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How can I tell if a file is recorded using synthetic (computer) or live voice?

In most cases, the narrator is displayed when the file is in audio format. If the words "synthetic" appear after the narrator's name then the file is narrated in a synthetic voice, i.e. "Apple Alex (synthetic)".

While some listeners may find synthetic voices difficult to get used to, most listeners quickly become accustomed to them (and even come to prefer them), especially as synthetic voice technology become increasingly sophisticated (for proof, see Tacotron).

There are several benefits to synthetic narration:

  1. Listeners can speed up an audiobook significantly without sound distortion.
  2. Some people, including some who are autistic, may prefer the clarity of synthetic narration. Researchers have also found, regarding autism, that "synthetic speech may help the child with auditory processing issues with auditory recognition and segmenting of words" (for more information, please see the question "My child uses PECS; how is this different?" at The Center for AAC and Autism).
  3. We know of at least one reader who loves the sound of Apple Alex's voice and wants him to read all her romance novels to her. So, there is no need to feel embarrassed if you feel this way, too.
  4. Synthetic narration allows us to produce books quickly when volunteer narrators are not available or there is insufficient budget to hire paid narrators.

Synthetic recordings are what make it possible for us to produce audiobooks quickly and upon request.