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.
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.)
I don’t normally post details of special offers as Dragon is frequently discounted anyway and as soon as I’ve written about it, the prices may have changed. But for anyone who hasn’t taken the plunge with dictation yet or is seriously considering upgrading from an older version of Dragon (12.5 or lower), this is an offer that simply cannot be ignored.
This could be ideal for someone who wants an extra copy of Dragon for additional PCs (don’t forget you can install it on two machines as long as you are only using it on one at a time) or for Mac users thinking of dipping their toes into the waters of using Dragon under a virtual machine.
In other news, I’ll be reviewing some speech recognition-specific microphones kindly sent to me by Speechware over the coming weeks which I’m really excited about. Stay tuned.
(Note: The Amazon link above is an affiliate link. You don’t need to use it, of course, but if you do I will receive a small commission for which I’m really grateful.)