Computers are still pretty dumb (as far as I know :D) and still suck while trying to do things like interacting using human languages for instance. But there are certain fields that computers have shown pretty interesting “capabilities” too. The text to voice/speech conversions is a great example.
If you’re willing to pay some decent amount of money and use Windows or Mac OS X, then there are pretty awesome proprietary text to speech engines available. They may not be as advanced as some of those premium (and proprietary ones) tool, but there are few noteworthy open source projects too.
If you’re looking for an ease to use text to speech utility that can be used in GNU/Linux (Ubuntu in this case) then Gespeaker is a tool that you can try.
This is actually a graphical front-end that uses the “espeak” (command-line based speech synthesizer, cross-platform tool) as the engine. But because Gespeaker is a GUI, anyone can use the “espeak” engine easily to do things like to add few additional voices, easily add texts, record etc.
*. A simple UI.
*. Comes with inbuilt “Male” and “Female” voices (the ones come with “espeak”). You can manually adjust voice settings such as:
1. Change the pitch.
2. Volume level.
4. Delay between words.
*. It even lets you translate between a huge list of languages too!. For instance, you can input some texts (say written in English) and can simply use the output language to “French”.
*. If you don’t like the quality of the built in voices (I wouldn’t blame you), then you can use another enhanced voice synthesizer project called “Mbrola” (more below).
*. Use ALSA or Pulse Audio for the audio output.
*. Enable Text Wrap (which is useful when copy & pasting a large portion of text/words).
*. Recordings are saved in the WAV format.
You can access few more settings via its “Preferences” window as well.
You can install Gespeaker in Ubuntu 12.04 Precise Pangolin, 11.10 Oneiric Ocelot, 11.04 Natty Narwhal, 10.10 and 10.04 by using the below command in your Terminal window.
sudo apt-get install gespeaker
If you’re dissatisfied with the quality of the built in voices then you can try the “Mbrola” voices which are slightly better. For installing them, use the below commands in your command-line window.
Update: Ubuntu 12.04 users don’t have to go through all this hassle and can install ‘Mbrola’ voices by simply using their proper package name.
sudo wget -O /etc/apt/sources.list.d/ubuntutrucchi.list http://www.ubuntutrucchi.it/repository/ubuntutrucchi.list
wget -O -- http://www.ubuntutrucchi.it/repository/ubuntutrucchi.asc | sudo apt-key add -
sudo apt-get update
sudo apt-get install mbrola
Now we should have installed the Mbrola engine. It has few built in voices in different languages (American English, Italian, French etc) that you have to install manually. For example if you want the default Male voice in US English, then use the below command.
sudo apt-get install mbrola-us2
To enable this newly installed voice in Gespeaker:
1. Go to “Edit” -> “Preferences” and then click on “Mbrola Voices” tab. Under list, you should see the newly installed packages marked with a Greenish Tick.
However in my Ubuntu test machine (using the 11.10), Gespeaker did not detect any installed Mbrola voices because the default “Mbrola Voice path” was set to a wrong one.
You can easily fix this. And for that,
1. Click on the drop down menu next to “Mbrola Voices path” (in “Mbrola voices” tab) and open the below folder path (as shown in below screenshot).
2. Yep that should do it. Now scroll down the languages list and under your newly installed language/s it should display a Green Tick.
For a complete list of available languages and their proper installation commands, please visit this page.
So as usual, as a final word: although as said before, when comparing with some of the more advanced text to voice engines, “espeak” certainly has some catching up to do.
But if you’re looking for a completely free, extremely user friendly and simple text to speech converter, then Gespeaker looks pretty good.