Testing out transcription services

I recently had several projects that required transcripts of audio and video recordings, including a great conversation with Kim Dority about finding her unknown unknowns. I identified four services that were regularly mentioned and ran tests to compare their suitability. (Note that this is distinct from dictation software such as Dragon NaturallySpeaking; my focus was solely on tools that reliably transcribe recorded speech and generate a reasonably well-formatted and punctuated document.)

I tested these tools by uploading fifteen minutes of a podcast and comparing both overall quality and specifically the number of errors in a test paragraph. I found that they differed primarily in how many filler words (“um” and “uh”) they removed, whether they could distinguish between speakers, and how well they identified the start and end of sentences and punctuated accordingly. None of the transcripts were perfect but the two 3-star tools offered what I consider good-enough transcription. You will still need to review the transcripts and polish them if you want to publish or distribute them, but this is much less time-consuming than transcribing manually. Note that all these services offer a free trial, so test them with a representative sample of the audio or video you are working with, to see how well each one meets your needs.

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