The Best Speech to Text Software: The Ultimate Guide to ASR and Transcription Services
Speech To Text Software is nothing new. In fact, the first example of Automated Speech Recognition Software (ASR) goes all the way back to 1952. This early “digit recogniser” went by the name of Audrey and while she could only ascertain numbers, she represented a significant technological step forward for automated transcription.
Recent advances in digital technology have seen ASR software take off in a number of exciting ways. Virtually every smartphone user makes regular use of ASR technology (whether they’re aware of it or not) through digital assistants like Siri and Cortana. Today, there are literally dozens of ASR services to meet all manner of transcription needs.
How does ASR work?
ASR services work by translating the vibrations we make in normal speech into digital language. This is then cross-referenced with the 40 human phonemes that make up human speech. While certainly impressive, it’s important to remember that this process is not quite perfect… yet.
While ASR services allow you to transcribe even lengthy passages of text at great speed, there’s some bottlenecking to be expected in terms of accuracy. Even the most reliable ASR speech to text software can struggle to achieve accuracy rates over 80% and that’s under perfect speaking conditions with nice, clear audio. For the foreseeable future, there will be a need for human transcription services in this growth market.
Nonetheless, as software companies compete for consumers’ attention and loyalty, those with transcription needs have more choice than ever. So much choice, in fact, that it can be confusing to newcomers. That’s why we’ve compiled this ultimate guide to the best ASR and transcription services on the market. Whatever your needs or budget, you’re sure to find a good fit for them here…
We begin our list with Speechnotes. The reason why it’s earned a place at the start of the list is because it’s an excellent “starter application” for anyone with modest transcription and dictation needs and low-to-no budget.
Speechnotes is a part of the Google Chrome browser and is suitable for desktop and Android device use. It’s user-friendly and intuitive with a decent degree of accuracy. Because it’s browser-based, nothing needs to be downloaded or signed up to, making it a hassle-free choice for desktop users. What’s more, at a diminutive 4MB, the Android app won’t hog your phone’s memory, either. Best of all, it’s completely free for a version with banner ads while an ad-free premium version costs just £6.39!
Nuance Dragon Professional
Speechnotes is a good program for newcomers, but Nuance Dragon Professional is one for the pros. It has one of the highest price points of any ASR solution but it also offers accuracy worth paying for. Few other solutions can match this application in terms of accuracy, and it has flexible price points to suit modest budgets.
What makes Nuance Dragon Professional appealing for those with robust dictation needs is the way it learns all the idiosyncrasies of your speech. Over time, this can improve its already market-leading accuracy levels even more. With prices starting at $150 (around £119) a year, it may be cost-prohibitive for some. However, in terms of accuracy and efficiency, it’s pretty much as close as you can get to a human transcription service.
Accurate and Secure Transcription
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One of the most common frustrations when using ASR is its inability to understand complex terms. Those in the legal, medical or technical professions can find themselves dedicating a great deal of time to correcting inaccuracies when their ASR programs mistranslate jargon or technical language.
Braina is designed with this in mind. Its robust vocabulary includes many medical, legal and scientific terms. What’s more, it understands over 100 languages, making it perfect for those with multilingual needs. There’s a free “lite” version which has pretty limited functionality. However, the Pro version costs just $49 (£38.92) a year or $139 (around £110.40) for unlimited access.
GoTranscribe is a great solution for those with moderate transcription needs who are always on the… go. GoTranscribe is a completely cloud-based, AI-powered speech-to-text solution which will work on any iOS or Android device. It’s relatively user friendly and intuitive, and makes it easy to upload, transcribe and edit audio files in minutes. These can then be downloaded as PDFs or Microsoft Word documents.
GoTranscribe is available on a pay-as-you-go plan which may be appealing to intermittent users and costs just 18p per minute. Alternatively, individuals can pay £36 a month for unlimited use. Business packages are available at £72 a month while a corporate package will set you back £300 a month. GoTranscribe, however, cannot be used for dictation.
Google Docs Voice Typing
Google Docs is a great tool for individuals and professionals. Delivering an interface as intuitive as MS Word, you get powerful sharing capabilities on par with Office 365 for free. It is easy to collaborate, share and create.
What’s more, Google Docs has a free and easy-to-use voice typing system that facilitates quick and easy dictation. Just hold CTRL, SHIFT & “S” and away you go! While its accuracy leaves a lot to be desired, it scores points for accessibility and ease of use. You can even use voice-activated formatting and editing commands including:
- Creating bullet points and itemised lists
- Selecting, highlighting, underlining and italicising passages of text
- Apply headings
- “Undo” and “Redo”
Any internet enabled Apple device can use Siri’s servers to dictate for up to 30 seconds at a time. But if you’re an iOS user with more complex needs, this is likely unfit for purpose. Fortunately, Mac users operating on OS X 10.9 or later have access to Apple’s ASR tool “Enhanced Dictation”.
This allows users to dictate at their leisure, and you don’t even need to be connected to the internet to use it. It also features up to 70 voice commands for easy editing and formatting.
Windows Speech Recognition
Like Apple’s counterpart devices, Windows machines use a native ASR solution in Cortana. Windows’ personal assistant can do more than just dictation, however. It also lets you control and dictate text on any web application or browser. This makes it especially useful for those who need to multitask hands-free.
The increased functionality gives it an edge over Apple Dictation. Because it’s a native part of Windows OS, it’s also completely free.
Trint is a great solution for those who need lengthy transcriptions with rapid turnaround, allowing you to transcribe lengthy passages of audio in minutes rather than days. Cautious users will be pleased to learn that it also boasts a free trial which allows users to transcribe up to 30 minutes of audio without charge. Its interface is user-friendly and easy to navigate and it features a suite of easy-to-use editing features.
What’s more, it offers users the choice of whether they want to export finished transcriptions as Word Documents or embed them directly onto your website (although this requires a little CSS trickery which will be easier for some than others). It’s available on desktop and iPhone and has tiered pricing starting at £36 a month which will get you up to 3 hours of uploaded audio a month. Unused hours roll over into the next month.
Winner of PC World’s “Top 100 Apps” and Google Play’s “Best Daily Helper” of 2018, Otter is available for iOS and Android devices. Developed by AISense, it is primarily intended for note-taking and collaboration, making it less suitable for those with heavy transcription needs or those who need to convert existing lengthy audio files. With Otter, users can record and transcribe voice interactions like meetings, interviews, lectures etc. in real-time. This data is then transcribed into rich, searchable notes in minutes.
Otter’s accuracy is generally very good, although audio quality and ambient noise will always be key factors. However, because it is powered by Ambient Voice Intelligence, it’s always learning the unique patterns of your voice to improve its accuracy. It’s not limited to same-room interactions, either. It can also record conversations over the phone or over other devices. It’s also integrated with Zoom to make it easy to record conference calls.
Otter offers multi-tiered subscriptions for individuals, teams and education institutions. You get up to 600 minutes of transcription a month for free and pricing starts at $8.33 (£6.63) a month for up to 6000 minutes of transcription.
Pick the right service for you
While it’s arguable that all ASR users take a spin of the wheel when it comes to accuracy, the sheer variety of quality solutions makes it easy to find one that works for you, with minimal outlay. All of the services discussed here provide different features, some of which may be better for your needs than others.
If you’re unsure, many of these transcription services offer a free trial of some sort, which is a great way to see whether the service is right for your transcription needs. Once you have found the best choice for you, it’ll be easier to justify paying for the service.