The difference between audiobooks and text-to-speech

By Andrew M.I. Lee, JD

Expert reviewed by Sean J. Smith, PhD

Updated June 12, 2023

Both audiobooks and text-to-speech (TTS) can help people with reading challenges. These types of assistive technology let people listen to a book being read aloud as they look at the words. But audiobooks and TTS are different in important ways. Use this chart to find out the differences.

 

Audiobook

Text-to-speech (TTS)

What it is

An audio recording of a book being read aloud

A technology that speaks aloud digital text on a computer or device

Type of reading voice

Human voice. Because it’s read by a person, there are changes in tone and emotion, and pauses happen in natural places.

Computer-generated voice. Words may be pronounced wrong. Pauses happen in unnatural places. Words may be read in a tone that doesn’t make sense.

How it’s used with visual text

You may have a printed copy of the book and turn the pages to follow along. Or you may follow the words on a screen.

You listen to the text spoken aloud while following the words on a screen.

Highlighting words

Most audiobooks don’t highlight words as they’re read aloud, although some newer versions do.

Many TTS tools highlight words as they’re spoken.

Moving around in the text

Newer audiobooks let you scroll or use Control/Command+F to search for chapters, page numbers, and even words.

TTS lets you search the table of contents or look for particular words using Control/Command+F. TTS then reads the text that’s found.

What to know about cost

• They’re sold individually. Or you can pay a yearly fee to a service for an unlimited number.

• They can be inexpensive or free (check your local library).

• Newer types that sync to digital text cost more.

• TTS software may be free if it’s built into a mobile phone, tablet, or other device.

• TTS programs can range in price. Many come with more natural-sounding voices and features like a built-in dictionary or the option to speed up or slow down the reading speed.

Customization

• You can adjust the speed for an optimal listening experience.

With TTS software, you can often adjust the speed, pitch, and volume. You can also change the voice of the speaker using different accents and/or tones.

Where to find it

Learning Ally

Audible.com

Kindle

Amazon Immersion

Shakespeare in Bits

Bookshare, a project of Benetech, a nonprofit organization and Understood founding partner

Kindle

Mobile devices (those using iOS or Android have free TTS features)

Voice Dream Reader

Knowing the differences between audiobooks and TTS can help you select the right tool. Many people use both audiobooks and TTS for support. They choose between the two depending on the type of reading they need to do. 

Learn more about TTS. If you’re a parent, find out where to find free audiobooks and digital text-to-speech books for your child.

Share

Explore related topics