A friend recommended a book called “Captain Blood,” so I looked it up on wikipedia to find out more about it. On the wikipedia page there were links to free text and PDA versions at Project Gutenberg as well as a free audio version at Babblebooks.
I hadn’t heard of BabbleBooks before, but it sounded like a great idea. All the books aren’t free, but they have a few dozen free MP3 audio books. The audio books aren’t read by people, and they explain that this is a good thing because you don’t have to worry about too many theatrics or strange accents. An additional benefit is that you can speed them up to get through it faster without the voice sounding like a chipmunk.
I listened to the first few seconds of Captain Blood and all of their talk about how great it was to have text to speech software read the book instead of a person became meaningless. It was awful. It reminded me of my first experience with a Mac. I typed in humorous comments about a friend sitting next to me in the computer lab, then had the computer say it out loud. Hilarity ensued and he responded in kind. We found that you couldn’t spell words normally because they often sounded weird, so we had to change the spelling dramatically to get the right affect. For instance, to make the computer laugh I couldn’t just type hahahaha, I had to use haaaah, haaaah, haaaah or something along those lines.
In any case, you can be the judge of the quality, but I’m not impressed. Here is the Babblebooks version of Captain Blood chapter 1.
That reminded me of the free online audio that the LDS Church had made available on their site. I was impressed with how fast they made new articles available and the sheer amount they’ve made available. I showed it to a friend in college who was constantly listening to audio books and he claimed it wasn’t an actual person reading it. I listened to it again and couldn’t believe it wasn’t a human. It had the right voice inflections, there was a clear Utah accent and it was far better than any text to speech audio I had heard. I couldn’t believe that the technology had progressed so far that you could barely distinguish a human talking from a computer-generated recording. He continued to say he was sure it was automated and that he couldn’t believe I couldn’t tell. He explained that there are only a finite set of sounds in the English language and it’s just a simple matter of stringing them together in the right order to form words and sentences. A few others were with us and he convinced them of his opinion, and I finally gave in, saying it was the most impressive text to speech I had ever heard.
After reading Babblebook’s hype about how good their audio books were and then hearing how amateurish they sounded in reality, I decided to try out some text to speech software on my own to see how far the technology had advanced in over 10 years. I tried free versions of Natural Reader, Browse Aloud, Hal Reader and TextAloud and sure enough they all sounded just like that old Mac.
The way I see it, there are two explanations for the quality of the audio at LDS.org.
1. The LDS church is using incredibly impressive and advanced Utah-accented text to speech software.
2. The LDS church is using real people to read the material (who have Utah accents).
I just can’t see #1 being the case, so I am now firmly of the opinion that #2 is the reality. Additional evidence is that they already have everything they need to do high quality voice work, so it doesn’t require much effort because they have all the equipment they need to have someone read the latest articles and talks.
However, you don’t have to take my word for it. I selected the best-sounding software of the bunch (Hal Reader). I’m sure you will see that it’s laughable compared to the one from lds.org.
1 Nephi chapter 1 (lds.org)
1 Nephi chapter 1 (Hal Reader)
Since the automated ones are pretty bad still, I looked for some other sources of decent quality, human narrated, free online audio books. Here are the top 3 sites I found.
The Hal Reader also doesn’t know how to pronounce some of the names in the Book of Mormon…like Nephi. So I agree that lds.org is using real people.
katie: True. It does have an option to train it, where you can write out names phonetically (like knee-fie or lee-high) but even if I had done that it wouldn’t have made much of a difference.
Have you checked out http://librivox.org/ ? It’s a cool idea. People volunteer and read chapters out of public domain books and post them.
Regarding the Book of Mormon, I started writing a pronunciation guide for Festival (the text-to-speech engine)…never finished it, but maybe I should. :)
mckay: I did try librivox, and maybe I just got a few unlucky ones, but the guy reading it seemed to be trying way too hard to have a southern accent. It became very annoying within less than a minute. I prefer readers that stay out of the way and let the story do the entertaining.
I have gone through this site and it is the easiest way to download audio books, audio books on CD, MP3 audio books, no clubs to join. I am very much interested with no monthly fees, no software to install.
I agree with you about speech software being crap for reading books. I’m blind so i use JAWS on my PC. It’ OK fr general use but when i tried reading E-books wth it it’s crap. Take my advice, stick to human read books. I use audiobooksforfree, Librivox, audiobooks.org, BM-audiobooks and one or two others but i’m always looking for more.I agree that boks read by speech software are hopeless. I’m blind andi use speech to read most things but no way would i use it for books. I usually look for sites where i get free downloads, audiobooksforfree.com, bmw-audiobooks.com, audiobooks.org, librivox and many others but i’m always looking out for more. Can anyone help?
I would like to thanks Keith for the information above which sent me on a search and I found more free audio books for him. http://www.audioedition.org/free/books/ ENJOY Please add more as you come accross them.
Thanks to all for the audiobook info, and thanks to Cindy for the comment on my list of free audiobook providers at http://www.audioedition.org/free/books/
This page is actually in the process of moving to http://www.audioedition.org/services/free/
It’s available in both place for now. The list is constantly updated, so check in often :)
This is a nice compilation of audio book sites. I’ll list my favorites:
1) http://ejunto.com/ (historical and audio books, everything is free and has consistent quality)
2) http://freeaudio.org/ (everything is free and decent quality, books on liberty, freedom, slavery)
3) http://www.learnoutloud.com/ (big site with some free stuff)
4) http://wiredforbooks.org/mp3/ (Shakespeare and other fiction)
The comparative example of the LDS Audio book listed above is human read. The voice talent is a local Utah newscaster.
@MU Thanks for the confirmation.