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Read text aloud with this free, high-quality TTS tool.

In Russian, "Balabolka" means "chatterer." In software, it means a free text-to-speech (TTS) utility based on the Microsoft Speech API (SAPI) but with changes designed to improve speech articulation and clarity. Balabolka can save onscreen text in a variety of sound files as well as read text from the clipboard, Word documents, PDFs, HTML files, and more. Users can apply a special substitution list that can make changes to pronunciation, spelling, and other parameters. It can alter the rate, pitch, and accent of the speaking voice. It uses VBScript syntax for pronunciation correction, and it's compatible with a wide range of spell-checkers, such as Microsoft Office; Hunspell, the default tool of OpenOffice and Firefox; the Unix-based Ispell; and GNU Aspell, the intended Ispell replacement. It's also compatible with a wide range of high-quality aftermarket TTS voices.

Balabolka's clean, basic interface features an icon-packed taskbar and a main view with two tabs, SAPI1 and SAPI2. Controls are basic, too; a pair of sliders for rate and pitch, and a few buttons. We opened a Word document, chose a voice (the default is the familiar Microsoft Anna), clicked the Read Aloud icon (a standard Play button) and Anna's electronic voice read the selected text flawlessly, albeit with the slightly choppy transitions typical of synthesized speech. The rate slider produces the typical effects, which range from enhanced naturalism (gradual changes) to extremes ranging from a drunken slur to speech so fast it sounds like an extraterrestrial. Balabolka includes the Ogg Vorbis sound software, so the program's audio is excellent, and the Play/Pause icons give a media player-like feel. Balabolka is extremely easy to use; mostly a matter of setting individual preferences for the voice synthesis, choosing some text, and pressing Read Aloud.

TTS programs have a variety of uses, including studying, programming, multimedia, answering machines, accessibility aids, and just plain silly fun. Balabolka is an excellent TTS tool, one of the best we've seen. You can expand it, add to it, even customize it--plus it's free.

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