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On EQT Ventures’ investment in Sonantic, bringing lifelike artificial voices to the world

Zeena Qureshi (CEO) and John Flynn (CTO). Not their actual logo. Nor color of their clothes. Gotta exercise those Photoshop skills.

Ever since I was a kid, I’ve been fascinated by the idea of computers speaking. The first time I experienced it myself was on a friend’s dad’s Macintosh, playing around with the software developed for the now legendary launch of the Mac (“It sure is great to get out of that bag!”). I was mesmerized.

I don’t know how many hours I later spent with the “Say” speech synthesis tool on my Amiga 500 or how many times I hit the reset button on my NES to hear the extremely noisy “Double Dribble” sample from the game with the same name. Later in life, when creating digital advertising campaigns or weird animated comedy shows, we often (mis)used online text-to-speech demos to avoid paying for professional voice actors. But the voices were (and still are to this day) robotic and clunky. We wanted the voice of Samantha from Spike Jonze’s movie Her, but all we got was 2001: A Space Odyssey’s HAL9000.

Needless to say, I was super excited when my colleague Lyle brought Sonantic to my attention recently. He had just moved to London from San Francisco and bumped into the founders at Entrepreneur First’s karaoke night, and was seriously impressed by what they’d built.

A short film showcasing the breadth of Sonantic’s voices. All voices completely computer generated.

Founded in London in 2018 by two creative technologists that specialise in speech — Zeena Qureshi (CEO) and John Flynn (CTO) — Sonantic has brought to market the world’s first human-quality AI voice actors, enabling text-to-speech performances that can be sculpted, edited and directed just like with humans in real life.

The Sonantic team’s solution offers the full range of emotional breadth and idiosyncratic variation of the human voice like breath, pitch, intonation, pacing, and intensity. This is a virtual copy of the real thing, unlike any other tool in this space we’ve come across so far.

A demo of Sonantic’s voices

Having heard it in action, you can imagine the use cases for something like this are manifold, ranging from virtual voices for video games, to media, advertising and content production at scale. And the more you think about the market value of “human” voice, and the behind the scenes production process that it takes to bring it to life, the more you realize how Sonantic’s “Photoshop for voice” can be a game changer.

And who knows, maybe Sonantic will enable voice-first AIs like Samantha in Her, along with her uncanny ability to communicate to futher blur the boundaries between human and non-human.

As we partner with Sonantic on their journey to make the dream of computer speech into a reality, we’re betting that line will be pushed to its limits in the years to come.

Yours truly, proud Amiga owner, on which I spent many hours playing around with the ‘Say’ tool.

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Multi-stage VC fund, powering the next generation of founders with the support needed to build global success stories

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Ted Persson

Ted Persson

Ex Product & Design investing in… Product & Design. And Frontier tech and climate and a bunch of other stuff. Partner at @eqtventures.

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