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Category: Gear

Texas Instruments Speak & Spell

Speak & Spell

Specifications and Information

Release Date: 1978-1992.
Voice Chip: Voice Synthesizer (TMC0280).
Display: 8 alphanumeric VFD, later models LCD.
Output: Built in speaker, Head phone output.
Input: N/A.
Power consumption: 4 “C” batteries or 6 volt DC power adapter.
Dimensions: 10.0″ x 7.0″ x 1.3″ 254 x 177 x 34 mm.
Weight: 16.7 ounces, 474 grams.
Accessories: Cartridges.

The Speak & Spell is a handheld computer voice synthesizer by Texas Instruments. It consisted of a small display, membrane keyboard, a speaker and a cartridge slot for added expansion. It was marketed as a learning tool for children, coming out in 1978 and manufactured in various forms up until the early 90s.

While the design is bright and ugly the great feature that has endeared it to millions of people, including musicians, is the voice synthesizer. The voice synthesizer chip, the TMC0280 is capable of emulating sounds into spoken words. The original Speak & Spell came with 200 words for several language versions (English, French, German and Italian) and contained minigames like Mystery Word, Secret Code, and Letter. To expand upon the words that the unit could use a number of cartridges were released. The sound is robotic and male. It’s no wonder musicians like Kraftwerk and OMD utilized the Speak & Spell in their songs. Depeche Mode named their first album after it.

While there were various versions of the Speak and Spell, including Speak & Math and Speak & Read, as well as software emulations, the original Speak & Spell is a neat little red box with a handle to carry around with. The voice synthesizer is wonderful, especially if you’re a musician and you want to dump a load of sounds into a sampler to use in something. As a toy for kids these days? Not much. A great retro box full of wonder and a bit of magic? Definitely. For someone wanting to buy one these days, they are getting harder and harder to find and their prices are becoming ridiculous.