This project makes an Adafruit Trellis M4 faithfully replicate the voice of Speak & Spell.

The Texas Instruments Speak & Spell and its descendants were electronic educational toys sold from the late 1970s into the early 1990s. If you were around for it, chances are you know that voice, even if you don’t recall the spelling games that went with it.

Like any of our senses, sound can summon strong nostalgic feelings. The Yamaha DX7 synthesizer left its fingerprints all over 1980s pop music. Chiptune aficionados will insist that analog peculiarities of a real Commodore 64’s SID chip can never be perfectly emulated in software. Stephen Hawking was so known for his specific accent that he kept (or emulated) it even as better-sounding technology came along.

And so it goes with early speech synthesis technology. A Votrax SC-01 (used in MicroVox and Heathkit HERO 1) was distinct from S.A.M. (Software Automatic Mouth) was distinct from the General Instrument SPO256 IC (which could be had from Radio Shack) and so forth. Each has its own peculiar flavour. I can’t explain why I wanted to bring back the Speak & Spell voice specifically. I just…did. It’s that nostalgia thing, and anybody who knows and hears it will laugh. That’s really why I do any of this stuff.

A new “retro” Speak & Spell is being released and I was disappointed that its voice is modern and understandable. That’s like when a cartoon voice actor is replaced and anyone can spot the change.

This guide was first published on Jun 19, 2019. It was last updated on Mar 08, 2024.

This page (Overview) was last updated on Mar 08, 2024.

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