Audio transcription programs and tools

To produce transcripts yourself, you need a transcription program, headset (earphones) and footpedal.

If you’re shopping around for an audio transcription program, make sure you do some research. Choose high-quality software that is compatible with your computer systems, and can import the usual types of audio files. Make sure you know what you are getting for your money.

I have been using Olympus DSS Player Pro (including its updated models) for about 20 years. It comes with high-quality headphones and footpedal and is of excellent value. I have also used For The Record (FTR) which is a very good quality program, and ExpressScribe which is of reasonably good quality.

Some service providers on the internet offer a ‘free download’ transcription program. However, free programs don’t include a footpedal or headset. You can’t transcribe audio files accurately or efficiently without a footpedal, and the audibility of the audio won’t be as clear without headphones.

If you are thinking of transcribing your recordings without buying audio transcription software, footpedal or headset, there is a better option: pay someone else to transcribe them.

Another option some people choose is voice recognition, or voice-to-text, software (see below).

Pros and cons of voice-to-text software

I haven’t used voice-to-text software myself but according to the many, many people who have told me about voice-to-text:

  • Out of all the voice-to-text software available, ‘Dragon’  is said to be the best voice-to-text software available. However, even with Dragon, you need to ‘train’ yourself to use voice-to-text software, which can take some time to do (and which some people find impossible to do). So voice-to-text software is only worth giving a try, if you intend to use this transcription method long-term, or if you want to use it to produce a large number of transcripts.
  • Many people who try voice-to-text software give up because it is too hard, or they don’t have the patience, to train themselves to use the software. That is, unless you speak in the accent required by the software, the transcripts produced via the text-to-speech software have many, many errors.
  • Some of my clients come to me for help because they have tried the voice-to-text software but due to the large number of errors in the transcripts, it is more efficient to pay me to produce their transcripts from scratch.
  • A minority of the people who try voice-to-text software are successful in training themselves to use it, so that it reproduces what they say, as reasonably accurate text. However, there are always some errors that need to be fixed, whereas a real-live transcriptionist can produce accurate transcripts.
Can you produce transcripts yourself without transcription software?

Yes, but it will take forever and the resulting transcript may not be accurate.

Without an audio transcription program, you won’t be able to adjust the speed or volume of the audio recordings ‘as you go’. You won’t be able to set an automatic rewind each time you stop. You’ll have to manually stop and start the recording. It’s likely you’ll miss words as a result of not having an auto-rewind, and not being able to use your feet to operate your stop/start.

Can you produce transcripts yourself without a footpedal?

Yes, but it will take forever and the resulting transcript may not be accurate.

Without a footpedal, you will need to frequently type or click ‘play’, ‘rewind’, ‘play’ with your fingers, not your foot. It is very difficult to produce an accurate transcript if you don’t have the ‘auto-rewind’ function linked to the footpedal. And all the stopping and starting necessary if you have to use your fingers, instead of your foot, to stop and start the recording, will be very time consuming.

Can you produce transcripts yourself without a headset (earphones)?

Yes, but only if your audio recordings are of very good quality.

With audio files that are difficult to hear, the clearer the audio, the more accurate your transcripts to be. And the higher quality your headset, the clearer that audio will be.

If the recording is of very high quality you’ll be able to hear it clearly when you play it back using the computer speakers.

However, if the audibility is inferior (not absolutely crystal clear), then the speakers will not give you the same quality as using a good quality headset. As recorded interviews and discussions are often of only ‘reasonable’, not ‘good’ audibility, if you play them back on speakers instead of using a headset, the accuracy of your transcripts will suffer.

So, if you intend to transcribe any audio recordings and you can’t be sure that they will be very, very clear, make sure you purchase a good set of headphones.

What else do you need to produce accurate transcripts yourself?

In addition to suitable audio transcription equipment, to produce accurate transcripts you need 1) accurate touch-typing skills, 2) excellent hearing and listening skills, 3) excellent knowledge of spelling and punctuation and 4) to follow a consistent process for producing accurate transcripts. For more information, go to: How to produce accurate transcripts.

What if I only need to produce one or two transcripts?

If you only need one or two audio recordings transcribed and don’t own the right audio transcription equipment or software yourself, I recommend you pay a transcriptionist who already has the right software and equipment to  produce the transcript for you. For more information go to: Accurate Audio Transcription.

Sally-Anne Watson Kane has 30 years’ experience recording research interviews and oral histories; transcribing audio recordings of interviews, focus groups, meetings, seminars and other events; and editing and proofreading transcripts and publications. 

For more articles about this topic go to: Audio transcription and transcript production.

Image: Copyright SW Kane.

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