TweetFollow Us on Twitter

Kool Tools: MacSpeech Dictate

Volume Number: 25
Issue Number: 03
Column Tag: Kool Tools

Kool Tools: MacSpeech Dictate

by Dennis Sellers & Neil Ticktin


MacSpeech, a provider of speech recognition solutions for the Mac, and Nuance Communications, developers of Dragon NaturallySpeaking, teamed up to offer the MacSpeech Dictate speech recognition solution, which replaced their previous product called iListen.

The very first version of Dictate had some limitations which MacSpeech was very open about, but now, the technology is coming into its own.

For years, Dragon NaturallySpeaking has been the king of recognition ... on the PC. When MacSpeech licensed the underlying dictation technology from Nuance Communications for Dictate, those in the know were more than thrilled.

With the software, Mac users can begin dictating straight into their applications with surprisingly little time spent training the software to recognize their voice. The folks at MacSpeech say that training MacSpeech Dictate for up to a 99 percent accuracy level generally takes less than five minutes. That's maybe a bit of an exaggeration, but if you spend a bit of time on it, you can quickly get up an accuracy which is more than acceptable (and far better than iListen at its best).

Installing Dictate is a no-brainer. You drag the application from the CD to the application folder, load the English language data from another CD and follow the instructions on the set-up screens. (You have to enter your serial number, and enable access for assistive devices in the Universal Access control panel of Mac OS X first.)

There's a wide range of headsets that you can use, but you can't use just any headset. It's very important that the headset you choose has been qualified by MacSpeech for use with Dictate. You see, the quality is truly important to the accuracy of the speech recognition. This is not just with MacSpeech's product, but with any speech-recognition product.

For the purpose of this article, we looked at two headsets: one wired and one wireless. In either case, it was very important to make sure that the microphone was positioned properly in front of the mouth. To give you an idea how precise you should position the microphone, most people should place the microphone "1-2 fingertips from the corner of the mouth." Specifically, it should be out of the breath stream from your mouth as well as your nostrils.

And, it may come as some surprise that you can only use a mic that connects via USB. Specifically, you cannot plug a mic into the audio ports of your Mac.

Once you have your headset connected, you begin by making a profile. These profiles are dependent on your voice, and the microphone type. If you have a heavy accent (such as Dennis' Southern one), you'll need to spend more time "training" Dictate. In fact, you should go through all three of the different training stories. While you can get started in just five minutes, the more vocal training you give Dictate, the more accurate your results.

What's more, the training is tied to the headset used. This means that if you replace the headset, you'll need to create a new profile if it's a different model. That's a bit of a pain, but there's good reason for it. On the plus side, Dictate also supports multiple profiles so different people can use the software. In fact, that's exactly how we tested multiple microphones when reviewing the software. (It should come as no surprise that we used Dictate to write this article.)

Once you've got everything set up, you can use Dictate pretty much anywhere with any app in which you can type on your Mac. Dictate also includes its own notepad (try typing in it for some entertainment value). There's also a "command" mode that lets you control various features of your Mac, such as opening applications, switching apps, taking screenshots, etc. You can get as creative as you want in controlling things, but that goes beyond the scope of this article.

Using MacSpeech Dictate, user-spoken commands are recognized separately from dictation, which means you don't have to tell the software to change modes. With the recently released version 1.2, Dictate customers can dictate any specific word, no matter how obscure, by spelling it letter-by-letter with the new Spelling mode.

The new version also introduces Phrase Training, which helps increase accuracy even more as you use MacSpeech Dictate. The MacSpeech Dictate 1.2 update is also a maintenance release that fixes reported issues and introduces a new "Move" command for easier verbal editing of a document. The MacSpeech Dictate 1.2 update is free of charge and now available for registered customers, using the "Check for Updates" feature.

Why you should be in awe

You should be in awe that this works at all ... let alone as well as it does. Most people have no idea how hard speech-recognition actually is. Humans are so adept at listening to other people speak in interpreting what they have to say, it's amazing. People can pick a voice out of a loud room. Computers, on the other hand, have a much more difficult time picking out just speech from the surrounding noise.

In addition, people use their understanding of what is being said to fill in the gaps of what they don't hear, or even what the speaker didn't utter. Computers don't have it so easy; they cannot understand language as easily as you do. So, the computer takes a different path and calculates the probability of upcoming word to make its "guess."

Think of it this way. Remember to the last time you heard someone speaking a foreign language... one that you didn't know at all? If you remember, it kind of sounded like gibberish. But, you would hear breaks from time to time in the speakers speech. That was the end of a paragraph, not a sentence or word, but a paragraph. Imagine how difficult it is to break the words apart.

Now, imagine you are the poor computer. Not only do you have a hard time hearing through all the noise, not only can you not read hand gestures, but you don't understand the language.

