slice-of-thai.com → Thai Language → Voice Viewer
Voice Viewer is a free software tool for Windows 98/XP/Vista, available on this page, that lets you visualize your own voice in a way that can help you learn the terrible tones
of Thai, certain consonants and vowels, and also have a lot of fun!
Table of Contents
As you talk into a regular microphone (or Skype headset) attached to your computer, Voice Viewer generates a colorful chart called a spectrogram
on your screen that shows you what you just said and how you said it:
That's all it does! Voice Viewer is a very simple program with absolutely no knobs or buttons or anything. It just keeps making a spectrogram for as long as you run it (well, you can hit the spacebar to pause and unpause).
To understand how a spectrogram works, first click the little play button below (the triangle at the left end of this player bar) to hear a silly sound:
If you have a slow internet connection, you may have to wait a little bit before the sound plays.
If the player is playing (the seconds are counting up and the little notch is making its way to the right) but you still don't hear any sound, you need to adjust the volume on your computer. You might also need to turn up the volume on the right end of the player bar above. Or, reach under the desk and see that your headphones are actually unplugged :)
A spectrogram plots that silly sound over time like this:
Click the play button of the player below the spectrogram and you will hear the silly sound again. Notice how the vertical position of the colorful curve in the plot follows the pitch of the silly sound. Sounds that are lower in pitch are near the bottom of the chart, and sounds that are higher in pitch are near the top of the chart.
Notice the blue fuzz at the bottom: that is the very low-pitched, wind-like blowing sound you can also hear along with the whistling.
The color of the spectrogram at a given point indicates how much sound with that pitch you were making at that time. The color scale works like this:
So the red parts of the spectrogram represent the most noticeable pitches.
Anal note: "pitch" and "volume" are technically incorrect. The proper terms are "frequency" and "amplitude." Yeah ok.
One of the hardest parts of learning Thai is speaking and recognizing the five tones:
Voice Viewer lets you see the way tones are supposed to be pronounced, and then try it yourself and compare the results!
There's a whole page about the five tones here:
The Five Tones of Thai
Voice Viewer can also help you to learn other sounds of Thai, including certain vowel and consonant sounds. Sonograms are used on our consonants page here:
The Consonant Sounds of Thai
Also, Voice Viewer is fun toy to play with.
Nearly every computer these days comes with a place to plug in a microphone or a "Skype" headset, and you can use either. You can get a mic or headset for a few bucks from your local computer shop. Some laptops even have mics built in.
Voice Viewer consists of just one
170kb file. To download Voice Viewer, right-click on the following link:
and then choose "Save File As...," "Save Link As...," or "Save Target As..." on the menu that pops up. Your browser will ask you where you'd like to save it. You can put Voice Viewer anywhere you want (your Desktop, for example). If you want to delete Voice Viewer, just delete the file! Voice Viewer is polite software that does not create any other files or registry entries on your computer.
Once you have downloaded Voice Viewer to your computer, but before you run it for the first time, I would recommend that you follow the same procedure you (should) do for any program you get from the intenet: use your virus scanner to make sure it hasn't picked up anything untoward on its way from slice-of-thai.com to your computer. The risk of this is minimal but it doesn't hurt to scan.
Finally, go to the place where you downloaded Voice Viewer and double-click to run it.
Voice Viewer pops up and runs in its own window. It has no buttons or dials or sliders at all. It just immediately begins listening to your microphone and showing you a spectrogram of what you say. As you speak into the microphone, you'll see contours like these appear on the screen:
It's normal that you will see multiple, stacked copies of the contours as in the example above. These are called harmonics and they are are a normal part of the human voice. The shape of the lowest harmonic (called the fundamental) determines what we perceive as "pitch," so that's the one you should pay attention to when practicing your tones. The presence or absence of the upper harmonics is what gives the sound its "timbre," for example what makes an "aah" sound different from an "ii" or an "ooh" at the same pitch.
You can hit the spacebar to pause and unpause Voice Viewer.
If you have problems with Voice Viewer, here's some things to check out...
If Voice Viewer stops scrolling, the first thing to check is whether it might be paused. Every time you hit the spacebar, Voice Viewer pauses or continues. When Voice Viewer is paused, the word "(paused)" appears in the lower-left corner.
