Listen to eBooks by Converting Them to MP3s for Free

A list of free programs that convert text documents into digital audio files

If you want to carry around a lot of novels, study material, etc., without having to handle a huge stack of bulky paper publications, then ebooks are a great way of having a library of textual information at your fingertips. However, in some circumstances, your eyes can't be used for reading text via your ebook reading device (Amazon Kindle, Kobo, iPad, and others). For example, you won't be able to read while you are driving a car -- obviously, it is both dangerous and impractical to read any form of text and so you will have to wait for a safer (and more convenient) time to thumb through all those virtual pages.

Makes it Easy

For times when you can't read text, but need anĀ alternative way of tapping into this kind of information, then a great solution is to use the spoken word via digital audio -- otherwise known as audiobooks. By doing this, you will not only be giving your eyes a well-earned restĀ but also be utilizing your time more efficiently. This can be especially useful if you commute long distances for example and need to put in some study time, or simply want to listen for entertainment.

Save Some Cash

Rather than having to spend money on an audiobook to compliment an ebook you may already have, it is possible to use text to speech conversion programs to create your own. This type of software program uses voice synthesis to try and emulate a natural sounding voice as close as possible. The electronic voices that are created can vary in quality from annoyingly bad to very good and so there's a certain amount of experimentation you'll have to do in order to see what works best for you.

Multiple Formats

Once in a digital audio format like MP3, you will be able to listen to your ebook on virtually any electronic device that can playback audio files -- MP3 players, PMPs, smartphones, stereo systems, etc. Suddenly, you'll be able to listen to the original text in a new way and in situations that would have proved difficult or impossible before; walking and exercising are just two examples. If your car only has a CD player, you can also create an audio CD -- or even better -- an MP3 CD so you can listen to all your audiobooks safely while driving.

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Flipping through ereader
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According to the makers of this text to speech software program, the Russian word, Balabolka, means "chatterer". This application for Windows supports an impressive range of text-based file formats that it can convert which includes: TXT, DOC, PDF, ODT, AZW, ePub, CHM, HTML, FB2, LIT, MOBI, PRC, RTF, and more. If you have text copied to the clipboard, it can also read this.

Balabolka uses Microsoft's Speech API (SAPI 4 and 5) to convert text into synthesized speech. There is excellent support for many languages and you can also download a portable version too from the maker's website if you want to carry this useful software program around on portable storage devices such as external hard drives, USB flash drives, microSD cards etc. Voices can be tweaked via Balabolka's interface in order to change parameters such as pitch and speed. When it comes to creating digital audio files, the program also supports a good selection of popular formats, which currently include: MP3, WMA, OGG, WAV, AAC (M4a / M4b), and AMR (probably the best format for voice).

An interesting feature of Balabolka is that you can save subtitled text in the LRC format or in the metadata of the audio file. This allows you to view the text (just like lyrics) on a digital audio playing device with a screen as the audio plays -- you can then effectively have the best of both worlds! More »

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DSpeech is another free text to speech application for Windows that is surprisingly feature-rich. The program doesn't need to be installed and so you can run it from virtually anywhere. Even though the application's interface is quite simplistic, DSpeech is quite powerful and has a good selection of features.

As well as being able to read files in text formats such as: txt, rtf, doc, docx, html, and a few more, you can also use DSpeech for converting your voice (via a microphone) into text -- there's a basic voice recognition engine built into the program. This is a nice feature if you want to convert your voice into text rather than recording it straight to MP3 (sometimes referred to as a Podcast). This application (like the majority of free tools of this type) uses the Microsoft Speech API to convert text into speech. DSpeech can encode to MP3, AAC, WMA, OGG, and WAV which covers most of the popular bases in the digital audio world.

Another interesting (and unique) feature of DSpeech is being able to use multiple voices in the same text. This can be useful if you want to create dialog between different characters for a book or script for instance. More »

If you are specifically looking for a simple 'no frills' text to MP3 converter, then Classlesoft's offering is worth a close look. It's light-weight, fast, and has a clear interface that is very straightforward to use.

It only supports files in the .txt format, but if you have a lot to convert, this program makes the whole process a breeze. You can quickly queue up multiple files for automatic batch conversion to MP3 before hitting the big red start button. There is no option to change voice profiles in this utility, but clicking on the settings menu enables you to change the pitch, speed, and volume of the synthesized speech for your particular needs. More »

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Like many of the software applications in this list, you can use TTSReader as a real-time text speaking tool (using the Microsoft SAPI4 and SAPI5 system) as well as a converter. The program has a well laid-out interface that is intuitive to use and comes with a nice selection of options. TTSReader supports files in the TXT or RTF format and it can convert these into either MP3 or WAV.

Although TTSReader's file format support isn't as rich as some other free text to speech applications, it does offer the ability to convert multiple documents in a quick and simple way which may win you over. There's also a handy skip feature which you can use to skip either a sentence or entire paragraph which is useful if you don't require every word to be read out. More »

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