The voice behind Siri

Susan Bennet, the voice of the original Siri.

Image: Laura Fong

Susan Bennet, the voice of the original Siri.

Thais Ackerman, Contributing Writer

Apple’s intelligent personal assistant, Siri, lies in the pockets of millions of people all over the world. The Siri software provides weather forecasts, Google searches and restaurant tips instantly with a voice command. It may seem like holding a conversation with a cell phone.

Once behind the voice on the iPhone was Susan Bennett. She currently lives in Atlanta and said that she was the first voice of the original American Siri.

“I think, for me, that I had to make sort of a disconnect because it was such a unique and crazy thing,” Bennett said.

In July 2005, Bennett recorded hundreds of sentences for four hours a day, five days a week in her home recording studio for a text-to-speech company called Nuance. After the recordings were finished, technicians extracted sounds and reformed them into new words and sentences.

This process is called concatenation and it is used to access all of the sound combinations in a language to build phrases, like the ones Siri says on the iPhone.

“I knew that it was going to be kind of a risk,” Bennett said. “But I was finally convinced by friends and family that I should do it because it was so unique.”

During the concatenation process, Bennett was not aware that her voice was going to be the sound of the popular Apple program. She said she was told her voice would be used for a company phone operating system.

“That’s what we thought we were recording, some sort of anonymous phone stuff,” she said. “Who knew that the phone system was going to become a persona?”

It was not until a fellow voice actor recognized her on the new iPhone 4S feature the day it launched and emailed Bennett that she realized that her voice was now in the hands of millions.

“And I went on the Apple site and I listened and said, ’Oh my God. Wow,’” Bennett said.

When Bennett discovered she was the voice of the program, she said she knew it would impact her career. However, she feared being typecast and discriminated if voice companies knew her age.

She said it took her two years to reveal herself as the original American voice.

“You know, I’m not Siri. I was the original voice of Siri and I can do a lot of other things,” she said. “Like everything in life, it has its pluses and minuses.”

Bennett got into voice work in the 1970s’ and has developed about 12 different voice characters that she is capable of doing on command. The characters range from sounding robotic, like Siri, to youthful, like a young girl.

“I’d like to think that I have a good ear. So I think that I can probably do pretty much anything as long as I have enough time to really listen to it and practice it,” she said.

Bennett is on a number of automated message systems and GPS programs. She is also the voice of Delta Airlines gates worldwide.

With Apple’s more recent software updates, the Siri you hear is not Bennett’s voice. Apple’s OS7 operating system update used a number of new voices with different accents in the English language, including a new American voice.

Currently, Bennett is still a working freelance voice actor. She also sings covers of soul and rock music in her spare time with her husband.

“At this stage in my life . . . it allowed me to develop a whole new avenue of my career doing speaker events and telling people about the story of Siri,” Bennett said.