Speech Recognition for Less

by Jarred Walton on September 17, 2009 9:00 AM EST

If you're a regular reader of AnandTech -- and my articles in particular -- you may already know that I use speech recognition for writing the vast majority of my content. About five years ago, after a wonderful spree of typing like a madman on an article, my hands and fingers started going numb. Yes, I have the dreaded carpal tunnel syndrome. I tried to type less, and that helped a little, but what I really needed to do was cut out typing as much as possible. After reading about some options, I decided to try Dragon NaturallySpeaking. That was version 8, and I've never looked back.

A couple years later, version 9 was released and I began using that. I didn't notice any major improvements in accuracy or speed, but it did seem like it was a little better. I believe version 9 also added support for Office 2007's ribbon interface, but since I still have no problem using a mouse I haven't bothered with using Dragon to send commands much. Version 10 came out last year and I've been meaning to write a review for a while now. That keeps getting pushed aside, so rather than a full review I'm going to do a quick update on Dragon NaturallySpeaking 10.

Unlike version 9, version 10 definitely has some noticeable improvements. For one, it simply seems to be faster at recognizing speech -- Nuance said that the latest version is optimized for dual-core processors, which would certainly account for the difference. Accuracy is still a very nebulous concept, and I'm not sure if Dragon has gotten better with the latest version or if I just adapted to using Dragon over the years. Whatever the case, I'm quite happy with the level of accuracy NaturallySpeaking provides, and version 10 is the best so far.

The other major change with version 10 -- not initially, but as of March this year -- is that we finally have a version of NaturallySpeaking that works with 64-bit Windows. It was a long time in coming, and I'm not sure what the holdup was, but with the latest patch you can now use Dragon NaturallySpeaking 10 with Windows Vista 64-bit. Hooray for progress! Windows XP support is limited to 32-bit versions, however, and I haven't taken the time to test naturally speaking with Windows 7.

Some of you are probably wondering how Dragon NaturallySpeaking compares to the built-in speech recognition in Windows Vista. I discussed that in my speech recognition article several years ago, and frankly I still haven't been able to invest a significant amount of time in using Microsoft's "free" speech recognition. It looks like Microsoft may actually do a little better for sending certain commands to your computer, but in general the speech recognition interface they provide just isn't nearly as seamless as NaturallySpeaking. I haven't looked at Windows 7 to see if anything has changed, but I somehow doubt that I would actually make a switch at this point. It's a lot like using Windows and Microsoft Office; you can get open-source alternatives for free and run Linux and OpenOffice, but ultimately you find yourself wanting to go back to Microsoft.

So why this blog post now? I just received an email from TigerDirect with a link to Dragon NaturallySpeaking 10 Standard, which allows you to purchase the application for $50 instead of $100. 50% off a great application is certainly a worthwhile investment, and for those that are willing to jump through the hoops you get a $20 mail-in rebate. That brings the total cost down to $30. $30 for what is arguably the most important tool I use? Sign me up! (Incidentally, Nuance sent me the Professional version of Dragon NaturallySpeaking 10, but I pretty much limit myself to use of the Preferred feature set. You might want to check out the datasheet for specific details on what features may not work with the Standard version. Note that Microsoft Office is listed as a feature of Professional; you can still use Standard to dictate in Word, but you can't issue specific Word/Excel commands.) Note: The link above is a direct add to your cart, and TigerDirect says it's a "limited time offer", so I don't know how long the link will remain active. If you have an alternative deal for Dragon NaturallySpeaking, please post it in the comments!

The only thing you need beyond the software is a microphone, and my experience is that you don't even need a great microphone. However, there's more to it than just getting a microphone that works; if you plan to use speech recognition on a regular basis like me, you'll also want a microphone that's comfortable… and I prefer something that doesn't go over the top of my head, since I don't want to mess up my hairdo. ;-) I got the Sennheiser ME3 with Andrea USB Pod from emicrophones.com back in 2006, and it was definitely a nice upgrade to the Logitech headset I was using. You can find less expensive microphones with a similar style, but I would suggest getting some sort of USB sound pod and bypassing your soundcard; I don't know if it works that much better, but it's great if you ever have to use your microphone on a different PC. Since I routinely switch between my desktop and a laptop, the USB adapter is a godsend; integrated audio on some laptops can be particularly bad, and don't even think about using the built-in microphone on your LCD!

If you've never tried Dragon NaturallySpeaking, you really ought to. With a modern PC, it's really quite awesome being able to dictate to a computer and have everything come out accurately… well, at least with around 98% accuracy, give or take. My only real problem with NaturallySpeaking is that there are a few quirks I still encounter. It's nothing drastic, but sometimes the program crashes and any updates to my dictionary that I've created are lost and need to be reentered. I use a lot of custom phrases for computer products; for example the Gateway NV52 required that I put "envy fifty two = NV52" into my phrase list. I also have just about every AMD and Intel processor number in my list, so when I add 10 processors and forget to save my user files and Dragon crashes a few hours later, it can be annoying. My other gripe is with the "we need more hard drive space" dialog routinely appearing. Regardless of what I do, that dialogue seems to stick around and pop up every few weeks.

