Best Voice Recognition software of 2020

Ranking the best voice recognition software in the game

Voice recognition software automatically converts speech to text, making it an incredibly useful tool for tasks requiring extensive writing or transcription. Since most people speak much faster than they write, speed and efficiency are among the primary benefits of adopting voice recognition software.

The usefulness of voice recognition software goes far beyond speed and efficiency, however; voice recognition software is also useful for those with disabilities or for whom writing would otherwise be difficult. Further, advancements in machine learning and natural language processing have helped integrate voice recognition into various home automation and voice assistant applications, such as Google Home and Apple’s Siri.

Even if their work doesn’t principally involve writing, almost anyone can use voice recognition software to write emails, transcribe conferences, and perform other tasks more efficiently—sometimes three times as fast.

Why use voice recognition software?

Our brains generally produce thoughts much faster than we can express them. Whether we’re talking or writing, it can be a challenge to keep up with our minds—and that’s assuming we’re thinking clearly!

While technology can’t directly transcribe our thoughts quite yet, it can do the next best thing: Transcribe our voices.

But why bother with voice recognition software when most people can type quickly? The reasoning is simple: It’s almost impossible for any human to type as fast as they can speak (let alone think). According to the National Center or Voice and Speech, the average English speaker in the United States speaks at a rate of 150 words per minute (wpm), with some radio announcers, auctioneers, and other “fast talkers” exceeding rates of 200 wpm.

Professional typists, on the other hand, type at rates averaging 50 to 80 wpm—roughly one word per second. While this rate is certainly impressive, it’s still much slower than our rate of speaking. To put this in perspective, try saying a simple sentence at a rate of one word per second—it’s painfully slow!

With voice recognition software, however, we can avoid typing altogether and have our voices transcribed in real-time. This option allows us to overcome the mechanical limitations of typing and write three times faster than a professional typist—all while saving time otherwise wasted to constantly structuring and formatting documents. This capability can also help users avoid typos and grammatical errors (two other major time wasters).

Voice recognition software is also extremely useful for those who find typing difficult, such as those with certain disabilities. For example, those who may have lost flexibility in their hands or fingers, or perhaps have difficulty seeing a computer screen, can use voice recognition software to provide both relief and improved efficiency.

Similarly, those with dyslexia can use voice recognition software to avoid the “word jumbles” resulting from having to physically write out thoughts on a screen.

In summary, voice recognition software works like a personal transcriber. Unlike human transcribers, however, the software isn’t limited to human typing rates—instead, users of voice recognition software can enjoy instant voice-to-text and, in some cases, relief from disabilities, typos, and grammatical errors.

Who uses voice recognition software?

Voice recognition software can be used in nearly every application where speech or language needs to be converted into text. Some common examples include:

Writers and Documentation Specialists

As we discussed briefly in the previous section, the average English speaker speaks at a rate of about 150 wpm, with some outliers exceeding rates of 200 wpm. Even in average cases, however, this is much faster than the average professional typist (50 to 80 wpm).

As a result, voice recognition software’s speech-to-text capability allows for instantaneous transcription, thereby increasing typing speeds sometimes as much as threefold. Where many writers work to fulfill certain word counts or capacities, this ability can provide a massive increase to productivity and output.

Other benefits of voice recognition software for writers include avoiding typos and, in some cases, certain grammatical errors. While the errant typo won’t kill too much time, the seconds can add up to several hours over a year (or more!). Combined with the increased efficiency, voice recognition can save writers hundreds of hours, if not more.

Documentation specialists can also benefit from using voice recognition software. In addition to the regular improvements to writing efficiency, those creating procedural documentation (such as software walkthroughs) can actively use the software they’re demonstrating while having their voice transcribed in real-time. This ability may be a desirable alternative to otherwise having to stop and write procedures. For some documentation specialists, this ability could result in more effective documentation and procedures.

Transcribers and Transcription Services

Transcribers are responsible for recording meetings, legal proceedings, and dictations in written form. Improvements in technology – such as typewriters, computers, and recording devices – have long benefitted transcribers.

However, no improvement since the computer itself has been more beneficial to transcribers than voice recognition software. Where transcribers are also to their writing speed in the same way other writers are, they are also limited by their ability to accurately record what they hear. This limitation can make the transcriber’s job truly difficult.

With voice recognition software, however, transcribers can work easier knowing that every word is being recorded and translated to text in real-time. Depending on the software, however, transcribers may still have to organize the transcribed text, although this is becoming less common as voice recognition software adds multi-user capabilities.

Conversely, voice recognition software has also allowed many businesses to simply avoid transcription services altogether. While this may not be great news for transcribers, it’s still made voice recognition software especially useful for transcribing confidential meetings and correspondence where necessary.

In any case, voice recognition software is an incredibly effective transcription tool for both transcribers and those who might regularly use transcription services.

People with Disabilities and Dyslexia

While writing can be a chore for many people, typing itself can be extremely difficult (if not impossible) for people with certain disabilities.

