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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.
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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.
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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.
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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. 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.
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The ability to just read aloud individual words, sentences or paragraphs is a particularly nice touch. In the Speech pane of System Preferences, clicking on the Text to Speech tab gives you an option for "System Voice" in a pulldown menu. This will likely be set to "Alex" by default.
Clicking on "Customize" gives you access to the plethora of new optional voices, and you can play previews of each one before downloading them.
You can also listen to previews of these voices at NextUp. Most of these new voices sound astonishingly natural, especially compared to the old, robotic, pre-Alex voices that were the bread and butter of text-to-speech in OS X's distant past. In particular, the Australian English "Lee" voice now my default and Mexican Spanish "Javier" sound incredibly lifelike to my ears.
Selecting a checkbox next to a voice and clicking "OK" will present an alert asking if you're sure you want to download the voice. You'll find this alert welcome, because these high-quality voice files are huge , generally in the neighborhood of to MB each. If your bandwidth or hard drive space are limited, I wouldn't recommend downloading more than a few of these voices.
I've generally shied away from utilizing OS X's text-to-speech functions in the past, because even "Alex" sounded jarringly artificial to me. The new voices aren't perfect and don't fill every dialectical niche Richard Gaywood was dismayed there was no "Welsh English" voice, and I'm having to make do with Australian Lee rather than a full-fledged "Kiwi English" voice.
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That said, many of the new voices sound natural enough that having my Mac "talk" to me is now a useful feature, even though I don't have any accessibility requirements that make them necessary as they are for some users. In particular, Australian voice "Lee" makes my MacBook Pro sound like a bloke worth taking down to the pub for a pint, and that's a feature definitely worth having.
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