Furthermore, if you were to look at a sonogram (a printout of what the sound waves look like), you would be very hard to tell apart similar sets of words. For example, "I screen" is extremely similar to "ice creme" when you look at it on a sonogram. Especially, when you realize how fast someone says these words.

Or take another example. Imagine "an aim" versus "a name" presents a similar kind of problem. See each to yourself now at a normal pace and see for yourself.

Now imagine that you have a mumbler. That makes things even more difficult. All the words get merged together and it becomes that much more difficult for the computer to tell them apart. Posture, your throat being dry, enunciation, volume, background noise, talking speed and more all can have an effect on the accuracy of speech recognition.

These are only a few of the challenges that speech recognition software has to deal with. And, that's why you should be in awe

What we would like to see work better

The speech recognition itself works quite well, especially if you are doing dictation of letters, or article like this. If you speak at a normal pace, and you enunciate, the recognition accuracy is quite good. Anyone that has a desire for dictation abilities should look at the product.

What doesn't work as well, are shorter burst of text like what you might use in iChat. Presumably, this is because you tend to not use natural language when IMing, and tend to use more fragmented speech. But, that's being picky.

More importantly, it would be nice to make for easier corrections and trainings. For example, we struggled a bit when trying to train new phrases that may not be part of everyone's speech. And, we have a desire to click in the recognition choices window and make a correction there. But, these are minor when compared to how well this all works (especially if we're not mumbling).

And of course, we'll always be in search of even better accuracy. Then again, this is a 1.x product, so we expect it will get better, even though it's quite good already.

Microphone choices


Samson AirLine 77 Wireless USB microphone

MacSpeech has already qualified a selection of microphones at a wide range of pricing. If you are heavy dictation user, you should seriously look at the Samson AirLine 77 Wireless USB microphone (see below). While a pricey $349, it worked exceptionally well... in fact even better for us than wired mics. Designed to go around the back your head, it's a bit cumbersome to wear at first, but you get used to it.

Availability

MacSpeech Dictate requires Mac OS X 10.4.11 or higher, and requires Intel-based Macs. New MacSpeech Dictate solutions with a choice of headsets, is priced starting at US$199 (including an entry level microphone). Registered customers of iListen can purchase MacSpeech Dictate at a special crossgrade price of $99.

For more info, go to http://www.macspeech.com


Dennis is Editor of MacsimumNews, and regular MacTech contributor. Neil has a degree in Linguistics/Computer Science with a specialty in Acoustic Phonetics. In other words, he not only got to "geek" on this product from a Mac point of view, but from a Linguistics point of view. Scary.

 

Community Search:
MacTech Search:

Software Updates via MacUpdate

Latest Forum Discussions

See All

Fresh From the Land Down Under – The Tou...
After a two week hiatus, we are back with another episode of The TouchArcade Show. Eli is fresh off his trip to Australia, which according to him is very similar to America but more upside down. Also kangaroos all over. Other topics this week... | Read more »
TouchArcade Game of the Week: ‘Dungeon T...
I’m a little conflicted on this week’s pick. Pretty much everyone knows the legend of Dungeon Raid, the match-3 RPG hybrid that took the world by storm way back in 2011. Everyone at the time was obsessed with it, but for whatever reason the... | Read more »
SwitchArcade Round-Up: Reviews Featuring...
Hello gentle readers, and welcome to the SwitchArcade Round-Up for July 19th, 2024. In today’s article, we finish up the week with the unusual appearance of a review. I’ve spent my time with Hot Lap Racing, and I’m ready to give my verdict. After... | Read more »
Draknek Interview: Alan Hazelden on Thin...
Ever since I played my first release from Draknek & Friends years ago, I knew I wanted to sit down with Alan Hazelden and chat about the team, puzzle games, and much more. | Read more »
The Latest ‘Marvel Snap’ OTA Update Buff...
I don’t know about all of you, my fellow Marvel Snap (Free) players, but these days when I see a balance update I find myself clenching my… teeth and bracing for the impact to my decks. They’ve been pretty spicy of late, after all. How will the... | Read more »
‘Honkai Star Rail’ Version 2.4 “Finest D...
HoYoverse just announced the Honkai Star Rail (Free) version 2.4 “Finest Duel Under the Pristine Blue" update alongside a surprising collaboration. Honkai Star Rail 2.4 follows the 2.3 “Farewell, Penacony" update. Read about that here. | Read more »
‘Vampire Survivors+’ on Apple Arcade Wil...
Earlier this month, Apple revealed that poncle’s excellent Vampire Survivors+ () would be heading to Apple Arcade as a new App Store Great. I reached out to poncle to check in on the DLC for Vampire Survivors+ because only the first two DLCs were... | Read more »
Homerun Clash 2: Legends Derby opens for...
Since launching in 2018, Homerun Clash has performed admirably for HAEGIN, racking up 12 million players all eager to prove they could be the next baseball champions. Well, the title will soon be up for grabs again, as Homerun Clash 2: Legends... | Read more »
‘Neverness to Everness’ Is a Free To Pla...
Perfect World Games and Hotta Studio (Tower of Fantasy) announced a new free to play open world RPG in the form of Neverness to Everness a few days ago (via Gematsu). Neverness to Everness has an urban setting, and the two reveal trailers for it... | Read more »
Meditative Puzzler ‘Ouros’ Coming to iOS...
Ouros is a mediative puzzle game from developer Michael Kamm that launched on PC just a couple of months back, and today it has been revealed that the title is now heading to iOS and Android devices next month. Which is good news I say because this... | Read more »