Thanks to voice recognition software, however, those with difficulty typing can “write” with even greater efficiency than the best professional typists. This capability can be extremely liberating for many people whose productivity and livelihoods are adversely affected by typing difficulties.

Struggles with writing aren’t just limited to the physical act of writing, however; for those with dyslexia, clear thoughts can often become jumbled once written down. With voice recognition software, less is lost in translation as the area for “jumbling” (physically writing) is effectively eliminated.

Automation Services and Voice Assistants

Writing and transcription aren’t the only practical use for voice recognition software; the very capability of converting speech into text has made voice recognition useful for many automation applications.

Common examples of voice recognition software at work include home automation devices and voice assistants, such as Apple’s Siri. While natural language processing is often responsible for most of the higher-level functions of these applications, the core functionality of voice recognition still finds use.

As a result, engineers and software developers can use voice recognition software to augment unique applications of voice recognition. Apart from specialty projects, common examples of voice recognition software in such applications include voice-activated locks and Internet-of-things (IoT) devices.

Anyone Who Writes

Almost everybody writes, regardless of whether or not it’s part of their job. Whether you’re writing an email, sending a message, or shopping for products online, voice recognition software can eliminate the annoyances of typing—and, in some cases, having to use a keyboard altogether.

Features

While each voice recognition software has its unique qualities, you should still look for the following core features.

Voice recognition software should take time to learn and adjust to your voice. Many voice recognition software packages need time to adjust to your voice—and that’s a good thing. Everyone’s voice is different, and a software package must take the time to learn yours specifically.

This requirement is becoming especially true as natural language processing (NLP) and other forms of machine learning (ML) start finding their way into voice recognition software. Here, instead of relying on a simple, predetermined set of sounds or words, NLP- and ML-enriched voice recognition software can gradually build its own set of data composed entirely of your unique voice. This functionality allows the software to become more accurate over time.

In any case, the “adjustment period” can take some time for most software. However, this is perfectly normal for almost all voice recognition software.

Voice recognition software should be capable of fully replacing a keyboard. Even if you still plan to use your keyboard, a truly robust voice recognition software will be able to serve as a keyboard replacement when necessary.

With this level of functionality, you’ll be able to use voice recognition to do more than just write documents—you’ll also be able to format text, browse the Internet, configure your computer, and do whatever else you normally would with a keyboard.

In summary, voice recognition software should never “stand-alone,” and should instead function as a form of user input equal to your keyboard or mouse.

Voice recognition software should also include automatic formatting and correction features. Your voice recognition software should be able to identify the ends of sentences and inflections, such as question marks and exclamations. In doing this, it should be able to automatically punctuate and format your speech. This basic capability will make it so that you won’t have to go back through the text and do these tasks yourself.

Note, however, that no software is perfect; while most voice recognition software will be able to translate with relatively high accuracy, you may still want to give things a second look. Remember, it’s still a transcriber—just a very good one.

Voice recognition software should be configurable to multiple users. While the software will still have to learn each user’s voice, having the ability to switch between users can be useful for organizations and families sharing technology.

In some cases, multi-user features can also allow for multiple users at the same time. This ability can allow for easier transcriptions of meetings and conferences, as the software will be capable of recognizing individual voices. However, most packages will require special equipment or microphones capable of capturing audio for the entire room.

Voice recognition software should support most microphones. Be wary of voice recognition software requiring you to use a specific make or model of the microphone. Since the software is simply a means of replacing the keyboard with an audio input, any type of microphone – be it a built-in laptop microphone, a standalone microphone, or a headset – should be compatible with your software of choice.

Note, however, that this flexibility will limit your voice recognition software to the abilities of your microphone; if your microphone can’t capture your voice well, then neither will you voice recognition software! In any case, good equipment is a necessity for voice recognition software.

Voice recognition software should support commands and dictation shortcuts. While converting speech to text is the primary function of speech recognition software, you’ll quickly find that it won’t be enough to fully replace the entire keyboard. After all, sometimes you may want to copy-paste text, ignore certain words or sentences, or give some other command.

While functionality varies between software, most voice recognition packages come standard with several configurable (or preset) voice commands for automating non-typing tasks. Having these commands at your disposal will provide an even greater boost to your productivity and allow for hands-free work.

FAQ

Q: What is voice recognition software?

A: Voice recognition software converts speech to text, essentially serving as an alternative to a keyboard. As most people speak faster than they can type, this functionality allows users to “write” at speeds several times faster than normal, making it a perfect solution for those who write a lot.

Voice recognition software usually works with most computer microphones and often includes basic formatting and voice command support. Some software packages can also support several users at once, making them effective for transcription.

Those with certain disabilities may also benefit from voice recognition software, specifically those with difficulty typing or those suffering from dyslexia.

Regardless of use, however, voice recognition software is extremely useful for anyone who would rather talk than type.

Q: How does voice recognition work?

