When I was first starting out in self-publishing, I didn’t know where to begin – I had been a freelance writer for some time and was caught up in the traditional publishing world, mainly working on magazines here in the UK. Luckily, I had The Creative Penn to guide me.
I’ll never forget the lightbulb moment I had when I found Joanna Penn’s blog and podcast and realised there was a whole new world of indie writing and publishing out there. Roughly seven years later, things have come full circle and I find myself being interviewed by Joanna; I’m so grateful for all the help and advice she’s given us indies over the years and I hope my little contribution to this podcast adds to that treasure trove of knowledge. Check it out below:
We cover some of the benefits of dictation including clear author voices; the health and mobility advantages of dictation; recommendations for equipment to use and tips for how to train your Dragon. I also talk about my upcoming School of Training Your Dragon, where you can go way beyond my books and delve deep into dictation via my new courses.
A side note: A few months ago, I decided to purpose-build a dictation/writing office in my garden. To call it a “posh shed” would be a disservice – it’s a writer’s room, honest – and this interview took place on the day of completion. If you watch the video version below, you can see my choice of inspiration behind me – the two David’s, Bowie and Lynch, brilliantly interpreted by Rob Snow.
Choosing a headset microphone can be a minefield. There are USB models, 3.5 mm analogue versions, ones that plug into smartphones and others that plug into voice recorders (though rarely any that are compatible with both, surprisingly). SpeechWare aims to end that confusion with an intriguing headset that, on paper at least, can do it all.
There is clearly a demand for this sort of headset – I didn’t get to spend quite as much time with it as I would have liked as it needed to be sent back quickly; SpeechWare had completely sold out of their first production run. That speaks volumes – I am probably not alone in having one headset for dictating into a computer, another 3.5 mm headset for a voice recorder and something else completely for my smartphone. It creates something of a mess; multiple headsets with completely different acoustic properties that can not only provide inconsistent accuracy but can play havoc with your Dragon profile.
Enter the FlexyMike Dual Ear Cardioid (DEC). Packaged in a plain white box, this is a microphone that is designed to primarily be used as a unidirectional, adjustable headband-style device. By combining it with the company’s TravelMike USB, however, it can also be used as a desktop or laptop microphone. Most people, though, are going to want to plug this into a voice recorder or a smartphone and, thankfully, the company includes an adapter for iPhone and Android devices in the box. This is a real rarity in the field – a microphone that, while expensive at around $189, can realistically do it all.
The minimalist packaging throws you off-guard at first. When you initially open the box, you wonder where your money has been spent – everything is extremely lightweight, to say the least. It’s only when you start to use the microphone that you realise you have invested in something designed to do exactly what it says – and that lightweight feel, at around 25g or 0.9oz, is a benefit rather than a weakness. I’ve never been a fan of headsets (I simply don’t like to wear a microphone), but the flexible gooseneck of the FlexyMike proves pretty versatile. This is designed to be worn around the back of the head or neck, rather than on top of your skull like most headsets, and the microphone capsule itself can be positioned very precisely. I found it a little tight, but the stainless steel headband could presumably be shaped a little if required.
In terms of performance, it was as accurate and consistent as other SpeechWare microphones I’ve tested. I started by creating a new profile purely for this device with no training. I then recorded an uncompressed WAV file using Voice Record Pro on an iPhone 6s Plus with the included adapter. This file, when imported into both Dragon Professional Individual 6 for Mac and Dragon NaturallySpeaking 13 Premium for Windows made two mistakes each time from 301 words, resulting in 99.3% accuracy. When combined with the TravelMike, dictation into Dragon 6 (which should be consistent with DPI 15 for PC) resulted in – you guessed it – 99.3% accuracy.
Finally, it seems like this is a headset that is both lightweight and discreet enough to be used pretty much anywhere – on walks, in the car, on the school run, you name it. Most importantly, the accuracy is simply outstanding. As with all SpeechWare’s products, you get what you pay for – they are expensive but they work. I would have liked to spend a little more time with this microphone but my limited testing led me to believe it’s everything it claims to be and then some.
If you have the money, and you want the best accuracy possible, don’t hesitate. Of all the mics I’ve used over the years, this is the best headset currently available for transcription. If, like me, you consider that a vital part of your workflow then the SpeechWare FlexyMike Dual Ear Cardioid could be one of the smartest investments you’ll ever make.
(Thanks to Speechware for sending me this product for an honest review. I do not receive any monetary compensation from the company and the links above are not affiliate links.)
