Saturday, February 6, 2010

Okay, everyone got that?

Here's a little film clip we've made for the Digital Voice Tracer.
These are really inexpensive digital voice recorders that you can record lectures and meetings on.
The message? If it's important, record it.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

The Recording Hours myth

There is a manliness test for digital voice recorders and it is how many hours they can record for. Some claim 139 hours, others 280 hours, still more the Herculean 573 hours. All these recorders have the same 1GB memory. What's the deal?

The answer, according to Graeme Pearson manager for Philips Speech Processing Asia-Pacific is: how painful do you wish to make your listening experience?

‘Listening to a very low bit rate is terrible for human ears. Not all the encoders are equal in terms of efficiency but generally speaking we do not enjoy the experience when the bit rate gets below 14 kbit/sec.’

140 hours should therefore be the absolute maximum recording time a 1GB voice recorder can handle. Any recorder claiming more than this is just being a bit cheeky.

Why buy a recorder when you could just use a mobile phone or an MP3 player?

The most logical analogy I can think of is the mobile phone vs. the digital camera: you can take photos on a phone but would you use one for your wedding photos? A digital voice recorder, like a digital camera, does one thing and does it well. Buttons are logically positioned, the microphone sensitivity and recording quality is adjustable and recordings can be downloaded easily without the need for proprietary software.

The fantastic new iPod Nano now has a voice recorder function. Handy for the quick reminder but a bit limiting for lecture or meeting recording. Why?
The Nano has one recording quality setting: 44.1 kHz, a sampling rate usually reserved for recording music, which means an hour of recording is about 60MB – not ideal for emailing or transcription (typing-up).

Thursday, January 21, 2010

if anyone wants more (better) advice on dictation go to and read their Guide, it's excellent.
I see they also have a blog, which is in the same style as this one, was published 2 years earlier and is informative and easy to navigate. Frustrating.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

What’s the deal with Speech Recognition?

Dragon Naturally Speaking by Nuance is the dominant player in speech recognition with market share in the US of between 65 percent and 70 percent. Many competitors have dropped out or been bought up, cementing Nuance’s position (Nuance purchased IBM’s ViaVoice in 2003 and Philips’ SpeechMagic in 2008).

There appears to be a growing awareness by the major dictation companies of Nuance’s importance to the future of dictation, especially in the medical and legal fields. Both SpeechExec Pro (Philips) and DSS Player Pro (Olympus) have a Dragon icon on their menu bar allowing dictations to be converted to text (should Dragon software be installed).

Sony, Philips and Olympus have also bundled a cut-down version of the Dragon NS software with one of their digital notetakers. These bundles are useful if you don’t have admin support at your disposal and are proving to be popular with sole-traders and sales reps. The 0667 with Dragon is Philips' entry into the field.

How it works: dictate into the recorder (a Philips Digital Voice Tracer 662) then connect it to the PC. The Dragon software will pick up the files and transcribe your speech into Microsoft Word right in front of you.
Other, more expensive Dragon products are able to transcribe live speech: users typically have a microphone or headset into which they speak with the text appearing in whatever application is open. This software can literally control the whole PC making the keyboard redundant. Dragon uses the claim ‘up to 99% accuracy’ on its packaging which may be technically possible but seems a touch optimistic for the average user. With some determined training 95% accuracy seems to be my limit.

What should I look for in a Pro Dictation Recorder?

A pro dictation recorder is a tool for professionals to reduce their admin workload by passing on the typing duties to an assistant.

Important features:

1. Slide-control: I think this is key – the Digital Pocket Memo 9500 (below) has the intuitive and venerable slide control for record/stop/play/rewind. It also has a fast-forward button on the opposite side. This means all important functions are controlled by the thumb and forefinger.

2. Cradle/docking station: this is a handy way of pairing the device with the PC. Each time the device is docked the new dictation files can be automatically downloaded to the typist.

3. Automatic emailing: depending on how you configure the software new dictations can be automatically sent to the typist just by putting the recorder in the docking station. This suits many doctors and lawyers who are so practised at dictation they don’t even review their recordings before firing them off to the secretary.

4. Automatic file back-up: many authors have their software configured so that dictations are automatically deleted from the recorder once it is put back in the cradle. This is not as scary as it sounds as all dictations are automatically backed-up in an archive folder either on the PC or the server

What is the difference between the $100 one and the $600 one (Part 2)?

...And because I completely failed to answer my own question, here is part 2. I have given you a guide to what a digital 'notetaker' is - an affordable, fairly rudimentary type of recorder that records in MP3 and is not suitable for transcription.
'Pro Dictation' is something else altogether. Many people realise this after they have bought a $100 note-taker. The typical user of this device is the managing partner of a law firm. Ensconced in leather and mahogany, he or she is rather adept at dictating edicts, letters, directives. Their time is very expensive, so it makes sense for someone else to do the typing.

This person’s device of choice will be something like the Philips Digital Pocket Memo 9500. Philips along with Olympus and Grundig together created the DSS file format (along with Grundig, a German manufacturer) that has become the industry-standard.

The five main rules of a pro dictation:
1. For the greatest ease-of-use (and this is what pro dictation is all about, isn’t it?), buy a recorder with a slide-control (see the Digital Pocket Memo 9500 below).

These recorders are around $150-$200 cheaper but the trade-off is an interface that is perhaps less intuitive.

2. The recorder will come with software. This software is similar in layout to Microsoft Outlook (folders on the left, inbox to the right, menus and settings long the top- show print screen). This software enables the author to manage his or her dictation files and send the completed dictations to the typist for transcription. You will also need transcription software for the typist; this looks almost exactly the same as the author’s and comes with a headset and foot-control.

3. You talk, they type. This remains the golden rule for pro dictation: the recorders are used by professionals with support staff at their disposal. Speech recognition has developed a foothold in the pro dictation market and the Philips SpeechExec software is compatible with Dragon Naturally Speaking, the biggest player in the field. Downloaded dictations can be converted to text with a click of the icon below.

Pocket Memo 488 (tape) Digital Pocket Memo 9500

Speech-to-Text option in Philips SpeechExec
4. Digital recorders are like tape recorders: ergonomically they are very similar as both use a slide control. Tape is understandably chunkier and a little low-tech compared to digital.

Unlike a note-taker, the controls for play/stop/rewind/fast-forward are on the side, meaning the ‘author’ only has to use his or her thumb to control most functions. Some more affordable recorders use buttons instead, such as the Digital Pocket Memo 9370 (below).

5. Pro recorders use DSS (except Sony).

As mentioned earlier, the DSS file format has become the default standard for pro dictation. DSS files are much smaller than mp3 (DSS is 5-6MB/hr vs. 28MB for high quality MP3) as the format is only useful for recording voice. It’s fairly useless for recording a band practice, or bird song or the slow rhythmic tumbling of waves in the Coromandel.
And whereas MP3 (the file format of Philips digital notetakers) can be played back using any media player, DSS files can only be opened with the dedicated dictation software.