Who uses speech synthesizers?
Blind people are not the only ones who take advantage of speech synthesizers. People with Dyslexia can also benefit greatly from speech programs, using them as an aid for reading and writing. It can help organize their thoughts, give them an opportunity to listen to, and fully understand, what they’ve written, as well as identify spelling errors.
Stephen Hawking, who suffered from Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS), used a speech synthesizer to communicate, and was very adamant that his voice be robotic-sounding, rather than giving him a more human-like version, even when newer technology was available.
Factors to consider
The environment and purpose for using your synthesizer will play a big part in choosing one that is right for you. Do you want it for reading or just skimming text? Are you working in a loud office or at home on the couch surfing the internet? All of these factors will play a part in the decision making that goes into selecting a synthesizer.
Another thing to take into consideration is, how “human” do you want your synthesizer to sound. Most synthesizers that sound very human are hard to understand at a higher rate of speech. Alex, the voice that comes with VoiceOver, on Mac computers, is very human sounding, but can be a little difficult to understand when sped up.
Clarity of speech
Another aspect is the clarity of speech. Some synthesizers with rich sounding speech are not easily understood in loud environments. Two good examples of nice, sharp synthesizers that do well cutting through general noise are Google’s text-to-speech that comes preinstalled on most Android phones, and eSpeak that comes with NVDA. They seem to have the right frequencies to be heard in a crowded environment.
By far the most popular speech synthesizer is Eloquence. It’s rather robotic sounding, but has just enough human qualities to be pleasant to the ear, as well as understood at a high rate of speech. It comes with JAWS for Windows by default, and can also be purchased for NVDA.
Cost may be a barrier when deciding which synthesizer you will choose, as some can be quite expensive. If you want to simply read, Eloquence is a fantastic choice. It comes free with JAWS (which costs around $1100), but for any other screen reader, you should expect to spend $90. If you’re looking for open-source, or free options, eSpeak, as well as some of the voices that come preinstalled with Microsoft Windows, are far more viable options.
Progress, not perfection
Speech synthesizers have come a long way from the robotic sounds of the 1970s. They’re used in our daily lives in ways we never would have thought possible. No speech synthesizer is perfect. However, in 2019, there are enough options available that people can find one that suits their needs. Whether you’re in a busy office or relaxing at home, editing for work or reading for pleasure, today’s speech synthesizers are up to the task. Opinions may differ on which program is the “best”, but we can all agree on one thing – our lives wouldn’t be the same without them.