Forgive me for telling you how to do something as simple as wearing a headset, but…
A good quality wired headset is a great tool to have – they are lightweight, easily portable and can give great results. This video highlights a quick trick to ensure you position it correctly first time, every time.
To say 2020 has been unpredictable is an understatement. One thing we all knew, however, was that Apple was planning to replace Intel chips in all Macs over the course of a two-year period. They announced this back in June and confidently claimed the first Apple Silicon machines would arrive before year end. Well, that day has come: new MacBook Air, MacBook Pro and Mac mini models have landed sporting the new M1 chip.
While this could represent a huge leap forward for the Mac platform, it’s significantly problematic for any Mac users of Dragon dictation software.
As we all know, Nuance discontinued Dragon for the Mac platform back in 2018. Most people have been getting by with using their old copy or had made the leap to running the Windows version via a Parallels virtual machine (VM) or similar. With these new chips, both of these options may have hit a brick wall.
That’s because Apple’s M1 chip is based on ARM architecture, similar to the processors you will find in your iPhone or iPad. This is hugely beneficial for Apple – they get to take all of their chip manufacturing in-house, not relying on Intel or anyone else for supply or making progressive leaps forward in speed or efficiency. For years, razor-thin Apple devices have been hampered by Intel’s hot, power-hungry chips. With M1 (and future chip designs), that all changes. Apple can now make strides in both speed and battery life.
There’s a catch, though. The new ARM chips are not compatible with the x86 instruction set found in Intel processors. That means they can’t run your old Mac software unless it is “emulated”, something Apple states their new Big Sur operating system can do via their Rosetta 2 conversion trickery. Most of the Mac programs you use on an Intel device will continue to work just fine, they say, on an M1 chip until newer, fully optimised versions arrive.
This almost certainly won’t be the case for Dragon, though. The last version, Dragon Professional Individual for Mac 6.0.8, is now over two years old and is only officially compatible with High Sierra (although plenty of people still have it working just fine on more recent versions of macOS). Whether this can be successfully emulated to run on the new Apple Silicon, however, is a lottery. Dragon needs to get its hooks into your operating system in order to function properly; if the conversion doesn’t work, there won’t be a fix coming. (UPDATE: see bottom of this post – 6.0.8 does not work on M1 Macs.)
More alarming, though, is the inability to run a Windows virtual machine via Parallels Desktop or similar. Both Windows and the PC version of Dragon are based on x86 chip architecture. There is no conceivable way that a Mac M1 chip can run an x86 Windows VM. Parallels have stated that they are working on a new version of the software for the M1, but that will only run ARM-based operating systems.
This leaves Mac users with two options:
Stay on Intel. Either stick with the machine you have or purchase an existing Intel-based Mac. There should be support for a good while yet but be aware the value of your machine is likely to drop off a cliff in the next few years (once Apple has migrated all its Macs to their own chips).
Buy a PC. You may not want to switch your computing platform of choice entirely, but a good option could be a separate PC simply for running Dragon. iCloud sync is available for Windows (as well as Dropbox, OneDrive and Google Drive), so synchronising between platforms shouldn’t be a problem.
There is a possibility that Dragon for Windows could return to the Mac via emulation. Back when Mac computers used PowerPC chips, a program called Virtual PC existed that allowed users to run Windows operating systems and programs on their non-Intel machines. The downside? Emulation is much, much slower than virtualisation. If the ability to run an x86 operating system returns via this route, be prepared for a horrendous performance hit (and probable incompatibility with external devices such as microphones). In other words, it’s a solution – but not much of one.
In short, what this means is the ability to run the Windows version of Dragon is over for Mac users on an Apple Silicon device. Things will continue as normal if you are on an Intel Mac, but be under no illusion – Apple is transitioning their entire Mac product line to their own chips, so even this solution is time-limited. With so many Intel Macs out there, it’s conceivable you won’t have to worry about this for many years – but if you are thinking of buying one of the new machines, be aware of what you are getting into.
Apple Silicon is the future of the Mac, but it could also be the end of Dragon on the platform completely.
Well, this was fun. I recently had the pleasure of being invited onto the SPA (Self Publishing Authors) Girls Podcast where I spoke with Wendy Vella and Shar Barratt abould all things dictation-related. What was especially interesting about this chat was the angle – both Wendy and Shar are self-confessed novices when it comes to dictation, so this was a great opportunity to really go over the basics from a beginner’s perspective.
You don’t have to be a beginner, though – we also talked about lots of other topics including the merits of Dragon Anywhere, the issues facing Mac users since their version was discontinued and whether Dragon can successfully tame Wendy and Shar’s New Zealand accents (spoiler alert: yes).