Price Scanner via MacPrices.net

Amazon is still selling 16-inch MacBook Pros...
Prime Day in July is over, but Amazon is still selling 16-inch Apple MacBook Pros for $500-$600 off MSRP. Shipping is free. These are the lowest prices available this weekend for new 16″ Apple... Read more
Walmart continues to sell clearance 13-inch M...
Walmart continues to offer clearance, but new, Apple 13″ M1 MacBook Airs (8GB RAM, 256GB SSD) online for $699, $300 off original MSRP, in Space Gray, Silver, and Gold colors. These are new MacBooks... Read more
Apple is offering steep discounts, up to $600...
Apple has standard-configuration 16″ M3 Max MacBook Pros available, Certified Refurbished, starting at $2969 and ranging up to $600 off MSRP. Each model features a new outer case, shipping is free,... Read more
Save up to $480 with these 14-inch M3 Pro/M3...
Apple has 14″ M3 Pro and M3 Max MacBook Pros in stock today and available, Certified Refurbished, starting at $1699 and ranging up to $480 off MSRP. Each model features a new outer case, shipping is... Read more
Amazon has clearance 9th-generation WiFi iPad...
Amazon has Apple’s 9th generation 10.2″ WiFi iPads on sale for $80-$100 off MSRP, starting only $249. Their prices are the lowest available for new iPads anywhere: – 10″ 64GB WiFi iPad (Space Gray or... Read more
Apple is offering a $50 discount on 2nd-gener...
Apple has Certified Refurbished White and Midnight HomePods available for $249, Certified Refurbished. That’s $50 off MSRP and the lowest price currently available for a full-size Apple HomePod today... Read more
The latest MacBook Pro sale at Amazon: 16-inc...
Amazon is offering instant discounts on 16″ M3 Pro and 16″ M3 Max MacBook Pros ranging up to $400 off MSRP as part of their early July 4th sale. Shipping is free. These are the lowest prices... Read more
14-inch M3 Pro MacBook Pros with 36GB of RAM...
B&H Photo has 14″ M3 Pro MacBook Pros with 36GB of RAM and 512GB or 1TB SSDs in stock today and on sale for $200 off Apple’s MSRP, each including free 1-2 day shipping: – 14″ M3 Pro MacBook Pro (... Read more
14-inch M3 MacBook Pros with 16GB of RAM on s...
B&H Photo has 14″ M3 MacBook Pros with 16GB of RAM and 512GB or 1TB SSDs in stock today and on sale for $150-$200 off Apple’s MSRP, each including free 1-2 day shipping: – 14″ M3 MacBook Pro (... Read more
Amazon is offering $170-$200 discounts on new...
Amazon is offering a $170-$200 discount on every configuration and color of Apple’s M3-powered 15″ MacBook Airs. Prices start at $1129 for models with 8GB of RAM and 256GB of storage: – 15″ M3... Read more

Jobs Board

*Apple* Systems Engineer - Chenega Corporati...
…LLC,** a **Chenega Professional Services** ' company, is looking for a ** Apple Systems Engineer** to support the Information Technology Operations and Maintenance Read more
Solutions Engineer - *Apple* - SHI (United...
**Job Summary** An Apple Solution Engineer's primary role is tosupport SHI customers in their efforts to select, deploy, and manage Apple operating systems and Read more
*Apple* / Mac Administrator - JAMF Pro - Ame...
Amentum is seeking an ** Apple / Mac Administrator - JAMF Pro** to provide support with the Apple Ecosystem to include hardware and software to join our team and Read more
Operations Associate - *Apple* Blossom Mall...
Operations Associate - Apple Blossom Mall Location:Winchester, VA, United States (https://jobs.jcp.com/jobs/location/191170/winchester-va-united-states) - Apple Read more
Cashier - *Apple* Blossom Mall - JCPenney (...
Cashier - Apple Blossom Mall Location:Winchester, VA, United States (https://jobs.jcp.com/jobs/location/191170/winchester-va-united-states) - Apple Blossom Mall Read more
All contents are Copyright 1984-2011 by Xplain Corporation. All rights reserved. Theme designed by Icreon.