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Currah Microspeech

Martin has been a software developer for many years. This is mixed with a passion for retro machines and game,

Currah Technology

Currah Technology

Currah Microspeech

Hooray for Currah!

Currah Technology were a company that created plenty of useful gadgets for our computers in the 1980s (before being acquired by dk'Tronics in 1985), and their 'Microspeech' unit is probably the best known of them.

Computers generating speech is a commonplace occurrence these days and has been for a number of years.

But back in the 1980s a talking computer was a little bit more amazing.

In fact, digitized speech was a pretty astounding feat on any 8-bit computer in the earlier part of the decade.

So amazing in fact that the Currah Microspeech unit has gone down in computing history as a cult add-on item (or peripheral as they were more commonly referred to at the time).

To find out just how a computer could be made to talk thirty years ago, please read on.

If you read to yourself in a robotic monotone voice it will seem even more real to you too....

Aargh! It's Currah!

Currah Microspeech allowed your computer to talk

Currah Microspeech allowed your computer to talk

Currah, the company behind the magic

Currah were a UK based manufacturer of technology and peripherals for 8-bit micro's in the 1980s. They mostly produced add-ons for the Sinclair ZX Spectrum and the Commodore 64.

These computers were the two most popular 8-bit machines of the decade.

Their most famous piece of kit was the 'Currah Microspeeh' unit which gave your trusty machine the ability to parse text and turn each word contained within the text block into a 'spoken word'.

Speech units were popular pieces of kit in the 1980s; the famous cold war hacker movie War Games making good use of a speech synthesizer throughout the film, which gave the machine 'Joshua' more personality to the watcher.

For those of use that played ZX Spectrum Games a microspeech unit could add a little something to the overall experience...

Currah Microspeech Brochure Image

A Currah Microspeech brochure to whet your appetite...

A Currah Microspeech brochure to whet your appetite...

A Currah Microspeech Unit

The Currah Microspeech unit ready to plug and play

The Currah Microspeech unit ready to plug and play

Setting up your Currah Microspeech

The unit was connected to your ZX Spectrum via the edge connector and the RF lead from your television was plugged into the speech unit. Now you were ready to rock and roll.

With nevous excitement making you twitch uncontrollably, you tentatively pressed a letter on the keyboard....

It worked!

Your faithful Spectrum now sounded like a Dalek!

The robotic monotone voice coming from your TV speaker was not a speech by Katie Price, it was your computer interpreting letters and making them into sounds. Unbelievable!

You were now in the space age, and it was not long before you were programming your Spectrum to make full use of the power of speech

Currah Microspeech in action on the ZX Spectrum

Blade Alley on the ZX Spectrum with Currah Microspeech

ZX Spectrum games can talk

Greetings Professor Falken...

There were quite a few games for the ZX Spectrum that supported Currah Microspeech.

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This added a whole new dimension to gaming and was quite exciting when you first tried it out.

Here is list of some of the ZX Spectrum Games that supported Currah Microspeech:

  • Twin Kingdom Valley (text adventure) could describe every location to you
  • Lunar Jetman
  • 3D Monster Maze
  • Blasteroids
  • Blade Alley
  • Booty
  • Golf - it wasn't quite Peter Allis but it did the job!
  • Steve Davis Snooker
  • Voice Chess - informing you of each move as you go

Playing these ZX Spectrum Games with speech support was (at first) brilliant.

But I think most of us found that after a while it did become annoying; the monotone robotic voice would drill into your brain, deeper and deeper until you could take it no more.

Eventually you would switch it off and listen to Billy Idol at full blast to ease your aching head.

Currah Microspeech came at a time when technology was becoming more common in the everyday home.

You just know it's a product of it's era:

Generally too advanced for the 1970s
Generally not advanced enough for the 1990s
It's gotta be from the 1980s.

It has a place in our hearts and we love it! I have a lot of fond memories of this particular piece of hardware...

Steve Davis Snooker on the ZX Spectrum with Currah Microspeech

Booty on the ZX Spectrum

Booty on the ZX Spectrum supported Currah Microspeech

Booty on the ZX Spectrum supported Currah Microspeech

Booty hidden game on the ZX Spectrum

Booty 'Easter Egg' hidden game on the ZX Spectrum

The budget classic game Booty contained a hidden Easter egg.

Within the main game there was a small bonus sub-game which could be accessed in a number of ways.

One way was by attaching the multi-face device that was manufactured by Romantic Robot and entering a POKE.

The other way was to play the game with the micro-speech unit connected to your ZX Spectrum.

Either way you could play this interesting little bonus game which featured THAT music that all of you Booty fans will be familiar with.

It was a toss up which was more annoying; the endless beeping repeat of the sea-shanty or the robotic monotone voice.... :-)

A fully setup ZX Spectrum

Currah! It also works on a C64!

As previously stated the speech unit was also compatible with the C64.

The actual 'voice' produced when running on the Commodore machine was higher pitched than what was produced on the Sinclair hardware.

I think it is fair to say that hearing speech on a C64 was slightly less amazing than it was on a Spectrum due to the fact that the Commodore was blessed with the mighty SID sound chip.

The SID chip far outweighed the original Spectrum's single channel beeper and the balance would not be redressed until the Spectrum 128 was released with AY hardware.

Even then, the SID chip remains the best ever sound hardware that was installed in any standard 8-bit machine.

Currah speech running on the Commodore 64

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