It’s been 18 months since I was first interviewed by Melinda Hammond for her Writer on the Road podcast. Since then, she has thoroughly embraced dictation. Not only does she use Dragon pretty much anywhere (from beaches to mountaintops – I’m not kidding!), she is churning out astonishing word counts. While most people would be ecstatic at 2,000-3,000 words in a session of dictation, Mel is able to hit as much as 10,000 words in a single day while embracing the great outdoors and her active lifestyle.
I was thrilled to recently catch up with Mel again and talk about what has happened since out last chat, including the options for Mac users now the software has been discontinued for that platform and a refresher on how to get started with dictation and build it into your daily writing workflow. You can listen to the podcast episode here:
Please read the updates at the bottom of this post and in the comments below for up-to-date info on this topic.
In a move that is likely to anger and dismay Mac users, Nuance has dropped a bombshell. Dragon Professional Individual 6 has been discontinued with immediate effect; there will be no updates to the existing software and no further versions produced.
In other words, Dragon for Mac is dead.
Via a press release, Nuance stated: “Dragon Professional Individual for Mac is being discontinued effective 10/22/2018 and will no longer be available for purchase…Customers who have purchased Dragon Professional Individual for Mac version 6 (“Software”) benefit from a perpetual license to the Software and may continue using the Software. Nuance will no longer provide updates for the Software after 10/22/2018”.
While Dragon on the Mac platform has never been at the same level as the Windows software, things did seem to be improving. The release of version 6 was disastrous at launch – buggy, unstable and borderline unusable. But things improved dramatically and, with the last 6.0.8 update, it seemed like Mac users finally had a version of Dragon nearer in stability and features than ever to the PC equivalent. Despite this, Nuance has pulled the plug.
For anyone who has bought the software within the last 30 days, it might be worth exercising your right to a refund. While you can continue to use Dragon, it’s anyone’s guess as to when or if it will stop working as Nuance does not guarantee compatibility with the latest version of macOS, Mojave. Wyvern Business Systems are reporting the following:
“During testing we have experienced a few glitches but it seems manageable currently, however future updates may cause further issues, or cause the software to stop all together.”
All traces of the software have been removed from Nuance’s web site and it is no longer offered for sale. You can still buy it from the likes of Amazon and eBay but, with a very real prospect of it being disabled by an OS update and no hope of a fix, it wouldn’t be a wise way to spend your money.
Obviously, this news brings huge ramifications for Mac users from both an accessibility and workflow standpoint. While the Windows software undoubtedly has a larger installed user base, the majority of writers I come across are using Macs. With no viable native solution (and no realistic competition), Mac users should consider using the Windows software via a virtual machine – something I have long advocated.
EDIT: Update, June 2019
Just tested and Dragon 6.0.8 does NOT work at all in MacOS 10.15 Catalina (Developer Beta). Installs but crashes on launch. As Dragon itself won’t be updated, I can’t see this changing for the public release.
Looks like this is the end of the line, folks.
EDIT: Update, November 2019
Many posts in the comments are reporting continued success running Dragon 6.0.8 in the final public release of macOS Catalina. While the software remains end-of-life and unsupported, this appears to be great news (for now) for any Mac users who have invested in this version of the software. Keep an eye on the comments for any further developments; a massive THANK YOU to everyone who has taken the time to leave a post to let other Mac users know the state of play.
It’s available now for digital download directly from Nuance with a physical version shipping this month. At $150, it’s significantly cheaper than Professional Individual 15 – but there’s a catch. Much like previous Home versions, some features are crippled and, crucially, there’s no transcription functionality here. If, like me, you consider the ability to record audio for Dragon to turn into text later as essential, then this isn’t the version for you.
On the other hand, for anyone who simply dictates at their computer and has no interest in transcription, this is a much cheaper way of accessing an up-to-date version of the product with the new Deep Learning speech engine. Due to the timing of this announcement (and the recent 15 Professional Individual upgrade offer), I’m now even more inclined to believe there will not be a v16 this year.
What’s in a microphone? That’s a tricky one. From the staggering value of the Blue Yeti to the eternal quest for anywhere approaching decent accuracy from a wireless setup, everyone’s needs are different. Some people are happy to sit at a desk; others crave the freedom of using a transcription device to dictate anywhere. Budget plays a part, of course, but you can’t put a price on accuracy – after all, the more words Dragon gets right first time, the more time you save proofreading and editing. For freelancers on a deadline, time is money; even if you don’t measure your productivity in dollars per hour, your time is equally precious.
I’ve always had the opinion that dictation is an investment in your writing business. It’s a costly experiment for those unsure whether they can easily transition from typing to talking; you need a decent computer, a copy of Dragon itself and – the final piece of the jigsaw – an excellent microphone. SpeechWare have once again come up with the goods in the latter department with two very different microphones that aren’t cheap but deliver superb accuracy.
