Answering Your Low Cost Transcription Needs
A casual Google search isn’t much of a help. Depending on your search terms, you’ll be funneled to web sites that specialize in some fairly advanced transcription devices and software more suited to professionals than the basic academic needs of transcribing interviews for coding. You need to get fairly specific to get a low cost solution. This is what we came up with:
- Olympus WS-311M Voice Recorder – (approx $80) Easily record in high-quality stereo sound with this compact USB digital recorder. Store and organize your files on the unit, and transfer them to your PC with the easy-to-use “USB Direct” design. Simply plug the recorder into a computer, with no USB cable necessary. Also can be used as a USB storage device to save and transport other documents, images and etc.
- VEC USB Foot Pedal Control – (approx $40) High quality, rugged USB foot pedals connect to your Windows PC or MAC OS X to control dictation player software. There are three pedal controls for rewind (right), play/pause (center) and fast-forward (left). Use these foot controls to manipulate playback while keeping your hands on the keyboard.
- NCH Software’s Express Scribe Transcription Playback Software – ($0 or shareware) Express Scribe works with the foot pedal to control the playback of just about any digital audio file format including wav, mp3, au, aif, wma, dss, and many more. NCH Software offers this product free in the hopes that you will later purchase among their many other software titles.
In total, this comes to a little over $120. A far cry from the $600 we’ve spent on previous transcription solutions here at the TLC. Speaking of which, the TLC has a small supply of transcription gear including standard analog (tape cassette) transcribers, highend digital recorders/transcribers, and of course, all the gear mentioned above. You can check out the availability of these assets by viewing our Sound/Audio Capture category under the TLC Resourses page.
Using a Portable Digital Voice Recorder
For the purposes of this article, we are going to be looking at the Olympus WS-311M Voice Recorder, which we believe is pretty representative of this class of voice recorders. It is also the one that we have available for checkout.
- Be certain that the recorder is in VOICE mode; this model allows the device to dual as an MP3 player
- Press the FOLDER button to choose a folder in which to make a recording. You’ll likely not be interested in dividing up your recordings in this manner, but it is important to point out so that later you can find your recordings if you happen to switch folders for some reason
- When ready, press the REC button, the record/play indicator light will glow red
- The display here indicates (a) current recording mode is HQ, (b) elapsed time into the recording is 35M12S, (c) memory remaining is almost FULL, (d) level meter display L/R input
- Press REC again to pause recording, press yet again to resume
- Press STOP to end this recording session
- If necessary, press the FOLDER button to select the location where your recording was stored
- Use the +/- buttons to scroll up and down your recorded sessions
- Press OK or PLAY to begin playback, press either again to pause and/or resume
- The display here indicates (a) play position bar indicator, (b) current playback time 05M 10S, (c) total file length 22M 41S
- Use the +/- buttons to adjust the volume
- Press STOP or OK to end playback
Be sure to get used to using the the Forward and Rewind controls to navigate through your recording.
Connecting to your Computer (Mac/PC)
The Olympus 311M is has one really cool feature: It can plug directly into your computer, just like any other USB Flash drive, without the need of a special cable or some complicated docking system. Olympus calls this, appropriately, USB Direct design. Whatever its name, it is very handy for a laptop user (such as myself) who doesn’t want to carry around cables for every device I use. However, all devices like this will have a basic solution to connect it to your Mac or PC.1
- While the recorder is stopped, slide the HOLD switch upward to turn the recorder off
- Detach the battery compartment by pressing the RELEASE button on the back of the device
- Connect the USB terminal to the USB port of your Mac or PC; Remote will display on the recorder’s display screen once it has successfully connected with your computer
- Mac users will see the drive appear on their desktop, PC users will see a new removable drive under My Computer
- Be certain to follow your operating system’s safe removal instructions before removing the recorder from your USB port!
- The 5 voice folders of this recorder are displayed as: DSS_FLDA, DSS_FLDB, DSS_FLDC, DSS_FLDD, and DSS_FLDE. Corresponing, of course, to the folders we talked about earlier. Recorded voice files are saved as WMA files.
- Drill into the folder(s) where you stored your recordings and copy the files to any folder on your computer. While transmitting data, Busy is displayed, and the record/play indicator light and USB access indicator light will flash red.
Access the recorder’s menu by holding down the OK/MENU button for over a second.2
In this section we’ll not get into any step-by-step instructions, but it is important to at least point out the functionality in case you have special needs. All devices of this type will have similar if not identical functionality.
- Rec Menu > Rec Menu: Select the appropriate recording quality for your session.
- Rec Menu > Mic Sense: Select the microphone sensitivity between conference (conf) and dictation (dict)
- Rec Menu > VCVA: Variable Control Voice Actuator. Simply, do you want the digital recorder to cut out the silences from your sessions?
- Rec Menu > Low Cut Filter: Minimizes air conditioner noise and other similar noises while recording.
- Sub Menu > Time & Date: Make certain you are getting the right time stamp on your recordings
- Rec Menu > Format: Returns the recorder to its original state except for date and time. Erases everything!
This, of course, isn’t everything in the MENU. I’ve only pointed out settings I think you might be interested in.
Using your Laptop Computer
While slightly more complicated, if you have a laptop computer, there is no reason not to use its built-in recording capabilities instead of using a digital voice recorder. However, do yourself a favor and install Audacity to handle the recording instead of using your computers software. Audacity is free, open source software available for Mac OS X, Windows, GNU/Linux, and other operating systems.
