When Balabolka speaks, Windows users listen

Play documents with this realistic text-to-speech freeware.

Text-to-speech (TTS) and voice synthesis technology have come a long way since the days of choppy monotones and "computer speech." Today's TTS tools can be customized in so many ways that they can be hard to distinguish from natural speech in some applications. "Balabolka" means "chatterer" in Russian, and that's where Ilya Morozov's freeware TTS tool takes its name. Balabolka is based on Microsoft's Speech API (SAPI) but with changes designed to improve the clarity and articulation of the artificial speech generated by speech platforms such as the nearly ubiquitous Microsoft Anna (by the way, she's included with Balabolka). The program uses VBScript syntax for spelling and error correction, so it's compatible with most spell-checkers. Balabolka works with high-quality aftermarket TTS voices, too. Recent updates include improved German language support and Windows 8 readiness.

Balabolka installs and sets up normally, though of course you'll need to have sound enabled as well as speakers or headphones to hear Balabolka's TTS output. If you're not sure, a good place to start is Balabolka's Audio Output button, which appears on the SAPI5 and Microsoft Speech Platform tabs. Clicking this button opens a small tool for choosing which audio output device to use with Balabolka, if you have more than one. Balabolka has a number of options, including the ability to customize the program's fonts, colors, and skins, and a main Settings sheet with no less than 12 tabs. There's even a Tools menu with a File Splitter, Batch File Converter, Magnifier, and other useful extras. We could toggle open a Panel of Dictionaries for reference, quickly bookmark sections, and extract, save, and convert clips from Balabolka's toolbar. If it seems like too much, just open the comprehensive Help file.

We think most users won't have any trouble simply opening and playing a document in Balabolka, though. That's what we did, and it was totally easy. Varying the pitch and rate produced some amusing effects, too. An online search will turn up plenty of TTS voices to add to Balabolka, many of them free. We're impressed with Balabolka's ability to make top-quality TTS available to every user.

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