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, the company behind the magic
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 Unit
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....
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.
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
- Blade Alley
- 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 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
Other retro hardware links
- Acorn Electron
The Acorn Electron was a budget version of the BBC Micro
- Amstrad CPC 464
Alan Sugar made a foray into the home computer market with the CPC range
- BBC Micro
The BBC Micro from Acorn King of the educational sector during the 8-bit era, this machine was robust, great for programming and host to many quality games. An absolute classic machine from the 1980s
- Commodore 16
The Commodore 16 was released in 1984 and was a reasonably popular choice with the home user
- Commodore 65
The Commodore 65 is a rare machine that can be worth a small fortune. Developed in the 1980s the Commodore 65 was never given a full commercial release
- Commodore 128
The Commodore 128 was the final 8-bit machine from Commodore before they concentrated on the Amiga
- Commodore Amiga
The Commodore Amiga. 16-Bits of computing power that stayed ahead of the pack for years.
- Commodore PET
The Commodore PET (or Personal Electronic Transactor' was the first home micro from CBM
- Crash Magazine
Crash Magazine was a monthly gaming publication by Newsfield
- Dark Star Cheat Codes
Dark Star on the ZX Spectrum had many hidden easter eggs and cheat codes which was a trademark of Design Design
- Jupiter Ace
The Jupiter Ace 8-bit micro from the early 1980s
- Sinclair Interface 2
Sinclair Interface 2. Twin joystick ports and ROM capable
- VIC 20
The Commodore VIC 20. Endorsed by William Shatner. The Friendly Computer. This is the legend of the VIC 20
- ZZap64 Magazine
Zzap 64 was a monthly gaming magazine from Newsfield