While installing Audacity is trivial, some get intimidated adding support for MP3 export (saving). Audacity uses LAME’s MP3 encoder to handle this and for relatively obscure legal reasons cannot bundle it into its installation package. However, let’s make it as simple as possible:
- Download Audacity from their download page. As of this writing they are currently offering a stable (1.2) and beta version (1.3). This article is going to use the beta in that I prefer some of its newer features and have yet to have a problem with its functionality
- Install it with all of its defaults unless you have an opinion otherwise.
- Launch the app and follow the resulting dialog boxes (mainly asking your preferred language)
- From the Menu Bar select: Edit > Preferences > Import/Export
- In the section MP3 Export Library click on Download for the LAME MP3 Library, select the appropriate download based on your operating system
- Open the ZIP archive and copy and paste the lame_enc.dll to your Program FilesAudacityPlug-Ins folder
- Return now to your Audacity Import/Export settings and select Find Library under MP3 Export Library and browse back to Program FilesAudacityPlug-Ins
and select lame_enc.dll. Close out the dialogs with OK and that’s it.
Not really that bad. You are now ready to begin.
Now it’s time to use the microphone. You can either use built-in recording capabilities of your laptop or connect an external microphone.
If you use an in-built mic make sure the settings are set correctly. Go to Start > Settings > Control Panel > Sounds and Audio Devices. Go to Voice tab > Voice Recording > Volume
If you decide to use an external mic, you can check out a Sound Grabber microphone by Crown , or an M-Audio Classroom Studio Mic at the E. Desmond Lee Technology and Learning Center. Once you connect the microphones and ready to record open Audacity. To start recording hit the red Record button.
Once you finish your recording hit the stop button. Go to File> Save Project. Then go to File > Export as MP3. Now you have your file ready to go and can move to the next section.
Of course, you could just use your media player (iTunes, Windows Media Player, WinAmp, etc) to playback your recordings, but unless you are a really fast typist or you’re good at short-hand, you’ll be spending a lot of time clicking play, pause, and rewind. What you need is some way to control playback without needing to keep taking your hands away from the keyboard. Unless you’ve developed your powers of telekenesis, you’ll need need to use another appendage. Luckily, you’ve two extras doing nothing under your desk.
Assuming that you’ve already installed Express Scribe and have purchased your foot pedal, let’s begin.
Foot Pedal Setup
- Plug the foot pedal into any USB port of your computer, if this is the first time that you’ve plugged it in, Windows will need to look for the driver for it. No worries, XP and above will have no problem recognizing it
- Launch Express Scribe
- Options → Pedal and Hot Keys…
- Check Use foot pedal payback control under the Foot Pedal Control section
- For Port, select VEC Infinity USB Pedals and Handheld
- Number of Pedals: 3 Pedals
- Click Foot Pedal Control Setup Wizard and follow the on screen instructions
- Once finished, click OK
- Click on the Load tool to browse for your recordings or merely drag and drop your recording to the dictation listing on the application.
- Select the recording that you would like to transcribe, then click on the word processor tool
- This will open Word with Express Scribe’s default template3
- Press on PLAY on the foot pedal, PLAY again to pause/resume4
- Type your little heart out using the REW pedal to jog back in the playback
When you go to save your document, Express Scribe will now remember where you saved it. When you return to do more transcription, right click on the recording and select Open Attachment List. Here you can open your previous work and/or associate other documents with it as well.
While there is great deal more functionality in this program, this should be enough to get you rolling. Please refer to Express Scribes full documentation by pressing F1 or Help → Help Contents.
Using Voice Recognition Software
Instead of typing the text yourself you can dictate it to your computer. Windows Vista and above (not available in XP) has a program called [wikipop]Windows Speech Recognition[/wikipop] that comes with the operating system that is remarkably accurate converting your speech to text with only about a 5% failure rate (even with Olena’s Ukrainian accent). While it was originally designed to allow the user to control the computer by giving specific voice commands, one of the functions of the program is dictation of text. It takes about 5 minutes to set it up but can save you hours in transcription time.
Currently there is no low cost and easy to use software where you can directly import an audio file and get a text file. Instead, you will need to listen to the audio file and reiterate it clearly into the microphone.
The utility can be found by either going to the Start Menu and typing in ‘speech recognition’ or Start > All Programs > Accessories > Ease of Access > Speech Recognition. If this is the first time you have launched the program you’ll need to run through the setup wizard. We highly recommend that you have a good quality microphone headset. This will dramatically improve the program’s success rate.
Be certain to visit the Speech Recognition Options (Start > Control Panel > Speech Recognition Options) to take a look at the Speech Reference Card to get ideas of how else to improve your repertoire of dictation commands and how else to use this very handy utility. It here, as well, you can go to help train your computer to understand your voice better.
So what if you have the money and/or you are desperate enough that you are willing to spend the money anyway? Here are a few recommendations:
- Verbalink.com: Beginning at $1.50/minute for one speaker with a 3-5 day turnaround time. See their rates for more speakers and faster turnaround times.
- GMR Transcription: Beginning at $1.25/minute for academic with up to 2 speakers with a 3-4 week turnaround time for at least 15 audio uploads at one time. GMR also advertises Spanish, Medical, and Legal transcription services. See their rates for more speakers and faster and discount turnaround times
- Caption Midwest: A local company with rates starting as low as $1.50 a minute for standard transcription and only slightly higher for more difficult subject matter. Rush rates and Spanish translation available.
- Googling transcription services, of course, will provide a healthy up-to-date listing to browse through.
- Some devices, however, might require that you use a special cable, docking system, drivers, or all the above. If you buy your own digital recorder, be certain to ask how easy it is to connect to your Mac or PC. [↩]
- Be certain to check out all the details in the Olympus documentation for this model [↩]
- Be certain to read Express Scribe’s full documentation if you’d like to customize this template or add special templates [↩]
- Might be handy (no pun intended) to take your shoes off for this [↩]
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