The Engadget Interview: Tom Glynn, the voice of the Kindle 2

It looks like Amazon and the Authors Guild have reached a compromise regarding text-to-speech -- for now, at least. One person who's been ironically silent during all of this is the voice of the e-reader itself, Tom Glynn. We've just had a little chat with the musician, broadcaster, hardcore Kindle fan, and voice of Nuance's text-to-speech technology, which we'd like to share with you -- and while you're at it, be sure to check out some of his tunes on MySpace or at

Hello, Tom! It's great to hear from you. Can you tell us a little about yourself?

I'm a voice actor and singer-songwriter who grew up and lives in Boston -- basically, I speak or sing into a microphone everyday. I do all of my voice work from my own studio, and when not doing voice work I'm usually playing guitar or piano -- I've played both since I was a child. A broadcasting teacher told me years ago that I'd have to choose between broadcasting and music, but I ended up doing both this whole time. The voice work allows me the flexibility to play and create music, which is available on iTunes, and some newer acoustic tracks are available at The songs are played in three hundred Caffe Nero coffee shops in Europe -- that's their version of Starbucks -- and Performing Songwriter picked my latest CD as one of its top Indie picks for November 2008.

How long have you been a voice actor?

I've been a broadcaster for about twenty years and a voice actor for about 15 of those years. I love the nuances of the spoken word, inflection and diction... some people think voice-over is just about having a good voice, but there's really a lot more to it than that -- it's a craft you have to study and practice just like anything else. Initially as a voice actor, I did a lot of radio and TV commercials, instructional videos, and audio dramas. Eventually, I was asked to audition for one of the original companies that created speech recognition.

What kind of stuff do you normally do in this line of work?

They liked my more conversational style, as opposed to the old announcer-type, so I ended up becoming their "go to" voice for a lot of the systems they created. As a result, I'm now the voice you hear whenever you call United, Bank of America, Apple, CVS, and many others. You'll also hear me on some GPS systems.

Well, how did you get the Kindle gig?

The Kindle gig is an off-shoot of my work for the speech recognition company Nuance, who developed text-to-speech, or TTS. I record a massive amount of fragments and random sentences, and they're able to chop them up in a way that allows my voice to speak whatever is written down -- that's an over-simplification, since I don't understand all the intricacies of how it works. Through TTS, I'm also the voice of the National Weather Service and the Phoenix Airport, to name a couple. I love technology, so I think it's pretty cool. It's not the same as when I do the voice for United, Bank of America, and so on -- that's not "TTS me," that's actually me saying those things. But the Kindle has a whole new version of TTS that we recorded last year, and I think it sounds really good compared to some older TTS systems I did in the past. The technology has come along way but it's obviously not the same as someone actually reading the text or book.

So, do you own a Kindle?

I'm addicted to my first generation Kindle! It goes everywhere with me. I read newspapers, books, and blogs every day on it, so when I found out I was going to be the voice reading to everyone on it, it was a real thrill. I absolutely love the Kindle. My only complaint with the first generation model was that my thumb hurts from months of pressing down hard on the cursor ball. I think a combo of the Kindle, my computer, and my guitar and piano kinda all were giving me thumb fatigue. I try to wear a wrist brace now when I use it, but maybe the second generation is better for that. I'll have to get the new Kindle one of these days, but for now my old one works fine. Might be kinda weird hearing me read to myself, although I guess it'll sound the same as the voice already inside my head when I read.

What about the controversy over the Kindle's text-to-speech feature? Do you have an opinion on all of that?

I'm somewhat familiar with the controversy, but I don't have a particular opinion on it. I certainly see their point of view -- but nothing compares to having a real voice actor read an actual audio book to you, so I almost see them as two different things. I see my TTS voice as more functionality, and a real audiobook as sheer enjoyment.

How much would you charge someone to read them a bedtime story?

Well, I believe I'd charge them nothing if they own a Kindle! It's bedtime stories on demand for the rest of your life.

One more question: You're not really Tom Cruise, are you?

Hmm, let me check my wallet... no, I'm definitely not Tom Cruise.