MacSpeech and similar transcription software

Just wondering if anyone here has used MacSpeech (or any other dictation software for that matter). It was recently suggested to me, well strongly recommended to me, that I purchase a dictation/transcription (what is the proper term?) application for preparing client notes and correspondence, and then I remembered someone else suggesting the same for writing my thesis. And that led me to wonder if any writers here use these applications as part of their writing process, even with Scrivener.

So: Does anyone here use a dictation app? If so, which one? If it is a Mac app, do you use it with Scrivener?

Some years ago I used Dragon Naturally Speaking on Windows. DNS was less developed then, but it was certainly useful – in particular circumstances.

What I found then was that there’s a skill to dictating to a computer that needs to be learnt. Getting it wrong is easy and can invalidate the entire investment (which of course is not tiny). It’s fairly simple to dictate brief correspondence, emails and notes straight from memory, especially if you use a lot of boiler-plate text that can be inserted with a macro or shorthand (although it’s worth noting that dictated style tends to be different from written style – the sentences read differently).

On the other hand, dictating long-form work (for example, a thesis, a report or a novel) really does require you to write down (pencil and paper) what you want to say first. In that sense, dictation is a replacement for typing up the second draft. (That is, unless you’re the ghost of the deceased British author Barbara Cartland, famed for dictating a “novel” every fortnight – but she used a secretary.)

The only thing to add is that because I used DNS I’ve followed the progress of MacSpeech from a distance with interest. MacSpeech appears to be the market leader in dictation software for the Mac, if not the only game in town. Yet its every move seems to bring down on it squalls of user complaint, to judge from its forums. They are the polar opposite of the haven of tranquility that is L&L.

That may be because: MacSpeech is expensive by Mac software standards, and therefore any flaw registers more painfully; its customer base is for some reason especially picky; MacSpeech should take lessons from KB and DMJ in handling said customer base; coding dictation software for the Mac is not simple; the (relatively) smaller size of the potential Mac market has meant that the levels of investment that have gone into DNS aren’t available for MacSpeech. Or all of these, or some other reason.

But certain users appear to have no problems whatsoever, including some who say they use MacSpeech with Scrivener, and report very high accuracy. I think that factors for success may include: plenty of RAM and computing power, a good USB noise-cancelling microphone in a relatively quiet and relaxed location, no other input software such as Typinator or Spell Catcher, a simple software set-up, patience, low-ish expectations, clear speech habits and a readiness to practise dictation skills.


Add to that a predictable accent and emotional control when talking about passionate topics (the kind that change accents).

I think this list is VR (voice recognition) in general though and not specific to any particular software.

I use both Dictate (on my Macs) and Dragon (on my PC), but I only use them under extreme duress, when I must get stuff out the door within hours. I prefer to write with a keyboard, or even longhand, when I’m starting something new.

As Hugh said, dictating is a skill. I find that later I can see quite clearly which material I’ve dictated, and which I’ve “written”.

When you’re dictating, it can be stressful. I write up brief outlines on index cards before I start, otherwise I get into a muddle.

Dragon Naturally Speaking is most comfortable for me, since I’ve used it longest. MacSpeech Dictate is OK, but it can be wearing on the nerves (so can Dragon.) You’ll find that many Dictate owners complain about the product, and to be honest, it’s still nowhere near as good as DNS.

The challenge with both apps is to get into the right mind state, so that you’re relaxed, and you know what you want to say. Expect that it will take several weeks before you feel comfortable dictating your material.

Re using a voice recognition program with Scrivener, no, I don’t use it. Dictate has its own notepads, and although you can use the program with other software, I find it hangs, so I dictate into a notepad, and then paste the material into whichever program I want it.

I’m using MacSpeech for taking and making notes from books, but not for actual writing. It’s uncannily good. Best used with its own note book and then transferred to Scrivener.

Thanks for the responses: very helpful all.

I use Macspeech Dictate with Scrivener very successfully. Dictate works well but only as well as the microphone you use. Many do not work with it. They have just released a Bluetooth Plantronics headset, Plantronics Calisto, which works very well with Dictate.

It is a way of writing you have to get used to, and I find it most helpful just for laying down large quantities of text. I have ‘typed’ 42,000 so far this month for Nanowrimo using Dictate alone. No hands. it is just as accurate as my amateur touch typing and much faster.

Using it to edit is much harder and more fiddly.

Support is not good from Macspeech in my experience and in Australia even buying stuff is v. hard because Macspeech won’t sell to us directly.

The one drawback at the moment is that you can’t use a voice recorder with it, like you can Dragon.

Thanks Jane, that was very helpful.

Lurking and listening in mostly now, but I wanted to make a couple comments:

MacSpeech is now part of Nuance. MacSpeech Dictate is still very different on the Mac than Dragon NaturallySpeaking on PC, and very different from Dragon Dictation on iPhone, etc. However, the goal is that combined resources at Nuance will benefit speech recognition users on all platforms.

@jane - You mentioned voice recorders as a useful tool. MacSpeech Scribe was released at Macworld. This transcribes your dictated personal speech when it’s recorded in a high-quality audio file (.wav, .aif, .mp4, .m4a, .m4v). So…e.g. speak a Voice Memo on your iPhone, move it to your Mac, and get it transcribed.

– JayG, MacSpeech