, or are in the process of learning.
Text to speech software is also ideal if you want to listen to a document while doing something else, if you find it easier to retain information you've heard, or if you want to sense-check something you've written.
Here's our pick of the best free text to speech software for reading either individual paragraphs or whole documents aloud.
For ripping audio from videos, check out our guide to the best YouTube to MP3 conversion software.
There are a couple of ways to use Balabolka's 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 best free text to speech software around.
Natural Reader is a free text to speech tool that can be used in a couple of ways. The first option 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 read 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 built-in browser to convert web content to speech more easily.
As the name suggests, Panopreter Basic delivers free text to speech conversion without frills. 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 for US$29.95 (about £20, AU$40). 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. Zabaware Text-to-Speech Reader 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 a US$25 fee (about £20, AU$30), which seems rather steep, holding it back from a higher place in our list.