Speakeasy

Turn text into synthesized speech with this expandable free tool.

Balabolka Portable is a fully functional yet totally portable version of Balabolka, a free text-to-speech (TTS) application. Balabolka means "chatterer" in Russian, and this program lives up to the name. It's based on the Microsoft Speech API (SAPI) and its default voice is Microsoft Anna, but it's compatible with a wide range of voices, including high-quality simulations that can cost quite a bit. You can customize the voice, the TTS properties, and the interface. As we noted, it's totally portable, with everything you need to use it contained in one download. You can carry it with you on a portable storage device and run it from any Windows PC. It can read text aloud from a wide range of files, including Office files, Web pages, and text files. It includes the Ogg Vorbis software for generating high-fidelity sound.

This version of Balabolka requires no installation and makes no change to the registry. We clicked the extracted executable, and the program opened with a plain, businesslike interface with the familiar Windows-style layout: File menu, icon-based taskbar, and tabbed main view. With basic slider controls for rate and pitch, it's easy to alter the selected voice's properties, while more settings are available on the Properties tag. We navigated to a saved text file, opened it, selected the default voice, and clicked the Read Aloud button, which functions much like the Play button in a music player. Balabolka did a fine job navigating long words, hyphenated words, and all punctuation. The voice has the slightly mechanical quality of synthesized speech, but the intonation is natural. Fiddling with the sliders produced effects ranging from greater clarity with subtle shifts to hilarious effects at the extremes. We saved a selection as an audio file in several formats and played it back, something we feel is one of the program's most useful features. While there's plenty of help available, including lots of extras like dictionaries included in the download, Balabolka is easy to figure out.

Balabolka is compatible with most common spell-checkers, including Microsoft's and those for Unix, Linux, and other environments. This is a top-class TTS program, yet it's totally free, totally portable, and totally easy to use. It's also highly recommended.

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