Softnet Systems, Inc. Speech Recognition Specialists

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Microphones

The primary function of a microphone is to send a good sound signal to your computer. Many different microphones work well, and there are many to choose from. Most popular are headset microphones. Several headset microphones in the $49-$100 range work roughly the same. Individuals may have legitimate preferences, either because recognition rate is better or because they are physically more comfortable.

  • I've tried those that I list and have my own favorites, but can't say that I see significant difference in recognition rates among the recommended microphones in a very quiet office. Introduce noise and there is more differentiation between the products.
  • There are differences between these microphones such that with particular persons, specific sound cards, and/or a particular environment there may be a microphone that works better than others.
  • Persons with multiple machines that they use with speech recognition, or persons with a poor sound card as are on some PC's should consider a USB microphone, which connects to a USB port on the system instead of to the sound card.
  • Most USB microphones meet the minimum requirements for speech recognition. But USB is not necessarily better than analog. A good analog microphone with a good sound card can easily produce the same or even better results than a run-of-the-mill USB microphone. Computer audio systems have improved over the years, and in 2006 we started to see "HD Audio" systems which generally have better analog sound systems than prior systems. Most of these work well for speech recognition, but they are not as consistent between systems as USB interfaces.

    Because there are so many different computer models, we cannot tell you if an analog (round jacks) microphone will work well on your PC. That's why we generally lean towards USB microphones or a combination of an analog microphone plus a USB Audio Adapter when selling them on-line. On local installations we can quickly tell if an analog microphone is working well or not.
  • No one microphone serves all needs. If someone unfamiliar with your situation tries to sell you a microphone without verifying how you plan to use it, then run from them. (At the same time, for a product with only a few dollars margin, don't expect a 1-hour consultation either!)
  • Microphones packaged with NaturallySpeaking can be considered "starter" microphones, suitable to use in a very quiet environment for learning the basics of dictation. Those included with Professional 11, Legal 11, and Medical 10.1 are better than those included with prior versions of the software and are all respectable for a quiet environment.
  • There are 100's of microphone models that will work. Microphones have been in common use for almost a century. Just because a dealer doesn't know about your specific model doesn't mean they don't understand microphones.

Microphone Styles and Types

Headsets

The VXi TalkPro-USB (traditional headset - out of production as of mid-2011 but still available), Andrea 700 series (traditional headsets), and Sennheiser ME3 all are reasonable choices. With every one of these, I've clients who love them and clients who strongly prefer a different one -- mainly because they are worn differently. If noise is an issue, the Sennheiser ME3 is a clear-cut favorite, but be sure to buy one modified for computer use.

The Andrea NC-181, came with Dragon Medical 10, Professional 10, and Legal 10 products. It is a basic headset microphone which works well in quiet environments. Starting in September 2010, Plantronics Audio-610's were often included with Dragon NaturallySpeaking 11 Professional and Legal.

Features available on some of these microphones include mute switches and volume control for playback. Mute switches are useful for some speech recognition users as they are sometimes the best way to turn off a microphone.

Handhelds

The hand-held Philips SpeechMike Pro USB is excellent if you have a quiet dictation place and dictate many times per day (as in after each patient). It includes a trackball, mouse buttons, and programmable buttons that make this multi-functional device a powerful dictation tool. There is a SpeechMike II series and as of 2010 there is a SpeechMike III series which may be slightly better from an accuracy perspective.

Desktop Microphones

The SpeechWare 2-in-1, SpeechWare 6-in-1, and Buddy DesktopMic are built to rest on a desk, with a gooseneck that can be positioned for excellent speech recognition in a quiet office.

The Buddy Gooseneck has a much longer gooseneck and a clamp for attaching to the edge of furniture. It is often better when dealing with wheelchair seating or when a microphone is needed for a bed-ridden person.

Array Microphones

Array microphones sit on your desktop. They are necessarily wide so that they have a chance at distinguishing speech from noise. They will not generally produce results as accurate as headset microphones, but may be suitable when it is not feasible to put on a headset.

Tip: Keep a Spare!

If you depend heavily on your speech recognition system, buy a spare microphone! These microphones are all prone to breakage.

We don't stock all models -- we are more prone to have the Philips SpeechMike, Sennheiser ME3 and VXi TalkPro USB-100 models in stock because they are more popular.

USB

If you need a USB microphone, we recommend either the Philips SpeechMike Pro USB or else a combination of a USB "pod" plus a good headset such as the Sennheiser ME3. Another option is the VXi TalkPro USB 100 (or the 200 if listening with both ears is important).