If Voice Viewer starts up but the window stays all black even when you yell into the microphone, it means that Voice Viewer found your microphone jack (or some audio input jack!) but it's not hearing anything from that jack.
That could be because:
- The mic is not plugged in.
- If the mic has an on/off switch (a "privacy switch") that might be switched off. Hunt around your mic and cord for such a switch.
- You might have to increase the mic level or turn on the "mic boost" on your computer. This is very common. We'll show you how to do this below.
- If your computer has more than one audio input (and one of them might be your CD drive), you might need to actually select the microphone input. We'll tell you how to do this in our section on setting the audio level below.
If Voice Viewer starts up, but the window just gets a few puffs of blue even if you shout at the top of your lungs, that means you need to increase your mic level, which we'll explain below
If Voice Viewer's window is mostly red, or there's a huge cloud of red noise that keeps obscuring the contours of your own voice, or everything you say comes out in hugely thick red stripes,
- you might need to reduce the background noise, in particular any fan or wind that is blowing on the microphone, or crowds of people in the background. Voice Viewer requires a relatively clean, quiet sound environment (sorry, can't use it on the Skytrain!).
- you might need to reduce the mic level, as we explain below
- you might unknowingly be breathing into your microphone. That windy breath noise will obscure the real sound of your voice and produce giant vertical red strips. Try to aim your mouth just over the mic instead of directly into it, or find some kind of fuzzy, nerfy thing to put over the mic as a windscreen.
- if you can hear your voice coming out of the computer's speakers, you might be getting feedback (that annoying whine or scream). You need to turn down the speakers, or even better, use headphones.
Nearly all the problems you might have with Voice Viewer relate to choosing the microphone and setting the proper microphone input level in Windows.
To gain more insight on this, click on Voice Viewer and hit the 'L' key (L stands for level). Voice Viewer will pop up a level meter with a little diamond that measures the amount of sound it is hearing (left is no sound, right is lots of sound):
- When you speak, the little diamond should hang out around 60-90% of the way to the right.
- If the little diamond is pinned at total silence (left edge), then your mic is either unplugged, or needs to be chosen or unmuted in Windows.
- If the little diamond is fidgeting a bit, but still hovering around the left edge even when you yell into the mic, then you simply need to crank up your mic level.
- If the poor little diamond is pinned on the right edge, you need to reduce your mic level.
Here's how to do all of those things in Windows. Do this while Voice Viewer is running:
- Go to "Start...Settings...Control Panel" ("Start...Control Panel" on some computers)
- Double-click on whatever control panel starts with "Sound" or "Sounds"
- Click the "Audio" tab
- Under "Sound recording," look at the list of sound devices. If there is more than one device here, you may need to choose the one corresponding to your microphone (you may have to do this by trial and error).
- Under "Sound recording," click the "Volume..." button. In the window that pops up:
- Make sure the "Select" checkbox under "Microphone" is checked. This selects your microphone over other possible audio inputs on your computer.
- Try cranking up the "Volume" knob under "Microphone"
- If that doesn't work, you may need a mic boost—click the "Advanced" button that appers under "Microphone," and in the window that pops up, chech "Microphone Boost" and click "Close." This is very common and almost always solves the problem!
- If that still doesn't solve the problem, see if there is an "Advanced" button under "Sound recording." That may pop up a window allowing you to choose between the microphone and other inputs.
If all of that still doesn't work, you may have to first quit Voice Viewer, then make the settings above, then reboot, then try to run Voice Viewer again.
If, when you double-click on Voice Viewer, you experience any of these problems:
- nothing comes up at all,
- Voice Viewer pops up a message saying "Sorry, looks like your audio system is not compatible with Voice Viewer," but you are able to use your microphone with other programs such as Skype on the same computer,or
- you get a Windows message complaining about a missing "DLL" file, or
- you get a Windows message saying "Voice Viewer had to close due to an application error,"
then that means there is a bug or something about your computer that Voice Viewer wasn't designed to handle; we may be able to fix the problem if you can send us an email telling us:
- what goes wrong exactly
- which version of Windows you are running (that is, 2000, XP, or Vista: look under "Start...Settings...Control Panels...System").
- whether you can successfully use your mic with other programs (and tell us which other programs work ok)
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