A: In most cases, voice recognition software works by breaking down speech into its individual sounds. The software then uses various algorithms to translate each sound into a known syllable, then recombines the syllables back into the whole, written words.

While this explanation is a simplification of the whole process, it’s roughly accurate to the majority of voice recognition software on the market. Today’s voice recognition software benefits from advancements in natural language processing, a form of machine learning specifically built to analyze human languages.

Q: How does voice recognition software use machine learning and natural language processing?

When applied to voice recognition applications, natural language processing associates sounds with syllables using mostly probabilistic (i.e., probability-based) algorithms. Since everyone’s pronunciation and accent varies slightly, it’s almost impossible to precisely “define” a certain syllable by a specific sound.

Recognizing this fact, natural language processing resorts to probability to assess whether a sound is a certain syllable or not. Since many syllables can sound the same depending on word form (such as “s” in “sit” and “c” in “city”), the algorithms must also assess the greater context and usage of the syllable.

Needless to say, there’s a lot at work “under the hood” of voice recognition software. While the algorithms essentially provide their best guess, they’re designed to learn and improve over time. As a result, most voice recognition software is extremely accurate.

Q: Is voice recognition software accuracy generally good?

A: Voice recognition software has become incredibly accurate over time, thanks in part to machine learning and natural language processing. While earlier forms of voice recognition weren’t always accurate, improvements in voice recognition algorithms have resulted in the extremely high accuracy that we enjoy today. This progress will only continue with further technological advancements, specifically those in artificial intelligence.

Q: What are the most popular voice recognition software packages?

A: While the Dragon software company has long dominated the voice recognition market, AI-rich companies such as Google and Microsoft have begun to release offerings of their own. In many of these cases, however, voice recognition software is often built into a preexisting technology, such as Apple’s Siri.

Popular standalone voice recognition software includes Dragon NaturallySpeaking, Google Docs Voice Typing, and Windows Speech Recognition.

Q: When was speech recognition software first developed? Has it improved?

A: The earliest forms of voice recognition software were developed in the 1950s and 60s, which were only capable of recognizing voices speaking single digits. As computer technology improved over the next several decades, voice recognition applications became capable of recognizing more complex sounds—and not just numbers.

However, word error rates (WERs) remained relatively high, especially as many early forms of voice recognition weren’t capable of distinguishing between certain accents and pronunciation. WERs improved throughout the first decade of the 21st century, eventually reaching accuracies of about 95 percent.

Thankfully, voice recognition software continues to see increased accuracy with improvements in machine learning. As such, the majority of voice recognition software on the market have WERs in the single digits, some of which being close to 100 percent accurate.

Q: Is Windows Speech Recognition any good?

A: First implemented as part of Windows Vista, Windows Speech Recognition is voice recognition software built into Microsoft’s Windows operating system. Since it’s an included (read: free) feature of Windows and not a premium product, many naturally question whether it’s worth using.

While Microsoft may not admit it, many users find Windows Speech Recognition to be somewhat less accurate than some paid, third-party software. However, its accuracy remains comparable to most packages on the market.

Windows Speech Recognition also offers similar features to those found in other voice recognition software, including basic dictation (such as writing emails) and voice commands. The service also includes a “mouse grid” function that can serve as a voice-activated mouse.

Windows users can also use Windows Speech Recognition to directly control Windows Applications, which may not be possible with third-party software.

Despite being somewhat less accurate than leading competitors, many users find the small tradeoff to be well worth the cost savings. Also, since it’s already an included feature of Windows, Windows users tend to prefer the service since it’s already compatible with their native environments.

Q: What is Dragon NaturallySpeaking?

A: Developed by Nuance Communications, Dragon NaturallySpeaking is a popular third-party voice recognition software compatible with both Windows and Mac operating systems. Since its earliest development in the 1970s, Dragon software has improved over several decades to become one of the leading voice recognition software packages in the world.

As a result, many people looking to adopt voice recognition software are almost inevitably faced with the choice of purchasing Dragon software. With more operating systems including voice recognition services than ever, many prospective buyers often wonder whether Dragon is worth the extra price.

Q: Is a Dragon voice recorder worth the price?

A: While benefits vary between user needs and expectations, many Dragon users swear by the software. Dragon software typically leads the industry in word accuracy and features, however the extra “bells and whistles” might not be worth it for users looking to perform simple tasks.

However, Dragon is often the best solution for non-English speakers or those who want to go entirely hands-free. Unlike some competing software, Dragon is available in eight languages (as of 2020) and can allow for hands-free control of the entire computer. As a result, Dragon isn’t solely for dictation: it’s a completely hands-free replacement for the mouse and keyboard. As a result, Dragon is often the best option for those wanting to adopt a completely hands-free environment.

Recap

Voice recognition software allows users to instantly convert speech to text, streamlining tasks requiring extensive writing and dictation. While most voice recognition software can perform basic speech-to-text with high speed and accuracy, pricier options can allow users extra features such as completely hands-free control.