First up is the FlexyMike Single Ear Cardioid (SEC). As headsets go, this is as thin and light as it gets. Weighing in at just 5g/2oz, it really is barely there once you manoeuvre it into place. I’m not a huge fan of wearing headsets, but even I didn’t have a problem with this one – it’s about as comfortable a device of this type can possibly be. When you first unpack the FlexyMike, you might feel your heart skip a beat at what €149 buys you – but what initially appears flimsy is actually made of a very strong metal alloy (more on this below).
SpeechWare cite a number of improvements in this version of the FlexyMike over their previous model. Firstly, they claim the unidirectional microphone element is more sensitive than ever before; secondly, that there are significant improvements to the actual construction. This includes a titanium “memory frame” with three points of contact in the earlobe, all contributing to high comfort and impressive stability despite the feather-light feel. The price reflects the insanely light weight and miniaturisation, the likes of which I haven’t really seen in a headset before.
You are also paying for a stunning level of accuracy. For me, this is primarily a transcription microphone; plugged into a Sony recorder at 192kBps MP3, it produced flawless audio that hovered between 99.3% and 100% accuracy, depending on the complexity and length of the source material. This was in Dragon Professional Individual 15; it also produced 99.5% accuracy via straight dictation in version 6 for Mac when paired with a SpeechWare USB MultiAdapter (an additional purchase at €149).
When using a setup like this, you are getting into eye-wateringly expensive territory; it’s almost €300 for both the FlexyMike and SpeechWare’s own USB soundcard to go with it. Bear in mind, though, this gives you a complete solution for both desktop dictation and mobile transcription (although, disappointingly, you will need an additional adapter to plug the FlexyMike into a smartphone).
But that’s not all. SpeechWare also sent me their latest TwistMike, a quirky device unlike any other I’ve seen. It is, in essence, a giant gooseneck with a big old clamp on the end of it – utterly bizarre at first glance but, when positioned on a desk, it starts to make sense as a genuine alternative to a large studio mic on a boom arm. The gooseneck is so flexible that it can be positioned at almost any height or angle and the included 2m cable (78.5in) should enable you to set this up pretty much however and wherever you want it.
The downside? Again, it’s expensive (€179 – ouch) and, while it will plug into a recorder via its 3.5mm jack, this surely isn’t the expected use scenario (although the 30in/75cm long boom can be worn around the neck as long as you don’t mind people openly pointing and laughing at you). Instead, it is ideally paired with a TableMike base (if you already own one) to make it the “longest desktop microphone in the market” with the added bonus of a mini-XLR connector.
Alternatively, it combines superbly with the aforementioned SpeechWare USB MultiAdapter, which the company claims is acoustically matched for maximum performance. This pairing provides the same audio signal as their award-winning TableMike desktop microphones (as they share the same capsule and electronics), but in a much smaller and transportable format.
It’s hard to argue with this latter combo as, again, my testing resulted in consistently high accuracy of over 99.5% (and again, in some cases, 100%) in both dictation and transcription across the PC and Mac versions of Dragon (transcribed files were slightly less accurate on the Mac, but that is a shortcoming of this version of the software and would result in the same issue with any microphone).
I have to admit to being slightly nonplussed at the look and design of the TwistMike when I first took it out of the box but, after clamping it to my desk and fully appreciating its flexibility, I was won over. Suddenly, my Rode NT-USB (a microphone I love, by the way) seemed almost intrusive and clunky on its huge boom arm. Even more surprising was how I found the TwistMike to be even more versatile, allowing me to position and angle the microphone in any way I pleased. It’s certainly different, that’s for sure, and delivers on accuracy without any question.
The same goes for the diminutive FlexyMike SEC – packed with a carrying case and some windshields (although a couple of miniature deadcats would probably be a good addition), this could well be the ultimate portable microphone for the transcription aficionado.
Quality doesn’t come cheap, I guess, but only you can decide whether these pricey but superb microphones fit within your budget. If they do, you will be rewarded with some of the best accuracy in Dragon I’ve ever seen. Now if only they actually wrote several thousand words a day for you…
(Thanks to Speechware for sending me these products for an honest review. I do not receive any monetary compensation for this from the company and the links above are not affiliate links. I’ll be looking at their new 2018 TableMike One very soon.)
NOTE:There are many visual references (including Melinda’s fascination with my office ‘Pop Vinyl’ collection!) during the interview that may seem confusing; I didn’t realise the podcast was audio only. My mistake!
P.S. There are not merely “dolls”, Melinda. 🙂
In case you’re wondering what we were laughing about, here they are:
The cast of Twin Peaks. Poor Laura Palmer…
Alex (A Clockwork Orange), Jimmy McGill (Better Call Saul), John Wick
Elliot and Mr Robot
Don Corleone (The Godfather). Make him an offer he can’t refuse…
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.)