Perhaps the biggest challenge is that Dragon NaturallySpeaking is so accurate that you start to get lazy; homonyms can still throw the program for a loop, so if you don't read what it transcribes carefully, you're likely to come up with some grammatical/spelling errors from time to time. That's actually high praise for the program: it's so accurate that you come to expect everything to work out properly and stop paying attention. Just try not to do that when you're writing an important female, or the results might be a little embarrassing! (Ironically, Dragon just screwed up that sentence. I truly did say "email" and Dragon thought I said "female" -- see what I mean about embarrassing?)

Final tally: Over 1200 words and I only had to correct around ten actual mistakes (i.e. not counting mumbled words). Yes, Dragon NaturallySpeaking 10 truly can achieve 99% accuracy.

Comments Locked


View All Comments

  • sarathinks - Saturday, November 7, 2009 - link

    $50 is cheap for Dragon Naturally Speaking, but Tazti speech recognition software is a free download from www.tazti.com. It has a different feature set than Dragon and is expert at speech recognition for internet navigation and controlling itune music player on a PC by voice.
  • DorkMan - Friday, September 25, 2009 - link

    I started experiencing numbness and tingling in my left thumb several years ago. The numbness gradually spread over several months to my fingers. A simple nerve conduction test confirmed carpal tunnel syndrome.

    The doc said the only real "fix" is to give the nerves that pass through that tunnel in the wrist more room i.e. surgery. He said there were two approaches--an endoscopic repair (simple, but limited effectiveness) and regular surgery, which leaves about a 1" scar right along a crease in the palm of the hand. I opted for the surgery.

    No big deal, though you wear a hand brace for a few weeks afterward. Dramatic improvement, hand completely back to normal. Without the surgery, doc said the numbness effect would never get better, but would eventually destroy all sensation in the hand.

    Funny thing is the doc said he was surprised the right hand wasn't yet showing similar symptoms. Sure enough, a year later that hand had to be done also. Both hands are now totally normal, and the scars are pretty much invisible.

    If you have the insurance for it, do it. It made a huge difference for me.
  • Shrumer - Sunday, September 27, 2009 - link

    I am glad the surgery helped you, I had the surgery and regret it. If anyone is considering the surgery, I would suggest looking up Regional Sympathetic Dystrophy (RSD) and Chronic Regional Pain Syndrome (CRPS). You can get this as a result of carpal tunnel surgery and it is not something they tend to warn you about (at least I wasn't). Basically you run the chance of coming out with the feeling that the circulation to your hand has been cut off, your hand is numb with the pins and needles sensation ALL of the time, if you touch ANYTHING it feels like you are dragging your fingers across broken glass, the bones in your hand will feel broken, your knuckles feel sprained, will feel like someone poured acid on the bones in your wrist and forearm, you won't be able to lift anything over 5 lbs., and a draft (such as from a car vent) can drop you to your knees in pain. If you want to type, you will still however be able to use your pinky finger for that. But don't worry if you get bored from not being able to use your hands anymore, you can pass the time by sitting back on watching them change colors from blue to bright red. Just something to think about for those considering the surgery.
  • DorkMan - Friday, September 25, 2009 - link

    BTW the doc said typing doesn't cause CTS. Things that cause swelling and/or restriction in the wrist cause it. In my case, I have Rheumatoid Arthritis, and the goop that holds the bones apart is very slowly going away, so those tunnels in my wrists that contained the nerves was shrinking.
  • ssiu - Wednesday, September 23, 2009 - link

    Do they guarantee Windows 7 compatibility (i.e. guarantee to provide a patch if required after Windows 7 comes out)? Many software vendors offer "fire-sale" prices of their software shortly before they release a new version. Worse yet, some vendors won't patch their old version if it doesn't work on new Windows OS.
  • GTForce - Saturday, September 19, 2009 - link

    First of all, here's the link to Tigerdirect deal:


    I have been using v9 preferred, since it can build a custom dictionary by scanning your documents. Since the documents that I create contain LOTS of jargon, this was a must. But after that, and of course the training, I could not believe how well it worked, despite the fact that I speak with an accent.

    As Anand mentioned, be sure to watch what Dragon types!!! Here is my embarrassing example, which was WAY worse than Anand's example: Dragon thought I said "lap" when I said "lab", typing something like "When I was in Dr. X's lap". I am glad I caught it before sending it out!

    Bottomline: If you are willing to spend the time to train it and build a custom dictionary (~2-3 hrs?), Dragon will give you much more time back. Just make sure you double-check what it writes.
  • GTForce - Saturday, September 19, 2009 - link


    If you're in academia:

    Dragon NaturallySpeaking Preferred 10.0 Educational License Program



  • ProDigit - Saturday, September 19, 2009 - link

    I purchased my first Dragon Naturally speaking (I believe version 3) somewhere around 1999, when it was on sale in a store's $5 software grab and get box.

    I've used it now and then, but never for major articles.
    In those versions you still had too many errors, but it was able to recognize my English pretty OK (despite speaking English as my second language).

    Most issues appeared with accents. Australian accent didn't work back then, and definitely not my dutch-English accent.
    I still have it laying around somewhere, for years unused...
  • beginner99 - Friday, September 18, 2009 - link

    lol. i think this is funny.separate language. I sometimes have to deal with Indian supporters. It's not easy at all. The say they speak English but it sounds like "Suhalesi" to me (understand like 1/4 of it). I understand it's cheaper than an american or english supporter, but in the end you spend at least double the time with them compared to a native speaker because of language issues and missunderstandings.
  • ol1bit - Friday, September 18, 2009 - link

    Amazon has it for $44 and free shipping!

Log in

Don't have an account? Sign up now