There are a number of Text To Speech (TTS) extensions on Chrome that make listening to text online easy.
The challenge is finding one where the interface, voice quality, pronunciation, and speed are good enough to not be a distraction.
We tested a ton of them and here’s our top 5 countdown:
Read Aloud has a variety of voices to choose from that are free.
The free voices are the same generic low quality voices that most online TTS readers use, but they can be upgraded by connecting to premium voice services, like Google Wavenet or Amazon Polly – which have some very high quality voices.
However, connecting Read Aloud to these third party services is a little intimidating, as the signups for those services tend to be designed for developers rather than casual web surfers.
Read Aloud also has a somewhat clunky interface that covers up much of the page with the text in a box as it’s reading.
Let’s move on to…
Hewizo’s Text to Speech is an interesting addition to the field of TTS Chrome extensions.
Along with TTS, this extension also features an ad remover, a way to save articles for future listening, and a news aggregator, amongst other things.
The free and lowest level paid ($1/month) versions have the same low quality voices as Read Aloud (and others). Moving up to the next paid level ($6/month) gives you 6 hours of premium voice. The top tier level ($10/month) provides for up to 24 hours of premium voice.
The interface is small, a media player type bar at the top of the page.
During testing, we did find the extension to be someone unintuitive when it came to a starting point for the reading. It also had a tendency to jump around unexpectedly when we attempted to change the starting point.
SpeakIt! is a very clean, simple, Text to Speech extension.
You simply highlight the text and right click to read the passage out loud.
It only comes in a free version – which is nice because there are no begs. However, you are stuck with low quality voices with no upgrade option.
Note that this TTS reader, unlike most others, does not highlight the sentence or word that is being read.
Speechify is ranked number 2… with reservations…
Let me explain.
Speechify is very popular, with almost a million users, according to the Google Chrome store. And it’s highly rated.
There’s a trial version of Speechify available, not a free one. The trial is limited to 800 words.
Once paid for, Speechify may be the best TTS extension out there. Lots of settings; smooth, high quality, voices (using Amazon Polly I believe); highlighted words and sentences; discrete controls.
The problem is the consumer experience. The pricing is not up front. You have to register just to see how much it will cost.
And the pricing, well, it seems to be all over the place. When we signed up straight through their site, it was $139/year.
However, looking through their help center, it looks like at some point in the past it was quite a bit more expensive – $29 a month.
However, if you do some research online, you can find affiliates selling it for $39/year.
There is a full featured trial available. You give them your credit card and you can use Speechify for three days. They don’t bill you until the end of the trial. You can cancel before the trial ends.
Or can you?
I set up a trial account, set up the billing, tested things, and have spent the rest of the day attempting to cancel the account through their site. After clicking on the “cancel” link, I get a “Please wait while we redirect you to billing dashboard” message… and then nothing happens. I’m just stuck looking at a forever swirling icon.
Being cautious from the start, I set the payment up through PayPal so I could easily cancel. If set up directly on a credit card, canceling it may have been a more complicated process.
Kudos to PayPal for letting users easily cancel subscription payments directly though PayPal.
So Speechify seems like good software, but the marketing strategy feels suspicious.
Natural Reader Text to Speech hit the top of our list for several reasons.
First of all, the free version is very usable. The free voices are pretty much the same free voices that all the others use, but you can also switch to the Premium and Plus voices for a limited amount of time each day.
The upgrade for unlimited use of the Premium voices is $10/month, or $60/year, for the Plus voices it’s $19/month, or $110/year. Schools can apply for free accounts for their students.
Natural Reader’s interface is smooth and discrete – and there are a variety of controls that include how the interface is set up, whether it scrolls, what triggers the reading, what it highlights, and even a dark mode.
The easy to use settings, minimalistic interface, daily allowance of premium voices in the free version, and clear pricing structure for upgrades, made the decision to rank Natural Reader at the top of our list pretty easy.