Review: Now hear this (and any text) with Panopreter Basic

Hear text and other files spoken out loud with this basic but capable text-to-speech freeware.

As text-to-speech freeware goes, Panopreter Basic isn't fancy, but it does a good job. Actually, the fact that you can download a good, basic text-to-speech program for free shows how far such tools have come. Panopreter Basic can turn text, Word, RTF, and other document types into audio files you can listen to or save as MP3s or WAVs. It comes with Microsoft Anna as a default speaking voice, but you can download many other voices online, including many free choices. Panopreter Basic also has many language options and supports batch conversion and UNICODE fonts, and a wide range of Windows versions, too; from NT to 8. We ran it in Windows 7.

Panopreter Basic's user interface is plain in appearance and layout, but it's not difficult to figure out, and online Help and FAQ resources are a click away. We started by selecting a language from Panopreter Basic's extensive menu of choices. Panopreter Basic has two modes: Read file, which reads existing files out loud, and Input and Speak, which speaks what you enter in a text field. We could change the Volume and Speed of voices, but not more elaborate tuning such as pitch. Options are few, too. We could choose whether to save files as WAVs or MP3s, whether to play music when a file finishes, and a few other choices on the Settings menu. A time counter and basic player controls handle playback duties. We could also search Google directly for additional voices with help from search terms provided by the program.

Panopreter Basic did quite a good job reading a variety of files. We fed it a selection of unusual and made-up words to gauge its pronunciation capabilities. The program's speech synthesis engine easily handled most of them, although it didn't quite manage an old favorite, "Brobdingnagian," or a new one, "truthiness." A smoother voice than MS Anna would probably improve playback, but Panopreter Basic is a great place to start with text-to-speech tools, with upgrades available when and if your needs grow.

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