Having emerged in the 1970s, text to speech systems could easily be described as a veteran technology. Used in a wide variety of software and hardware products, they’re essentially computer programs that can artificially produce human speech.
But there’s no denying the fact that this technology has evolved rapidly over the past few decades. Text to speech applications are particularly useful to people who struggle to read text, like those with learning disabilities such as dyslexia.
However, it’s also changing the lives of blind people, who are able to browse the web and read text via these apps. Such technology has advantages for people who are learning second languages, too.
This software is also popular in business environments, with people utilizing it to boost productivity. For instance, if you’re working on multiple tasks at once or are trying to remember important information, you can get these apps to read documents aloud. Here are some of the best premium speech synthesis apps.
- We've also highlighted the best speech to text apps
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. At the moment, costs start at $4 (£2.98) per million characters. However, there’s a free tier available.
Based in Germany, Linguatec is another company that’s been creating text to speech applications for a number of years. Now in its 15th edition, Voice Reader 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.
If you want to buy the software for personal use, it costs $19.99 (£14.97) per user. However, for educational institutions, licenses start at $3,999 (£2,975). That’s a lot of money, but ample support is included.
If you’re looking for a cloud-based speech synthesis application, you should definitely check out Natural Reader Online. 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 two price plans available, starting with Web Premium at $58.88 ($43) a year – giving you conversion for up to 1,000,000 characters. But if that’s not enough, you can convert up to 5,000,000 characters for an annual price of $95.88 (£70). Either way, all of the features are the same.
There are also plenty of great text to speech applications available for mobile devices, and Voice Dream Reader is an excellent example. Available for $14.99 (£11.16) from the App Store and Play Store, it can convert documents, web articles and ebooks into natural-sounding speech.
The app comes with 36 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.
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