Despite advances in electronics, the old axiom still holds: garbage in, garbage out. A decimal point misplaced by a human skewers the bottom line every time. The traditional way to ensure that everything's been entered accurately into a spreadsheet has been a two-person chore: one reads the numbers on the screen, the other checks them against the original source. But no longer.

Developed by a computer technician from Wall Street, a new software product, Spreadsheet Echo (Temair Software, 800-933-8980, $99.95), relieves one of the parties, in whose stead the computer itself does the reading. The user selects a column or row of numbers on a spreadsheet, either explicitly electing its range name or "pointing" to the numbers themselves (a standard spreadsheet operation). Through either the computer's internal speaker or the provided set of earphones (so passersby can't listen in on corporate secrets), each number is spoken in a real-sounding voice, digit by digit. Example: the spreadsheet entry "(193.2)" is spoken -- in either a man's or a woman's tone -- as "negative one nine three point two." The "reader" verbalizes cell after cell until it is commanded to pause. Unlike other voice products that read from only a screen at a time, Spreadsheet Echo will keep talking all the way to the spreadsheet's innermost cells, unless the user intercedes.

Requiring a mere 25 kilobytes of RAM, the quickly installed program works with any IBM-compatible computer, including old XTs. The company is working on versions that will recite numbers (the program cannot read range names, formulas, or labels) in five other languages: German, Spanish, Japanese, Italian, and French. Currently, Spreadsheet Echo is compatible with Lotus 1-2-3 programs through release 3. A version for Borland Quattro is, the company promises, on the way. -- Robert A. Mamis