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Alternatives To VoiceOver For Making Your Mac Talk

The VoiceOver feature  (System Preferences > Universal Access) is a great way to increase the accessibility of your Mac, but did you know that there are several other ways to get your Mac to talk to you, which are easy to use and quick to set up? 

Method 1 - Text to Speech

  • Open System Preferences
  • Click the ‘Speech’ button
  • Choose ‘Text to Speech’ 
  • Tick ‘Speak selected text when key is pressed’ 
  • Click the ‘Set Key’ button to define a key command that does not conflict with key commands in your favorite applications

Text to Speech in System Preferences

Text to Speech in System Preferences.

Setting a Key Combination

Setting a Key Combination.

In any application you can now highlight text with the mouse pointer, and when you press your chosen key command your Mac will speak the words using the voice selected in the System Voice drop-down menu, and at the rate determined by the Speaking Rate slider. 

Take Note:

The voice you choose for Text to Speech is independent of the one that you set for VoiceOver. This can be handy for differentiating between the two if you also use VoiceOver.

This method gives you control over what is spoken, where VoiceOver gives a description of every active field in a window. VoiceOver will speak the text in a document (as well as giving you formatting information) but is more temperamental with web browsers. For example, try getting VoiceOver to read a macProVideo.com Hub article! With Text to Speech, simply select the text you want to hear and press your custom key command

Text to Speech and VoiceOver cannot be used simultaneously but you can swap quickly from one to the other using key commands (you can turn VoiceOver on or off by using Command-F5)

Method 2 - Creating an Audio File in iTunes 

  • Enable the service by going to System Preferences > Keyboard > Keyboard Shortcuts > Services
  • Select ‘Services’ in the left-hand column
  • Under the 'Text' subheading, tick ‘Add to iTunes as a Spoken Track’

Setting up Services in System Preferences

Setting up Services in System Preferences.

In any supported application go to the Application menu and you will find ‘Add to iTunes as a Spoken Track’ under the Services options. For example, in Firefox:

  • Select some text
  • Choose Firefox > Services > Add to iTunes as a Spoken Track
  • In iTunes you will find the audio file in a playlist called ‘Spoken Text’ (this is created automatically if it doesn’t already exist)

Text to Speech files in iTunes

Text to Speech files in iTunes.

Take Note:

  • The files will all be named ‘Text to Speech’ so you may need to rename them
  • The voice used is the Mac OS default ("Alex") and cannot easily be changed
  • You can set up a key command in the same System Preferences window (System Preferences > Keyboards > Keyboard Shortcuts) by double-clicking to the right of the Service description (see image) and entering your key command of choice. This saves you from having to access the function through menus, as described above.

Want to learn more about Mac OSX? The Mac OS X (10.7) 101 - Core Lion will get you up to speed on all things Lion. The Mac OS 10.6 201 - Advanced Snow Leopard tutorial will take you deeper into Text to Speech, Automator and other time-saving tips.

Mike Watkinson

Mike Watkinson | Articles by this author

Mike has been obsessed with music software since he first saw Fairlight's Page-R, and has tracked its development through his work as a performer, composer and producer. As a writer he has contributed articles to Sound On Sound since 1999, and currently writes their Apple Notes column. As well as being a certified Logic Pro and Pro Tools trainer he is also an Apple Distinguished Educator.


Sep 25, 2011
Kill KRT
Nice article! How can I change default voice for audio files added to iTunes playlist? I hope it isn't so tricky! :-)
Sep 25, 2011
Actually you can change the voice for the 'Add to iTunes as a Spoken Track' option, but not easliy in System Preferences, unfortunately.
1. Go to System>Library>Services
2. Double click the following file: Add to iTunes as a Spoken Track.workflow
3. It will open in Automator
4. In the Text to audio file section change the System Voice to your preference (you can try them out in SytemePrefernces>Voice>Text to Speech but changes made here do not affect this particalur Service)
5. You won't be able to overwrite the existing file as you won't have permissions, but if you choose File>Save as.. you can save it with a new name. It will be saved in ~/Library/Services and will only be available to the user who created it

Hope that helps!

Mike Watkinson
Oct 04, 2011
Kill KRT
It works!!!

Thanks you!
Oct 08, 2011
Great tips, Mike, Thanks.
Oct 08, 2011
You're welcome - glad you found it useful!

Oct 08, 2011
Here's some great comments by Stevie Wonder about accessibility and Apple:

Oct 09, 2011
Thanks, Mike, for the link to that very inspiring article. I was fortunate enough to be in my childhood/teenage years when Stevie's career was at its peak. His music left (and still leaves) a great impression on me. To hear him talk about Steve Jobs and Apple the way he does in the article you linked to is yet another well deserved tribute of the many millions that he truly deserves.

One of the comments posted at the end of that article links here:

I found that interesting, being that I work in a self-contained Special Ed. school. iPads, and, of course, Logic Studio, are at the heart of the music program that I teach there.

Your mention of Stevie Wonder also brought to mind another immensely talented musician who is using voiceover technology:

Many Thanks,
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