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:
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.
Nuance is officially dropping support for Dragon 13 Premium in the New Year. For a product that was released in 2014 and has been updated twice since (to Professional Individual versions 14 and 15), that’s no big surprise; however, it continues to be sold online so unless you have a very specific need for it, nobody should buy a new copy now. I’ve also heard some anecdotal rumblings from several users that 13 Premium has had some reliability issues following some recent Windows 10 updates. Here’s Nuance’s statement:
“Dragon Premium is being discontinued.
With the new, simplified configuration of Dragon desktop solutions, Dragon Premium 13 will be discontinued and withdrawn from the market. Because customers purchasing Dragon Premium 13 own a perpetual license to the solution, they may continue using it. However, Nuance will no longer provide support or updates for the solution after January 1, 2019. Additionally, patches or upgrades that individual consumers or organizations apply to computers running these solutions (e.g. operating system patches) could potentially cause the solutions to stop functioning or function in an unintended manner.”
The company has been offering steep discounts on an upgrade to 15 Professional Individual to customers using 13 Premium via email or the built-in Update Manager. Interestingly, they mention the offer is valid until October 31, 2018 – it’s around this time of year that I would have expected a whole new version of Dragon to appear, so maybe they are holding off for another year. This could make sense, as version 15 is currently very stable and has recently received a welcome update.
Nuance’s reference to “the new, simplified configuration of Dragon desktop solutions” signifies that the Dragon Professional Individual branding will remain consistent across both the PC and Mac products. This means the Dragon NaturallySpeaking name will finally bite the dust after 21 years – no bad thing, given the confusion the different names for these similar products can cause.
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.