Andrea, VXi, and Buddy each make pods that work essentially the same for most purposes. There are USB adapters for MUCH more -- hundreds of dollars, used for professional recording (Roland/Edirol UA-100 and UA-30 -- plug in a good microphone.).

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Microphone Recommendations

Current Suggested Headset Microphones

In this group my opinion is that these are ALL quality microphones. For any particular person, you may find that one works better than others. I've got clients who have gotten best results with VXi's, some have gotten best results with Sennheiser, others best results with Andrea, and others swear by their old Emkay's or Talk Mics.

  • VXi Microphones:
    • TalkPro Xpress (sorry, out of production)
    • TalkPro USB-100 (out of production, as of July 2011 we still have them in stock)-- an excellent USB microphone with a mute switch. The safest choice if you don't know much about the person, sound card, environment, etc.
  • Sennheiser
    • ME3, modified for computer use -- behind-the-head wearing style, excellent noise reduction, requires USB adapter in almost all cases.
  • Andrea Microphones
    • ANC-600 (discontinued)
    • ANC-700
    • ANC-750
Current Headset Microphones for Special Situations
  • Plantronics -- Usually Plantronics has a fairly inexpensive product that works reasonably well, a candidate for a microphone where breakage is likely to occur. Not as accurate in actual use as others.
Older Microphones -- No Longer in Production

If you find these on close-out sales, in a heap at a garage sale, or otherwise at a deeply discounted price, consider yourself lucky. They are good microphones, but no longer in production.

  • VXi Microphones
    • Parrott (many models, some better than others)
    • VXi Gold
    • CTS 10-3
  • Shure Microphones
    • HW505A
    • VR250BT
  • Andrea Microphones
    • ANC-650, ANC-600
  • Emkay (a.k.a. Knowles Acoustic)
  • Buddy Microphones
    • Buddy Handy (USB) -- handheld
Handheld Microphones
  • Philips SpeechMike Pro, 51xx series-- excellent USB handheld microphones, has 6 buttons (10 for the Pro Plus) that can be customized. To be used effectively, it takes time to program the microphone. $279 for the 5276 Pro Plus model.
Desktop Microphones

The SpeechWare 2-in-1 is our slight favorite for a desktop microphone.

One notable desktop microphone is the Buddy Gooseneck, a very long gooseneck microphone (36" / 1m) with a C-clamp that attaches the microphone to a table, desk, etc. Many of these are in use by people who need to roll their wheelchairs under a desk to work.

Other semi-pro vocal microphones will work well as desktop microphones so long as you are consistent in positioning your mouth with respect to the microphone. "Watch your mouth" are good words to remember when using speech recognition with desktop or handheld microphones.

Wireless Headset Microphones

Others claim good results with wireless microphones. I've only dealt with one that has worked well, and it isn't manufactured any longer. Shure has another series of wireless microphones, but the Shure TCHS Wireless microphone was a reasonably-priced microphone that works well for speech recognition. Good luck finding them!

PC/Telephone Switches

Beware that these switches cost more than many good microphones. It is much more difficult to build a good switch than it appears, and there isn't a big market for them. Beware the Andrea PCTI-2 -- you may find it cheap, or you may be a lucky one and find it works well for you. It doesn't generally perform as well as the PCTI, and doesn't allow you to listen on the phone while dictating on the computer.

These others are very comparable and all work well on most phone systems:

  • VXi Parrott 60V -- proprietary, requires using VXi telephony headset (several styles)
  • Andrea PCTI -- allows plugging in any headset and using on phone and computer
  • Plantronics MX10-- proprietary, requires using Plantronics headset
 

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Where to Buy

Confused? Locally (Phoenix) we have samples of many of these microphones. If you visit us, you can see them all -- including many not listed here. If we go to see you, we have a sack packed with samples of the more common microphones and will add to that set if we know your needs before seeing you. Contact us for details.

Most of these microphones are not available in retail stores. They are specialty items with very limited distribution. What you will find at the major computer stores is roughly equivalent to what you receive in your software package. Rarely have I seen a top-notch microphone in such stores. You'll pay no more from us or the specialty distributors than what you'll pay for a less-effective microphone from the retailers.

Prices and Ordering

Specialty Distributors

We don't carry a broad line of microphones. Both http://www.emicrophones.com and their competitors, http://www.microphones.com, deal in microphones and understand speech recognition. If we don't carry it, we suggest them as alternate sources.

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Resources

If you wish to learn MUCH more about how microphones work, we suggest browsing the following:

While interesting, this information won't help much in selecting a microphone for speech recognition.

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