Helping people with computers... one answer at a time.

It's tempting to want to record speech on the road and then automatically transcribe it to your PC. The technology's not there, but alternatives exist.

My job involves a lot of travel be it plane or auto. I also need to do a lot of call reports relating to my work. I am a cumbersome typist and if I had a way to reduce typing boy would it ever make my job easier. I was reading your article about voice recognition a while back and it got me to thinking. I have a battery operated mp3 player/voice recorder. Could I do dictation to the voice recorder while traveling our in my motel room and then set up my computer so it could do voice recognition right through the sound card in my computer using my voice recorder as the source of the voice? If so how would I set this up?

I'll give you an idea or two about setting it up, but then I'll advise you not to bother. Smile

My belief is with the state of today's voice recognition technologies, down this path lies only frustration for the situation you describe.

Voice recognition today is still very touchy. It's better than it was, but still not quite to the level we might want it to be.

It really works best with a good, clean sounding source. I would think that adding a voice recorder as an intermediate storage device seems like it would add a bit of noise and increase the error rate to an unacceptable level. And recording in a car or airplane is definitely going to involve some noise.

When using voice recording "live", you can sort of watch what's being "heard" and make corrections on the way. It might slow you down a little, but it can be manageable.

If you're attempting voice recognition from a recording, you have no options. The recording is going to plow ahead no matter what errors are mis-recognized. My belief is you'll spend as much time correcting the resulting text as you would have typing it in to start.

But, for the record, here's how I'd try it:

  • Get a stereo "patch cord" that you can then use to plug the headphone out on the voice recorder to the into the line in on your computer's sound card.

  • Alternately, use that same patch cord to headphone out to the computer's microphone in. (And use lower volume settings as we proceed below.)

  • Set up the voice recognition software on your PC for dictation, possibly transcribing into something like a Word document.

  • Press play on your voice recorder.

"What most folks do in a situation like this is use a human transcriber."

In concept it's very simple. In practice, not so much. There's going to be a lot of trial and error before you figure out what speaking speed works best, as well as what recording and playback volume and other settings work best. On top of that, most voice recognition software need to be "trained", which means that you'll need to spend some time recording some stock speech that the software would then listen to in this manner to learn what it is you sound like.

What most folks do in a situation like this is use a human transcriber. There are still things that only a human can do effectively, and for now this is still one of them.

Many voice recorders actually save natively now in a computer audio format. I particularly like my Olympus WS-100 because it records to Windows "wma" format and has a USB interface; plug it in and it's just another drive on my system with a bunch of audio files.

The reason that's so handy is that there are many transcription and dictation services where you can email your audio file to them, and they respond with a written transcript of the contents. Unfortunately I've not yet used any myself, so I don't have a specific recommendation. I've heard of very cost-effective results using this technique, though, which is why I recommend it. It's what I would do should the need arise.

Similarly there are also "virtual assistant" services out there as well that will do this, and many other types of administrative tasks, whether you're traveling or not. Depending on the dollar value of your own time, these can also be surprisingly cost effective ways to get things done.

And they'll be significantly less frustrating than jury-rigging your voice recorder to your PC and getting a transcription full of errors.

Article C3066 - June 25, 2007 « »

Share this article with your friends:

Share this article on Facebook Tweet this article Email a link to this article
Leo Leo A. Notenboom has been playing with computers since he was required to take a programming class in 1976. An 18 year career as a programmer at Microsoft soon followed. After "retiring" in 2001, Leo started Ask Leo! in 2003 as a place for answers to common computer and technical questions. More about Leo.

Not what you needed?

1 Comment
August 2, 2010 11:57 AM

I am a case manager (social worker) and have to write case notes on all patients I speak with . I have carpel tunnel and is about to have surgery on my right hand (writing hand). Can you suggest a not so expensive program I can use that i can speak into and it dictates (type) my notes as i will not be able to use my hand for 4 - 6 weeks.
Thanks !

The current gold standard for dictation software is Dragon Naturally Speaking. It's not free, but the basic version is not that expensive and works very well.

Comments on this entry are closed.

If you have a question, start by using the search box up at the top of the page - there's a very good chance that your question has already been answered on Ask Leo!.

If you don't find your answer, head out to to ask your question.