It’s one thing to sit at a comfortable desk with a powerful computer, dictating away into a desktop microphone or wired USB headset that provides terrific accuracy in that environment. Most of us, however, don’t have the luxury of low background noise and a big, comfortable chair in front of a huge monitor all the time. In fact, sales of portable computers have outstripped desktops for many years now (you only have to look at Apple’s neglect of the Mac Pro and Mac mini lines to see where their priorities lie).
Getting the same level of accuracy I achieve at my desk has been an issue for a while for me – I don’t want to take my highly accurate desktop microphone on the road with me, so I’m often lumbered with a slightly less ideal headset (and, as I’ve mentioned before, I’m not a fan of wearing a microphone if I can help it). When Belgian company SpeechWare sent me their Standard USB TravelMike to take a look at, I approached it with an unhealthy level of geeky excitement. This is an external USB soundcard designed specifically for speech recognition – in fact, to merely call it a soundcard is something of an insult. As I quickly found, it’s far more than that.
It shares many of the same technologies as the USB TableMike that I recently reviewed and loved – and that’s a good thing. Things like Auto Gain Control, Auto EQ and a proprietary “de-clicking” algorithm that removes lip smacks and clinking coffee cups are all welcome here – but this microphone is truly unique in that it is genuinely portable. The company provides a carry case that houses the entire setup. This includes the USB “MultiAdapter” itself (with 3.5 mm headphone and microphone inputs), a couple of extension and right-angled connectors for optional use, a windscreen and, intriguingly, a 3.5 mm cardioid pivot microphone.
In keeping with SpeechWare’s other products, the design is all unashamedly functional and to the point, underscoring the versatility and flexibility of what you are buying. If you are one of the sensible people with a standard USB connector on your laptop or MacBook, congratulations – you can just plug the MultiAdapter into your computer and get to work. There are no drivers to install, just a few tweaks recommended by the company in their instruction guide to get things up and running perfectly.
I, on the other hand, have decided to live on the bleeding edge (a.k.a. foolishly own a new MacBook Pro with no legacy ports) and required a USB-C to USB-A adapter – a $3 one from Amazon worked just fine, even if the appendage sticking out of my computer is a little inelegant, to say the least.
To initially train the TravelMike, I performed a single dictation session of just under 2000 words on a brand-new profile dedicated to this device (this was using Dragon Professional Individual 6.0.7 for Mac – the results should be the same in Dragon Professional Individual 15 for Windows as both share the same recognition engine). Once this initial training was over (around 30 minutes), I dictated four sessions of new, unrehearsed text totalling around 3000 words. With such little “breaking-in” and the distance from the pivot microphone fluctuating between 15 and 20 inches each time, the results were astounding.
TEST 1: 100% accurate (!)
TEST 2: 98.7% accurate
TEST 3: 98.7% accurate
TEST 4: 99.7% accurate AVERAGE: 99.3% accurate
Once I had got over my initial shock of achieving 100% accuracy at the first go, I came back down to earth with the next two sessions – although accuracy was still incredibly high, I had maybe got a little bit sloppy with the distance from the TravelMike. After making corrections and saving the profile, I exited Dragon for the final test. This time, I wanted to reopen the program with a reload of the updated profile and, astonishingly, the accuracy almost hit 100% again, tripping up on just one phrase. With an average 99.3% accuracy over the four sessions, the recognition wasn’t just stellar – it was also remarkably consistent.
Retailing at around $259, this isn’t a cheap piece of kit. Like SpeechWare’s other products, you are paying a premium for something designed specifically for maximum accuracy in Dragon (and, at an even deeper level, using the “Far Field” algorithms in the latest versions of the software). But here’s the thing – I have never been truly satisfied with a mobile microphone in the past. I’ve tried all sorts of miniature USB solutions with varying levels of success but nothing that has ever been at the level of my desktop setup.
This changes all of that. For a truly portable solution, SpeechWare have managed to produce something that not only matches but exceeds the accuracy of a huge number of far bulkier microphones out there. You can even plug a headset into it if you wish (and they have a solution for that too, which I’ll be reviewing shortly). To consistently hit near-100% accuracy from any device is remarkable, especially with such little training. To be able to do it anywhere you can take your laptop with a device that fits into your pocket is, for me at least, a dream come true.
The Speechware USB TravelMike is, by some distance, the most accurate portable dictation solution I’ve ever used. Now if only Apple would bring back proper USB ports. I guess you can’t have everything.
(Thanks to Speechware for sending me this product for an honest review. I do not receive any monetary compensation from the company and the links above are not affiliate links. I’ll be looking at their FlexyMike DEC very soon.)